Chennai (formerly known as Madras), the largest city in South India and the fourth largest city in the country, is located on what is popularly called the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal. The city’s development started after 1639 when the British East India Company established a Fort and a couple of Trading posts at the small fishing village called Chennai. Since then three and a half centuries have transformed this small village into a bustling metropolis, particularly known for its spaciousness, which is lacking in the other Indian cities.
While moving around in the city one cannot overlook the obvious British influence which is so evident in the various cathedrals, buildings in Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, wide tree lined avenues… the undeniable english legacy. However, despite the strong British influence, Chennai has retained its traditional Tamil Hindu culture and effectively blended it with the foreign influence. This is not surprising because this region had remained a centre of Pallavan culture long before the British had come here, traces of which are to be found in numerous old temples.
Chennai is really a lot more than the Gateway to South India. The varied aspects of traditional South Indian culture existing alongside the lifestyle of a modern city complete with its plush hotels, restaurants offering a range of continental to typical South Indian cuisine, long and uncrowded stretches of beaches, modern shopping malls, cinema halls, etc.
Fort St. George – The original fort was built by the British East India Company in 1653. The fort has under gone much alteration since then and currently houses the Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly. There is a fascinating collection of Raj memorabilia in the Fort Museum. The banquet hall upstairs was built in 1802 and has paintings of Fort St. George’s governors and officials of the British regime. Visitors can also see Robert Clive’s House in the vicinity of the fort. It is now the pay accounts office which has Clive’s corner open for the public.
Kapaleeswarar Temple : An exquisite depiction of Dravidian architecture is Kapaleeswarar temple with its massive and intricately carved gopuram towering into the sky. This 8th century Pallava temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is situated in the traditional part of Chennai at Mylapore. Legend has it this the name Mylapore was derived from Mayur Puri. It is believed that Parvati in the from of peacock worshipped Lord Shiva at this spot. As many as 63 Saivite saints or nayanmars sculpted in bronze adorn the outer courtyard. The Nayanmars glorified the Lord Shiva with enchanting hymns. In March – April during the Arubathimoovar festival all the Nayanmars are taken in a procession around the temple.
Kalakshetra : Classical Dance Bharata Natyam and Carnatic music permeate the very fabric of life in Chennai. The Kalakshetra at Tiruvanmiyur, is a school of the Indian art epitomising the revival of ancient culture, crafts and heritage.
Founded in 1936 by the renowned exponent of Bharata Natyam, Rukmini Devi Arundale, the institution set in sylvan surroundings bears a resemblance to the ancient gurukulas. Classes are held in rural settings in hut type rooms under the trees of the serene campus. A section of the institute is famous for its sarees and textiles woven in traditional patterns.
Public concerts have been a part and parcel of Tamil life since early days. Within spacious temple portals, dances were performed to the lilting rhythm and music. Every year from mid – December to mid – January a month-long Dance and Music festival is held in Chennai. Connoisseurs from all over the country who come to witness a repertoire of performances are engrossed in the resounding of ankle bells, cymbals and musical compositions, leaving them enthralled to return for more, every year.
Marina Beach : The sandy stretch of beach known as the Marina which extends for 13 km is the pride of Chennai, much sought after for the cool evening breeze.
On the sea front lie memorials dedicated to political leaders and freedom fighters. Noted impressive Indo-Saracenic styled buildings like the Chepauk Place, once home of the erstwhile Nawabs of Carnatic, the Chennai University and the Presidency College add considerable grandeur to the spot. The Aquarium, Light House and promenade of walks, gardens and drives make the place one among the best attractions of the city.