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GRAND HERITAGE

Capital of the Pallavas

A. SRIVATHSAN

Sangam poems describe the city of Kanchi as lotus-shaped, but by the 12th century it had taken the shape of a peacock.

PHOTO: A. MURALITHARAN

SRI KAILASANATHAR TEMPLE: Serene beauty.

The story of Pusalar, the saivite saint is about the virtues of humility and devotion. Legend has it that Pusalar wished to build a temple but could not afford it. He decided to gather the material and build it in his heart. At the same time, the king of the country was also building a grand temple and was proud of it. On the day of consecration, god chose the virtual temple of Pusalar over that of the royal temple. The king subsequently realised the value of devotion and humility of the saint. The royal city is Kanchipuram and the king was a Pallava. It is not surprising to see that legends depict Kanchipuram's grand architecture. Kanchi is an ancient city filled with architectural exemplars.

Like a peacock

Kanchi or Kanchipuram was an important city that had trade connections with China as early as second century B.C. Sangam poems describe the city as lotus- shaped, and Manimekalai the great Tamil epic was set in this city. Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism co-existed, and Huien Tsang, the Chinese traveller, records the presence of Buddhist structures in Kanchi. The Jain temple at Tiruparthikundram is still in use. The city expanded significantly when the Pallavas made Kanchipuram their capital.

Kanchi had outgrown its lotus shape and, as a 12th century Tamil text describes, attained the shape of a peacock. The head of this peacock was the Varadharaja temple and the plumage was the area around Ekambaranatha temple. Of all the temples, Kalisanatha and Vaikuntaperumal are best known for their architectural merits. The Vaikuntaperumal temple is a multi-storeyed temple built in the 8th century A.D and is known for the sculptures depicting the history of the Pallavas.

Not only was Kanchi known for architecture, but was also an important seat of learning and was as famous as Takshila and Nalanda. The Ghatika of Kanchi was a renowned institution and attracted scholars from far and wide. Dharmapala the Buddhist scholar at Nalanda was from Kanchi.

Kanchipuram lost its importance during the British period. But it still retained its glory as a historical and pilgrimage city.

Patrick Geddes, the famous Scotish town planner, visited Kanchipuram in 1914 and remarked that he has not seen a great town like this anywhere else.


The Kanchipuram saree

For centuries Kanchipuram has been famous for its weaving. Studies show that Cholas from the late 10th century A.D were active in promoting the weaving industry and textile trade. What makes Kanchipuram silk sarees unique is its strength and durability given by the twisted yarn. The saree is hand-woven in two parts and its borders are elaborately designed.

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