Originally published in India Today
Peering through the looking glass, half bent and wearing a smile, watching a kaleidoscope of pictures flit across. The bioscope might be an uncomfortable option, but it continues to fascinate even now. Today, if a bioscope of Chennai in all its cultural glory were to be shown, it would definitely include the following, some of Chennai’s known tourist spots, as listed by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department (TTDC).
“There are several places in Chennai that represent some part of its rich cultural heritage. But if we had to pick five, it would be Fort St. George, the Government Museum, Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Valluvar Kottam and the Marina Beach,” says M. Rajaram, director of tourism. We profile these must-see locations.
As per mythology, when Lord Shiva was talking about something important to his consort Parvati, she was distracted by a peacock. Angered, Shiva turned her into a peahen and banished her to earth.
With rigorous penance and prayers to a Shiva lingam, she is said to have mollified his anger and was brought back to heaven. The Kapaleeshwarar temple, it is believed, was then built on the same location where Parvati did her penance, as a tribute to the Lord.
Set in the heart of Mylapore, the Kabali temple, as it is known colloquially, was originally built by the Pallavas in the eighth century and was later demolished by the Portuguese.
The present temple was rebuilt in the 16th century by the Vijayanagara kings. A magnificent example of Dravidian architecture, the temple’s stately gopuram, with intricate carvings depicting various legends, is one of its main attractions, as is the tank next to it. “The temple is important not just as a monumental heritage but is also representative of community togetherness,” says K.J. Suriyannarayanan, trustee of Namma Mylapore, a group that seeks to improve the environment within the area. “For instance,” says Suriyannarayanan, “on Moharram, Muslims perform their rituals in the temple tank and moreover, small shops around the temple are manned by Muslims. Other than that, the temple also hosts concerts and discourses, making this a major cultural centre in the city.”
Ford St. George
An imposing fortress, with six metre high walls, situated on the seashore, Fort St. George is the British East India Company’s first stronghold of tangible power, built in 1640 AD, to enable a smoother trade route for the Company’s future.
For Chennai, it was where life officially unfolded and the city took shape. “One of the historical forts of India, with the beautiful St. Mary’s Church inside, it also has a museum that houses artifacts belonging to that era. In fact, Robert Clive, a key figure of the East India Company, got married in this very church, the oldest Anglican church in India,” says Rajaram.
The fort, apart from its architectural magnificence, is reminiscent of the British Raj, and also boasts of the tallest flagstaff in India. What was once the very centre of life here, which also subsequently gave birth to the settlement around the fort called George Town, is today the premises for the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and Council, and the offices of the state’s secretariat.
“It’s perhaps the only place where the facades are left largely untouched. Walking through the fort gives you a mental image of what life used to be like back then, and for me, the architecture of the museum building is significant,” says Pradeep Chakravarthy, writer.