1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Conjeeveram
CONJEEVERAM, Kanchipuram, a town of British India, in the Chingleput district of Madras, 45 m. W.S.W. of Madras by rail. Pop. (1901) 46,164. It is esteemed by the Hindus as one of the holiest places in southern India, ranking among the seven sacred cities of India, and is remarkable for the number of its temples and shrines. Of these the old Jain temple, situated in a hamlet some 2 m. south of the Weavers’ quarter of the city (Pillapalaiyam), dates from the time when the Chola power was at its height (12th or 13th century), and is of great importance to the historian by reason of the inscriptions, which contain an almost perfect record of the dynasties who held the country. Older than this temple are the Vaikuntha Perumal temple of Vishnu and the Siva temple of Kailasanath, which date from the time of the Pallava kings. The great temple of Siva, dedicated to Ekambara Swami (the god with the single garment) is remarkable for its lofty towers (gopuram) and the extreme irregularity of its design, through which it gains in picturesqueness what it loses in dignity. Besides the towers, it has several fine porches, great tanks approached by flights of stone steps, and the “hall of the thousand columns.” This latter contains actually 540 columns, most of them elaborately carved, arranged in twenty rows. About 2 m. distant, in Little Conjeeveram, is the Varadaraja-swami Vaishnava temple, also containing a hall of pillars, beautifully carved, and possessing a wonderfully rich treasury of votive jewels. A mark on the wall of the inner enclosure, something like a horseshoe, is held to be the first letter of the name of Vishnu. For a century or more the Tangalai and Vadagalai sects, connected with the worship of the temple, have been quarrelling fiercely as to the form of this symbol; the questions arising out of this led to much litigation, and though final judgment was given by the privy council, the matter still constitutes a danger to the peace. The general aspect of the city is pleasing, with low houses and broad streets lined with fine trees. Its only noteworthy industry is the weaving of the superior silk and cotton sāris worn by native women.
Conjeeveram, a British corruption of Kanchipuram (the golden city), is very ancient, having been in the early centuries of the Christian era the capital of the Pallava dynasty. The Chinese traveller Hsiian Tsang, who visited it in the 7th century, says that it was then 6 m. in circumference and inhabited by a people superior to any he had met in piety and courage, love of justice and reverence for learning. In the 11th century the city was conquered by the Cholas, who held it until their overthrow by the Mussulmans in 1310, after which it fell under the sway of the kings of Vijayanagar. In 1646 it was taken from them by the Mussulmans, who in their turn were ousted by the Mahrattas in 1677. Shortly afterwards the emperor Aurungzeb’s forces retook the place, which remained in Mussulman hands until 1752, when it was captured by Clive.