Kanchipuram

Dairy entry

पुश्पेशु जाति पुरुशेशु विष्णुः नारीषु रम्भा नगरेषु काञ्ची  |
नदीशु गंगा नृवरेषु रामः चर्येषु मघः चवि कालिदासः ||

The best of flowers is jAti, of beings is God, of cities is kAnchi, of women is rambhA, of rivers is the Ganges, of princes is rAma, of poems is magha and kAlidAsa, the noblest of bards.

A visit to Kanchipuram may not quiet qualify as a travel because of the sheer frequency at which i have been doing it lately. And yet every time it continues to charm me as my very first visit to the magnificent temples in this sleepy little town. Often referred to as the city of thousand temples, only a visit to this town will convince you that it is actually possible for a thousand temples to exist here. Every street or lane has a towering Gopuram that greets you from far. While most people stop with a handful of common ones at the heart of the city, namely the Kamakshi temple, Ekamreshwara temple, Kumarakottam, Kachapeshwara temple, Varadaraja temple in chinna kanchipuram, etc., a true traveler will not take long to discover some vast deserted temples a little out of the way that take you into their folds and transpose into a quaint and serene world of their own.

(Temple pond, Ekamreshwara temple)

Kanchi is one of the oldest cities in India. Panini mentions it in his works in the 3rd century BC, long before the place finds a mention in the Tamil sangams and hence it is widely regarded as the southernmost outpost of the Sanskrit language. That also to an extent explains the obsession of some pallava rulers with the north Indian tongue. Etymologically it derives from the Sanskrit word for  a girdle worn by women (the mention of 'Odyaana peeta vaasini' in lalita sahasranama is a reference to this town) and in prakrit it is written as kacci, which is same as the tamil name 'Thirukkacchi' coined by the shavaite and vasihnavite saints of later times. Despite the numerous temples, for the shaivites the place was synonymous with the Ekamreshwara temple (Thirukkacchi ekambam) and for the vaishnavites the Varadaraja temple (Atthigiri or chinna kanchipuram, deriving from "Hasti giri' or the elephant hill). The Ekamreshwara temple derives its name from the 4000 year old mango tree, which I remember seeing in my childhood days, but which is dead now and has been replaced by an artificially bred sapling from the ancient tree.

(Sculptures inside the Varadaraja temple)

The Varadaraja temple is bigger than even the sprawling 20 acre Ekamreshwara temple. The pond at the entrance of the temple houses an ancient wooden statue under its waters, that’s taken out once in 48 years. The best feature of the temple is the pillared hall near the eastern entrance with hundreds of pillars each with extremely exquisite sculptures of gods, goddesses, warriors, kings, common men, etc. After finishing the temple, we took an auto rickshaw to a rarely visited temple of Narasimha in a small village called Sevilimedu. The small and recently renovated temple is over a thousand years old and in the sanctum is a beautifully carved huge statue of the lion headed god.

(Kailasanathar temple)

After returning to Kanchipuram, we walked towards the oldest of all temples, the Kailsanathar temple. Many argue that this is the oldest Hindu temple in the world which has been actively used for worship uninterruptedly since its construction. This is the only temple maintained by the archeological society of India and the fact is quite blatant at the first sight. A whole blog can be dedicated to the wonders of this temple constructed of sandstone and mud plastering.  A unique feature of this temple is the inner chamber surrounding the lingam with a tiny passage entry and an even tinier exit. Crawling through this passage is supposed relieve one from the  unending cycle of rebirths. The outer corridor is filled with innumerable deities, mythological episodes, etc. while most colors from the paintings have withered away.

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Itinerary & Tips

Started early in the morning at 5 AM and took a bus to Poonamallee and another from there to Kanchipuram. Visited Ekamresha temple, Kamakshi temple, Kumarakottam, Kachapeshwarar temple, Narasimha temple at Sevilimedu, Varadaraja temple at Chinna kanchipuram and finally Kailasanathar temple before having lunch and boarding a bus to Chennai, to reach by 2:30 PM.

Tips:

There are a number of buses to Kanchipuram from T Nagar terminus (first bus at 6:30 AM), Koyambedu bus station (buses from 4 AM every 10-15 mins), Ashok pillar, etc.

All temples close by 12 PM and open again at 4 PM. The Kamakshi temple can be crowded  at times. Although the sanctum of Kailsanathar temple closes at 12, the premises are open from 6 to 6 and it is reached by walking 2 KM away from main road (or taking an auto for Rs.30). Varadaraja temple is in CHinna kanchipuram and there are regular share autos from the market and shankara mutt that will take you there for Rs.5. And... do not miss having a full meals at Saravana bhavan near bus stand once you're done!

Album

(Gopuram, Ekamreshwara temple)

(Temple pond, Varadaraja temple)

(Warrior on horse, Varadaraja temple)

(Outer corridor, Kailasanathar temple)

 (Dancing Shiva, Kailasanathar temple)
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