Once referred as the town with a thousand temples, Kanchipuram hasn’t changed much over the years despite the number of temples drastically coming down. You are still likely to spot at least one temple or a shrine on every road and alley of this temple city. The sculptures and carvings in the temples which showcases Pallava, Chola, Nayak and Vijayanagara architecture have eroded over the years due to natural calamities and invasions. Prominent during the historical times as a place of learning, Kanchipuram is also one of the seven sacred cities to attain salvation as per Vaishnavism (A type of Hinduism which follows Vishnu). The place is also a revered place for Shaivaites (Followers of Shiva). While there are numerous temples across the town of Kanchipuram, here are a few of the prominent ones which you must visit in this holy land.
Vaikunta Perumal Temple:
Dedicated to Vishnu, Vaikunta Perumal temple is more than 1200 years old and is also known as Thiru Parameswara Vinnagaram. Built by Nandivarman II of the Pallava dynasty in the AD 8th century, the temple has undergone moderate changes in its architecture during the rule of later dynasties. Vishnu is worshiped as Vaikuntanathan here and the main shrine is a three storeyed structure with Vishnu in standing, sitting and reclining postures. The passage around the main shrine is lined with carved pillars and magnificent sculptures on the wall panels. This is one of the oldest temples in Kanchipuram.
This is the most prominent and the oldest temple in Kanchipuram built by Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava dynasty in AD 8th century. Built in Dravidian architecture, Kailasanathar temple has extensive carvings and sculptures of various mythological characters on the outer wall of the main shrine and along the circumambulatory path. The inner sanctum has a large shivlinga along with carvings on its walls. Apart from the main shrine, the temple has 58 small shrines here dedicated to Shiva. The whole temple is built out of sandstone except for the foundation, which is made of granite. Despite the elaborate carvings, the temple doesn’t look ostentatious and is tucked away from the busy alleyways of Kanchipuram.
Kanchi Kamakshi Ambal Temple:
Though this temple was first built in AD 11th century during the Pallava reign, most of the present structures were rebuilt later in the 17th century during the rule of Vijayanagar empire. The main shrine which has a golden topping is dedicated to Kamakshi Amman who can be seen in a seated yogic posture. The temple premise also has a pond which is known as Pancha Gangai and Vasanatha Mandapam which is a raised hall with numerous carved pillars. Kanchi Kamakshi Ambal temple is one of the Shakti Peetams in the country and is among the most revered temples dedicated to Amman (Goddess) in Tamil Nadu.
Also known as Ekambaranath temple, it was built in the 9th century by Chola dynasty and is one of the most popular temples in Kanchipuram. Here, Shiva is worshipped in the form of earth (one of the five elements- Pancha Bhootas) and the main shrine has a large Shiva lingam. Vishnu too is worshiped here as Nilathingal Thundam and there are numerous other shrines too. Spread over 40 acres, the temple has an 11 storeyed magnificent Rajagopuram (entrance gate) with impressive carvings and a large temple pond. The temple has long corridors with pillars that are extensively carved. The temple complex also houses numerous halls, the most prominent being a thousand pillar hall, most of which were built during the Vijayanagara rule. A mango tree inside the temple is believed to be where Shiva and Kamakshi got married, and is apparently more than 3000 years old.
This mid 11th century temple was first built by the Cholas and then later many additions were made by the Vijayanagara kings. Dedicated to Vishnu, the temple has two large Rajagopurams (entrance gates) with carvings and is built within a small hillock. The temple has three precincts with 32 shrines and numerous pillared halls. Varadaraja Perumal temple has extensive works and is adorned with carvings, sculptures, carved pillars and mural art. The temple pond is within the premise and is known as Aanantha Theertham.
Within the temple complex is a large mandapam (raised hall) with innumerable sculpted pillars. The pillars have been exquisitely carved with yalis, mythological creatures, scenes from war and various other stories from the bygone era. This hall is on the left as soon as you enter through the rajagopuram.
If there is anything that garners more popularity than the temples in Kanchipuram, it has to be Kanchivaram silk sarees which are synonymous with the town. Apart from shopping, one would also get to see the weaving of these colourful Kancheevaram sarees at a few of the stores. Typically it takes anywhere between 20 to 30 days to weave a Kanchipuram silk saree. Gandhi road is an ideal place to buy these sarees.
- There are areas within every temple premise where photography is restricted. Do check prior to clicking.
- All the temples are open from sunrise to 12 noon and then from 4 PM to 8 PM.
Kanchipuram is located 74 Kms from Chennai. The closest airport is at Chennai (63 Kms). There are regular buses and trains that connect Kanchipuram with Chennai, Madurai, Trichy etc.
Food and Accommodation:
Being a temple town, most of the restaurants serve vegetarian fare. Enjoy some delicious dosas, idlis and filter coffee. Kanchipuram has a wide range of hotels catering to the requirements of visitors.