Travelogue

A Visit to Kailasam (Kanchi Kailasam, that is)


Preface

With the North-East monsoon saying goodbye to Chennai, winter, the mildest summer season in this part of the world, has set in early. The travel bug in me started pricking my nerves so hard that I began to plan for a long ride to feed the bug. Luckily, there was an excuse to make a decently long trip to Kanchipuram. There was a marriage function to attend, and what better way to travel from home to the marriage hall than on a two-wheeler.

As we (my wife and I) had to start early in the morning, we decided it would not be a clever thing to take the daughter with us. So, we cajoled and promised her that if she opted to stay at her grandma’s, the RoP (return on patience) would be worth its weight in dolls and chocolates. She readily accepted our offer, and we started at 6:30 in the morning. I put on my helmet and my wife her balaclava (I insisted she also wear a helmet, but like a good wife she didn’t heed my advice).

We decided to take a rustic route, so the Bangalore highway (part of the golden quadrilateral) lost the battle to the Thambaram-Padappai-Wallajahbad-Kanchi route. It would be a 60km ride, but we decided we would ride at a pedestrian 40kmph so that we could enjoy the ride.

Morning traffic was sparse; the land was shrouded in mist up to the point where it met the horizon; and there was a nip in the air. Poetic, isn’t it. Riding a motorbike with protective gear on a winter morning is like enjoying an early morning slumber under a cozy quilt with the fan (or A/C) whirring at full speed. The road was decent and it cut the mostly barren and semi-arid lands. We could see drastic changes in the topography of the place since the time when we had gone through the same road last year. (The area is being industrialized at a hectic pace. It may be a good thing, for there is no agriculture activity happening anyway.) There were a few good lush green stretches, though.

Reached Kanchi in an hour and a half, attended the marriage, filled up our respective tummies, and went straight to the Kailasanathar temple.

Kailasanathar

God bless the Pallavas. God bless Rajasimhan a.k.a. Narasimhavarman II. The Pallavas made the Thamizhs proud with their everlasting masterpieces on stone. If Simhavishnu, Mahendravarman I, and Narasimhavarman I are credited for the awe-inspiring sculptures of Kadal Mallai (Maamallapuram), then Rajasimhan must be eulogized for the great Kailasanathar temple at Kanchi. (If I am correct, he is also attributed to the Shore Temple at Maamallapuram.)

The Kailasanathar temple or Rajasimheswaram is a beauty to behold. This was my second trip. I had visited this wonderful temple a year ago, but had to rush up, as it was getting too dark to appreciate the sculptures. That’s when I had decided I should visit this temple again in daytime. This time, we were there at 09:30 in the morning and spent a good hour and a half.

Rajasimheswaram is not a typical Dravidian-style temple you see everywhere in Thamizh Nadu. It predates most of the big and famous temples. Built in the 7th century, it resembles the Shore Temple; only it is four to five times bigger (my guesstimate!). A vast open space with beautifully manicured lawns welcomes you as you enter the temple premises. The bull (Nandhi) is huge and it stands in the open as if to tell you that it has withstood all the five elements of nature. There are quite a few rathas (actually they are small shrines one witnesses within the corridor of a typical temple) that line up the outer corridor.

Enter the temple and you are awestruck by the grace and poise of the vimanam. As with those times, the outer tower (gopuram) is smaller than the inner tower (vimanam) over the sanctum sanctorum. Legend has it that the great Rajaraja Chozhan was inspired by this temple and went on to build the Brihadheeswara temple (Periya Koil) at Thanjavur.

Kailasanathar, in the form of the lingam, is humongous and gorgeous. The lingam is made of granite and is hexdecagon-shaped (16 sides). If you want to circumambulate the sanctum sanctorum, you will have to crawl through a big hole on one side that symbolizes death, walk through the narrow corridor, and crawl back to the sanctum through another L-shaped hole that symbolizes rebirth.

The inner corridor and the outer walls of the sanctum sanctorum cast their magic spell on you as you circumambulate after praying to the presiding deity. Every nook and corner is replete with wonderful sculptures. Hail thee Rajasimha; hail thee architects who sculpted the masterpieces. Somaskandhamoorthy, Narasimhar, Simhavahini… all are exquisitely sculpted. Even an atheist would be moved by their sheer grace. A few Puranic sculptures are also found: Arjunan locking horn with Shiva over a wild boar; Lingodhbhavar standing majestically, wielding all sorts of godly weapons; Shiva subjugating Ravana who thinks he can move Mt. Kailash.

We left the place carrying back the memories of the times.

All photos are listed here.

Travel tips:

  • From Thambaram, Kailasanathar temple is 65km; from Chennai, it will be 80 or 85km if you take the Thambaram route.
  • You can take a break at Padappai or Wallajabad. Padappai doesn’t have decent hotels (my view only), but Wallajabad has.
  • On entering Kanchi, go past the Varadharaja Perumal koil (say a quick hello or if possible include it in your travel itinerary) in Little Kanchi. When you have traveled a km or two into the town, turn left at the junction where you can see Adyar Ananda Bhavan and Saravana Bhavan, and go straight. The road turns right at the Kachabeswarar temple and leads to the Ekambareswarar temple (you can very well see the towering tower of Ekambareswarar). Go straight instead of turning right at the Kachabeswarar temple. Within 500 meters, the town sort of vanishes and the rustic charm of a village welcomes. Go another 500 meters to reach the Kailasanathar temple.
  • Did I mention that the outer corridor of the Kailasanathar temple has beautiful lawns? There are a few trees that provide shade. You can marvel at the side view of the magnificent Gopuram from here.
  • Try the death-rebirth holes. You may think twice before going through the holes, as they are really narrow; but you will feel rejuvenated when you come out.
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