Kanchipuram – The City of Thousand Temples

Kanchipuram- The City of Thousand Temples also, one of the 7 Mokshapuris and Capital of Ancient Pallavas. There are many temples dedicated to Shaivites & Vaishnavites. In whole of Kanchipuram, there are no temples dedicated to Ambal (Parvati) in any of the Shiva Temples. Kamakshi Amman Temple is considered to be wholly present in Kanchipuram, as the only Ambal shrine.

Ekambareswar Temple, Kamakshi Amman Temple, Kumara Kottam Temple and the Ulagalanda Perumal Temple are the primary Temples in Periya (Great) Kanchipuram. The first three mentioned above are located in a manner as to suggest the Somaskanda manifestation of Shiva, Uma and Skanda in the town of Kanchipuram.

I reached Chengalpattu by 05:00 am from Tiruchirappali, came out of Station, googled the Bus Stand, located just a km away, I thought of walking down. I took the wrong turn (right direction) towards the main road. The buses to Kanchipuram leaves from the Bus Stand which is located at the end of the service road towards the left side from Railway Station. I walked all the way to the bus stand, from right to left (dragging the lugguage through the uneven potholed lane, exhaustion crept in), got the bus and reached in next one hour to Kanchipuram.

I thought of checking in Yatri Nivas located near Kamakshi Amman Temple, instead landed up at ICS Residency (Next to Kamakshi Amman Temple) hoping for better room and good service, since the fever was back with bang. The price was 1300+ taxes. I tried paying in card, they cited some problem and took 1300 in cash, thus evading tax. It was basic, but clean room with AC. Since, I was already running fever and severe weakness, I did not dare to go on hotel hopping spree. I slept till afternoon till 2:00 pm, realizing I have to eat something to roam around, I ordered food via Zomato(limited choice). With some energy back in, I came out of hotel, inquired for a Dispensary. My First Aid kit had everything except a tablet for Fever. Usually, I don’t catch Fever (that’s what I thought) maybe because of long vacation with hectic plan of hopping from one place to another might have taken the toll on the body. I walked for some 500 mtrs, got some Paracetamol tablet, regaining some more energy, again had full veg meal (when health is down, eat heartily, however bad the condition, good food tends to heal the body faster – that’s my tried and tested mantra during treks) and went to check out the Kamakshi Amman temple, which was adjacent to the Hotel I stayed in.

I had kept two days for the Kanchipuram trip. Because there are more than 15 important temples with Vaishnavites on south side called as Vishnu Kanchi and Shaivites on North side called as Shiva Kanchi, mostly located from one another within distance of 5-10 minutes. Unfortunately, due to bad health, I had to shrink my plan to 7 exclusive temples.

During research regarding this trip, I read that it is usually better to start the trip by first visiting the Kamakshi Amman Temple. “Ka” means Goddess Saraswathi ( God of Education), “ Ma” means Goddess Lakshmi (God of Wealth), “Akshi” means Eye.  The name in full refers Kamakshi with Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Lakshmi as her both eyes. It is an important Sakthi Sthalam called as the “Nabisthana Ottiyana Peetam”. The temple also has a golden Gopuram on the Sanctorum of Goddess Kamakshi deity which is visible to all devotees.

Kamakshi Amman temple is a massive complex. It is one of the 51 Shaktipeethas.  There are four entrance. The main entrance has Kalabhairavar on its left and Mahisasura mardini on the right. There is a huge Dwajastambha at the centre. The place where goddess resides is “Gayatri Mandapam”.

The Goddess lives in temple in 3 forms. They are Sri Kamakshi, Sri Bilahasam and Sri Chakram. The goddess is in a sitting posture of “Padmasana”. The goddess contains Pasa, Angusa, Pushpabana and Sugarcane in her forehands. As usual photography was not allowed once inside the temple.

This temple is also associated with Saint Aadi Sankaracharya of the 1st millennium CE. He attained enlightenment at Sri Kamakshi Peeda (Stand). He was born and brought up in Kerala. While travelling all over India, he came across this temple, as he stepped inside the temple, he was stunned to find an incredible power inside the shrine of Goddess Kamakshi. He found out that Goddess Kamakshi was very furious and angry, so in order to pacify her he created a divine Chakra (Wheel) and placed before the Goddess. This divine Chakra also called as Sri Chakra calmed down the Goddess and turned her to the peaceful mode. He later established Kanchi Kamakodiagal Ashram and attained enlightenment ( Sarva Nyanam).

Later, walked across to the Ulahalanda Perumal Temple situated 500 mtrs. across criss-cross lanes. On the way saw the Yatri Niwas Building, enquired about booking. They entertain only phone booking or maybe seeing a single lady, they deny booking. I continued my walk towards Ulahalanda Perumal Temple, because of the huge Trivikrama Sculpture, I read about. The temple deity of Ulahalanda Perumal is the Vamana Roopam. To view that, you have strain your eyes hard enough to see behind the main central idol. There is a huge 35 feet Trivikrama sculpture more than 20 feet wide (This literally means One who measured the entire world.) Lord Vishnu is in the form of Trivikrama(5th Incarnation of Lord Vishnu) behind the idol, the small door can cause hindrance to view the entire frame. Fortunately, there were hardly any people and I took my own time, straining my eyes hard. I was bit disappointed with no photography board everywhere.  This temple was built by Jayam Konda Cholan. The history of the temple is that, King Mahabali performed penance here to get a full darshan of  Lord Vishnu. Even on grant of his wish, he could not see the lord’s full form. Hence, he requested Lord to give him the form of Aadisesha Snake so that, he could see the lord from the top . The temple is believed to house 4 divya desam  Thiru Neeragam, Thiru Kaaragam, Thiru Karavanam, Thiru Ooragam. In the sanctum sanctorum, to the right of Perumal(to your left when you approach the lord) you can see Adisesa.

While coming out of the temple, I saw an auto standing, I told the driver, I have to see few temples next day, need the proper rate, bargained for 5 temples including the Jaina Kanchi, for Rs. 600. I told him to come exactly at 7:00 am in the morning. I walked back to the Kamakshi Amman temple area, diverting a bit to visit the Adi Peeta Parameswari Temple, the original temple of Kamakshi.

The original Sri Chakra created by Saint Adi Shankaracharya is in this temple. As usual, photography was not allowed here. I sat at the Mandapa area for sometime. Some local ladies were chitchatting. I asked one of them, “Amma, where will I get good Kanjeevaram sarees?”. This question was enough to get me so many options and suggestions. I thanked them, took an auto to the M.G. Road. They told me to go for Government shops called Society Saree Shops. Rest everywhere the Sarees start above Rs. 7000. I found one small shop called Moogambika, went in and found what I was looking for in the whole trip – a South Indian Skirt, Top Set. I hired an auto back to the hotel, alighted at the Handcrafted Ice-cream cafe, which I had seen earlier and made a mental note of it of being hand crafted. Although, Cold and fever were playing hide and seek, still I ate ice cream gladly. Firmly believing, always have what you want at that moment itself, don’t wait for “next time”, because the “next time” hardly arrives.

I had one more day at Kanchipuram, so went back to the hotel and rested.

Next day, auto arrived by 7:15 am, I had breakfast prior to that, to avoid wasting time. Also, the fever had left me weak, had full day excursion at Kanchipuram planned, hence made sure to eat to fullest. First, he took me to Ekambareshwarar temple.

Ekambareshwarar temple was built during Chola Period in 9th Century. Later, the expansions were carried out by Vijayanagara Rulers dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is one of the five major Shiva temples or Pancha Bootha Sthalams (each representing a natural element) representing the element – Earth.

The other four temples in this category are Thiruvanaikaval Jambukeswara (water), Chidambaram Natarajar (ether or space), Thiruvannamalai Arunachaleswara (fire) and Kalahasti Nathar (wind). The temple is spread over 40 acres.

The Temple’s Rajagopura reaching the height of 57 meters is one of the tallest in South India, built by Vijayanagara King – Krishnadevaraya. There is a small temple for Lord Vishnu as Vamana named Thiru Nilaaththingal Thundathan.

The Sthala Vriksham around 3500 years old in the form of bark of wood is kept inside glass protection.

It is believed that Goddess Kamakshi Amman (Shakti) worshipped Lord Shiva under this mango tree. This tree bears four branches representing the Four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana) and the fruits from these branches have four differing tastes respectively.

Next was Sri Kachabeswarar Temple also called as Karchapeswarar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is located at 1 km from Ekambareshwarar Temple. The goddess is called as Soundarambikai. The other sub shrines are dedicated to Saraswati, Ganesha, Chadurmukeswarar, Sastha and Bhairav. There are four shrines of Lord Shiva around the temple tank called as Ishta Siddhi Teerth – Dharma Siddheswarar, Kama Siddheswarar, Artha Siddheeswarar and Moksha Siddheswarar.

Near the main deity Kachabeswarar, there is an idol of Lord Ganesha called as Satyamozhi Vinayaka, which was worshipped by Lord Vishnu. As per the history, While churning the milk ocean, the Mandhara hill used as the stick (mathu) began to sink. To bring it out, Lord Vishnu incarnated as Kachaba (tortoise) to help the Devas. He came to this place, created a spring, bathed and prayed to Lord Shiva in the endeavour. As Lord Shiva helped Vishnu, hence named Kachabeswarar. The Sthala Vruksham is the Banyan Tree.

Sri Varadaraja Perumal is located 4 km away from Sri Kachabeswarar Temple. A huge 23 Acre Temple Complex with 19 Vimanams, 32 Shrines and 389 Pillared Halls dedicated to Lord Vishnu or Varadaraja Swamy. It is one of the 108 divyadesams. The temple has three Prakaras namely, Azhwar Prakara, Madai Palli Prakara and Thiru Malai Prakara. The main entrance Rajagopuram is 7 tiered and 130 feet tall.

After the Rajagopuram, on the left side there is Hundred pillared Mandapam built by the Vijayanagar kings which has Sculptures depicting Ramayana and Mahabharata. The most unique and outstanding architectural piece is the huge Stone Chain carved out of Single Stone. The Tiruppanies (Wood Work) done by Alam Kheer Basha of Delhi during 1645 was inscribed on the walls of the temple.

The temple of Sri Varadarajaswamy originally called as “Attiyuran” is on a small 10m tall hillock called Hasthagiri lead by flight of 24 steps. It has murals of the late Vijayanagara Empire on the ceiling. Other significant features of the temple are beautifully carved Bangara Palli(Golden Lizard Motif), Silver palli(Silver Lizard Motif), Sun and the moon motifs which if touched will relieve you of all the Doshas (sins). 

There is a charge of Rs. 2/- to see and touch the Golden Lizard over the sanctum. I climbed the small ladder and walked across without touching the Lizards (since I was ignorant of same). A lady asked me to go over again and touch the same. I did that and learnt about the importance later. Photography is as usual not allowed The original idol of Sri Varadharaja is in the form of Fig (Atthi) and is kept silver Box in the bed of temple tank. It is taken out once in 40 years. It is said that touching the Golden Lizard washes away the doshas (sins).

The Vimana over the sanctum of Varadaraja Swami is called Punyakoti Vimanam and the one over Perundevi Thayar shrine is called Kalyana Koti Vimanam. There is a shrine of Narasimha on the hillock. The origin of the mask of Narasimha is mysterious and believed to possess inexplicable powers.

The second Prakara has four shrines, of which Malayala Nachiar (Kerala Consort), built during Chera Kings in the early 14th Century. The Third Prakara has Shrine of Goddess Perundevi Thayar. It is customary for devotees to visit this shrine first before visiting the main Perumal shrine. There are four small pillared halls, identical in structure, called Thulabara Mandapas built during 1532 for a ceremony of Achutaraya of the Vijayanagara empire.

After visiting all these Shrines, where the Photography was not allowed, I came back to the 100 Pillared Mandapa called as Kalyana Mandapam. There is a security guard to protect the Mandapam and also to collect charge of Rs. 5/- for photography. I gladly paid the fee to photograph the Sculptural marvels in this Mandapam. The pillars are sculpted with various manifestations of Lord Vishnu, Surasundaris and stories from Ramayana. I spent more than an hour at this place.

Next was Jaina Kanchi, which is located outside the town and as soon as I got down from auto, I was told, photography is not allowed, not even from outside. I was disappointed. for a short term memory like mine, I needed photographs. Anyways, I took a short detour of the place and came back to visit the Kailashanathar Temple. My another favourite other than Sri Varadaraja Perumal.

Kailashanathar temple, the best of the lot, due to many manifestations of Lord Shiva being available here and the sculptures were too beautiful all around. Photography was allowed and very few people around to photobomb.

Kailashanathar temple is oldest in Kanchipuram built in 7th Century by a Pallava King named Rajasimha known as Narasimhavarman II. The Vimana is similar to those seen in Mahabalipuram Shore Temple.

The foundation of the temple is laid on granite stones while the superstructure is carved out of sandstone. There are eight small shrines in row (2 on one side & 6 on other side of the main entrance) with a huge Nandi Shrine opposite to it.

There are Shiva Lingas in these shrines. Around the main temple, the Prakara has many small caves (50 of them) with different forms of Lord Shiva in each of them. It is a delight for the Photographers.

There is a Pillared Mandapam, which is closed. The Garbagriha has a 16 faced Shiva Linga in black Granite.

By afternoon, 1:00 PM, I had finished all these temple visit. Since, I arrived earlier day at 7:30 AM, the check-out was at 07:30AM itself, but extended upto 1:00 PM. I checked out from hotel, had lunch at the nearby hotel, got into bus to Arakonam.

I had booked 3 AC train ticket from Arakonam Station to Mysore Railway Station, train was supposed to arrive at 22:30 and reach Mysore by 06:30 am.

So, from 15:00 to 22:30, it was a very long wait at Waiting Room. I could have managed to tour around Kanchipuram more, but due to on-off fever, I decided to stick with main ones and let go off others. Maybe for some other time. This is a place where you would, more likely visit twice or more.

Next stop was Somnathpura!

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