What to Expect
Explore the two temple cities of Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where the proud Tamil people speak one of the oldest languages in the world, and Shiva, Vishnu and Lord Muruga are counted among their deities. See ornate towers, known as “gopurams” that reach up to heaven, and admire complex networks of cave and rock-cut temples that date back centuries.
Day 1: Arrive Chennai – Mahabalipuram
Upon arrival in Chennai, you will be met by a tour representative for the transfer to Mahabalipuram. Drive for approximately 1.5 hours to the former capital of the Pallava kings. Check in at your pre-booked hotel for an overnight stay.
Day 2: Mahabalipuram
Depart after breakfast for a tour of the magnificent 7th-century Shore Temple. Built between 700 and 728 AD, the Shore Temple is surrounded by lush gardens and named for its location overlooking the Bay of Bengal. Explore the five-storey Hindu temple complex, including the 2 Shiva shrines and a small shrine to Vishnu.
Continue to Arjuna's Penance, one of the most famous stone carvings at Mahabalipuram. Carved onto the back of a whale-shaped rock, the bas-reliefs of Arjuna's Penance date from the 7th century and are among the largest in the world. Admire the detailed carvings, showing endearing renditions of animals, especially elephants and monkeys.
Next, visit the 7th-century Five Rathas shrine to discover the world's largest stone relief. Also known as the Pancha Rathas, the Five Rathas are a superb example of monolithic Indian rock-cut architecture, representing the diversity of Dravidian architecture.
The pagoda-shaped temples greatly resemble Buddhist shrines and monasteries, and were carved during the reign of King Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman I. The purpose of their construction is not known, but each temple was carved whole from a rock outcrop of pink granite.
Enjoy the rest of the afternoon at leisure, with free time to relax on the beach. In the evening you can explore the small town, where soap stone workers chisel away at their designs and sculptures.
Day 3: Mahabalipuram – Kanchipuram – Chennai
After breakfast, drive to the temple city of Kanchipuram, former capital of the Pallava Kingdom from the 4th to 9th centuries AD. Believed to be of significant antiquity, Kanchipuram has been ruled at various times by the Pallavas, Medieval Cholas, Later Cholas, Later Pandyas, Vijayanagar Empire, Carnatic kingdom, and the British.
It is among the "7 Holy Cities of India,” and one of the most sacred pilgrim sites in India, boasting majestic temples of striking architectural details. You will visit Sri Kailasanathar Temple, one of the earliest temples, built by the Pallava king Rayasimha in the late 7th century. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and the main shrine is surrounded by some 58 smaller shrines. Constructed from red sandstone, its walls are adorned with fresco-style paintings and sculptures of lions, as well as Shiva and his wife Parvati.
Continue to Vaikuntha Perumal Temple, built by the Pallava king Nandivarman in the 7th century AD. Admire the large sculptures in the main shrine, which depict Lord Vishnu in sitting, standing and reclining postures. Marvel at the hall of 1,000 pillars, where each pillar features a carved statue, and lion pillars support the enclosed passages.
Next, visit Ekambaranathar Temple, the most significant temple in Kanchipuram, dedicated to Lord Shiva and built by King Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayananagar Empire. Covering an area of some 40 acres, the temple's Raja gopuram (the entrance tower to the temple) is one of the tallest in South India.
It is one of the 5 major Shiva temples, or Pancha Bootha Sthalams, representing the elements of wind, water, earth, fire and space. Within the temple, where Shiva is said to have manifested himself in the form of Prithvi Lingam (Earth), there are 5 separate enclosures and a 1,000-pillar hall.
Continue to Kamaskhi Amman Temple, dedicated to the goddess Paravati, in her incarnation as Kamakshi (goddess of Love). One of the 3 holy places of Shakti worship in India, the temple in its present from was built by the Cholas during the 14th century AD. The sanctum of the Gayatri Mandapam, situated below the gold-plated vimana, is supported by 24 pillars that coordinate with the 24 words of the “Gayatri Mantra.”
The temple deity is depicted holding a staff, noose, sugarcane bow, and flower arrows in her hands. You will also see a shrine of the temple dedicated to Adi Sankaracharya, who placed a chakra before the deity. Outside, admire the mango tree, considered to be the place where Kamakshi worshipped a Shivalingam that was made of sand, and gained Lord Shiva’s hand in marriage.
After your temples tour, enjoy the afternoon at leisure, and shop for the famous Kanchipuram silk sarees and fabrics. You will then drive back to Chennai for a drop-off at your hotel or airport and the end of the temples tour services.