Exploring Kanchipuram , in the land of 1000 temples

Most of my travel posts have been of the land to the North , of places nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas but as life meanders its course and I found myself in the state of Tamil Nadu on matters related to work . there was no better opportunity than this to visit some of the greatest Hindu temples in the Indian subcontinent.

Tamil Nadu is often known as the Land of Temples and doubtless so as there are innumerable timeless classics out here , scattered all over the state . Tamil Nadu is in many ways a celebration of the divine , with architectural wonders and hallowed sanctity these temples reverberate with the auspicious vibes of the deities that reside in them

The state is a treasure house of architecture brilliance and historical legends and I think one needs a substantial amount of time and effort to soak most of these into the soul , however considering the limited time at disposal I decided to visit the more prominent ones and hence have titled this series ‘The beautiful classics of Tamil Nadu” , in this series the first post will speak about- Kanchipuram.

Kanchipuram.    I always associated Kanchipuram with the world famous silk sarees as well as was vaguely aware of the fact that it was home to some great Hindu temples , it was only when I sat down to list the temples did I realise that there was a large number of temples historical and ancient which were dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu , however the three temples that i chose to visit were:-

  1. Kamakshi Amman temple
  2. Ekambareswarar temple
  3. Kanchi Kailasanathar temple

Kamakshi Amman temple . I left early from Chennai and drove on the busy NH 58  to reach Kanchipuram in the morning so that I could visit the temple while the crowds were still building up .

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The Goddess Kamakshi prevails in the form of Shakti, there are 51 Shakti Peeths across India . Kamakshi translates to the goddess at Kanchipuram referred to as the God with Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Lakshmi as both her eyes. Sri Adi Shankaracharya, when he visited Kanchipuram felt the goddess to be in a ferocious mood with the entire inner sanctum very hot. He then sung songs in praise of her and also established a Sri Chakra in front of her idol to keep her cool and personified and this Srichakram is visible to all devotees who visit the inner sanctum .

The goddess is worshipped as Kamakshi , the ultimate form of Goddess Lalitha Maha Tripurasundari , seated in a majestic Padmasana. The goddess resides in a inner sanctum within the main temple. The sight of the goddess was a sight to behold as the sanctum was lit with earthy lamps all around and the idol decked with fresh flowers and the aura which was emanating was powerful enough to touch one within.

Just outside the inner sanctum, there are passages that enable a devotee to go around  the inner sanctum and along this passage there are many other deities also , the entire structure is stone/granite carved intricately and beautifully. The presence of the stone imparts a cool earthy feel to the entire place and also transports a person back into time. there is also a deepstambh just outside the main temple with the sculpture of a lotus next to it which is again prayed by most of the devotees who come here.

There are four Gopurams which act as entry point into the temple premises and each gopuram is intricately sculpted and speaks of the effort gone into the making of these gopurams. There are immeasurable details that have gone into each and every part of the temple and most of these are unable to be deciphered by the uninitiated, only one who is well versed in to understanding these symbols and has an intricate knowledge of the Vedic way of life will actually be able to gain an insight into the full significance of the temple. For the remaining of us, just having a glance of the goddess in her inner sanctum is sufficient enough to carry the image in our  subconscious.

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Ekambareswarar temple.            The creation emanates from the Five Elements i.e. Land, water, Air, Sky and Fire. Lord Shiva is the omnipresent manifestation and hence in the Hindu culture there the Paancha Bhoota Stalam i.e. five ancient temples dedicated to Lord Shiva each representing the five elements. Ekambareswarar temple represents the element Earth and is one of the Pancha Bhoota Stalam. This vast temple was built in 600 AD, Raja Gopuram which is the main entrance rises to a height of 172 feet built by the Vijayanagar dynasty.

As in the case of the temple style of construction dominating this region, the inner sanctum is surrounded by a pilloried corridor which has various other deities along with numerous Lingams . The pillars along the hall are all intricately carved and make a deep impact on the visitor. The inner sanctum is still kept as the original construction with all earthen lamps providing the lighting arrangement.

The premises of the temple also has the shrine of Goddess Parvati, known as Gowridevi Amman and she is beautifully depicted in a standing pose with her own inner sanctum and pillared hall .

The temple premises also has a single mango tree, Legends speak of it being over 2500 yrs old and has four main branches which represent the four Vedas and each year the tree bears four different types of mangoes from each of its four principal branches .

This is one of the most revered temples in Kanchipuram as well as in South India and is a must visit for anyone in this region.

Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple.   The oldest structure, built in the traditional Dravidian architectural style , dedicated to “Lord of the cosmic mountain” i.e. Lord Shiva. The temple was built by the Pallavas and is a fine example of sand stone carvings containing 58 small shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva and the four walls of the temple are adorned with images of Lord Shiva in many of his poses be it Umamaheswara, Sandhya Tandavamurti, Tripurantaka, Shiva Tandava etc.

There is a pathway which circumbulates the inner sanctum where the idol has been established and represents the journey of life which consists of seven stages. Mythical lion mounts surround the pillars which adds to the Pallava style.  This is one the must visit temples of this region , a masterpiece in itself in the Land of the 1000 temples.

There is so much of history and data in each carving and pillar that to simpletons like me their importance cannot even be fathomed , all that I could understand that I was indeed lucky to have been able to come to these revered and hallowed shrines which have seen humanity and mankind flourish and fade away while they have stood at the dawn and dusk of each day and age that has come and gone by.

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