Kanchipuram in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu is widely popular for its religious significance and beautiful silk sarees. Often referred to as the city of thousand temples, Kanchipuram is an ancient city that derives its name from the presiding deity, Kamakshi Amman. The temples in Kanchipuram make this a unique experience for tourists who are particularly interested in Hindu mythology, religion, and temple architecture. From legends dating back to 1500BC to deities submerged in holy lakes and ponds, the temples in Kanchipuram are unlike anything witnessed anywhere else in India.
The World of Kanchipuram
Temples in Kanchipuram seem to appear at every corner of the road. However, it is not just the temples that make this land so revered. Kanchipuram, in fact, is one of the seven holiest cities in India. Along with Varanasi, Haridwar, Ayodhya, Mathura, Ujjain, and Dwarka, the South Indian city of Kanchipuram is part of Sapt Puri – the seven towns that offer Mokshya (salvation) to the pilgrims. Located around 70km from the capital city of Chennai, on the banks of River Vegavathy, Kanchipuram was the capital of the Pallava kingdom between the 6th and 8th Centuries. The Cholas, Pandyas, and Vijayanagara empires followed. The rulers worshipped the Gods in different temples. Consequently, the area is demarcated into Shiva Kanchi and Vishnu Kanchi, with the leading temple devoted to Kamakshi Amman in between.
The Temples in Kanchipuram
Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple
Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple is one of the 51 Shakti-Peeths. This is the place where the navel of Goddess Sati Is believed to have fallen when Lord Vishnu's Sudarshana Chakra severed the body of Goddess Sati. Rishi Durvasa overcame his curse after worshipping and praying to Kamakshi. Later, he installed Sri Chakra here and wrote Saubhagya Chintamani Kalpa, also known as Durvasa Samhita. The Goddess was worshipped in Her Rudra avatar in the temple. It was only after Adi Guru Shankaracharya pacified her that she came in her present peaceful form, known as “Karuna Murti”. The main sanctum of Goddess Kamakshi is known as Gayatri Mandapa, where she is sitting in a Padmasana posture that resembles “Lotus”. She adorns the Panch Brahmasan with a parrot in her hand. Spread across 5 acres, the temple premise has a holy pond, a golden pillar, a 100 pillared hall, and a magnificent Gopuram.
Ekambareswarar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva is another majestic temple in Kanchipuram, with one of the tallest Gopuram in India. It is significant to the Hindu sect of Saivism as one of the temples associated with the five elements, the Pancha Bhoota Stalas. This temple signifies the element of Prithvi (Earth). As per Hindu mythology, Kamakshi Amman had created a sand idol of Lord Shiva and prayed to Him relentlessly. When River Vegavati overflowed and was about to destroy the lingam, Kamakshi Devi hugged the lingam to protect it. Pleased with Kamakshi Devi's perseverance and adoration, Lord Shiva appeared before the Goddess. Thereafter Ekamabareswarar and Kamakshi Devi got married.
The temple complex covering 25 acres, has four gateway towers known as gopurams. The tallest is the southern tower, with 11 stories and a height of 192 ft. This is one of the tallest temple towers in India. The bottom half of the gateway tower has the shrines of Vinayaka and Murugan on either side. The temple complex houses many halls – the most notable is the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam, the hall with thousand pillars. This hallway was built by the Vijayanagar Kings.
The flagstaff of the temple is axial to the sanctum and diagonally located to the main entrance and the temple tank in either direction. There is a counter-selling prasad right in front of this flagstaff. The temple's innermost precinct is decorated with an array of Shivalingam, one of which is a Sahasra Lingam with 1,008 Siva lingams sculpted on a raised platform. The temple courtyard also houses the 3500 years old mango tree, where Kamakshi Devi had undergone her penance. Curiously, the tree is said to bear mangoes that have four different tastes.
Varadaraja Perumal temple
Varadaraja Perumal temple is one of the 108 Divya Desams (Divya meaning divine and Desam meaning place) as notified by the 12 saints Alwars. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the prime deity at this temple is a form of Lord Vishnu carved on a block of fig wood. The present stone deity found inside the temple is from a nearby Narasimha temple. The deity is called Devaraja Perumal, whose worship is equated to the Adi Athi Varadharaja Perumal. The original deity is kept submerged in the holy tank within the temple premise, named Ananta Teertham.
The deity is brought out of the water once every forty years and worshipped for 48 days during the festival of Aththi Varadhar. On June 29th, 2019, the idol was removed after 40 years and kept for devotee darshan from July 1st to August 17th, 2019. The 10 feet tall murti is generally kept in a reclining position for 24 days and then in a standing posture for the remaining 24 days. Kancheepuram Collector P Ponniah had stated that during the festival in 2019, 1.07 crore devotees had darshan of Aththi Varadhar and they offered around 7 crores in the Hundis. Devotees shall be blessed with the darshan of the original deity in full glory in 2059 again.
There are 96 ornate sculpted pillars depicting various legends of Mahabharat and Ramayana. The exterior part of the inner sanctum houses sculpted images of two lizards covered with silver and gold sheets. The engravings of the sun and moon are also visible. Devotees touch the lizards and relieve themselves of the ill omen associated with lizards falling on the body. One of the most famous architectural pieces in the temple is the huge stone chain sculpted in a single stone. There is a 100 pillared hall in this temple also.
These are the three prime temples of Kanchipuram that are collectively referred to as the Mumurtivasam – the holy abode of the divine trio, Parvati, Shiva, and Vishnu. However, there are innumerable other temples in the holy city of Kanchipuram.
Travelers prefer a day trip to Kanchipuram from the state capital, Chennai. Besides the magnificent temples, the place is also popular for the beautiful Kanjeevaram silk sarees. A S Babu Sah is perhaps the largest shop in Kanchipuram with a multi-storied shopping center. A trip to Kanchipuram would be incomplete without exploring the world of glittering silks. The prices range from Rs. 500 to Lakhs, for some of them are bordered with pure silver and gold.
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