After our trip to Pondicherry , we thought we ought to explore things that are closer to home. That is when Kanchipuram came to our mind. Just about 60 kms from where we live and with a galore of sites that the Archaeological Survey of India looks after, Kanchi seemed like the perfect weekend getaway for some sightseeing and immersing in India’s ancient past.
6:30.The magical hour arrives.Not too early,not too late.The sun was mellow too.Usually I’m the one that puts together the itinerary, but this time HE did all the work.I was busy with the next big thing that was decided for August 18th( 😀 will soon follow this post).So I had no clue whatsoever what exactly it was we were going to see.
Kanchipuram- known for its splendour of silk sarees and opulent temples. I had heard so much about this little town , but little did I expect it to be this marvellous! Kanchi has served many of the South Indian dynasties in the ancient times and every kingdom has left its mark on this town as a symbol of their then power and assertiveness.Mostly in the form of temples.But this temple town flourished under the Pallava regime, a dynasty from southern Andhra Pradesh from the 6th century to the 10th century.
You will know you have entered Kanchipuram when you see temple after temple,small ,huge,humongous dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu and Gods you have seldom heard about in Hinduism.Old stone constructions,brick constructions,massive entrance towers, everything about this place screams Ancient! If you are wondering why did the rulers build religious structures more than any other, then digging a little further I found that the then kings and emperors believed that building something massive yet ornate, opulent yet accessible to the common masses, established them as the ultimate power in the eyes of their subjects. Often the kings would compete with one another and sometimes even try to outdo their ancestors when it came to constructing temples. Each one after coming to power would build an even bigger temple than the one existing and the people would flock to the new temple abandoning the old.The sites that we visited were easily about a 1300 years old, yet the newer bigger temples are more popular and crowded .Because people crave Grandeur! And the one who gives it to them earns their loyalty.
The first site on our list was the Juragareshwarar temple.This relatively small temple sits besides the grand Ekambaranathar temple but boasts a history of more than a 1000 years.One look at it and you know this place is old, older than the old and if you are a lover of history you are simply drawn to it without even looking at the ASI board that been affixed at the entrance.The perfectly sculpted and laid out stones though a few of them chipped, broken with the breeze whizzing through the structure gives you a sense of the time that must have been.The moment I enter such timeless places I can’t help but get transported back in time where my imagination only know the colour sepia and these picturesque dusty,dirt coloured structures all the more asserts the same! Lord Juragareshwarar here is Lord Shiva.The one odd thing that we found here was that the base of the temple was carved in stone yet its top was all bricks! A very singular feature! There were a just few visitors along with us who had sought its peace and quiet. The ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) is doing a stellar job of maintaining not only this temple but also the other sites we visited.
Our next stop was the mighty Kailasanathar temple.OK,one word! HUGE! Built by the Pallavas during the pinnacle of their regime in southern India.The main shrine here houses a huge Shiva-Linga,and is surrounded by 58 smaller shrines that in the past must have had their own 58 Lingas (now non-existent because they could not survive time and foreign invasion).When we first entered the premises were were completely blown away by its sheer grandeur! It looked absolutely ethereal!
There are some parts of the temple and its sculptures that have been covered in some kind of a mud plaster.We were quite intrigued as to why some were and some weren’t covered with this material to which we got the answer shortly.One of the security guards there explained that during the British occupation of India, the administrative officers saw that the sandstone that the entire temple was made of was slowly withering away because of the salty, humid air and hence in an attempt to contain the slow destruction they had ordered the entire temple to be plastered with mud.But the mud plaster has fallen off ,save a few places exposing the stone to the brutal tropical weather. Now, the stone itself is one of a kind. This is not a naturally occurring stone but a Man Made one! The engineers of the old ages mixed together a certain kind of glue and sand to create this that has stood the test of time(about 1300 years) . Though it does show signs of weariness today one can gauge how skilled the engineers must have been about a thousand years back! Though the sad part is the main priest there lamented, since the knowledge of all this has been lost there is nothing much that can be done to help restore the temple.
The outermost compound of the temple is characterised by a series of separate shrines intricately carved each housing a lingam facing the front and then a continuous wall full of sculptures going around the temple.I kept thinking this arrangement just seems so familiar though you it is very rare to find an arrangement like this in many of the temples in India.That is when it struck me! Yogyakarta, Indonesia! When on a trip to this enigmatic land in the centre of the island of Java, we visited a temple with an almost similar arrangement of smaller shrines each with space for its own idol (which was missing now) surrounding the main temple.How neat is that!
To be continued…