Temple town of Kanchipuram
The man must have been in his late forties or early fifties. However, the silvery gray hair that adorned his head and most part of his face, made him look older than his years. He sat hunched over a beam, which extended into a handloom. The fan on the roof of the rickety room whirred noisily generating a rush of hot air, but the room was still cool compared to the blazing heat outside. We were in the temple town of Kanchipuram near Chennai in Southern India and it was a hot summer afternoon.
Kanchipuram is a temple town in Tamil Nadu, India which is known for Kanchipuram silk sarees. This historical town is at a distance of around 72 kilometers from Chennai. It was the capital city of erstwhile Pallava dynasty.
After a sumptuous breakfast in the cool environs of the Regency by GRT Hotels, Kanchipuram where we had our temporary digs, it was time to venture out into the town and explore the secrets of the famous Kanjeevaram silk sarees as well as the historic and heritage temples.
For the Lure of Silk
So there we were looking in awe at the makings of what would ultimately be an exquisite silk saree that would probably be worn by a blushing bride on her wedding day. The surroundings contrasted with the grandeur that the finished saree would assume. The man with the gray hair continued to focus on his work as he laboriously and slowly weaved magic from his hands. The intricate and stunning design that could be visible in the “work in progress”, saree was a silent testimony the single-minded concentration and skill of the weaver. Twenty to Twenty-five days of hard work would culminate with a finished product in the form of a saree. For us, that was definitely back breaking work, which would definitely take a toll of the weavers.
As we looked at the myriad colored silk yarn wound over the loom, waiting for the magic of the weaver to transform them into stunning works of textile art, our minds took off on a tangent to how the silk yarn found its way to the weaving facility.
The silk is actually the fibre that insect larvae produce to generate cocoons in which they are ensconced for some time. Silk is produced by separating the worms from the cocoons in which process the worms die. The silk required for a single saree is generated by about a 1000 silk worms. There has been some awareness and concern for the silk worms whose lives are sacrificed at the altar of fashion and style. This has led to an alternate and non-violent method of silk production which is aptly known as Ahimsa(Non-Violence) or Peace Silk. This method which derives from the principle of Ahimsa of Mahatma Gandhi ensures that the silk is recovered after the worm has broken the cocoon and flown. The method does involve more time than the traditional method of boiling the cocoons in hot water before they break. Also, the amount of silk which is recovered in the Ahimsa method is lesser than the traditional method. Needless to say, the environment-friendly Ahimsa Silk is more expensive than traditional silk. It is heartening to note that this silk too is gaining popularity and in fact, James Cameron’s wife Suzy wore a blue gown made of Ahimsa Silk to the Oscars in 2010!
The whirring of the fan and the staccato sounds of the loom brought us back to the present from our reveries and we looked at the man with the silky gray hair who gave us a toothy smile and bid us farewell. Still, with silk on our minds and thinking about the National Award winning Tamil movie Kanchivaram, we made our way out onto the small alley that housed many weaving units like the one we had just emerged from, in the temple town of Kanchipuram.
Spirituality Etched in Stone in the temples of Kanchipuram
The historic temples of Kanchipuram seem to whisper fascinating stories of a glorious chapter in history, a time when Kanchipuram was the spiritual center of the south and also known as Ghatikasthanam or center of learning. The temples are not only steeped in history and legend, acting as powerful spiritual magnets drawing thousands to its fold, but they are also silent odes to the architectural mastery of its builders.
The rays of the afternoon sun reflected from the golden Gopuram or tower almost blinding us with its radiance. We were in the precincts of the Kamakshi Amman temple which is one of the ancient temples that adorn Kanchipuram.
The other famous temples in Kanchipuram are Vardharaja Perumal temple which is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu and is a very important spiritual destination. Ekambareshwarar temple is a temple that is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Ekambareshwarar temple sprawls over an area of 25 acres and ranks among the largest temple complexes in India. The temple is adorned with pillars and hallways. The largest hall is made up of 1000 pillars. The temple is also home to a very old mango tree which is said to be more than 3500 years old and is said to yield four different varieties of Mangoes.
The temple town of Kanchipuram is dotted with exquisite and ancient temples which ensconce numerous historic and architectural treasures waiting to be discovered. It is no wonder that Kanchipuram is often referred to as, “The City of a Thousand Temples”.
It would take a few days to visit and explore each of the temples and soak in their history. As time was a constraint we visited just a few of the important ones and vowed to ourselves that we would be back for more.
After our tryst with silk, stone, and spirituality we headed back to the welcoming and comforting environs of The Regency by GRT Hotels, Kanchipuram, where a sumptuous lunch awaited us. The lunch was an interesting mix of traditional and local dishes and flavors blended lovingly with contemporary offerings.
After relishing our lunch we headed to our rooms to relax for some time before we hit the road again.
We bid farewell to the hospitable staff at Regency by GRT Hotels, Kanchipuram who had ensured that our short stay was extra sweet. As we drove towards Chennai, the heavy and delicious lunch ensured that we dozed off and dreamt of silk, stone, and spirituality that serenaded the temple town of Kanchipuram!
We’d love if you’d comment and share this post.