A journey into a 10,000 year old civilization can be nothing short of fascinating. You can only go so far before stumbling upon amazing architecture and ancient temples! What better way to satisfy your thirst for history than by visiting some of Tamil Nadu’s historic towns?
A Passage back to the 6th Century (maybe earlier)
Tamil Nadu as a state can be quite fascinating as you start understanding its history. Known as the Land of Temples, Tamil Nadu is home to nearly 33,000 ancient temples ranging from 800 to 3500 years of age. Our exploration of the Land of Temples takes us to Kanchipuram (also known as Kanchi). Prior to the British rule in India, Kanchi was abode to the rulers of the Chola Dynasty, The Pallava Dynasty, The Pandya Dynasty, the Vijaynagar Empire and the Carnatic Kingdom. The earliest references of Kanchi date back to as far as the 3rd and 2nd Century BC. Its amazing history and architectural wonders make Kanchipuram a historians dream and must visit for every self-proclaimed Indian Traveler!
Kanchipuram is 72km from Chennai and the drive takes about 90 minutes.
Where to Stay
Regency by GRT Hotels in Kanchipuram is the perfect place to stay. Located in the heart of Kanchipuram, the must see spots as well as the shopping hub are easily accessible from the hotel. It offers about 35 guest rooms as well as an in-house multi cuisine restaurant where guests can dine. We arrived at the hotel by 10am and had an ideal breakfast spread waiting for us. The buffet breakfast offers both South Indian and North Indian options as well as the straight forward cereal and bread options for their international guests. As a business and tourist hub, I would recommend making your bookings for Regency by GRT Hotels in Kanchipuram well in advance!
Sights to Explore
Depending on your interests and how much time you have, Kanchipuram can go from being as simple as a day long trip to a 3 to 4 day immersement in Indian History and Culture. Since we had planned a day trip to Kanchipuram on our way from Mahabalipuram to Chennai, we spent our time visiting and understanding the history of Kanchipuram’s two most popular temples; The Kanchi Kamakshi Temple and the Ekaambareshwara Temple built in the 6th and 9th century respectively.
The Kamakshi Temple is dedicated to the goddess Kamakshi (Parvati) and was built by the Pallava Kings.
Significantly, this is the only Parvati temple in the city of Kanchipuram and is also one of the divine Shakti Peetha temples. The temple also has a marital significance and is considered an auspicious visit for those who are seeking marriage. Walking through the temple, you can’t help but notice its intricate sculptures. We spent a good amount of time just gazing at each of them, wondering about the stories they were trying to tell. The temple also houses a gallery which presents the life of Adisankaracharya.
The Ekambareshwarar temple is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
An amazing fact I heard is that there are 108 Shiva Temples in Tamil Nadu; (Read about the significance of the number 108). The primary significance of this temple is that it is one of the temples associated with the Five Elements or the Pancha Bhutas (Water, Fire, Earth, Air and Space); specifically the Earth Element. Furthermore, this amazing temple complex covers 25 acres and is among the largest in India.
Almost every temple in India has an amazing story around why it was built and its role in human well being. On our visit to The Ekambareshwarar temple we were told that this was the location where Parvati worshiped Shiva in the form of a Prithvi Lingam (lingam made of mud). The Prithivi Lingam is one of its kind. Made of mud, it is probably the reason this temple is dedicated to the earth element of nature.
Other Temples in Kanchi:
- Kailasanathar Temple
- Devarajaswami Temple
- Chitragupta Temple
- Ulahalanda Perumal Temple
The Magnificent Talent of Kanchipuram
Apart from the temples in Kanchi, a journey into the ‘weaver’s village’ can leave you awestruck. A must visit on every travelers list! The weavers here have mastered the art of hand weaving the famous Kanchipuram Silk Sarees. Hugely time consuming, it takes a weaver about 25 days of 12 working hours each to complete one saree. Even today, the sarees are made largely by hand and a trip to the weaver’s village provide travelers with an insight into the art of weaving. Watching them in action, you can only assume the effort involved in learning this skill! Incidentally, the skills of these weavers have been recognized by both The Central and State Governments. The weavers are provided with financial aid that helps nurture their talent and keep the hand weaving industry alive.
Best Time to Visit
Hate the heat as much as I do? Not surprisingly, the winter months between November and February would be the ideal time to visit Kanchipuram. Temperatures in this time range between 19°C and 29°C. The months of June to September can be considered, but the monsoons could play spoilsport to any outdoor excursions you have planned. Furthermore, Summer temperatures can go as high as 40°C.
Planning the Trip
For anyone visiting Chennai, a trip to Kanchipuram and the Heritage town of Mahabalipuram can easily be forged into your schedule. A road trip from Chennai to Mahabalipuram, Kanchi and back to Chennai forms a perfect triangle with a total driving distance of about 200kms. And finally, do yourself a favour. The Next time you are in Chennai take about 3 days to give yourself the Kanchi and Mahabalipuram experience!