Kanchipuram popularly called as just Kanchi is well known for two things in India. One as a temple city having beautiful architecture rich old temples from the Pallava, Chola and Vijayanagar dynasties around the 6th to 9th century timeframe. Secondly its equally famous for its weaving industry producing silk sarees known as Kanchipuram sarees. A wedding in south India, typically Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Andra Pradesh is incomplete without the bride and all women attending, adorning these beautiful and expensive sarees woven with silk and gold thread.
My visit to this temple city was a while back as a part of the road trip I did covering Kanchi, Srirangam and Madurai , basically being a trip visiting temples in these towns and those that were on the way.
Getting Here : The closest city to Kanchi is Chennai around 80kms and you can either hire a car from Chennai or take a bus to Kanchi. I drove from Bangalore which is around 280kms away from Kanchi. From Bangalore you can hire a car to get here or there are several buses plying to this place, I could not find any direct trains from Bangalore.
Its a small town but you will still need some mode of transport to visit the various temples as they are a little spread out. Autorickshaw as we call it in India or tuk-tuks as known everywhere else can be used for this too, you can either bargain a price for the whole day or just for drops. A note here, Kailasanathar temple which is around 3 kms from the town center is a little remote and so getting an auto back may be an issue, its not too much of a walk through the small village road till you may get an auto.
Temples of importance and that are not to be missed are mainly three, Kailasanathar temple, Ekambareshwar temple and Varadharaja Perumal temple for their architecture. The other temples are also beautiful but they are more for worship as either only Hindus are allowed or due to the crowds and daily rituals you cant really explore the temple as most areas would be cornered off.
Kailasanathar Temple : This is the oldest temple in Kanchipuram believed to have been built around 685AD by the Pallavas. The temple is a stone built structure, sandstone, in the typical Pallava Dravidian style. The main deity here as the name implies is Siva, Kailasanathar meaning "Lord of the cosmic mountain". The main temple with the vimana is at the center of the complex which houses the 16 faced shivalinga. The compound wall that encloses the main shrine has 58 small shrines built into the niches of the wall making the walk around the main shrine a rich experience.
As mentioned earlier this temple is around 3kms away from the town center and so getting back an auto to the town may be at times difficult.
Ekambareswara temple : This temple of Siva is a Pancha Booth (five elements earth, water, fire, air and space) Stala temple signifying the Earth in the Saivism sect of Hinduism. The current structure is believed to be built in the 9th century by the Cholas and later expanded by the Vijayanagar rulers. The temple as such is believed to have been as old as 600AD. The legend goes that Parvati worshiped Siva in the form of ligam made of sand, Prithvi Lingam, under a mango tree. When the nearby river Vegavati overflowed and tried to engulf the lingam, she embraced the ligam and saved it. Siva finally was touched by her devotion and married her. Hence the name of the temple Ekambareswarar, "Lord of Mango Tree". The temple covers a huge area and has many shrines within it with the main shrine having the siva lingam. The 1000 pillar hall built by the Vijanagar rulers is very beautiful and breathtaking.
Varadharaja Perumal Temple : The temple complex has several temples housed within it, the main shrine being devoted to Vishnu. The temple is believed to have been built by the Pallavas and then later restored and expanded by the Cholas post 1053. There are several stories of the famous golden lizards seen in the roof of the temple, with long queues to actually get a glimpse of this. One of the belief of this temple is that the yagna being performed by Brahma was to have washed away by the waters of the river. Vishnu laid himself to stay to water and emerged with brilliance of thousand suns as Devarajaswamy. The 100 pillared hall at the entrance of the temple is an attraction and you have to buy a ticket to get into this, even to take take photographs. The temple is around 4kms away from the town center.
Ulagalantha Perumal Temple : This temple is again a must do for just the beauty of the main deity. However only Hindus are allowed inside the main temple and since this a very small temple the outside structure is nothing great. But if you can get in then you will be mesmerized by the Vishnu statue and the sheer beauty of this whole statue. As the name suggests it a depiction of Vishnu in Vamana roopa, when he lifts his leg over Mahabalis head as the third step to measure earth. So the sculpt of the dhothi fanning out with one leg lifted is a beauty in black. I think this is the most beautiful sculpture of this story depiction I have ever seen and still flashes back to me whenever I think about it. It was that beautiful. Its right in the center of the town at a corner and easily missed but one of the 108 Divyadesam, so visited by many. Regrettably I donot have any pictures of this temple.
Kanchi Kamaskshi Amman temple: This actually is an old beautiful temple, however you really cant appreciate the architectural beauty because most parts are covered as its the main temple of Kanchi and highly crowded with devotees. This is the only Parvathi temple in the city. The goddess is in the seated form , a beautiful statue but shes covered with the decorations, so you just to see her face more or less. So more of a religious visit, this temple.
There are several small temples, totally about 29, in the city that you can visit and these would be mainly religious visits. Ashtabujakaram temple was the other temple that I visited while here, a Vishnu temple which is one of the 108 Divyadesam. Kumarakottam temple, Murugan being the main deity is another well visited temple.
There are many options of stay from the high end hotels to budget lodgings. We stayed at the Regency by GRT which was right in the middle of silk saree shopping area. The Sarvana Bhavan adjacent to the hotel is pretty famous for its vegetarian dishes.
How could I be in the midst of all the silk saree shops and not do some shopping. Spent an evening at Prakash Silks and Sarees which is pretty famous in Kanchi looking through the various varieties of sarees and of course buying a couple.
We did go hunting for the Kanchipuram idlis, which is suppose to be very tasty and different flavor from the normal idlis, but ran out of luck as they were sold out at one place and at others they didnt have them or were making them later in the day.
If you are on a religious visit you can surely spend more than 2 days here as the temples open up only the mornings and the evenings. But otherwise about a day to one and a half day should suffice to take in the beauty of the main temples.
After this grand visit of Kanchi our next stop was Srirangam, Tiruchanapalli, Tamilnadu known for the Vishnu temple.