Here’s an opportunity to discover one of India’s most intriguing places! A city of a thousand temples… Kanchipuram is one that will leave you in awe! A picture perfect destination, Kanchipuram is not just known to house some of India’s most spectacular temples but is also considered to be the second holiest city after Varanasi.

A city with a glorious past, its history can be traced back to the pre Christian era with the place being mentioned in Patanjali’s Mahabhashya written in the 2ndcentury. The erstwhile capital of the Pallavas, Cholas, Vijayanagar dynasty, and the Muslims, each of these dynasties being art lovers have left behind some enriching architecture to remember them by in the form of splendid temples and other monuments that have made this city a must feature in your tourist itinerary.

Being a temple city, temples here are the prime attraction, and while one may not find a thousand temples here today, the 126 temples, some dating back to the 7th century, will promise to have you spellbound with their South Indian style of temple architecture (Dravidian style).

Of the many temples here, the Ekambaranatha temple is probably one of the most amazing temples extending over 11 stories! One of the largest temple structures of S. India, it sprawls over 12 hectares of land, with significant contributions made from each of the dynasties that once ruled the land. Home to some brilliant sculptures and a thousand pillared mandapan (hall), here Shiva is worshipped as Prithvi or earth, one of the five basic elements of the physical world. The temple premises is also home to a mango tree that is over 3500 years old, the four limbs of the tree represent the four Vedas and it is said that a fruit of each of these limbs tastes different even though they all belong to the same tree!

Another brilliant piece of architecture is the Devarajaswami Temple built by the Vijaynagar kings and devoted to Lord Vishnu. What stands out in this temple are the elaborate carvings on its pillars that can be seen throughout the temple. The temple is also home to a marriage hall built in memory of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Laxmi and a tank that contains a 10 meter high statue of Lord Vishnu.

One of South India’s most breathtaking temples, known for its exquisite sculptures that adorn it, Kanchi Kamakshi temple is known for its beautiful sculpting, one in particular is the life size sculpture of Kamakshi or the Goddess of Love herself.

Dedicated to goddess Parvathi, the Kamakshi Amman Temple is also one of the places Sakthi is worshipped. While the original structure dates back to the 7thcentury the time of the Pallava dynasty, it was rebuilt in the10th century by the Chola kings. The temple is known for its golden “gopuram” in the centre along with a golden chariot which is taken out in processions on Fridays. Apart from these one can also find a shrine dedicated to Sri Adi Shankaracharya over here.

Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Vaikuntha Perumal temple, built by the Pallavas in the 7th century is famous for its sculptures of Lord Vishnu in standing, sitting and reclining postures adorning its towering vimanas. It is also noted for its thousand lion pillars,  battle scenes and depiction about wars between the Pallavas and Chlukyas  inscribed on its walls.

The Kachapeshwar Temple here is where Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form of a tortoise also called Kachap, thus the name. What makes this beautiful temple unique and different is the fact that carvings show Lord Shiva being worshipped in this form by Lord Vishnu.The temple also stands out for its beautiful architecture.

Dating back to the 7th century, the Kailasanathar Temple is one of the most outstanding temples built by the Pallava dynasty, and is noted as one of the finest examples of early Dravidian architecture in S. India, with its carvings and  architectural styling closely resembling  structures found at Mahabalipuram. This temple is also noted for a sixteen sided Shiva lingam that is found in its main shrine.

Last but not the least is the beautiful Varadaraja Temple built in the 10th century, for its one thousand pillared halls called Kalyanamandapam, with each pillar having a description of Lord Vishnu on it

While Kanchipuram is most known for its temples, it is also noted for its church dedicated to St. Thomas, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, who is said to have arrived in India. It is said that two paintings found here are dated back to the 1st century A.D. and were painted by St. Thomas himself. Stupas discovered here acknowledge that Buddhism also once prevailed here.

However Kanchipuram need not be only about temples. 48 km from here nature lovers can enjoy the beautiful Vedantangal Bird Sanctuary that is home to storks, Cormorants, Flamingos, Egrets, Darters, Pelicans, moor hens, grey wagtails and other migratory birds. Karikili Birds Sanctuaries is another sanctuary noted to receive birds from even far flung countries such as Siberia, Australia and New Zealand.

Another interesting destination is Muttukkadu, a wonderful lake around 80 km from here that offers some refreshing water sports apart from being a beautiful picnic spot.

Sriperumbudur, the birthplace of Saint Ramanujar, is not only an important pilgrim center for Vaishnavites, but also the place where Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, was assassinated during a public meeting in 1991.

To get a feel of the place try Kanchi kudi, an ancestral place that has been converted into a tourist’s site, where tourists can see how the Hindu religion is entwined into everyday life.

Another interesting excursion for those visiting Kanchipuram is Tiruttani, one of the six abodes of Lord Subramanya. This is the place where the Lord married Valli according to Hindu mythology; the temple situated atop a hill can be reached by the 365 steps; each representing the days of the year.

A shopaholic’s delight Kanchipuram is a place synonymous with silks, with its Kanjeevaram being known across the globe as one of the finest and the most beautiful saris. Apart from saris, tourists can also look out for idols of gods and goddesses, candle stands, jewelry boxes and other souvenirs.

While ancient texts say Kanchipuram was the most beautiful destination of ancient India, one visit to this beautiful city will only have you wondering why this phase is referred to in the past tense!