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Kanchipuram, located on the Palar River, is 76 kilometers or 47 miles southwest of Chennai. It is 30 kilometers or 19 miles west of Mamallapuram, the famous ancient seaport on the coast of Bay of Bengal. Kanchipuram is 102 kilometers or 63 miles from Pondichery, the former French colonial enclave in Tamil Nadu.
Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu is a relatively small city that has retained its rural character to some extent. Administratively it is the headquarters of the Chengalpattu District in Tamil Nadu. Apart from its religious significance, the city has been traditionally a prominent center of textile industry. It has thousands of handloom weaving factories that employ about three-quarters of the city’s population. Kanjivaram Silk Sari industry is a very important part of the textile industry of this city. As the industry has developed over hundreds of years, it has attracted employees from various regions of India. In Kanchipuram one can hear Telugu, Kannada as well as Marathi and Gujarati speaking people from the Saurashtra region.
The city is often referred to as the Temple capital of India. It has 108 Shiva and 18 Vishnu Hindu temples apart from many other temples, mosques and churches. The Varadaraja Perumal Temple is the focal point of the Vaishnav Temples whereas the Ekambaranathar Temple is surrounded by Shiva temples. The Kamakshi temple dedicated to the Shakthi worship is located between the two groups of temples. The Adi Shankaracharya established four Maths or religious seats in four corners of India that one could compare with Rome for Catholic Christians. Some Hindus believe that Adi Shankaracharya settled in Kanchipuram after establishing the four Maths. Being the seat of the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram it is regarded as the Hindu religious capital of southern India. There are elaborate and very festive “Ratha Yatra”, temple processions in Kanchipuram during the months of January, April and May.
In Ancient times Kanchipuram was a very important center of Buddhism before Hinduism revived and completely eliminated the Buddhist influence in the area. The city is one of the most ancient in southern India. It was an important center of learning of the Tamil language as well as of the Sanskrit language. The famous Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, Hsuan Tsang visited this city during his travels in India in seventh century CE. The Pallava Dynasty ruled this city and its surrounding areas extending from Kaveri River in the south to Krishna River in the north from the fourth to the ninth centuries CE. It also served as their capital for some time and many of its temples were originally constructed under the patronage of Pallava rulers. They constructed ramparts and moats around the city to protect it from external invaders. Inside the city they patronized the construction of roads and temples. From their main maritime port of Mamallapuram they had trade relations with the nations of the Far East and Southeast Asia. The Chola Dynasty rulers succeeded them from tenth to thirteenth centuries. From fourteenth to seventeenth centuries the area came under the political control of the great Vijayanagar Dynasty. They were great patrons of literature, arts and temple architecture. The 192 feet high Gopuram, temple tower in the Ekambaranathar Temple and the 100-column Mandapam (Hall) in Varadaraja Perumal Temple still display the sophistication of the architectural techniques of Vijayanagara artists. Robert Clive who played an important role in the founding of East India Company rule in India visited the Varadaraja Perumal Temple and presented an Emerald Necklace that is famous as the “Clive Makarakandi” and still adorns the main deity in the temple on ceremonial occasions.
Bodhidharma was the Buddhist name of the son of a Pallava Dynasty ruler who converted from Hinduism to Buddhism. He is believed to have taken the martial art of Shaolin and the Zen school of thought from Kanchipuram to China and Japan.
Mahendravarman I who ruled Kanchipuram was a very learned scholar, musician, and playright. Yuan Chwang was another Chinese ancient traveler in seventh century CE who mentioned in his chronicles that Kanchipuram was six miles in circumference, the people of the city were brave and pious and they were famous for their love of justice and their veneration of learning. He recorded that Buddha himself had visited this city. The famous Hindu philosopher, Patanjali in second century BCE mentioned this city in his philosophical composition, the Mahabhasya. Manimekalai, the Tamil classic composition and the great Tamil poetic composition Perumpanattu Padai of early Christian era give detailed description of this city. Pathupattu, one of the compositions of the Tamil Sangam period mentions that Thondaiman Ilandirayan ruled the area around this city in circa 500 BCE. The city lost some of its importance during the Mughal and British periods.
Places of interest:
Vaikuntham Perumal Temple is one of the important Vishnu temples built by Pallava King Nandivarman Pallavamalla in the seventh century CE. Numerous inscriptions are found in this temple relating to the wars between the Pallavas and Challukyas. The temple has three idols of Lord Vishnu in sitting, standing and reclining postures.
Kailasanathar Temple is a Pallava Dynasty period temple that was constructed in the eighth century and is famous for its attractive panel depicting Shiva and Parvathi in dancing postures. The temple’s architecture has some similarities to the shore temples of Mamallapuram.
Ekambaranathar or Ekambareswara is an ancient temple of Kanchipuram that received patronage from the Pallava, Chola and Vijayanagar Dynasty rulers. The 57 meters or 188 feet high “Raja Gopuram” is one of the tallest temple towers in southern India. The more than 2,500 years old mango tree inside the temple has four branches each with a different variety of Mango. This temple has five Prakarams, the spacious corridors and a very interesting 1,000-column hall.
Varadarajar Temple is another Vaishnav Temple that was constructed under the patronage of Vijayanagar Dynasty rulers. Its presiding deity is Devarajaswamy. The sculpture of the 100-columns in its Mandapam displays the artistic genius of Vijayanagar artists. The temple has a sculpture of a large chain carved from a single piece of stone. It has idols of the god of love and his consort on their respective vehicles, the swan and the parrot.
Kamakshi Amman Temple is a rare temple. It is one of the three significant places of Sakthi worship in India, the others being Madurai and Varanasi. It was renovated during the fourteenth century reign of Chola Dynasty rulers.
Fishermen’s Cove (Beach Hotel) – 80 rooms
GRT Regency Kanchipuram – 36 rooms
Baboo Surya Hotel - 38 rooms
Distance from Kanchipuram in Kilometers and Miles:
Chennai: 76 Kilometers or 47 Miles
Mamallapuram: 30 Kilometers or 19 Miles
Pondicherry: 102 Kilometers or 63 Miles
Thanjavur: 231 Kilometers or 144 Miles
Tiruchirapalli: 249 Kilometers or 155 Miles
Madurai: 365 Kilometers or 227 Miles