Kanchipuram

Definition

Mark Cartwright
by
published on 24 July 2015
Kailasanatha Temple, Kanchipuram (by Balaji Shankar Venkatachari)

Kanchipuram (sometimes simply called Kanchi or Kanci) is an ancient city in the Tamil Nadu region of southern India. Once a capital of the Pallava dynasty, Kanchipuram was also a noted centre of learning for Tamil and Sanskrit scholars. Known as ‘the religious capital of the South’ its early 8th century CE Kailasanatha temple is one of the most impressive structures surviving from ancient India.

Historical Overview

The city was at one time the capital of the Pallavas (4th to 9th centuries CE). Kanchipuram fell to King Pulakesin II (r. 610-642 CE) in the 7th century CE when this powerful Early Western Calukya ruler defeated Harsa of Kanauj. Falling again into Pallava hands it was recaptured by the Calukya ruler Vikramaditya II (r. 733-746 CE) and a contemporary inscription at the site records this victory. Kanchi was also the home of the famous 6th century CE poet Bharavi who wrote the Kiratarjuniya and the famous 11th to 12th century CE Hindu philosopher Ramanuja. Still today an important religious centre, the site has over 120 temples and is also noted for its production of fine silk saris. 

Remove Ads

Advertisement

The Kailasanatha is one of the largest and most ornate ancient temples in the whole of India. 

Kailasanatha Temple

The Kailasanatha (or Rajasimhesvara) is one of the largest and most ornate ancient temples in the whole of India. Built by the Pallava king Rajasimha (reign c. 695-722 CE and otherwise known as Narasimhavarman II) it is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The sandstone structure is enclosed within a highly decorative wall which has interior niches forming 58 separate shrines containing figures of Shiva, Parvati, and Skanda. The shrines also have traces of colourful murals, now lost.

The western side of the perimeter wall once had an early barrel-vaulted gopura or monumental gate but the now principal entrance is dominated by the Mahendravarmesvara, which is actually a shrine not a gate. Named after Rajasimha’s son, it contains a large sacred linga (phallus). The placement of this shrine and the memorial shrines actually outside the compound on the east side are unique in Hindu architecture. The entrance to the temple building itself is composed of the typical columned porch, the mandapa, which is open on four sides and now connected to the temple proper by a more modern six-columned hall.

Kailasanatha Temple, Kanchipuram, India

The Kailasanatha has one of the largest and most complex towers (vimana) anywhere. The inner sacred shrine (garbhagriha) has a circumambulatory passage for worshippers to ritually walk around it. The three exterior walls of the garbhagriha have seven lesser shrines placed around them and each contains an image of Shiva. The whole of the exterior of the temple is covered in a mass of relief sculpture, notably of rearing lions (yalis), Nandis, attendants of Shiva (ganas), Shiva, and other Hindu deities.

Remove Ads

Advertisement

Vaikunthaperumal Temple

Unusually for a Pallava temple the Vaikunthaperumal, built by Nandivarman II in the late 8th century CE, is dedicated to Vishnu. It is one of the latest surviving temples built by the Pallavas. Again dominated by a huge tower, the temple is also exceptional for its triple shrine, one on each story and each containing an image of Vishnu. A mandapa with eight columns leads to the sacred shrines within where there are two circumambulatory passages on the first floor. The interior walls of the temple are decorated with relief sculpture depicting scenes from the history of the Pallava dynasty.    

Vimana, Kailasanatha Temple, Kanchipuram

Other buildings at Kanchipuram include several smaller Pallava shrines of which the Muktesvara and Matangesvara are the biggest. The small Cokkisvara temple dates to the 12th century CE and has been restored. Finally, the Varadaraja temple was built in the early 17th century CE and has a massive gopura and outstanding sculpture on its exterior, notably the rearing lions of its mandapa columns. Besides the abundant sculpture adorning the various monuments of the city several excellent figures of yoginis have survived, typically in greenstone and dating to the 9th and 10th centuries CE.   

Editorial Review This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

Map



About the Author

Mark Cartwright
Mark is a history writer based in Italy. Surrounded by archaeological sites, his special interests include ancient ceramics, architecture, and mythology. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the Publishing Director at AHE.

Remove Ads

Advertisement

Help us write more

We're a small non-profit organisation run by a handful of volunteers. Each article costs us about $50 in history books as source material, plus editing and server costs. You can help us create even more free articles for as little as $5 per month, and we'll give you an ad-free experience to thank you! Become a Member

Recommended Books

 

Cite This Work

APA Style

Cartwright, M. (2015, July 24). Kanchipuram. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/Kanchipuram/

Chicago Style

Cartwright, Mark. "Kanchipuram." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified July 24, 2015. https://www.ancient.eu/Kanchipuram/.

MLA Style

Cartwright, Mark. "Kanchipuram." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 24 Jul 2015. Web. 18 Dec 2018.

Remove Ads

Advertisement

Remove Ads

Advertisement

Newsletter

Our latest articles delivered to your inbox, once a week:

Are you a...?



Timeless Travels

Timeless Travels Digital Magazine
Remove Ads

Advertisement