Little more than two hours away from Chennai, India lies the temple town of Kanchipuram. The town is famous for having more than a 1000 temples dedicated to the great Indian Gods, namely Shiva and Vishnu. It is only not these temples, however, for which the town is known world over.
Home to the weavers and artisans who bring us the Kanchipuram (Kanjeevaram) Sarees, a great number of tourists flock to this historic town to buy the perfect bridal-wear for their wedding.
On a sunny Sunday morning in July, we ventured out of Chennai and headed towards Kanchipuram. Shortly after exiting the city, we stopped at a highway dhaba to savour some of the local delicacies. The smell of freshly brewed filter coffee and the chatter of the locals in Tamil had set the mood for the journey ahead.
We crossed the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial on the way and soon after entered the Kanchipuram district. One can see the tall temple tops from afar - beautiful and majestic - unique to the southern part of the country. Once the capital of the Pallava kings and a centre of historic importance, the town is laden with temples at every nook and corner.
Our first stop was the famous Kailasanathar Temple, said to be one of oldest structures in Kanchipuram. A yellow sand-stone temple built in the Dravidian architectural style, Kailasanathar houses several carvings referencing the Hindu Gods Shiva, Parvati, Vishnu and Brahma.
On few of the carvings, one can see the various beautiful colours that once must have covered all of these murals. These vibrant colours are still part of the local culture and crafts.
For our next stop, we headed to the Ekambareswarar Temple. The large temple compound is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is said that it was here that Lord Vishnu ordained the wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. A unique feature of this temple, thus, is that it houses a shrine to Lord Vishnu as well within the same temple grounds.
The pillars that flank the main temple are laden with beautiful motifs that are quintessentially Dravidian. One can find references to these very same motifs in the craftsmanship of the local weavers and the traditional Kanjeevaram sarees. Naturally, the we visited one such weaving centre right after leaving the temple complex.
Arriving at what looked like a normal saree shop from the outside, we were greeted at the entrance by the owner, who instead of leading us indoors, asked us to follow him to the house next door. We could hear what sounded like a large typewriter in the distance. What met our eyes, however, was a complex mesh of strings and blocks being manoeuvred by a single entity. The deftness with which the weaver was stringing together this massive instrument was nothing but art. The somewhat modern looking loom had cards through which threads passed to form a beautiful two-tone silk saree laden with intricate Zari work, which on looking close inspection seemed to replicated the motifs we had just observed on the temple walls.
Our tour of the facility took us to two more looms, one that was manually set up without the modern technology of the pre-printed cards and another that was set up in a small 200 square feet room that was home to a family of six. Weaving and creating these magical nine yards is a way of life for these talented weavers. An art form so rooted in traditions, a heritage passed on since ages needs to not only sustain in the face of growing use of technology but also flourish in all it's glory.
With government aid and private platforms like neeryā, the dwindling number of such weavers will hopefully come up and continue bringing pride and beauty to the fore.
With this tour of the weaving facilities, our trip ended, leaving us enriched and with much to look forward to. We made our way ahead - continuing the journey of neeryā, basking in the glory of all that we saw and learnt, taking them with us as a part of our souls.