Every state in India has its own special offerings. Tamil Nadu for one is known for the endless ancient temples that dot the state; each unique in structure and design elements. You don’t need to be religious to explore the temples but curious, with an affinity for ancient architecture. Walking through these heritage sites is always an overwhelming experience for me; to marvel at structures that have stood solid for thousands and thousands of years, and to get a glimpse of the rich culture and arts that had once flourished on that site.
I went with that same thought to Kanchipuram, during my short stint in Chennai. Being just 75 km away, it made for the perfect one-day getaway. While Kanchipuram is renowned for its traditional craft of weaving Kanjeevaram silk sarees, it is also popular for its marvellous ancient temples that draw tourists from far and near. Since I had limited time – of course I wasn’t going to miss out on shopping Kanjeevaram sarees – my driver, the ever smiling Venkat, suggested I visit the top three famous temples of Kanchipuram. And so it was.
1. Kamakshi Amman Temple
“This temple is dedicated to Goddess Kamakshi. People here have deep faith in her,” said Venkat. And sure enough, as I made my way in, I saw throngs of people lining up patiently to pay their respects to the Goddess at what’s considered an important shakti peeth in the country. The temple complex seemed to be designed in the form of concentric circles, and as I took one round of the outer, I witnessed numerous intricately carved stone pillars and four grand entrances to the temple, with the typical gopuram (conical tower with sculptures of various Gods and Goddesses). Back in Chennai, a friend added that the four walls of the main mandapa represent the four Vedas and the 24 pillars represents the syllables of the Gayatri mantra. While some say the temple was built by the Cholas, some argue that it was the Pallavas.
While wandering about, I came across the bhojan area, where free meal is served everyday. Sitting on the floor, I ate a delightful meal of curd rice, lemon rice and vegetable curry.
2. Ekambareswarar Temple
Lucky for me, the day I visited Ekambareswarar temple, there were preparations in full swing for a festival in the evening. So it held a festive spirit, which was a warm welcome. As I made my way through the grand entrance, known as the Raja Gopuram, I tried to focus on the grand stone structures rather than the alley of shops. The temple complex houses many shrines, of which the Ekambareswarar shrine is unmissable. It’s evident that it has been around for eons. A closer look at the grand walls and pillars, and I noticed beautiful stone-cut sculptures of Lord Shiva and Parvati, depicting their tale of love. I read somewhere that one of its halls has as many as thousand pillars. Walking around the temple complex surely took be back in time, and evoked a sense of peace and calm.
3. Kailasanathar Temple
Kailasanathar Temple was undoubtedly the most beautiful of the temples I had visited in Kanchipuram. The spectacular sandstone temple built by the Pallavas is considered a pride of Dravidian style of architecture. The temple complex houses many shrines, and rather than usual rock-cut structures, it boosts stone built architecture on a granite foundation. I was mesmerised by the beautiful depictions of Lord Shiva as well as the mythical lions. An interesting feature of the temple was the circumambulatory passage. To enter, one has to climb seven steps and crawl through a narrow passage to reach to the other side, signifying the passage through life. To exit, one must again pass through another passage, which is known as the Gate of Death, drawing from the Hindu belief of rebirth.
While I wished I could go on exploring, it was already time to head for shopping before making my way back to Chennai. But it was day well spent and the memories till remain.