India:
Tamil Temples of Kanchipuram

What? 
A South Indian town packed with Hindu temples with soaring towers and wild sculptures. 

Why visit? 
Kanchipuram offers a stunning collection of traditional Tamil temples in a compact area. Going back 1300 years, they are up there with the best, attracting a steady stream of pilgrims, but few non-Hindu visitors.

Oh, and there's good shopping, too.

Where?
Kanchipuram (Kanchi for friends) is about 70km from Madras (Chennai) in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Map.

THE TEMPLES OF Tamil Nadu have a distinct style that is easily recognizable-  mostly their soaring entrance towers (gopurams) that hold carved images of what seems to be the whole Hindu pantheon- all 330 million or so gods.

Kanchipuram is one of the seven holy cities, the Sapta Pura, of Hinduism, meaning that a visit here brings instant karma and improves your chances of a better next life. The holiest of these Seven Cities is Varanasi (Benares), and although Kanchipuram can't compete with the millions who visit the city on the Ganges each year, it does attract a steady stream of Hindu pilgrims- and a very small number of Western tourists.
Need some offers to please the gods? Note the beautiful traditional Tamil house in the background. 
There are numerous temples spread out across town- the oldest dating back some 1300 years. Let's take a look at some of them.

Ever been blessed by an elephant? Have I got something for you. Kamakshi Amman temple offers the chance to get tapped on the cranium by a pachyderm, in exchange for a few rupees, for an instant boost to your karma. It also has an intriguing yellow-blue colour scheme which contrasts nicely with the pilgrims clad in red.
Kamakshi Amman Temple
Knock knock! Anybody there?
Pilgrims line up to enter the sanctum sanctorum
And yes, idols of all 330 million Hindu gods, or at least the majority of them, are watching you from the temple's towers, which date back to the 16th century.
Gods, dancers, evil dwarves... they're all there.
Ever seen a 3500 year old mango tree? The Ekambareswarar temple is built around an ancient mango tree under which Parvati, Shiva's wife, is said to have done penance. It's doubtful the tree is that old but it's a magnificent tree, as are the buildings that have sprung up around it since the 6th century CE.
The tree that started it all is dwarfed by the gopuram. 
Ghee (clarified butter) candles. 
Size does matter: Ekambareswarar is the largest temple in Kanchipuram and sports a 59m high gopuram. Don't get lost in the 1000-pillared hall which is vast and which, like most of the current structure, dates back to the 15th century.
Yes, somebody is watching you- from the temple roof. 

Just outside of the center of town, Kailasanathar temple is the oldest structure in Kanchipuram, dating back to the late 7th century. It's also Kanchipuram's most impressive building, and shows Indian rock carving at its best.

Its gopuram is relatively modest- it took several centuries of 'mine is bigger than yours' for the really tall gopurams to develop. But what Kailasanathar lacks in height, it makes up for in carvings and the sheer weight of history that you can sense here. 
Kailasanathar keeps a low profile...
...but once inside it rewards you with some of the best carving in South India. 
Kailasanathar is still a working temple, but it doesn't attract the crowds of the larger temples in the center of town. The Brahmin priest told me his family had been tending this temple for 30 generations- clearly they have been doing a good job!
It's a family affair- looking after this temple since 695 AD. 
Apart from temples, Kanchipuram's other claim to fame is silk sarees. If you're a man, this may be of only minor interest to you but if you're a woman, this is a great place to stock up on Indian wedding outfits.

Getting there:
Kanchipuram is connected by what passes for a highway in india to Madras (Chennai). There's also a train station. Once in town, you can walk to the temples- look for the tall gopurams as landmarks. Take a rickshaw to get to Kailasanathar, which is a bit further out.

Useful links:
Kanchipuram on Tamil Nadu Tourism

2 comments:

  1. Hello and thank you for writing this. I appreciate the time you took to write this. It has given me inspiration on where to go around Chennai.
    We are off to Chennai in a couple of days and I think I will use this as motivation to go to "Kanchi" on one of my days off.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's great, in sure you'll have a wonderful trip. Are you planning to spend a lot of time in Madras itself? It's not the most interesting of places... You might be better off spends more time in other parts of Tamil Nadu.

      Delete

Have you been here? Or are you planning to go? Either way, we would love to hear about it.

 

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