Kaancheevaram or Kanchipuram – the name is familiar to most people for the silk sarees that come from there, an essential part of the wedding trousseau anywhere in the country. To some others, especially for South Indians with a religious leaning, it is also the seat of the Shankaracharya.
It is known as the town of a thousand temples – there is literally no where in the town that a temple is not within one’s vision. Our target was to see the 4 main ones, before the Gods went for their siesta at 12.30.
We started with the Ekamabareswarar – the largest of the temples, with a 60m gopuram, with exceptional carving. It is amongst the tallest gopurams. It dates back to 600 CE and has had additions and modifications through out the Pallava, Chola and Vijayanagar eras. The impressive 1000 pillar corridors are attributed to the Vijayanagar kings. Raja Rajachola is supposed to have seen this temple and built the Brihadisvarar at Tanjore on its lines – bigger and better of course!
The next stop was to the Kamakshi Amman, she being the consort of Ekambareswarar. Its a smaller temple and all its gopurams were under awnings for repair. The attraction here was the very handsome young elephant that was collecting money for blessing devotees. It also had this amazing tree laden with feminine nick-nacks, tied there by the women devoteesasking for favors from the Goddess. It had everything, bangles, lips, hairbands, sindoor, bindi packets…….. I have never seen anything like it!!
Then we moved to the Devarajaswamy kovil – a Vishnu temple for a change, which has the 100 pillar mandapam. Each pillar is unique, with detailed freizes highlighting scenes from ordinary life, devotees and many aspects of the Gods. It reminded me of the wonderful work at Darasuram, which I had visited a few months ago.
The last was the best – a little outside the town, I suspect it is not so frequently visited by devotees. Kailasanathar is the oldest of these temples, built of sand stone rather than rock stone, which has resulted with a lot of the details getting lost. But its proportions are exquisite, and its setting in the green garden around it gave it a special feel – bringing to mind the Hoysala temples.