Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Land of Thousand Temples, Kanchipuram

My mother has a strange fascination over Kanchipuram. It's difficult to ascertain exactly when in the last few years, this small crowded temple town got its hold upon her, but it has. Ever since then, Kanchipuram has been thrown at us as an all-stop-panacea. Out of sorts, want to go to a temple? Kanchipuram. A day out from Chennai? Kanchipuram. Do you have particular plans when you come down from Mumbai to Chennai? No? Then, Kanchipuram. Kanchipuram is a standing joke between my sister and me, both of us always desisting my mom's urges to visit the town. But it seems like my mom has made some kind of a convert of my dad ... he patiently gives her company on her expeditions, though his un-religiousness remains intact.

In the last couple of years, my parents have discovered several temples in this town through their frequent visits. So, when my mother first mentioned the Kailasanadar temple, my interest was piqued. Plus, I wanted to explore some old and lesser known temples myself (yes, getting to know my roots). And so we went in search of a particular Guru temple (where he is present with his spouse, a rarity, it seems) and of course Kanchipuram for a day.


Idols outside Kailasanadar Temple



My mom is probably the perfect company if you wanted to 'temple' - she can tell you the stories behind the temples, the gods. This is of course as long as you have the patience for the single mindedness of a true devout. The nandanar story of Chidambaram was my favorite. The story of Mayiladuthurai, of different nayanars (or followers of shiva), the story of how the Thiruvasagam was written. Visiting temples for me is always tied up with listening to these tales of devotion, gods conquering the asuras or of divine romance, stories listened to with the same fascination as for fairy tales. Visiting Kanchipuram was just like the old times.

Kanchipuram is called the city of thousand temples. Among the 'puranada' temples or ancient temples, there are 108 Shiva temples and 19 Vishnu temples. Did you know that The Kamakshi Amman temple in the center of the town is the only shrine for the goddess in the town? Kamakshi is believed to be a form of shakthi or supreme power. Kanchi's Kamakshi, along with Madurai's Meenakshi and Kasi's Visalkshi are three epitomes of the shakthi forms. Exemplifying her importance, none of the Shiva temples in Kanchi have the usual secondary shrine for the goddess. Interestingly, all the Shiva and Vishnu temples have been built in a way that these deities all face the Kamakshi. Yes, Kamakshi appeals to the feminist in me.


The Gopuram at the entrance to the Kamakshi temple



It would be hard to cover all the temples in Kanchi at one shot. We managed to visit the Kailasanadar temple and Vaikunda Perumal temple, but had to miss the Ulagalanda Perumal temple, amongst others we hoped to cover. Without doubt, this one and several others have been put on the list for another time. There is also a Chola excavation site just outside of Kanchi - the name eluudes me for the moment - but, that has also been put off for another time.

Oh, yes, there will always be a next one to Kanchipuram, what with my mom threatening to retire here!


A flower seller at the entrace of the temple at Govindavadi




Lighting a lamp

8 comments:

Sriram P said...

Good old Kanchi .. huh.. Not a great fan of Temple tourism.. and also havent visited recent past... so ur blog about it is quite interesting... all i remember from my prev. visits is the famous Kanchi Mutt and a big temple... hehe.. dont even remember the name...
actually if u take a visit to Kumbakonam or Tanjore, its probly the same or even more than Kanchi... Plenty of big temples and some more beautiful than others with nice Chola, Pandya architecture and mural paitings of mythological stories...

Mridula said...

I too have been to Kanchi way back when I was in college and went to play South-West Zone basketball tournament.

Your new profile pic is quite wonderful!

Ms.N said...

@ Sriram, Actually, a lot depends on the purpose of ur visits. I have been for religious reasons - which I don't mind. But I mind the crazy crowds, endless queues and sleep-inducing hours long puja. I dont think my devotion runs that deep. A quick one to one with god for a few peaceful minutes is highly preferred.

But then again, I have been to the same temples, at more peaceful hours, at less crowded time with no "agenda" other than to just visit and pray ... and I have to say I have enjoyed them.

The last time I went to the Kamakshi temple was all crowd, no time... this time was a lot more peaceful.

And yes, we also stopped at shankara madam - my mom wouldn't dream of coming to Kanchi and not going to the Mutt or Kamakshi!

@ Mridula - aah nice... though i would imagine u would have preferred to avoid rather than visit these temples at that age? thankyou :)- it was taken at a cousin's wedding recently.

Sriram P said...

well.. same here... I like the idea of GOD and dont mind the temples either... but those innumerable traditions and faith based poojas are over-kill (thats my take at this point in time)... who knows it may change drastically tomm...

my point is mostly that "if u beleive there is GOD and can see GOD in the form of a statue in a given 3D spacial co-ordinates(x,y,z) at all times(t), why cant one accept that those co-ordinates are just relative in (x,y,z and t)... So potentially u can worship any object, anywhere and beleive that is GOD.. How do we know for sure that statue is the exact representation of GOD?? " ... Hence I try not to participate in temple tourism that much, if I can help it...
Ok.. that was too nerdy and total non-sense...hehe... anyway this is a very Meta-physical discussion best done over a glass of Fine Wine and good Cheese or maybe some Local sarakku and oorugai :-D)...

P.S: I like your pictures...

Ms.N said...

hehe ... i think the point is not - why not some arbit piece of wood or chalk as god. the point is whether u have managed to find more of god in a randomn article rather than the idol in a shrine... if you have, then that's ur god - no one is stopping u in ur belief.

in my mom's words... while god is omnipresent and really without form, developing faith in something that intangible is very hard for mortal humans, especially when its not everday and everybody who has a divine experience... idols and temples are for such people...

of course, seems like u have jumped over to the category of those illuminated :D :)...

Sriram P said...

ok.. u got me there.. :) i think religion and faith is based on convinience for some(like me :)).. probly it slowly grows on u... actually i think u dont need an object to worship... if u take a moment here and there, whenever it is convinient for you, and think about about GOD it is just as good as worshipping a more tangible form in a temple... I dont mean to critise those who are idol worshippers... i m just merely making my point.. :D)..

Ms.N said...

haha - ok - I am going to let you have the last word here...

Ravi Kumar said...

Awesome! the only way kanchipuram is anyway linked to my memory is thru the sarees. But u showed us a different aspect of it to me. Thanks