The imperial city of Kanchipuram is one of the seven most holy cities for Hindus
Benoy K Behl
One of the greatest historical cities of India was Kanchipuram. It was close to the busy port of Mamallapuram and was the capital city of many kings over the centuries.
Kanchipuram is one of the seven most holy cities for Hindus in India. It is mentioned by the Sanskrit poet Kalidasa as one of the greatest cities in the country. It was visited in the 7th century by the Chinese Pilgrim Xuanzang.
Many famous Buddhist philosophers and thinkers were born here, including Bodhi Dharma who introduced Zen Buddhism in China at the Shaolin temple in the 6th century. The word Zen comes from ‘Dhyana’ and this form of Buddhism also spread to Japan, where it made a landmark contribution to Japanese culture. It is also believed that Bodhisena, who was invited by the Emperor of Japan to inaugurate the 8th century temple of Todaiji in Nara, was from Kanchipuram.
Large numbers of Roman coins have been found in this part of Tamil Nadu, so we know that Romans did extensive trade with this area. The considerable trade and interaction with South East Asia is seen from the fact that the Pallava alphabet is still used in many of the scripts of South East Asia. Romans came to Kanchipuram for spices and because Kanchipuram was a major cotton weaving centre. The cotton of course came from further North from the Deccan, it was brought here and the weavers developed this very fine art of weaving the Kanchipuram cotton sari.
Kanchipuram was one of the greatest centers for the study of Sanskrit, Pali and Tamil. Today it is known as a city of a thousand temples.
King Rajasimha made the glorious Kailashanatha Temple here for his personal worship. A foundation inscription states that he erected this great house of Shiva “to reflect his own glory and the laughter of the Lord”. The temple is dedicated to Shiva Gangadhara, the bearer of the river Ganga.
The entire complex of this royal temple is grand and lavishly sculpted. Rampant lions, a royal symbol of the Pallavas, are made everywhere. They display the vigour and courage of the spirit within us, to fight the demons of our ignorance. They also display the glory of the Pallava king who made the temple.
The Kailashanatha Temple has many images of Durga as Mahishasurmardini. This is one of the most expressive images of Indian art. Durga personifies the energy and power within us, to face and to destroy the demon of our ignorance. The grace with which she is made compliments her vigour and the dynamic theme of the composition.
There is a panel of ganas, only thirty inches in height, which runs along the base of the temple. It displays the high quality of carving everywhere in the temple. Ganas are an important motif in Shiva temples and they depict the joyous spirit of the worship of the Lord.
This gorgeously sculpted temple presents the essential features of the style of south Indian temples, which were to follow.
Near Kanchipuram is a township now called Chinna Kanchipuram which means little Kanchipuram. In the old days this may have been Jaina Kanchipuram which has become Chinna Kanchipuram now. The Vaishnava and Jaina establishments would have been here, while the Shaivite and Buddhist establishments were in the main city of Kanchipuram today.
Indeed, Kanchipuram was also a great centre of Jaina and Buddhist learning in ancient times.
Adi Shankara established Mathas all over India, the four main ones being at Jyotirmath, Dwaraka, Puri and Sringeri. He also made a Peetha in Kanchipuram and after his time there has been continuity of Shankaracharyas, who have had a very major role in the history of the development of Hinduism in this region. Also belonging to Kanchipuram was another very great Vaishnava saint Ramanuja.
This documentary film is about one of the greatest cities of ancient and medieval India, Kanchipuram. Historically, this has been a great centre of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Benoy K Behl is presenting an online talk and film screening ‘Imperial City of Kanchipuram’,
at 6 pm on December 17, Saturday. Click on the link to Join:
Meeting ID: 883 5481 1906