A Visit to Kanchipuram: History culture and tradition
Chennai to Kanchipuram Travelogue
There are very few places in Tamil Nadu that I have visited. Kanchipuram is one of them. I always tend to associate this ancient town with the most exotic silk sarees and exclusive idlis. It was only when I visited the town, that I discovered its real treasures. It was a weekend family trip and we booked a licensed and verified Chennai to Kanchipuram cab. It was only 80 Km from Chennai and was perfect for a day trip. We took NH48 and reached in less than two hours.
One could call this a temple town, with its apparent appearance. As we neared Kanchipuram, the city welcomed us with ancient stone temples, each with the finest carvings and sculptures.
I learned that the establishment of the city dates back to the 6th century when the rulers of the Pallava Dynasty made it into their kingdom capital and ruled from here for two centuries. They created great stone monuments in the neighboring town of Mamallapuram and magnificent temples in Kanchipuram. Some of the temples were later added by the Chola and Vijayanagar kings. As such, the temples of Kanchipuram were not only religious sites but also had historical significance. Most of these places of worship are dedicated to Shiva, Shakti, and Vishnu. There were nearly 50 temples in and around Kanchipuram but we had time to visit only a few. So we went to these three most popular and sacred temples in the city –
Also known as the Ekambareswarar Temple is the largest religious site of Kanchipuram and is dedicated to Shiva. It is said to be one of the Pancha Bhootha Sthalams (site representing all five natural elements – earth, water, fire, wind, and ether). The Ekambareshwar Temple represents the Earth. The temple itself is an ancient architectural marvel boasting the tallest gopuram (tower) in India.
This is the oldest temple and shrine of Shiva in Kanchipuram. It is one of the earliest architectural contributions of the Pallava dynasty. The inner sanctum of the temple enshrines a unique Shiva Linga made of black granite. I was most fascinated by the sculpted stone pillars, each of them portraying a deity of Hindu gods and goddesses.
Kamakshi Amman Temple
If the previous two temples were the most significant ones of Shiva, this was the most sacred temple dedicated to Shakti. Yet another example of excellence of Pallava architecture, the Kamakshi Amman Temple serves as the primary site of worship for the Kamakoti Mutt- a religious institution established by patron saint- Sri Adi Shankara.
Of all the temples, the Kamakshi Amman Temple was the busiest, surrounded by bustling markets. Another thing that I noticed was that most of these temples had a pillar lamp (deepstambh) which are perhaps lit in the evening or special occasions and am sure they would make the temple look magical after dark.
We finished our temple tour just in time for lunch. Since we were in the city of the famous idlis, we didn’t have to think of what we wanted for the meal. Our driver recommended the Sri Krishna Vilas Hotel on Kamaraj Street, which is one of the oldest eateries in town and make the traditional ‘koil idli’ every afternoon by 1.00 p.m.
Art and heritage
Post lunch, we went on to explore the artistic side of Kanchipuram. Always rent a comfortable AC car in Chennai with a driver as the heat can get really unbearable. The best place to learn about the city’s heritage was Kanchi Kudil. It was a century-old villa turned into a museum and featured antiques, ancient handicrafts, photos, and art. We also stopped by the Kuttu Kalai Kudam- a unique art school. This school offers training to children in the Kattaikkuttu Kudam – a traditional theater art form, where dancers dress up in colorful costumes and enact mythological anecdotes. This age-old art is almost fading from the face of the city’s culture and this particular school has been striving hard to restore Kanchipuram’s cultural legacy.
Our initial plan was to go back to Chennai by evening on the same day, but by the time our day tour ended, followed by dinner, it was quite late. And we hadn’t still explored the most important part of Kanchipuram- its silk route. So we stayed back in the city and planned a tour of looms and silk factories the next day.
The Silk Route
Kanchipuram is known for the most exclusive variety of silk sarees. The local weavers have been settled here for generations and made this their family occupation. For hundreds of years, these families have been producing the finest silk fabrics.
We went straight to one of the most famous and oldest silk co-operative societies of Kanchipuram to see the weavers at work. Kancheepuram Murugan silk handloom weavers’ society employs hundreds of weavers from nearby towns and villages. We had to take prior permission for a quick tour. They also had a store where the woven fabrics and sarees were also sold at wholesale rates. Our tour facilitator explained the nuances of the process and the intricacies of the weaves, while I stared in awe as the weavers dexterously swiped the wooden loom on the warp and the weft of the threads. Most sarees were designed on temple themes with borders representing gopurams or geometric patterns and floral motifs.
Kanchipuram is truly a land of cultural wonders, historical treasures, and deep-rooted Tamilian tradition, which you can only experience once you have first-hand experience.