Temples are located throughout India, and Asia for that matter, but the ones in South India are gigantic and architecturally brilliant. I was born and brought up in India and our favorite family activity during the holidays was to visit one temple after the other, right from a young age. Religious tourism is the popular with most families in India, including mine. When I was young, visiting temples was like a picnic, a family outing. With age, the temple visits have lessened but I have always had a special place for temples in my heart.
This specific temple, Ekambareswarar Temple, is particularly beautiful; it is located in a temple town called Kanchipuram, near Chennai, in South India. Ekambareswarar temple was initially constructed in the 7th Century AD and since then it has undergone many modifications and additions and the temple now stands at an impressive 59 meters high.
Kanchipuram, one of the more popular temple towns in India, is called the “Land of 1000 Temples,” and for good reason—the town has been in existence for a very, very long time. In fact, written history of this temple town goes back to at least the 5th Century BC. South Indian temples, unlike their North Indian counterparts, have been relatively lucky because their location down in the south shielded them from the destruction caused by wars and foreign conquests. Hence, there are many ancient temples in this region that have survived—almost completely intact—until today.
One of the things I love best about the temples in the south are the intricately carved stone sculptures. These beautiful carvings and sculptures can be found on the temple’s towers, the walls, on the pillars, practically everywhere. Even smaller temples in the region have beautiful stone-art inscribed right into the temple structures. One neat thing, if you look closely at the temple towers, many resemble pyramids because pyramids concentrate energy at their base-point (that’s why corpses are kept there in many cultures). Similarly, here in India, the pyramid temple towers concentrate energy at the base and that’s one reason people walking through and around the temple often feel refreshed.
Personally, though I don’t often visit the temples for praying, I do visit them to capture the beautiful sculptures and stone-carvings in my camera. It is unfortunate that many temples in India (including this one) do not allow photography inside, but even with that rule in place, I always end up with some beautiful photos of the outside—if these are the type of sculptures you can see on the outside of these temples you can imagine how many more beautiful ones decorate the inside!
It takes many years to build a tower like these, and the sculptures inside the Temple were carved over centuries and by many hands. The Ekambareswarar Temple (also called as Ekambaranathar Temple) is one of the most popular temples in Kanchipuram, and I think for good reason. Inside the temple you’ll discover a thousand-pillared hall, a huge temple pond surrounded by long steps, a 2000 year old mango tree bearing four types of mango fruits, and many other beautiful offerings and additions to make the temple a holy and welcoming place. Also, located right next to the temple (in a 300-year old heritage house) is the Shakuntala Jagannathan Museum of Fine Arts, which is worth visiting while you’re on the temple grounds. And since photography is prohibited inside, you’ll just have to go yourself to see the inside of the gorgeous Ekambareswarar Temple.
As for visiting, foreigners and visitors are very much allowed inside the temple (except a small hall where the main deity is kept). If you visit you should buy and eat the prasadam, food offerings, called Puliodharai, Vadai and Chakkarai pongal. These foods are made from rice and are very tasty— my favorite, so don’t miss!
Photos by Destination8Infinity.