The Muktiswara temple

The temples of ancient India were not only religious institutions, but important centres of the fine arts, especially music and dance. The inscriptions etched on the walls of these shrines are a mine of information and their superbly wrought sculptures are mute testimony to the vibrant cultural milieu of these temples in bygone times.

Tanjavur, the capital-city of the Cholas and later of the Nayak and Maratha kings, was the cultural hub of South India for many centuries. Dancers and musicians flocked to the courts of these rulers and the temples of the Tanjavur area were important centres which fostered the fine arts. Not so well-known is the fact that far before Tanjavur became a cultural haven, the sacred and historic city of Kanchipuram preceded it in this respect. Situated approximately 75 km from Chennai and internationally known for its numerous ancient temples, Kanchipuram was the capital city of the Pallava dynasty, whose monarchs were patrons of music and dance as reflected by pieces of evidence surviving over the centuries. When Kanchipuram fell into the hands of the Cholas in the 9th century AD, it continued to flourish as a paradise for musicians and dancers. This tradition was carried on in later times as well, when it was ruled by the Pandyas, Vijayanagara and Nayak kings as well as by a host of vassal chieftains.