Kanchipuram has two distinct parts – Shiva Kanchi and Vishnu Kanchi, and the city revolves around the temple of Kanchi Kamakshi. So, the followers of all three major sects of Hinduism have a stake in the city. Let me take you to Vishnu Kanchi where many ancient Vishnu temples are located. How many – well, no one knows. Let us begin with the biggest and most popular Vishnu temple in Kanchipuram – Varadharaja Perumal Temple.
Temples in Vishnu Kanchi
The core of Vishnu Kanchi is this temple. It is also called Devrajaswamy Temple. Spread across 23 acres of land, it is not just one temple but a complete temple complex with many temples, pillared halls & pavilions, and tanks. There are certain important things that you should not miss at this temple in Kanchipuram.
Must-See Things at Varadharaja Perumal Temple
Raja Gopuram of Varadharaja Perumal Temple
Like any big temple in South India, the first thing you see is the tall Raja Gopuram which is 7 floors tall at this temple. You almost feel regal as you enter the temple through this gate. Adding to this was the fact that it was a festival day when I visited the temple. As I reached, the Utsav Murtis were being taken out of the temple. It was a delight to watch the music, devotion, and care with which many men carried the God was amazing. More of that later, let us enter the temple.
Just after the Raj Gopuram is a smaller pavilion on 4 pillars. The temple is in front but hardly anything is visible except the tall Dhwajstambha or the flagstaff.
100 Pillar Hall & Its Stone Chain at Varadharaja Perumal Temple
On the left of Raj Gopuram of the temple is its famous 100-pillar hall. When you have seen 1000 pillar temples just the previous day, you wonder what is special about this 100-pillar hall. Let me tell you, you just have to reach it and then you need no explanations. Each carved pillar will talk to you.
The 100 Pillar hall is a wedding hall, with a 4 pillared raised mandapa in the middle. The rest of the 96 pillars are a matrix of 8 rows and 12 columns. Middle pillars are double pillars and have the formation of an army on horses. And the outer pillars are decorated with auspicious signs on them.
At the edges, you can see a stone-cut chain hanging. It is a masterpiece of stone carving but I wonder what its purpose would have been.
Unfortunately, to guard the pavilion, the outer periphery is covered in metal mesh. Mesh takes away the beauty of this hall to a large extent. The hall opens around 9 AM and you have to buy a 5 Rs ticket to enter.
Video of 100 Pillar Hall
Ananth Saras or Tank with a submerged temple
Behind the 100 Pillar hall of the temple in Kanchipuram is a large tank. It has a small temple in the middle and steps all around. Temples dedicated to different forms of Vishnu surround the tank, while the main temple would be one towards one corner of it.
The Ananth Saras as the temple tank is called is special for it houses a hidden temple inside its waters. It is said that the original idol of Vishnu at the temple was made of fig wood. Subsequently, a metal idol was installed and the wooden one was put in a silver casket and it rests in this pond. The idol is taken out every 40 years for cleaning and for worship. The next it would come out in July 2019. I was told there is a big festival that happens around this time.
After visiting the temple, I walked around the tank and visited the smaller temples situated around it. There are temples dedicated to Venugopal, Varaha, Ranganatha, and Narasimha and on one side is the 100-pillar hall. Beneath a tree, there are a lot of Naga Stones smeared with turmeric.
Ugr Narasimha Temple
I passed the Dhwajastambha and entered the temple through another Gopuram. There was a small temple in front of me. What caught my eye was the double pillars in the small courtyard. I wondered if this was the main temple, for it looked smaller than I imagined. No, it was not. It is a temple dedicated to the Narasimha or the Man-Lion avatar of Vishnu. There is Mul Murti and there are Utsav Murtis around it.
Perundevi Thayar Temple
On the right of this temple is a larger temple that is accessed through a flight of stairs. I climbed the stairs to see the beautiful Devi temple dedicated to Perundevi – an incarnation of Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu. The temple is small but has a fairly large pillared hall in front of it with a mandapa in the middle. Four-faced pillars here are painted blue and give a glimpse of how the temples must have looked when all the stone sculptures used to be painted and decorated.
Around this temple, I see a few small four-pillared pavilions. I sat down and imagined the conversations that must have gone here on a hot humid day when people of Kanchipuram sat here after a day’s work or maybe before they began the day. These pavilions around the temple tell you that this used to be the default social place for the people of Vishnu Kanchi.
Main Varadharaja Perumal Temple
I walked around the red and white lined platforms to reach the small gate on a raised platform. It looked like a back entrance to the temple. I looked around and realized this is the only entrance.
The temple is supposed to be located on an elephant-shaped hill called Hastagiri. You can not make it out in any way now except for the unusual height of the Garbhagriha.
Once inside, I a flight of golden stairs. Yes, these were shining bright stairs in metal or the base stairs covered with carved metal. There is a lotus carved in the middle and pyramidical triangles around it. Believe me, it is not easy to climb these stairs – they pinch your feet and you want to climb them as soon as possible. Thankfully, when I visited there were hardly any people around so I did not have to negotiate with them much.
Once up, I was surrounded by colorfully painted walls all around me. In vivid colors, they tell the tales of different avatars of Vishnu. Here you see him lying on his Sheshshaiyya, there you see him standing tall with his four arms carrying Shakh, Chakra, Gada, and Padam. Sri or Laksmi in all her glory is never far away from him. Even his devotees or Bhaktas are never away, they get as much space on the walls.
Most paintings need restoration. The paint is falling off. Wonder, why rich temples like this one do not take care of their most precious possessions like these wall paintings.
Giant Vishnu Murti at Varadharaja Perumal Temple
I stepped inside to have my darshan and was awestruck by the giant resplendent murti of Vishnu. He is standing with his four arms. You feel small and insignificant in front of Vishnu. The energy accumulated over centuries of worship can be felt. Devotees come and offer him the garlands of Tulsi.
The deity here is present as Devrajaswamy.
Come out of the Garbh Griha and you can buy a 2 Rs ticket to see the famous lizards of this temple. These are giant golden lizards carved on the ceiling behind the Garbhagriha or the sanctum sanctorum. Following the queue, you climb the ladder, touch the lizards for good luck and come down. You are still surrounded by colorful paintings all around.
Lizard Story is also at – Ikkeri Temple in Karnataka
I walked around the temple and saw a tall and almost abandoned Gopuram behind the temple. This is the taller of the two main Gopurams but it does not face the city there is a small gate and it seems few locals do use it.
Festivals of Varadharaja Perumal Temple
I was in Kanchipuram around Krishna Janamashtmi in September. It is festival time in all Vishnu temples. So, I saw the Utsav Murti going out of the temple and then coming back after a round of the city. It almost felt like God had stepped out to see if everything is fine in his Vishnu Kanchi.
The palanquin was carried on long logs of wood that were carried by many men. The Utsav Murti looked beautiful under a Sheshnaag hood. The famous red and white round umbrella of Varadharaja Perumal temple provided shade to the deity.
Festivity brought life to the temple premises that are otherwise limited to the sanctums. I spent a good 3 hours at the temple before stepping out to explore the rest of Vishnu Kanchi.
Temples in Vishnu Kanchi
Just outside the precincts of the temple in Vishnu Kanchi, there are two things that dominate. Small temples in what looks like houses and Kanchipuram Sari Shops.
Read More – Kanchipuram Saree Shopping Guide
I walk along the street with Google Maps on my phone and try to find the rest of the temples. Auto drivers see a non-Tamil-speaking person and quote a price that I laugh at. I decided to walk and discover Vishnu Kanchi. Most temples are half to one kilometer, that’s not much to walk. Not it is not until you start walking and realize the sheer love Sun has for this holy city. You are tired and dehydrated in a matter of minutes.
Other Vishnu Temples in Kanchi
Some of the Vishnu Kanchi Temples that I visited are:
Punyakoteeswara Koil or Temple
This Shiva temple is located not too far from this temple. You can easily identify it with the Nandi on top of its walls. The temple tank next door is in bad shape.
Punyakoti temple is an interesting temple, where the Garbhgriha is surrounded by a moat. There are Vishnu images in stone along with Laxmi images. The story goes that Koti Saints worshipped here and hence this place got the name Punyakoti. It is also believed that Goddess Mahalaxmi also worshipped Shiva here. Adi Shankaracharya supposedly also visited this temple or maybe he set it up.
It took me the longest to find this temple. I walked and walked and no one seemed to know this temple. However, no effort goes unrewarded. I got to see the back lanes of the city of Vishu Kanchi or Kanchipuram. The small houses clustered around a temple living peacefully with each other and their cattle. Just a few hundred meters from the main road leading to the big temple, it is another world, that is probably from the good old days. It was pleasant walking in these lanes but for the scorching sun.
At this temple, I finally got an auto whose driver agreed to take me on the rest of the temple trail in Vishnu Kanchi.
A small but very old stone temple next to a large, abandoned temple tank has the image of Vyasa on its round Shikhara. You would need the priest’s help to identify this. There is an old story of how the hands of Vyasa were bound due to a curse. It is here at this temple that they were unbound after he was released from the curse. Stories to help you remember places and their nuances. It is a Shiva Temple.
Close to Vyaseswara Temple is Vasishtheswarar temple on the other side of the temple tank.
Ashtabhuja Perumal Temple
The Ashtabhuja Perumal Temple is a relatively known temple and anyone would direct you to this. You see the 3-floor gopuram in front and a dried pond on your right. I enter through the colored wood-carved gate with lotuses on it and see a locked door in front. And I am disappointed, but someone sensed it and pointed me to the other side. I walked across to find the temple open.
Ashtabhuja means the one with eight arms. The Murti of Perumal or Vishnu here is with 8 arms. It is also known for wearing the garland of Saligrams.
Mahalaxmi is present in this temple as Pushpakavalli Thayar.
Yathothkari Perumal Temple
This is one of the oldest Vishnu temples in Kanchipuram. Located across the road from Ashtabhuja Perumal temple, this is a fairly large temple. The city would have grown around it crowding it from all sides.
When I visited in September, the temple was undergoing a major renovation so I could not see it properly. I learn that there is a stucco image of Ranganatha here.
Most of these temples date back to the Pallava period in Kanchi with enhancements and extensions done by almost the rulers who ruled over this place. There is even a gift recorded from Britisher Clive to this temple – a necklace that is still worn by the deity on occasions.
Travel Tips for Vishnu Kanchi
- Varadharaja Perumal Temple is the biggest temple in Vishnu Kanchi
- Vishnu Kanchi is also called Chinna Kanchi or small Kanchi
- The place also has Shiva temples like Punyakoti or Vyasa Temple
- It is open from 6 AM-12:30 PM in the morning and 3:30-8:30 PM in the evening
- You need at least an hour to see the big temple and 2 to see it peacefully
- If you want to see all the temples I saw, keep at least half a day for this visit.
- Local buses go to the main temple, for smaller ones either walk or take an auto. The distances are not much but the place is too hot to walk.
For the calendar of the temple festivals, check the website.