Temple architecture

When temple visits in Kanchipuram redefined my idea of ​​faith – the New Indian Express

Express news service

CHENNAI: When my parents chose Tirupati as their annual getaway almost every year, they had to consider my scary math scores and hoped Lord Venkateswara would save me with magic numbers on my school tests. Of course, there is no doubt that these trips had favorable results on my summer newsletter. But what my parents didn’t take into account was my rebellious clue to stand in the middle of a relentless crowd for endless hours. It turned me into a rabid temple visitor. Did I have to spend my energy and hurt my calves to find something?

But who knew some earth-shattering events, and a lot of gray hair, would make a tectonic shift in my idea of ​​belief and faith. So one recent morning in December, after drinking two cups of filter kaapi and a plate of steaming sambar-soaked idlis, I did what a younger man would have vehemently protested against – I proceeded to check off seven temples. frequented from Kanchipuram, on my maiden voyage here.

Sun, silence and abandon

For being a popular tourist temple city, what surprises me is that at 10 a.m. the streets look sleepy. Maybe that’s what it means to slow down, I thought to myself, hoping that my first stop at Sri Kamakshi Amman Temple wasn’t overflowing with devotees. With that glimmer of optimism, as I step off the autorickshaw, I catch the initial sight of the white stone gopuram looming against Kanchi’s blue sky. It is, as they say, perfect. There is also instant relief that I can walk towards the inner shrine in the absence of the jostling and elbow, and immediately be stopped by the magnificent sight of Sri Kamakshi Ambal sitting in Padmasana, holding a cane bow and flower arrows; his diamond nose ring shone brighter than all the lighted lamps inside the sanctum sanctorum.

It is the search to access this light within me that makes me want to give faith a chance, I remind myself. After savoring this unexpected fifteen minute rendezvous with Sri Kamakshi, I slowly walk around Pancha Ganga Theertham, the temple’s spacious reservoir, with the awe-inspiring views of the golden vimanam as a backdrop. I stop, I soak up the grandeur of the silence echoing here in the air, and I hope that stillness calms my chattering spirit.

Squinting in the midday sun, I quickly make my way to my next stop, only to be completely eclipsed by one of the tallest temple towers in southern India. Rising to a height of 192 feet, Sri Ekambareswarar Temple is the largest temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in Kanchipuram. It is considered to be one of the Pancha Bootha Sthalams meaning the five elements of wind, water, fire, earth and space. Intrigued by its seniority, I reach out to the trader who sells temple idols and images. “Legend has it that once, while Lord Shiva was meditating, Goddess Parvati mischievously covered her eyes with her fingers, resulting in total darkness on earth for many years. Shiva was enraged by this act and he cursed Parvati to go to earth for penance.

Parvati came here and created the earthly linga and worshiped it under a mango tree giving birth to the temple, ”he shares, showing me the way to the more than 3,500 year old mango tree, which has four branches each dedicated to the four Vedas. The path to the tree itself has a Shiva Linga made up of about 1,008 small lingas. Standing in the presence of this all-pervading energy, I hear a devotee singing the praises of Shiva; streams of tears flow down my cheeks. The lyrics were beyond my comprehension, but not the singer’s bhavam. It was an intimate moment of abandonment, so difficult to live in the madness of the mundane life of the city. And during this vulnerable beat here, I feel the illusion of control.

Soon, hunger brings me back to the reality of a mortal life. And who can refuse a bowl of fragrant, unfussy temple puliyogare and curd rice? After all, the promise of this simple pleasure was the only way to allay my resentment of the queues on those summer trips.

Installed in the chain of time

Very little seems to stir here the languid hours of the afternoon, which seems as muffled as the first mornings in the alleys of Kanchipuram. With the tropical sun hitting the city, the streets lined with multicolored houses offer all manner of photographic delights. As I walk down Gandhi’s main road, I find decrepit old world shops jostling for space next to modern stores. And in this mix of past, present and future, I encounter a pre-independence treasure: the Jackson Market, founded in 1929. The decay of this piece of history interrupts the joy of its presence. But once inside, the labyrinth of its alleys has a rustic air filled with the scent of jasmine, the aroma of fresh produce, the clamor of voices, the clatter of goods; lizards crawling on mold-filled walls and affable vendors who woo my tourist face with their welcoming smiles.

A few photographs later, and with an hour more for the temples to reopen for the day, I chase my nose to India Coffee House. Founded as a worker cooperative at a time when coffee cultivation in India was a British monopoly, this historic chain brews nostalgia at a time when lattes and smoothies are becoming the dominant beverage culture. Not that I’m not guilty of reveling in the latter, but keeping my bourgeois preferences aside, this afternoon all I’m looking for is – to soak my skin in the filtering sun in this picturesque space, Breathe in-breathe out, sip my coffee mindfully, watch the ceiling fan spin lazily and get caught in this time warp to slow my rushed behavior. Who deprives me of this luxury room!

Of conception and acts

Capital of the Pallavas from the 6th to the 8th century AD, this city of a thousand temples is full of architectural beauty eloquently testifying to its glorious Tamil heritage. I have my first impression of this when I reach the Sri Kailasanathar temple. Its serene landscape, sparsely populated premises and sturdy edifice richly filled with the 64 aspects of Lord Shiva, containing millennia of stories and secrets, is more a place of wonder than prayer. You don’t have to be devout to be here, a feeling of respect and the spirit of celebrating it is enough. Perhaps this is how we have lost our sense of spirituality – by unhealthily mixing it up with religion, God and superstitions. After an hour of so lonely ruminating, I head for the Ulahalanda Perumal temple; my car driver meanders quickly through the narrow alleys filled with school children and buses. It’s easy not to notice the temple given its unpretentious exterior structure and location on one of the busiest streets.

Curious by its simplistic appeal, I ask the driver to accompany me. And he readily offers to tell stories of yesteryear: “One day King Mahabali was performing his Upanayana, when Lord Vishnu as Vamana approached Mahabali for a grant. Seeing his petite figure, Mahabali laughed and promised to grant him whatever wishes he wanted. The Vamana asked for three feet of land which he could cross; the whole king’s court burst into laughter as this little Vamana demanded a yard of land. But to their surprise, Vamana’s step covered the whole sky, the second step all the earth and there was no room for the third step. Realizing that this Vamana is none other than Lord Vishnu himself, Mahabali gave his head to place Vamana’s third foot. So Vamana pushed Mahabali to Pathal Loka (hell) and saved heaven and earth. Listening to these tales and walking in an austere environment, this time of reflection on the road prompts me to reflect on my actions.

But the setting sun is warning me that I have yet to check off three more on the list. So, guarding these thoughts, the driver and I headed for the Sri Chithragupta Swami temple located near the Kanchipuram bus stop. I am particularly fascinated by the significance of this temple, as the resident priest explains: “Chith means inner consciousness and Aptham means hidden consciousness. Everything that we hold in our consciousness is brought out by Sri Chithragupta. Lord Yama asked Lord Shiva to find him an intelligent Chief Minister and Chief Accountant to deal with the good and bad deeds committed by humans. Lord Shiva in turn told Lord Brahma. Chithragupta, created by Lord Brahma through the Sun God, is Yama’s younger brother.

The story makes me shiver, knowing full well that my story does not seem promising for Heaven. I suppose my presence here might help clean up my deeds, and pay homage to the deity, before rushing to the temple of Vaikuntha Perumal. Like Kailasanathar, this one is a wordless celebration of architecture. The covered passages inside the outer walls represent the evolution of the thousand pillared mandapams later built in many temples in southern India. The vibrancy of details on the carved stone walls prompts me to stop and ask myself: where has our sense of aesthetics gone?

Chewing on such a mass of thoughts, I prepare for the last leg of the journey – the Varadaraja Perumal temple. It was in 2019 that after 40 years Lord Varadaraja, who is believed to be underwater, was taken to the rare Aththi Varadhar Utsav temple festival. The reports and stories of devotees thronging the temple, and the boom in tourism in Kanchipuram during this season, have secretly made me want to attend this great celebration. And here I am, two years later, in a more peaceful configuration, standing in a serpentine queue for a preview. Only this time, I was more patient to continue my prayer.

Ultimately, a trip to any temple is what I mean by it – pain or pleasure. Believer, unbeliever, atheist, agnostic… fear does not choose who you are, it is just – whether it is in the sanctity of a temple or in the high sacred mountains. And maybe it is with this apprenticeship that I can now return to Tirupati, not enraged.