Kanchipuram otherwise known as Kanchi is a city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, about 75 km from Chennai – the capital of Tamil Nadu. Located on the banks of the Vegavathy River, Kanchipuram has been ruled by the Pallavas, the Medieval Cholas, the Later Cholas, the Later Pandyas, the Vijayanagar Empire, the Carnatic kingdom, and the British. The city’s historical monuments include the Kailasanathar Temple and the Vaikunta Perumal Temple. Historically, Kanchipuram was a centre of education and was known as the ghatikasthanam, or “place of learning”. The city was also a religious centre of advanced education for Jainism and Buddhism between the 1st and 5th centuries.
In Hindu theology, Kanchipuram is one of the seven Indian cities to reach final attainment. The city houses Varadharaja Perumal Temple, Ekambareswarar Temple, Kamakshi Amman Temple, and Kumarakottam Temple, which are some of major Hindu temples in the state. The city is a holy pilgrimage site for both Saivites and Vaishnavites. Of the 108 holy temples of the Hindu god Vishnu, 14 are located in Kanchipuram. The city is well known for its hand woven silksarees and most of the city’s workforce is involved in the weaving industry.
While it is widely accepted that Kanchipuram had served as an Early Chola capital, the claim has been contested by Indian historian P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar who wrote that the Tamil culture of the Sangam period did not spread through the Kanchipuram district, and cites the Sanskritic origins of its name in support of his claim. The earliest references to Kanchipuram are found in the books of the Sanskrit grammarian Patanjali, who lived between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. The city is believed to have been part of the mythical Dravida Kingdom of the Mahabharatha, and was described as “the best among cities” (Sanskrit: Nagareshu Kanchi) by the 4th-century Sanskrit poet, Kalidasa. The city was regarded as the “Banaras of the South”.
Kanchipuram grew in importance when the Pallavas of southern Andhra Pradesh, wary of constant invasions from the north, moved their capital south to the city in the 6th century. The Pallavas fortified the city with ramparts, wide moats, well-laid-out roads, and artistic temples. During the reign of the Pallava King Mahendravarman I, the Chalukya King Pulakesin II (610–642) invaded the Pallava kingdom as far as the Kaveri River. The Pallavas successfully defended Kanchipuram and foiled repeated attempts to capture the city. A second invasion ended disastrously for Pulakesin II, who was forced to retreat to his capital Vatapiwhich was besieged and Pulakesin II was killed by Narasimhavarman I (630–668), son of Mahendravarman I (600–630), at the Battle of Vatapi. Under the Pallavas, Kanchipuram flourished as a centre of Hindu and Buddhist learning. King Narasimhavarman II built the city’s important Hindu temples, the Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple, the Varadharaja Perumal Temple and the Iravatanesvara Temple. Xuanzang, a Chinese traveller who visited Kanchipuram in 640, recorded that the city was 6 miles (9.7 km) in circumference and that its people were renowned for their bravery, piety, love of justice, and veneration for learning.
The Medieval Chola king Aditya I conquered the Pallava kingdom, including Kanchipuram, after defeating the Pallava ruler Aparajitavarman (880–897) in about 890. Under the Cholas, the city was the headquarters of the northern viceroyalty. The province was renamed “Jayamkonda Cholamandalam” during the reign of King Raja Raja Chola I(985–1014), who constructed the Karchapeswarar Temple and renovated the Kamakshi Amman Temple. His son, Rajendra Chola I (1012–44) constructed the Yathothkari Perumal Temple. According to the Siddhantasaravali of Trilocana Sivacharya, Rajendra Chola I brought a band of Saivas with him on his return from the Chola expedition to North India and settled them in Kanchipuram. In about 1218, the Pandya king Maravarman Sundara Pandyan (1216–1238) invaded the Chola country, making deep inroads into the kingdom which was saved by the intervention of the Hoysala king Vira Narasimha II (1220–1235), who fought on the side of the Chola king Kulothunga Chola III. Inscriptions indicate the presence of a powerful Hoysala garrison in Kanchipuram, which remained in the city until about 1230. Shortly afterwards, Kanchipuram was conquered by the Telugu Cholas, from whom Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I took the city in 1258. The city remained with the Pandyas until 1311 when the Sambuvarayars declared independence, taking advantage of the anarchy caused by Malik Kafur’s invasion. After short spells of occupation by Ravivarman Kulasekhara of Venad (Quilon, Kerala) in 1313–1314 and the Kakatiya ruler Prataparudra II, Kanchipuram was conquered by the Vijayanagar general Kumara Kampana, who defeated the Madurai Sultanate in 1361.
The Vijayanagar Empire ruled Kanchipuram from 1361 to 1645. The earliest inscriptions attesting to Vijayanagar rule are those of Kumara Kampanna from 1364 and 1367, which were found in the precincts of the Kailasanathar Temple and Varadaraja Perumal Temple respectively. His inscriptions record the re-institution of Hindu rituals in the Kailasanathar Temple that had been abandoned during the Muslim invasions. Inscriptions of the Vijayanagar kings Harihara II,Deva Raya II, Krishna Deva Raya, Achyuta Deva Raya, Sriranga I, and Venkata II are found within the city. Harihara II endowed grants in favour of the Varadaraja Perumal Temple. In the 15th century, Kanchipuram was invaded by the Velama Nayaks in 1437, the Gajapati kingdom in 1463–1465 and 1474–75 and the Bahmani Sultanate in about 1480. A 1467 inscription of Virupaksha Raya II mentions a cantonment in the vicinity of Kanchipuram. In 1486, Saluva Narasimha Deva Raya, the governor of the Kanchipuram region, overthrew the Sangama Dynasty of Vijayanagar and founded the Saluva Dynasty. Like most of his predecessors, Narasimha donated generously to the Varadaraja Perumal Temple. Kanchipuram was visited twice by the Vijayanagar king Krishna Deva Raya, considered to be the greatest of the Vijayanagar rulers, and 16 inscriptions of his time are found in the Varadaraja Perumal Temple. The inscriptions in four languages – Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Sanskrit – record the genealogy of the Tuluva kings and their contributions, along with those of their nobles, towards the upkeep of the shrine. His successor, Achyuta Deva Raya, reportedly had himself weighed against pearls in Kanchipuram and distributed the pearls amongst the poor. Throughout the second half of the 16th and first half of the 17th centuries, the Aravidu Dynasty tried to maintain a semblance of authority in the southern parts after losing their northern territories in the Battle of Talikota. Venkata II (1586–1614) tried to revive the Vijayanagar Empire, but the kingdom relapsed into confusion after his death and rapidly fell apart after the Vijayanagar king Sriranga III’s defeat by the Golconda and Bijapur sultanates in 1646.
After the fall of the Vijayanagar Empire, Kanchipuram endured over two decades of political turmoil. The Golconda Sultanate gained control of the city in 1672, but lost it to Bijapur three years later. In 1676, Shivaji arrived in Kanchipuram at the invitation of the Golconda Sultanate in order to drive out the Bijapur forces. His campaign was successful and Kanchipuram was held by the Golconda Sultanate until its conquest by the Mughal Empire led by Aurangazeb in October 1687. In the course of their southern campaign, the Mughals defeated the Marathas under Sambhaji, the elder son of Shivaji, in a battle near Kanchipuram in 1688 which caused considerable damage to the city but cemented Mughal rule. Soon after, the priests at the Varadaraja Perumal, Ekambareshwarar and Kamakshi Amman temples, mindful of Aurangazeb’s reputation for iconoclasm, transported the idols to southern Tamil Nadu and did not restore them until after Aurangazeb’s death in 1707. Under the Mughals, Kanchipuram was part of the viceroyalty of the Carnatic which, in the early 1700s, began to function independently, retaining only a nominal acknowledgement of Mughal rule. The Marathas invaded Kanchipuram during the Carnatic period in 1724 and 1740, and the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1742.
Kanchipuram was a battlefront for the British East India Company in the Carnatic Wars against the French East India Company and in the Anglo-Mysore Wars with the Sultanate of Mysore. The popular 1780 Battle of Pollilur of the Second Anglo-Mysore War, known for the use of rockets by Hyder Ali of Mysore, was fought in the village of Pullalurnear Kanchipuram. In 1763, the British East India Company assumed indirect control from the Nawab of the Carnatic over the erstwhile Chingleput District, comprising the present-day Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur districts, in order to defray the expenses of the Carnatic wars. The Company brought the territory under their direct control during the Second Anglo-Mysore War, and the Collectorate of Chingleput was created in 1794. The district was split into two in 1997 and Kanchipuram made the capital of the newly created Kanchipuram district.