Project LooM

Magnet for All Faiths

The second reason why Kanchi was so famous throughout India had to do with its being a magnet for all faiths.  There is Buddha Kanchi, Jaina Kanchi, Shiva Kanchi and Vishnu Kanchi.

The Jains arguably came first, perhaps inspired by Chandragupta Maurya who renounced his kingdom and retired to Shravanabelagola.  Jainism spread all over Tondaimandalam, as the land was called then.  To this date, there is discussion among archeologists that the current Kamakshi Amman temple, the most famous in Kanchipuram, was built on an earlier temple for a Jain yakshi.

Buddhism flowered in Kanchi, thanks to Ashoka who sent his months there.  For nearly a thousand years, from the 3rd to the 11th centuries, Buddhists monks spread and practiced theravada Buddhism, attracted the likes of Hsuen Tsang, the traveller.  Boddhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism who spread the Shaolin martial arts in China was a Brahmin prince of Kanchipuram.  Sangam Tamil epics like Manimekalai describe a dancer who became a Buddhist nun and settled in Kanchipuram.  In the later centuries, the monks were engaged in all kinds of excesses and decadence, as the 7th century “Tale of the Drunken Monks,” depicts.  Naturally, it peaked and waned.  By the 11th century, Buddhism was superseded by the Shakta, Shaivist and Vaishnavite cult.

Shiva Kanchi and Vishnu Kanchi are still in evidence today.  The numbers that are oft quoted but not necessarily substantiated are that there are 108 temples to Shiva and 18 temples to Vishnu.  How did all those temples come into being?

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