It’s one of the seven holiest towns in the country, and a visit to this place gives a person salvation. Situated on the northern bank of the holy Vegavathi river, a tributary of the Palar, it is a sacred destination for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains alike. It was a centre of education and was known as ghatikasthanam [place of learning] not just for Hindus but for Buddhists and Jains as well, between the 1st and 5th Centuries. And it has been a key place for both Shaivism as well as Sri Vaishnavism. The city was regarded as the Benares of the South.
Though an ancient town, it had around 1000 temples, though only 126 of them are found today. 14 of the 108 Divya Desams of Lord Vishnu are in Kanchipuram.
Over the years the silk industry has flourished here, and Kanchipuram silks are world famous. Most of the town households are involved in this trade in some way or the other. Pure mulberry silk with dazzling colours, and fine Zari work [gold/silver thread linings] is the hall mark of Kanchipuram silks.
Varadaraja Perumal Temple
Vaikunda Perumal Temple
Glorified in the Divya Prabhandam, this temple, built by Nandivarman, dates back to the 8th Century. It is one among the 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Lord Vishnu, who is worshipped as Vaikuntanathan and his consort Lakshmi is Sri Vaikundavalli.
Meaning the god who measured the land, this incarnation of Lord Vishnu is called Vamana Avataram. This temple was built by Jayam Konda Cholan. The sanctum sanctorum has a 35-foot idol of Lord Vishnu.
It’s one of the 108 Divya Desams and has Lord Vishnu with 8 arms instead of 4, which is why it is called Ashtabuja Perumal.
There were two important mosques built by the Carnatic Nawabs around 300 years ago. The Jama Masjid is one such mosque that’s has a rich blend of architecture and heritage. But what’s most interesting is that one of the 108 Shivalingas in this town are inside this mosque. This show cases the harmony and respect for each other with which religion had been practiced in those times.
In the case of the other mosque, near the Vaikunta Perumal Temple, the story is no different either. Both the mosque and the temple share the same tank. And to take religious unity and tolerance to a different level, Muslims share and take part in the annual Varadaraja Swami Temple Brahmotsavam festival too!
A Briton named Mclean built this church in 1921. The brick structure is typically Scottish with arches and pillars.
Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam was founded in 509 BCE by Shri Adi Shankara under the matha traditions. It recognises five major Shankaras: Adi, Kripa, Ujjvala, Muka and Abhinava. It is named after Goddess Kamakshi and is located next to the Kamakshi temple. There is a shrine for the Advaita Vedanta scholar Adi Shankara.
The mutt completely relocated to Kumbakonam in the mid-18th Century to escape persecution by Muslim rulers. It returned to Kanchi in the 19th Century when political stability returned to the region.
The head of the mutt is called Shankaracharya. Kanchi Mahaswami Sri ChandrasekarendhraSaraswathySwamigal the 68th pontiff of this Mutt lived for 100 years and his Brindavanam is located inside the Mutt’s premises.
Anna Memorial Kancheepuram
It is the birth place of Dr.C.N. Annadurai, Scholar, Statesman and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. He is popularly called as Arignar Anna too. The house where Anna was born was converted into a memorial in 1980 and contain exhibits of his life history, photographs and other memorabilia.
While temples and monuments index the cultural life of a place, the real soul exists with people and their homes. Kanchi Kudil captures the soul of a family living in this small hut house that is around 100 years old.
SakunthalaJaganathan Museum of Folk Arts
This is the 400-year-old ancestral home of the Damal Family, maternal forefathers of renowned scholar Sir.C.P. Ramasamy Iyer. This house has been converted into a museum.
Srinivasa Perumal Temple - Semmancheri
While the locals deem it a 1500-year-old temple, the archaeological department confirms that the structure is around 500 years old.
The specialty of this temple is that it is believed that anyone with eye problems get cured when they worship the Lord here. It is said that a Pallava king who lost his eyesight regained it when he worshipped Srinivasa Perumal in this temple.
The temple is also said to be a Prarthana Sthalam for unmarried and childless couples.
A commercial and tourist hub, it is said to have derived its name from a lily called Chenkahuneer Poo, which is found in abundance in this region. It is the granary of the region with fertile soil and abundant agricultural activity, and it is considered the Gateway to Chennai.
Chengalpattu’s history dates back to the 2nd Century, during the reign of the Cholas. It was taken by the French in 1751 and retaken by Robert Clive in 1752.
Established in 1858 in an area of 70 acres, the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary’s season begins between November to March where thousands of migratory birds congregate from all over the world. The word Vedanthangal means the Hamlet of the Hunter. For centuries this sanctuary has been protected by the local populace who use the water from the tank to irrigate fields -the high nitrogen content that comes from the bird droppings, helps them save on the cost of fertilisers. It was as early as 1798 that the locals convinced authorities to protect the birds. Every year around 40,000 birds [including 26 rare species] roost here and hatch their chicks to fly back to varying destinations.
Pandavadhootha Perumal Temple
Built by Rajakesari Varman, this temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is one of the 108 Divya Desams. The temple of Lord Sri Krishna, called PandavaDoothaPerumal, is one of the famous Vaishnavite temples in Big Kanchipuram.
See Boat houses
Romulus and Zai Whitaker established the Madras Crocodile Bank in 1976, a herpetology zoo and research station on the outskirts of Chennai. Set up with the aim of saving three endangered species – the marsh or mugger crocodile, the saltwater crocodile and the gharial, the center is the biggest crocodile sanctuary in India. It has the largest collection of crocodiles and alligators with 14 species of crocodiles, 10 species of turtles, 3 species of snakes and a lizard species. The Crocodile Bank is situated 40 kms south of Chennai at Vadanemmeli, on the East Coast Road to Mamallapuram.
The ruins of the Alamparai fort lie near Kadapakkam, a village that’s around 50 kms from Mamallapuram. Constructed in the late 17th Century during the Mughal era, it had a 100-metre dockyard stretching into the sea from which zari, salt and ghee used to be exported. It was damaged in the 2004 tsunami.
See Boat houses
Arignar Anna Zoological Park
It is one of the largest zoological complexes in South East Asia, spread over a sprawling area of 602 hectares. It was inaugurated in 1985. This park houses 40 varieties of mammals, 20 avian species and 14 species of reptiles.
If you are on your way to the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary, you could hop off at Malaivaiyavoor to get the diving grace of Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal. The Lord’s divine presence has added respect and the place is called Thirumalaivaiyavur. It is 47 kms from Kanchipuram.
Around 40 kms from Chennai is a fishing village called Kovalam, which came to be called Covelong by the British who couldn’t pronounce its name. This pristine, palm lined beach is really beautiful and picturesque, and it was once set up as a port by Sadaat Ali for Carnatic Nawabs. Around 1742 the French took control here and it was destroyed by the British in 1752.
Covelong also has an old fort that was built by the Dutch, which now houses a 5-star hotel – The Fisherman’s Cove. There is also a famous dargah for Tamim al-Ansari which is a popular destination for many.
Madurantakam is famous for its manmade lake, and more importantly for the Sri Kothanda Rama or Eri Kaatha Rama temple.
During 1795 and 1799 the collector of this district was a British officer called Colonel Lionel Blaze. He witnessed two breaches in this enormous tank, that’s in an area of 13 sq. kms. during torrential rains. When the priests resisted his move to use temple slabs, he jestingly asked the lord to protect them. But as he camped near the site, he saw 2 warriors with bows and arrows guarding the bund – and they were invisible to other’s eyes. As he went on his knees, the grateful collector then took it on to build the shrine.
Known as the birthplace of Vaishnavite Saint Ramanuja, it is also called Boodhapuri. This is where Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991, and there’s a huge memorial built for him around the assassination site.
In the 1960s, just a Neem tree was rooted to this place. But the villagers found that it used to drip a sweet nectar, and people had an urge to taste it. By doing so many were cured of their diseases. So, more and more villagers came to the tree to find a cure for their ailments. But in 1966, a storm uprooted the tree and people found a syambhu [a round rock formation] under where the tree was and put up a hut.
The temple here is dedicated to Adi Parasakthi and the siddhar is Bangaru Adigalar who is called Amma. The place is called the MelmaruvathurSiddharPeetham.
Sadras is a fortress town located 13 kms from Mahabalipuram, and was originally called as Sadurangapuram. A magnificent fort was built here by the Dutch, which was dilapidated and is being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. The fort also houses a cemetery with well decorated graves that date back between 1620 and 1769.
The Sundara Varada Perumal temple is located here. This temple is about 1200 years old built by Nandi Varma with the help of ParamesaVathan extremely skilled Vasthu Sastra Expert. The main deity in this temple is Lord Sundara Varada Perumal. This temple has numerous inscriptions about Chola and Vijayanagaram regime. The temple is believed to have been constructed during the reign of Uthiravarma Chola.
The place has two ancient temples, one dedicated to Lord Vishnu called as Adikesava Perumal, and the other dedicated to Vaishnavite Alwar called as Koorathalwar. This is the birth place of Koorathalwar. The temples are of archaeological importance owing to their ancient nature, architecture and tradition.
The Padaladhri Narasimha Perumal Temple is located in rock cut architecture, and was built by the Pallavas in the 8th Century. The Narasimha here has four hands. The Ugra Narasimha is sported with a third eye on the forehead, which is a Lord Shiva temple feature.
Float festival of Varadaraja Perumal temple is held twice a year; the First festival in the month of February and the Second float festival in the month of November.
February – March [Masi]: Maha Sivaratri Utsavam of Kailasanathar Temple.
March – April [Panguni]: Panguni Uthiram Brahmotsavam of Ekambareswarar Temple. Unlike other Brahmotsavams it is a 13-day Festival and 14th Day is called as Thirumurai Festival.
April – May [Chittirai]: Chittirai Mahotsavam of Varada Raja Perumal, the longest of its kind is celebrated for 21 days. The first 12 days are celebrated as Brahmotsavam; and the second part is 9 Day Vidyatri Utsavam and the Thiru Avatara Utsavam of Varadaraja Perumal marking the Avatara Star Hastham. On Chitra Pournami day Lord Varadaraja Perumal is taken in procession to the banks of Palar river for Nadathri Utsavam.
May-June [Vaigasi]: Brahmotsavam of Lord Varadaraja Perumal takes place during this month, and the inscriptions even specify the route of procession of the Deity. The God and Goddess are mounted on different Vahana every day, and taken in procession.
June-July [Ani]: Kodai Utsavam [ Summer Festival]. ThirupallanduSirappu and the Jyeshtabhishekam of the Utsavar [Procession deities] are performed in this month. This festival finds a mention in the inscriptions found in the temple that date back to the Pandya and Vijayanagar kingdoms.
July – August [Adi]: Thiru Adi Pooram [Thiruvadipuram] is colourful festival of this month. Pournami or Full Moon day of this month is celebrated as Gajendra Moksham [Salvation of Gajendran - Elephant] festival. Inscriptions confirm that this festival is believed to have been celebrated even before 1592.
August – September [Avani]: Sri Jayanthi or Krishna Jayanthi is celebrated on the day of the Star Rohini of this month. The Annual Pavitrotsavam is celebrated on all the Vishnu Temples of our State. During this festival all the deities of temple will be adorned with Pavitra Mala or Purification Garlands. This is conducted to purify the omission, commission and short comings in the day-to-day pujas of the temple.
September – October [Purattasi]: Navaratri month. It’s the most colourful and exciting festival, at every house in Kanchipuram and at every temple too. Navaratri at Kamakshi Amman Temple is like another Brahmotsavam Cultural. Religious and Vedic programs fill the agenda on all the 10 days. A Silk Tourism Festival also takes please during this month.
October – November [Aipasi]: Deepavali, Manavala Muni, and Mudal Alwars are important festivals.