Temples and Silks in Kancheepuram

“How could you wear shorts to this trip?!” The Brit in the travel group was met with shocked expressions. “We have to buy you an emergency veshti now, they’re not going to let you into the temples like that!” One of the many silk showrooms came to our rescue, but not without having to fight off efforts to sell us a pattu (silk) veshti.

The only time I’ve been to this tiny town was to see the Kailasanathar Temple for a college trip. It was meant to be to study the architecture and art history, but if memory serves right was more of a sing-your-lungs-out-on-the-bus trip.

This time though, we made it a point to see it properly and even chatted with the miffed priest who spoke surprisingly posh English. “It was those Brits” he said. “They plastered the temple to restore it, but look, does the colour even match the original stone?”

Kailasanathar Temple - facade
Kailasanathar Temple – facade
2 Kailasanathar temple
Temple pillar details – plastered in a restoration effort
Kailasanathar Temple - details
Kailasanathar Temple – details

Built by the Pallavas, this is one of the oldest temples in Kancheepuram and has many interesting facts to offer. What struck me the most was how spotless the temple and its surrounding streets were. What stops us from keeping every part of the country litter-free?

Come along now Billy, it's time for your walk
Come along now Billy, it’s time for your walk

Ekambareswarar Temple

With one of the tallest gopurams in the country, this temple has a massive gateway leading to a courtyard and a short walk into the temple. It is beautifully preserved and lamps and kolams greet you at the entrance.

You have to pay 20 rupees to take your camera in. Our fear of getting thrown out of the temple premises fortunately didn’t come true, and the guard graciously waved all non-veshti wearing people in. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has an impressive high ceiling with pillared corridors to walk around. A number of carvings, statues and procession elements flank the corridors. In the centre of the open courtyard is a sacred mango tree, complete with legends of Goddess Parvati meditating under it.

Ekambareswarar Temple - entrance
Ekambareswarar Temple – entrance
Pillared corridors
Pillared corridors
Ekambareswarar Temple - gopuram
Ekambareswarar Temple – gopuram

More Temples

The Kamakshi Amman Temple is currently a building site going through an intensive renovation. Despite that, a line at least 50 meters long waited to go into the sanctum sanctorum. A lack of time meant we couldn’t truly appreciate the beauty of the temple! The Varadharaja Perumal Temple is another important imposing structure at the end of a narrow street. It was closed in the evening so we couldn’t go in, but it’s known for its 100-pillared mandapa and beautiful sculptures.

Keep in mind that if you are not Hindu, they won’t let you inside the sanctum sanctorum, but you are welcome to see everything else.

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Varadharaja Perumal Temple

How Many Sarees Can You Handle?

On the same street as the Varadharaja Perumal Temple was a tiny silk shop selling gorgeous silks at wholesale rates. If you don’t have the cash, they will even deliver it to you in Chennai! We also got to see a handloom in action at the end of the  shop.

Wholesale Kanjivaram silk sarees
Wholesale Kanjivaram silk sarees
More silks!
More silks!
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Handloom silk thread
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Every colour you could possibly imagine!

Quick tips:

  • Kancheepuram is an hour and a half’s drive from Chennai.
  • Wear something that covers your legs – the temples can sometimes be quite particular!
  • There are a number of places to stop off for lunch on the highway. There’s also a GRT Regency inside the town that offers a good Indian menu.
  • If you’re interested in the history, the Kailasanathar Temple has ASI guides that can show you around.
  • Check beforehand for temple timings – some of them shut by 12 noon and then open again in the evening.