‘Kanchipuram and Its Temples’ written by Sri A.K. Seshadri who had a long association with Archeological Survey of India traces the history and development of Kanchipuram.The author has also given a graphic account of the well known as well as lesser known shrines in this historic pilgrim town. The book also contains the sthalapuranas of various temples and their history, description of the presiding deities and festivals conducted.
The author Sri A.K. Seshadri who served the ASI for over three decades had meticulously studied various monuments in India and suggested measures for their conservation. His study on ‘Great Brihadisvara Temple of Thanjavur’ is significant work on this ancient monument. Other books written by him include ‘Vellore Fort Through the Ages’ and ‘Gangai Konda Cholapuram’ in English and the ‘Cave Temple of Tamilnadu’ in Tamil.
Kanchipuram, is one of the seven Mukti Kshetras or Moksapuris (cities of liberation from the bondage of births and deaths.) The other cities are Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridvar, Kasi, Ayantika or Ujjain and Dvaraka. Except Kanchi all other places are located in the northern parts of India, and therefore kanchi is known as the Dakshina (Southern) Mokshapuri. Gaya, Kasi and Ujjain are the sacred places for Saivites. Ayodhya, Madhura and Dvaraka are the sacred places for Vaishnavites. But Kanchi is a sacred and holy place for both Saivites and Vaishnavites. Besides, it is a place for the worship of Sakti cult (Kamakoti Pitha or Kamakshi temple). Kanchi was the seat of learing and its Ghatika (University) for Vedic studies in this holy city is referred to frequently in the inscriptions from the 4th Century A.D.
Kanchi in Puranas
Just as Chidambaram is known as Akasa kshetra, Kanchi is called as Akasa pitha as mentioned by the Kamakshivilasam. The Soubhagya Chintamani also mentions Kanchi as Akasa Pitha. In the Umasamhita eleven verses speak about the Teertayatra (Pilgrimage) of the great Vyasa Munivar (Rishi). When visited Saptagodavari he was cursed by Nabdi(The vehicle of Siva) that his lifted hands should remin as such for ever. On the advice of Vishnu, Vyasa made a long pilgrimage and finally came to Kanchi and worshipped Siva here and got rid of the curse. Even today one can notice two stucco images on the vimana of Vyasa-Santasyaya temple located between Siva-Kanchi and Vishnu-Kanchi. The Markandeya Puram mentions the visits of the Sages to this Kanchi town. The Bhagavatha Purana links the Kamakotipuri-Kanchi with Kaveri, the Southern sacred river and Srirangaam. Sakti Tantras mention Kanchi with the Kaveri, the Southern sacred river and Srirangaam. Sakti Tantra Mentions Kanchi as one of the most important Sakti Pita of the country. The Mahalakshmi Tantra mentions that out of 108 Sakti Pithas or places of Devi worship, in India 18 are important and out of these 18, three are very important and they are Kamarajapitha of Kanchi, the Pitha at Kamarupa and the Pitha at Jalandhara. Sri Harsha of much later times mentions the presence of a ruling of Kanchi in the swayamvara of Damayanti.
Kanchi During Sangam Age
It is a place mention even in Sangam literature and accommodated all the religions, like Buddhism, Jainism, Saivism, Vaishnavism, Islam and Christianity. Buddhism came to Kanchi via Andhra Pradesh and Jainism via Karnataka. In course of time due to the emergence of the Bhakti movement together with Advaita philosophy of Adi Sankara these religion have disappeared from the scene of Kanchi.
The Bhakti movement from 6th century A.D. to 9th century A.D. produced many exponents like the alvars and nayanmars, who have changed the entire living style of the society especially in South India. In spite of this Jainism alone could withstand in Kanchi up to 14th century A.D. with its headquarters at a place called Jaina Kanchi, but after some time this religion also has shifted its headquarters to Sittamur due to lack of royal and public patronisation.
During and After Bhakti Movement
Poigai alvar was born at Thiruvekha of Kanchi. Thirunavukkarasar, the Saiva saint of 7th century A.D. while worshipping Virattanesvarar of Thiruvadigai (Villupuram District) refers to Sri Kamas Kamakshi of Kamakotipeetam of Kanchi. In another of Devaram verses Sambandar refers to Kanchi as a higly prosperous city and rising high upto the sky in fame and the building and mansions are touching the sky there. Saint Sundarar’s hymns mention Kamakottam in the ancient city of Kanchi (Kanchi mudoor Kamakottam). Nacchinnarkiniyar, Sekkizhar and many other great Tamil poets and saints have praised the city of Kanchi and its importance.
Thirumangai alvar of 8th century A.D. reters in his hymns that kanchi is surrounded by stone ramparts (kallal madil suzh Kanchi nagar). The same alvar, mentions in his Periya-Thirumoli, Sri Vaikunthaperumal Temple as Paramesvara-Vinnagaram.
Thirumizhisai alvar, the fourth among the alvars lived in Thiruvekha. The lord of Thiruvekha fulfilled the desire of His devotee Thirumizhisai alvar and thus earned the name as Sonnavannam Saida Perumal (Yathothakari) meaning the lord who obeyed the orders of his devotee.
Thirumangai alvar has sung a hymn in which he has described all the Vaishnavite temples pf Kanchi. Sri Ramanuja, the Vaishnava saint born at Sriperumbudur near Kanchi lived in Kanchi for a long time. He was the devotee of Lord Varadarajaperumal. With him Kanchi has produced another great Visshnavaite stalwart-Pillai Lokacharya who has compiled and edited the Vaishnavaite Traditions into eighteen books. The great Vedanta Desika was another jewel in Kanchi’s crown. He has written more than hundred text. In his Adikkalapathu he says that Mukti tharum nagarezhil mukkiyamam Kancchi means Kanchi is an important city among the seven mukti tharum nagarezhil mukkiyamam Kancchi thanil means Kanchi is an important city among the seven mukti kshetras.
Prathivathi Bhayanankaram Annangaracharya who lived in the present century in Kanchi has written more than one thousand texts on Vaishnavism. The establishment of Kanchi Kamakoti Peeta by Adi Sankara has brought a new life into the religion of Kanchi. Sankara is reputed to be the Shanmada sthapanacharya-the Shanmada being Saiva, Vaishnava, Sakti, Kumara, Surya and Ganapatya. The matha founded by him, in course of time, grew to be the bastion of vedic faith and practiced the highest ideals of the advaita philosophy.
Thus, the glory of Kanchi which began in early centuries of the Christian era, reached its zenith in later years. It was the centre of political, cultural, and religious activity, paving the way for the existence of a common culture.
There are about 150 temples, located in and around Kanchi. Every one of them has its own importance of alleast in any one of the aspects such as religion, history, art and architecture. In this book, I have tried my best to bring almost all the importance aspects of the temples of Kanchi besides its past history, as both are interconnected. I had consulted the great works of many scholars and quoted them in this book wherever necessary.
As I was born in Kanchipuram and spent my early years there, I thought it would be endeavour to present this handy book covering all connected account of the political, cultural and religious history of Kanchipuram and its Temples for the benefit of research works in the field. I was fortune enough to serve in the Archaeological Survey of India for more than 37 years, during which time I had rich and varied experiences about the monuments and their history and art in addition to the knowledge I had acquired by studying various books. Therefore, I am sure that this book will not only give the information that is required by the general reader but also for all the history and art lovers. In my endeavour I had the encouragement and help of many eminent guides, all my family members and friends to whom I forever remain grateful and my sincere thanks to those who have directly or indirectly helped me in this great service.
Kanchipuram has the honour of being acknowledged as of the seven great and ancient cities of India. It was virtually the political and cultural capital of Southern India, a great centre of Sanskrit and Tamil learning, a renowed cauldron of religious discourses and colourful festivals. It was one of the celebrated capital cities, well planned with long and broad avenues and wise people as attested by the famous Chinese pilgrim Huen Tsang in the 7th century. The place was beautified by the successive line of enlightened kings- The Pallavas, the Cholas, the Vijayanagar and others with the result that Kanchi attained fame as an outstanding centre of South Indian art and architecture and culture. It has the splendid temple complexes like the Kailasanatha, Vaikunta perumal, Ekambaresvara , Varadarajaswami and Kakakshi Amman, besides a hundred other smaller ones. One can see the splendours of South Indian architecture, inconography and sculptural art at their best here.
Kanchipuram played a leading role in the Bhakti movement and received the encomiums of Tamil saints-Saiva Nayanmars and Vaishnava Alvars of the seventh and eight centuries. Buddhism and Jainism had received liberal patronage here. Great religion leaders and saints were attached to this like Sankara, Ramanuja, Vedanta Desika, Manavala Mahamuni, Kanchiappa Sivacharya to mention only a few.There are a number mathas and seminaries of many persuasions in the city, the most famous being the Kanchi Kamakoti – peeta of Sankaracharya presided over by a galaxy of successive saints of great eminence.
The city is not just an arachaeological piece. Kanchi continues to be vibrant with scholarly and popular traditions, colourful festivals attaracting hundreds of pilgrims every day. It is no wonder that the history of such a clebrated city has attracted the attention of several scholars and art-historian who have published a number of volumes on its different facets. But the study is inexhaustible and can receive new insight. Shri A.K. Seshadri, who had a ling association with Arachaeological Survey of India, has intimate knowledge of the monuments here and the problem of their conservation. His devotion to native town has impelled him to bring out this volume. Here one can find a simple and good account of the Sthalapuranas of the town, brief description and history of the numerous temples, tanks, deities and festivals. He has taken pains to collect information from the researches of the earlier scholars and given them in the handy volume with good illustrations, maps and sketches. I have no doubt that this would serve to stimulate further interest in this fertile field of research.
Bharavi, a court poet of the Ganga king Durvineedhan, in one of his Sanskrit stanza has saio Pushpeshu jaadhi, Puruseshu Vishnu, Naareshu Ramba, Nagareshu Kanchi meaning just as Jasmin among the flowers, Vishnu among the male(Gods)., Ramba among the celestial beauties, Kanchi is greatest among the cities. Such was the name and fame of Kanchi. This is one of the seven Mukti Kshetras, one of the earliest cities in India and one of the best known cities of South India. Ashoka Maurya has a stupa built here, which the Chinese traveller, Hiuen Tsang had seen during his visit to this place and described it in his travel accounts. Patanjali, who belonged to the 2nd century B.C. gives the word Kanchipuraka (meaning one who is hailing from Kanchipuram) in his work Mahabhashya. The famous Talagunda inscriptions of Kadamba king Kakustavaram describes how Mayuravarman, the founder of Kadamba family, went to Kanchipuram along with his grandfather Virasarma to learn the vedic literature in the famous university called Ghatika. Kanchipuram was not only a place of learning along with Takshashila Varanasi, Vallabha and Nalanda, but also it was a place of the wise and intellectuals. “Thondai Nadu Sandrorudaithu’’ meaning Thondainadu (includes Kanchipuram) is a place of the wise and learned, says Avaiyar, a Tamil poetess of Sangam age. Kanchipuram was the capital of Thondaimandalam.
Kanchi is mentioned in may early literature and inscriptions. Kanchi seems to be the early name mentioned in Sangam literature, and also in the post Sangam literatures like the Manimegalai and the Periyapuram etc. The letter one describe Kanchi as beautiful like the heart of the louts in the navel of Mahavishnu which is said to be the birth place of Brahma. Here there are high ramparts around the town which are made of brick like the Jackfruit tree which is full of singing birds. Kanchi is also full of the nobel festivals of people of different faiths. Therefore, this city is the greatest of all cities on the earth.
According to the legendary reports, the Chola king Karikala of Sangam age built the city surrounded by walls and also laid four big streets called Raja-veedhi(meaning king’s street). The famous four of the Saiva nayanmars, Appar, Sundarar, Manickavachagar and Sambandar have sung hymns on the gods of Kanchipuram temples. Three other Nayanmars, Thirukurpputhondar, Sakkianayanar and Kadavarkon, were born in the city. Thirumular and Parrinathuadigal have visited this holy place and worshipped the temples.
There are 18 Vaishnvite temples, divya desas, located in this town ann all sung by alvars (Vaishnava saints). Poigai alvar and Thirumazhisai alvar lived in Kanchi. Adi Snakara, the great proponent of advaita philosophy established a matha and the worship of Devi (Kamakshi) temple, while Ramanuja, the founder of Vishishtadvaita philosophy whose birth place is Sriperumbudur ner Kanchipuram, lived in Kanchi for a long time, and was a devotee of Arulapurumal (Vaeadarajaperumal). Vedanta Desika and Thirukkacchinnambi, the Vaishnavite scholars and saints were born and lived here. Kanchi was also the home of Jainisim and Buddhism. The existence of Buddhist stupa and sculptures and Jaina shrines in Tirupparuthikunram provide ample evidence to this fact. Evidence of later Islam in the form of mosques and Dhargas is also found in the city. Hence this city has witnessed the fusion of various cultural streams. Prof. T.V. Mahalingam says that it is a city of different cultures such as Aryan, Non-aryan, Vedic and Non-vedic , Northern and Southern and religions like Buddhism, Jainism, Saivism, Vaishnavism and also Islam. It was a seat of education of religion like philosophy and art (Kanchipuram in Early South Indian History’ T. V Mahalingam, P-I).
The Inscription of Mamandur,(situated about 15 km south of Kanchi) (Archaeological, Reports on Indian Epigraphy for 1939-1940 No. 171) indicate the Mauryann connection with Kanchi during Ashoka’s time. Satavahana’s copper coins found in Kanchi establish their contact with this town. The Salankayanas of Andhra have supported the Buddha bhikshus of Kanchi in 4th century A.D. The Pallava king Rajasimha-I built the first structural temple at Kuram near Kanchi. The Pallavas and Chalukyas have derived their inspiration from the Guptas for the development of art but adopted their own style. The Gangas of Talakad, the Chalukyas of Badami, the Rashtrakutas of Venki, the Cholas, the Banas of Thanjavur, the Pandyas of Madurai, the Hoysalas of Karnataka, the Telugu Cholas, the Banas of Banavaram, the Vijayanagara king of Hampi, the Mughals from the north, all had political and cultural contacts with Kanchi at one time or the other or some even contemporarily with each other.
Having nearly 150 temples, Kanchipuram, is rightly called as the city of temples (like Kumbakonam in Thanjavur District). There are three popular temples which are religiously, architecturally and historically great. They are: Sri Ekambaresvarar (Siva) temple in Siva Kanchi. There are other important temples like Kailasanatha, Vaikunthaperumal, Ulagalandhaperumal, Matangesvara, Airavatesvara, Asthabuyam, Yatotkakari etc. The town Thiruparuthikundram located south of Kailasanatha temple on the bank of Vegavati river is known as Jaina Kanchi where the temples of the Pallava and the Chola period are located.
Kanchipuram was a capital of many dynasties of rulers but the Pallavas were rulers who established their capital for a longer (about 400 years) from 550 A D. Mamallapuram was not only a port town during their rules but also was a centre of art. They converted all standing rocks of his place into beautiful caves, rathas and sculptures, and commenced the school of Dravidian art and architecture, which was followed and further developed by tge future rulers of this place. The foundation for South Indian architecture was laid by the Pallavas in Kanchi. Mahendravarman was the first king to excavate cave temple at Mandagapattu without using perishable matetrals (Temple of South India – K R Srinivasan p.35). This style of architecture was later spread to South-East Asia including Indo-China. The city is famous for the production of silk from the early days and the silk sarees are much associated with the name Kanchi.
A few inscription of the temples of Kanchi mention the gifts to temple by the nesavalar community (nesavalar means weavers). Therefore it is evident that this particular community was living in Kanchi from the early days whose occupation was mainly production of silk sarees. Historians have also noted the export of fine cotton fabrics to western countries and to china from Uraiyur (in Thiruchirappalli) and from Kanchipuram through the ports of Puthar (Thanjavur district) and Marakkanam have an extensive market and even today there are quite a number of show rooms of silk sarees found in the main bazaar of Kanchipuram.
The Famous Ghatika of Kanchi
The Ghatika of Kanchi which was under the control of the king Satyasena (Velur Palayam plate p.253) is stated to have been seized by early Pallava ruler Skanda Sishya, son of Virakurcha when it was dis-organised and did not function. It was an act of meritorious service rendered by Skanda Sishya in having captured and revitalised it so as to make it function actively. The Ghatika was working smoothly since then till Rajasimha’s time when it was reorganised in a manner befitting its importance and responsibility. The Ghatika of Kanchi after its recovery by Skanda-Sishya presumably worked successfully attracting scholars from far and wide to its portals. The institution was once again re-established during Rajasimha’s reign and continued to flourish. It successfully took a hand in saving the Pallava kingdom from anarchy prior to the succession of Nandivarman Pallavamalla.
It may be recollected that the members of the Ghatika participated in the coronation scene of Pallava-malla which established the political importance of this coronation. In the post-Pallava period the University had lost its importance and slowly disappeared from the scene of the history of Kanchi. During the recent time Sankara matha of Kanchi had established a University at Enathur(Kanchi) which is also named as Ghatika.
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