Little did I know I was going to visit a temple, which would later be in the news over the seat of the head priest. Kanchipuram is a city dotted with temples and well known for the lovely silk sarees. And the tour was taking us to visit a place where the sarees were woven and gave us enough time to explore the temples in the neighbourhood.
City of Learning
About 72 km from Chennai, the city has a very religious culture. It is the city where the head of Hinduism, the Shankaracharya lives. The institution, called Kanchi Math, was founded by Adi Sankaracharya. And this was spoken in revered hushed tones when we asked about it.
As long back as we were told, the city was a place of learning or ghatikasthanam. In fact, it was a surprise to know that it was also famous for education on Jainism and Buddhism between the 1st and 5th centuries. Walking around trying to find something to eat, we discovered the two famous temples are Kailasanathar and the Varadharaja Perumal Temple.
Varadharaja Perumal Temple, Kanchipuram
Little do you know what importance a land holds, until there is some news about it. Over the years, all that has stayed in my mind about this famous temple was the emerald green atti tree, the numerous statues, 32 shrines and the huge temple complex with its pillar which has chain carved on it. There is even a 100 pillar hall, which is simply breathtaking.
Just we entered, we saw a huge holy pond, where a dip could cleanse off our impurities. But it wasn’t the time to be allowed to bathe, besides the fact that we could see the fungus at the bottom. It was cleaned on all important occasions, we were told by the young priest sitting next to it. And in this pond lay an idol of Lord Varadharaja in a silver box which was taken out on special occasions.
Enamoured, we asked more about the temple. The priests here spoke good English, much to our surprise but then the area is visited a lot by foreigners, who come to study here or simply watch the weavers and experience the centre of Hinduism. This is the largest Vishnu temple in Kanchipuram and was built by the Cholas in 1053. Counted as one of the divyadesams, or among the 108 holy abodes of Vishnu, its unique feature is the carved lizards over the sanctum.
Golden Lizard Kanchipuram
We climbed the little steps, bargained over money for the puja and then watched the lizards–one plated in gold and another in silver—while the priest did the rites. The priest was kind enough to tell us that there is a special necklace for the Lord, a green emerald necklace, which was given by British General Robert Clive during the British Raj. This is called Clive Makarakandi.
The temple is a treasure house for architectural studies and devotion and comes alive only on festive occasions. Rest of the year, its one of the quieter places to enjoy peaceful prayers.
Silk Sari Weaving at Kanchipuram
After a bout of prayers, it was time for some clothing. We were offered some coffee, as the owner of the weaving centre explained the process. We sat down to watch the workers move the looms and the threads lying all over the place. The sarees are cheaper as compared to the ones found in the shops and genuine silk. But you have to know the right place as the place is full of weavers.
Everyone called it a city of moksha or liberation, because that’s what the Garuda Purana calls it. Other temples which pull tourists are Ekambareswarar Temple, Kamakshi Amman Temple, and Kumarakottam Temple. Now Kanchipuram has been chosen as heritage city for HRIDAY – Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana scheme of Government of India.
With little time left, we gobbled some vadas being sold on the streets, and ran to catch the bus which was about to leave. Though, it was only a few hours in the holy city, much later news of shift in head priest brought back the memories and longing to see it once again.