Monday, July 16, 2007
Vannakkam. I will be discussing a few temples I have visited in the town of Kanchipuram in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. I have a fond connection for Kanchipuram as I have a close friend who lives in Kanchipuram. I met my friend while studying in Madras Christian College from 1999 to 2001. The college is situated in a suburb of Chennai called Tambaram. Kanchipuram is a two hour bus journey one way from Tambaram. Kanchipuram is called the ‘temple town,’ as at one time it had a thousand temples. Today, it has only about one hundred and twenty six. Kanchipuram is heavily traveled by tourists. Tourists come to take darshan at as many temples as they can fit into their schedule. Kanchipuram is also a center for Tamil learning, culture and religious studies. Kanchipuram is also famous for their “Kanchipuram silk saris’, that are made from pure silk and have borders of pure gold threaded designs, called zari. Before I narrate memories of my temple visits, there are some important points I felt should be mentioned.
Tourists and residents of Kanchipuram visit the temples continually throughout the year, however more so during Diwali time. Diwali is the main Hindu holy day that usually falls in November. In particular, the temples visited in this discussion took place in November of 2001. During Diwali, temples encounter a heavy rush. The amount of people visiting the temples can make one feel claustrophobic. Though it is always customary to schedule times to attend ‘special pujas,’ those attended during Diwali must be scheduled more than several days in advance of the event or when you want to attend. Many of these pujas were completed at 5:30am, as it is considered auspicious to attend puja first thing in the morning. In addition to simply scheduling the time and day you want to attend, a small fee is also required to hold your spot. Around fifteen devotees are allowed to partake in special pujas because these pujas are held in a small room, about 15 feet by 20 feet that is located in the center of the temple building housing the main deity, called graba graha, or sanctum sanctorum.
Upon entering most temples in Kanchipuram, one would see a sign board. Two items that I remember are pertinent to this discussion. One rule on the sign board is that photos are either not allowed to be taken in the temple, or can be taken only in certain areas of the temple. Though photos can be taken inside on temple grounds, generally photos are not allowed to be taken inside the sanctum sanctorum and of the idols. There were several temples that I was allowed to take photos inside upon getting permission from the temple priest. The other item on the sign board noted that no non-Hindus or foreigners can enter the temple. Depending on the temple, this statement has different meanings. In some temples, this meant that a non-Hindu can not enter the temple premises at all, and in other temples, it meant a non-Hindu can come in the premises, but can not go inside the buildings on premises, especially referring to the graba grahas. I had entered temples with signboards noting both interpretations. Luckily, due to my friend’s family being residents of Kanchipuram for generations and knowing a majority of the ‘important people,’ they were able to get special permission for me to enter the temples. This is especially needed to enter the graba grahas to attend the special pujas.
If you’d like to read the text in its entirety and see the slide show, join my yahoo group. The slide show is found under the Photo Albums section, titled Kanchipuram slide show. The text is titled “A Spiritual Exploration of Kanchipuram as slide show” in DOC or PDF format. That is found in the files section.
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Copyright ©2007 Jennifer Jayanthi Kumar