Ask any youngster fresh out of college what is the one place they pray they won’t be posted, and the answer comes pat- Tamil Nadu. I know people who have rejected lucrative job offers because the offer came with the requirement to move to Chennai. There are many reasons behind such antipathy towards Tamil Nadu, disclosing most of which are likely to land me behind bars. However, if you are of a religious bent of mind, no place will satisfy your craving for gods and temples more than Tamil Nadu. There seems to have been a competition between the Shaivites and Vaishnavites as to who could build more temples, and the result is a state with more temples than there are pages in War and Peace.
We woke up at the unearthly (for me) hour of 5 a.m. to catch the early morning bus to Kanchipuram, with the aim of avoiding the crowds at the temples. After almost two hours of snoring in the comfortable Volvo seats, we were deposited in the central square of the temple town, to be accosted immediately by autowallahs promising us a ‘full tour, madam, five temples, no waiting charges’. Five minutes of haggling, and we were on our way to the first, and the most famous temple of Kanchipuram, the Kamakshi Amman temple.
The Kamakshi Amman temple is considered one of the 51 Shakti Peethas, where, according to Hindu mythology, one of Sati’s body parts fell when Lord Vishnu halted Lord Shiva’s tandava dance by slicing Sati’s corpse with his Sudarshan Chakra. It is dedicated to Kamakshi, an incarnation of Goddess Parvati, who happens to be Sati reborn. Confused? Yeah, well, Indian mythology is like that; everything is linked with everything else. If it ain’t confusing, it ain’t Indian (I claim copyright on that phrase).
After performing puja at the Kamakshi Amman temple, we moved on to the Ekambaranath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. I liked this temple more, primarily for the open courtyard and the beautiful pillared corridors, as well as the drool-worthy prasadam served there. Yeah, so food influences my perception of a place. Sue me.
We visited two Vishnu temples- the Varadaraja Perumal temple built by the Pallavas, and the Ulagalantha Perumal temple commemorating the story of Mahabali’s encounter with Lord Vishnu disguised as a dwarf, or vaman. At the risk of sounding un-pious, I must confess that these two temples have kinda melted into each other in my memory and I can’t remember much about them, except that the second was closing by the time we reached (about 10.30 a.m.), resulting in a very hurried darshan.
There isn’t much to see in Kanchipuram apart from the temples, hence it’s usually not in the must-visit list of my generation, who are ‘travellers’ looking for ‘offbeat experiences’ and other fancy stuff. To me, there is something to see in every place, be it a tried-and-tested tourist destination or something off the map. Kanchipuram sent me back with memories of women, young and old, wearing saris in a million hues and jasmine in their hair, visiting the temple everyday to reaffirm their faith in their mother goddess.