These boys followed me around the Kailasanatha temple complex for more than an hour. Only in the last 15 minutes did they ask me for money, then for pens, then to take their picture.
I took their picture and showed it to them on my digital camera's viewfinder -- eliciting gasps of glee -- but I refused to give them a handout. Then, half an hour further on and just as I was leaving the complex, I surprised them by handing the oldest boy 100 rupees (about US$2.50) -- having told my driver to instruct the boy to share it with his friends.
land of a thousand temples
"temples ,temples temples ,sarees sarees sarees ."
kancheepuram is famous for the multitude of temples jostling for space.
Among these siva temple, ekambaranathar temple is famous for the space (40 acres), the architectucture (pallava, chola, vijayanagar) and holiness (one of the seven hindu holy places).
The City of temples
Took the bus from Chennai to Kanchipuram, took around 2 hours..
been twice to Kanchipuram, with spell bound temples. Rented a cycle for 3rs per hour opp the bus stand. had a photocopy of the map of the city. and rode to most of the famous temples. some say there are more than 100 temples in this city. had a lot of fun, riding in the typical south indian setting. nice coffee nice people, nice architecture.
For the most part, non-Hindus aren't allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum of any temple - this is especially true of the more traditional (and more heavily-frequented) temples. You should remove your shoes, even if people say you don't have to. The exceptions to both rules are temples protected as monuments, which are usually not in regular use for worship. General rule: if there's a pile of shoes at the gate, leave yours too, and don't assume you’re allowed to go everywhere.
Some notes about timing your visits. Most of the temples close between noon and 4pm. After about 10am the stones of the courtyards heat up - a lot - and remember you're taking your shoes off at the gate. Running works for a while, but some of the courtyards are larger than you thought they were before your feet started burning. After 11am your feet will fry regardless of the size of the courtyard.
Regarding cameras. If there's a list of fees posted and cameras is on it, photos are permissible, provided you're respectful about it; the vast majority of people there are worshipping. If there isn't a sign, ask someone before taking photos. However, make sure you ask someone who is obviously attached to the temple: someone who has a key to a gate, for example, or who is obviously a priest. Ask for a receipt. There are a lot of people who will gladly accept the fee whether or not they're authorized to collect it.
"Ulagalandha Perumal Temple"
One exception to the no-non-Hindus inside is the Ulagalandha Perumal temple, which actually kind of insists you come in and give offerings. It's a small temple on a residential side street near the Ekambaranathar temple. It doesn’t look like much on the outside (or the inside, for that matter - everything until the sanctum sanctorum looked like it was under construction), walls capped by periodic whitewashed carvings, and a small whitewashed gopuram at the entrance. Also at the entrance, doing a large part of the insisting, are people handing you flowers and small baskets of coconut and flower offerings, and not accepting them back when they demand payment. The experience is interesting, though, and non-Hindus aren't allowed into most of the temples, so you might as well go in.
Once inside the main building, a line of people winds back into the dark, dank, high-ceilinged, and very narrow sanctum sanctorum. At the far wall is an alter in front of a massive representation of Vishnu as the giant measuring his three feet of earth - standing with right foot on the ground and left in the heavens. Once you get to the front the priest takes your offering, draping garlands around the statues on the alter, splitting coconuts and doing something with the pieces that I couldn't follow before handing those back to the one offering, and taking money left on the collection plate and including that on the alter too. There's some chanting that I'm assuming was a prayer, and some waving a lit oil lamp over the alter and back to the crowd, after which you're herded quickly back through the narrow passage. Another priest spoons water-with-leaf-like-something in it into your hands, which most people touch to their eyes and smooth over their head.
There's something humbling and awe-inspiring in the experience, but darned if I could explain it. It's stuffy and confusing inside. Coming out made the 97 degrees (F) outside feel cool and made the day seem clearer.
"Varadaraja Perumal Temple"
My favorite temple was probably the Varadaraja temple, a little southeast of the center of town. To be fair to the other temples, I started temple hopping here early in the morning (and so was fresh), and ended here in the late afternoon (and found it peaceful and relaxing after walking all day in the heat and dust). The place also looked mostly decently maintained in the major areas. Some of the smaller shrines around the tank, not so much.
Beware the 1,000-pillared hall, though. Technically, you don't have to make a donation, but there's a hard sell once you're inside, and it can get pricy. On the other hand, the priest on duty will show you some interesting things. For example, that the horsemen carved on the pillars are northern Indian on one side and southern Indian on the other, distinguishable by their clothes and faces. (Okay, the guidebooks tell you this too, but the priest shows you what to look for and explains the significance.) Or one pillar that has three particular carved pieces that, when you knock on them, sound like gold, silver, and metal, and another carved piece on a different pillar that sounds for all the world like a traditional drum. None of the other pillars do that. I tried knocking on a bunch of them. He'll also tell you stories about childless women who meditated on a particular step (of four leading to the highest-level platform inside the hall) and who are now mothers. (The other steps are marriage, business, and education.) I don't much care for hard sell anywhere, but at least at this temple it's limited to the one hall, and the carving there really is striking in its artistry and variety.
The tank next to the hall is home to a 30 m reclining Vishnu and about a million small fish. Every 40 years they drain the tank for 48 days and people in the millions come to worship Vishnu. The last draining was in 1979. The water is replaced by rain only, which doesn't explain how the fish get there, or where they go when the tank is drained. (Puffed rice to feed them is available for sale somewhere nearby, couldn't find it myself.)
The tank seems to be an evening gathering place of sorts for friends and families. There also appears to a sizeable population of wild parakeets living around the main gopuram, bursting into sporadic fits of brilliantly-colored flight and chatter. It's nice.
Ekambaranathar temple is the largest temple complex in Kanchi, and is devoted to Siva. This temple is huge, and, I thought, kind of run down. The gopuram at the main entrance was covered in scaffolding, and there was graffiti on pillars in the 1,000 pillar hall. I was tired by the time I got here and didn't stay long, although the descriptions I've read since make me wish I had looked around a little more.
On the other hand, the time waiting here was much more fun than the waits at other temples. There was a large crowd waiting within the outer space between the main gopuram and inner gate, playing cricket, sitting and talking. Tea and ice cream vendors were there, which makes me think that this is the place to be on a late Sunday afternoon.
I was sitting on my own eating grapes until I was accosted by a band of monkeys, who evidently thought I'd drop the grapes in the face of superior numbers making screeching noises. I took my grapes and joined the vastly superior numbers of people - and we had fun in the attempt at communicating. Eventually I gave the rest of the grapes to a bunch of the kids to feed the monkeys, and that communication was highly entertaining in its own way.
I did almost get scammed here, but the people I was with thwarted the man who was trying to do it. The first clue we had was that he told me I could keep my shoes on (I took them off anyway). And I could come inside everywhere, no problem, after I told him I would only give donations as I was leaving. The kids distracted him as I slipped off.
A few kilometers outside of town lies a small park with this very famous temple. It's old (built ca. 700 A.D.), and it's not really a working temple. When I went there were perhaps 5 other people besides me and the priest. It is wonderful to behold, though - much like the Shore Temple at Mahabilipuram, except that it hasn’t been eroded by salt water and wind.