Kanchipuram is one of the oldest towns in India, famous for both its temples, many of them remarkably well preserved, and for its handwoven silks. Known as South India’s ‘Golden City of Temples’, it is a major pilgrimage centre and the perfect introduction to anyone seeking a crash course in Hindu religion, mythology and architecture. Kanchipuram is one of the seven sacred cities of India (the others are Varanasi, Mathura, Ujjain, Hardwar, Dwarka and Ayodhya), and it is the only one associated with both Shiva and Vishnu.It was the empire-building Pallavas (6th to 8th centuries AD) who turned the ancient holy town of Kacchi into the wealthy capital of ‘Kanchi’. Under the artistic Mahendravarmari I (600-630), a sudden surge of cultural and building activity took place, starting the traditions of silk-weaving, temple building and Bharatnatyam dance for which Kanchipuram later became famous. In this period, Dravidian architecture developed from modest simplicity, as exemplified by the Mahabalipuram rathas, to wildly extravagant maturity. The development of the gopuran temple-towers into soaring stone leviathans dripping with tiny dancing deities was particularly dramatic.All this zealous religious activity attracted flocks of artists, educators and musicians to Kanchipuram, and it became a major centre of art and learning. But then, in the 9th century, the Pallava dynasty fell, and the city’s power and influence rapidly faded. Under subsequent rulers—the Cholas, the Vijayanagar kings, the Muslims and eventually the British—it returned to being just a typical country town, enlivened by constant parades of devout pilgrims.

Kanchipuram today is a noisy, dusty place, with a definite shortage of good hotels and restaurants. But the temples are unmissable, and the priests invariably friendly. The fever-pitch noise and bustle may come as a bit of a shock after tranquil Mahabalipuram, but like Varanasi, the authentic spirituality of the place lies just beneath the surface.

The cool season to visit is November to January, but many brave the heat for the big Car Festival of February-March. Subsequent festivals in April-May are hot, crowded and uncomfortable.


There are regular buses in and out of Kanchipuram from both Madras and Mahabalipuram. All buses are a mad scramble, and you’ll have to fight tooth-andnail for a seat.

Travel Query India

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