An hour’s drive to the 6th Century AD

Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu is but 70 kilometres from Chennai. A distance that, at best, would take an hour to cover. But a place where a whole day isn’t enough to begin describing it.

The city of Kanchipuram is related in many ways to the city of Chennai. Both Pallava centres of importance – Kanchipuram the capital, Madras-Mylapore, once their port. Interestingly Madras has now become the administrative and commercial capital, and Kanchipuram relegated to just another city. Both cities have a profusion of classic Dravidian Temples- Kanchipuram beating Chennai hollow in the styles and quantity…but Chennai does have its occasional masterpiece. Dark days for religion

Kanchipuram – “Nagaresu Kanchi” as the old saying goes, was the centre of learning, of arts. The international city, where tourists and monks and traders visited. A must see destination in the ancient world.
Chennai – “தர்ம மிகு சென்னை (Virtous Chennai)” is now the cultural, and academic centre of excellence. The city of Ford and Hyundai and Saint Gobain and Nokia. A city that is as international as New York or Hong Kong. A city that is visited by monks, traders and tourists.

A little while after independence, both cities were part of the super-district of Chengalpattu. Till administrative hassles and politics divided them up. Both cities are riverine, one on the Palar, the other on the Coovum and Adyar. Chennai though, also is not far from the Palar.

But let me stop here, and let the photos speak

Kanchipuram – A photoset
Ekambaran-01 Ekambaran-07
The Gopuram of the Ekambaranathar temple, Kanchi. The name Ekambaran means – “Of one mango leaf” and is derived from the single Mango tree that is the official tree of the temple The temple tank, with pillared hall/dorm for priests, in Ekambaranathar temple, Kanchi.
Ekambaran-04 Ekambaran-05
The sabha or main sanctum in Ekambaranathar Temple, Kanchi. This temple, originally constructed by the Pallavas, has since been renovated by the Cholas and the Vijayanagaras. The pillars in this particular photograph are ornate and some say, belong to the Vijayanagara style Sculpture of the Narasimha – a Vishnu avatar, in the Saivite shrine of Ekambaranathar Temple
Ekambaran-06 Ekambaran-02
A view of the temple tank with its central platform (purpose unknown, but a common feature in all Dravidian style of temples), at Kanchi’s Ekambaranathar temple The Rajagopuram (main gateway), the temple body and its reflection in the waters of the tank…Ekambaranathar temple
Ekambaranathar Temple was the first on my route. As most temples in Kanchipuram are, this one was built somewhere in the 6th-7th century AD, and later renovated around the 14th century. A huge, sprawling campus, this temple is built like a fort. With thick outer walls made of stone, four gateway in the four sides of the wall facing the four cardinal directions, this temple is a delight.
Vaikunta-01 Vaikunta-03
The entrance to Vaikuntaperumal Temple in Chinna Kanci. A delight of a temple, originally a Pallava construction, later expanded upon by the Cholas The inner walls of the Vaikuntaperumal temple – A delight in all senses – Sandstone pillars shaped like lions line up symmetrically, reflecting sunlight on all sides. One one side, walls decorated with bas-relief panels depicting scenes from daily life and mythology.
Vaikunta-05 Chinaman comes calling
The outer complex – part of the later Chola expanion A strange sculpture – This one shows a Chinese man in the court of the Pallavas. Some say he could be Heun Tsang, who did visit India around the time the temple was built. One can never be sure though.
I can never fully describe my joy and awe at visiting the Vaikunta perumal temple. Situated in the part of Kanchipuram called Chinna Kanci, this temple packs within it enough history and art to make anything else kindergartenish in comparison – Sandstone pillars colouring the sunlight brown and red, intricate and detailed carvings and sculptures and panels. Built around the 5th Century AD by the son of Rajasimha Pallavan, this temple predates the Mahabalipuram complex
Kailasan-00 The front view of Kanci’s Kailasanathar Temple. Quite the best of the lot
Kailasan-03 The rathams at Kailasanathar temple – each a sandstone masterpiece, with its own frescoes (that still survive) and room for priests to sit and meditate
Kailasan-01 Another view of the Rathams – every view is different, every angle throwing up surprises and hidden pieces of art – be they the frescoes that decorate the walls, or calligraphic writing that inspired Chinese alphabets
Kailasan-05 Detail of sandstone sculptures in one of the walls
Kailasanathar temple is to me, the best of the ones I visited. Ever. Built in 457 AD, by Rajasimha Varma Pallavan, this temple has been the inspiration for a lot of South Indian temples – including the one at Tanjavur. Calligraphic writing on this temple has been the inspiration for some of China’s own alphabets – the Buddhist monks being responsible for its spread

2 Comments so far

  1. Lavanya (unregistered) on March 26th, 2006 @ 10:45 am

    Excellent collection of pictures. I saw these temples with fresh eyes thanks to you.

  2. Shalini (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 6:34 pm

    Chandrachoodan, I’ve been to Kanchi and I agree with everything in your post. It’s amazing, how so much beauty can be packed into such a small place.
    Did you get a glimpse of the “Nandavanam” at the Varadaraja Perumal temple? More eye candy is all I can say.
    I was quite amused by the “Palliarrai” in the Ekambereswar temple. The only mention of Palliarrai that I’d come aross was in “Oru Kaidhiyin Diary” – “ABC nee vasi”
    This Metroblog is a kalakkal(being a Madras blog, one shouldn’t forget the language that we grew up with) idea…And ayyo, I’m missing Madras so much (i’ve just been away for 2 months)

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