TAMIL NADU AND CHENNAI

TAMIL NADU

Tamil Nadu is the southernmost state in India. Formed as a linguistic state after independence, it borders the Bay of Bengal to the east and is separated from Kerala to the west by the Western Ghats — mountain ranges that rise to over 2,400 meters — and extends from Chennai (Madras) the state’s the capital and largest city, with about 7 million people — in the north to the southern cape of India. Tamil Nadu state covers 130,060 square kilometers (50,220 square miles), is home to about 73 million people and has a population density of 550 people per square kilometer. About 53 percent of the population live in rural areas. State Tourism Website : www.tamilnadutourism.org/

In many ways Tamil Nadu is as different from northern India as it from Japan or Kenya. The food is spicier, the climate is hotter and the temples are more exotic than even those in Khajuraho. One of the things that tourist like most about this part of India are the elaborate temples covered with thousands of brightly colored figures. The region also has distinctive styles of music and dance.

Tamil Nadu is the eleventh largest state in India by area, sixth-most populous state according to the Human Development Index in 2011 and is the second - largest state economy in India after Maharashtra. Its official language is Tamil, which is one of the longest surviving classical language in the World. Most the people in Tamil Nadu are Tamils who speak Tamil. These non-Hindi, Dravidian people seem friendlier, more relaxed and easy going than people in the north. The ratio of males to females is much smaller than elsewhere in India.

Tamil Nadu is hot the whole year round. October to February is the coolest time. It is still hot but not oppressively hot like it is from March to June. Most rains come with the northeast monsoon, which arrives in October. Less amounts of rain fall in the southwest monsoon, which begins in June. Tamil Nadu receives only 75 centimeters of rain a year and much of the rain that comes in on southwest monsoon is blocked by the Western Ghats.

Tamil Nadu is considerably drier than verdant and lush Kerala to the west. It is covered by scrubby growth and thorn trees. There is no water to support additional agriculture or more people in the cities. There are already water shortages. There are some tensions between Kerala and Tamil Nadu because Kerala has lots of water and Tamil Nadu doesn’t and in they eyes of some Tamils the Keralans could be more generous in sharing it.

Tamils and Dravidians

Tamils are one the largest groups in southern India. They have traditionally been defined as speakers of the Tamil language. They live mostly in the state of Tamil Nadu and to a lesser extent Karnataka in southern India and northern Sri Lanka. There are some in Malaysia, Fiji, Britain and North America. [Source: Most of the information for this articles comes from the Encyclopedia of World Cultures: South Asia, edited by Paul Hockings, C.K. Hall & Company, 1992]

There were around 60 million Indian Tamils (making up 5.9 percent of the population) in 2001, according to a census taken that year. About 38 percent of them are urban dwellers, among the highest percentage of any major ethnic group in India, The annual population growth is only around 1.3 percent.

Tamils are regarded as Dravidians, which have traditionally lived in southern India and tend to be short, dark and have wavy or curly hair and broad noses. Paul Theroux wrote in the Great Railway Bazaar, "Tamils are black and bony; they have thick straight hair and their teeth are prominent and glisten from repeated scrubbing with peeled green twigs." Many people in southern India use only one name.

Dravidian is the name given to a linguistically related group of people in India. They are said to be the first original settlers of ancient India. Dravidian culture is very diverse, with some groups maintaining more traditional customs such as totemism and matralinealism, while others have developed the lifestyles of a modern technological society. Dravidians are thought of as the descendants of the earliest known inhabitants on India. They include the primitives Bhil and Gond tribes of the central and western hill forests and the Tamils of the south. The earliest Dravidians were hunters and cattle herders. It is not known what language they spoke.

Some scholars believe the Indus people of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, an ancient civilization that lasted from 3300 B.C. to 1500 B.C., spoke a language that belongs the Dravidian family. This language is believed to have diffused through Maraashtra to the south, especially after 1000 B.C. along with the horse, and iron. Dravidian language has remained relatively intact despite a considerable amount of contact and intermarriage with other people in the Indian subcontinent. Today with more than one hundred seventy million speakers, the Dravidians make up the fourth largest linguistic group in the world.

It is often presumed that Dravidians were the creators of the Indus River Valley Civilization and that they were occupying all of the Indian subcontinent when the Indo-Aryans invaded from Afghanistan (ca2000 B.C.). The Dravidians were probably subjected by the Indo-Aryans and are the dasus of Vedic scriptures. Other Dravidians remained in a tribal state in central and southern India. Dravidians in general were gradually Hinduized, but retained their languages. The Tamil language is the first of the Dravidian languages to reflect the influence of Hinduism.

Dravidians have traditionally been regarded as dark-skinned while the Aryans of the north were light-skinned. Around 1500 B.C., according to some historians, the Aryans conquered the Indus River civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro and the Dravidian people in South Asia. The caste system is believed to have been introduced as a way for light-skinned Aryan invaders to keep the indigenous Dravidian people in their place. Higher castes are usually associated with whiter skin and purer Aryan descent. Aryan conquerors gave the conquered dark-skin Dravidians dirtier, lower status tasks. Varna, the Hindu word for caste means "color." Perhaps it evolved from something other than color of skin but many think it is reference to skin color. The Vedas refer to conquered “Dasas” or “Dasyi” (names meaning “slaves” and probably referring to the early Dravidian-speaking Indus people),

Early Tamil History

Ancient literature describes a homeland of the Tamils that more or less corresponds with the modern state of Tamil Nadu. Writing, urbanization, and other aspects of classical Indian culture appear to have been introduced by sea between the 5th and 2nd centuries B.C. The earliest Tamil inscriptions are in Jain caves, dated to about the end of the 1st century B.C. Beginning in the 2nd century B.C. large irrigation systems were built, especially on the Kaveri River. These increased agricultural productivity made the creation of major kingdoms and civilizations possible.

The origin of the caste system is unknown but it may have evolved from differences between the conquering Aryans and subject Dravidians—which happened to be different in color. Aryans were relatively light skinned while Dravidians were darker. Varna, the Hindu word for caste, means "color." The caste system is believed to have been introduced in its preliminary form around 1500 B.C. as a way for light-skinned Aryan invaders to keep the indigenous Dravidian people in their place. Higher castes are usually associated with whiter skin and purer Aryan descent because, it has been argued, the first light-skinned Aryan conquerors gave the conquered dark-skin Dravidians dirtier, lower status tasks. Not all scholars agree with is assessment. “Color” could be a reference to something other than skin color.

The Tamils were never absorbed by the north Indian kingdoms. The Pandyan kingdom dates back to the 2nd century B.C. According to ancient Tamil literature it was founded by the daughter Herakles with help from 500 elephants,, 4000 cavalry, 13,000 infantry and Roman ships. The Pandiya kingdom produced Tamil Sangam literature, unique poetic books written in the A.D. 1st to 3rd centuries that describe trade with Europeans. Poompuhar was the center of a Tamil dynasty that traded with the Far East, Rome and Egypt in the A.D. 2nd century but was destroyed by a tsunami in the 6th century. The ruins now lie in the sea about three kilometers from the sea. Other Tamil kingdoms included Cholas on the Kaveri Basin, the Ceras in Kerala, and the great Pallava kingdom at Kanchipuram which endured from 7th to the 9th centuries. The Coljas developed a rich civilization in 10th to the 13th centuries and for a while ruled Sri Lanka, the Maldives and parts of Indonesia.

Chola Dynasty

In 985, Maharajah Rajaraja the Great (who name roughly translates to King Kingking the Great) became the leader of the Chola kingdom of southern India. He built a huge stone temple dedicated to Shiva not so much out of piety but as means of unifying support against the Muslims and taking a stake in the trading empires in Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean and China.

The Chola dynasty had been around several centuries before it became a major player in India. It was mainly a regional power in southern India and didn’t have much influence over India as a whole until later. Battles between the Chola kings and their rivals from Chera and the Pandyan kingdom are described in the poems and epic ballads of Sangam anthologies, the earliest surviving Tamil literature. The Chola Dynasty produced beautiful carved Indian goddesses from granite and bronze. See Art.

The Cholas are among the earliest of South Indian royal houses. The artifacts of the period found in South India, the Mahabharata and Ashokan inscriptions mention it. It is known that Karikala was a Chola ruler who reigned in the A.D. 2nd century. During Karikala's reign, the capital city was moved to Kaveripattanam from Uraiyur. Nedumudikilli seems to have been the successor of Karikala, whose capital town was set to fire by the sea pirates. The frequent attacks of Pallavas, Cheras and Pandyas decreased Chola’s power. Cholas’s glory began when Pallavas power declined. [Source: Glorious India]

Great Tsunami of 2004 Strikes Tamil Nadu

On mainland India the December 2004 tsunami that killed 220,000 people in Southeast Asia struck the southeast coast of the state of Tamil Nadu the hardest. The worst hit area was in the district of Nagapattinam, where, as of mid January 2005, around 7,100 bodies had been recovered and 1,570 were missing. Most the dead were women and children. More than 2.500 children were lost here. The men, mostly fisherman, were out at sea where it was relatively safe, or were inland working at jobs, or were better able to make a run for it and better able to survive if swept away. Of the 206 bodies found at one village, 96 were women, 84 were children and 26 were men. Most of 200 to 300 missing were children.

About a third of the known dead came from around the villages of Keechanguppam and Akkarapatti. Around 3,500 died there. The largest number of missing were from around Vailankanni, six miles south of Nagaoattinam. As of mid January more than 900 were confirmed dead and 900 were missing.

Twenty boys playing a game of pick up hockey on Marina beach in Madras were all swept away. The first indications that a the tsunami was coming was a quiet rising of the sea that began swallowing homes and carrying people away. In Madras a wall of water appeared in the sea that stretched cross the horizon. A harbor pilot in Madras told the Los Angeles Times, “It looked as if the whole ocean was boiling over. The water was just rising up, spilling over the breakwater and covering the entire jetty. Then just as quickly the sea began retreating taking people and boats, including a 12,000-ton container ship, with it.

A 43-year-old fisherman who was mending nets under a tree in Nagapattinam told Newsweek: “There was a roar, and before I could get up and run, a wall of water about 30 feet high devoured me. I held my breath to keep the salt water from entering my mouth. I knew I was dying...I started looking around for my family but could only see bodies, mostly women and children, lying all around, still and contorted. I saw dazed men and shrieking women trying to walk away from the sea...We all have seen rough seas, cyclones and high tides. But nobody ever saw or heard of such a thing coming from our sea."

Some of the dead were cremated. Others were quickly buried in mass graves in part to curb the spread of disease. Many survivors felt guilty because they had survived and loved ones had not. One woman told the the New York Times, “I killed the children. I forced them to come to my house." She had earlier encouraged her daughter and grandchildren to come live with her. She had grabbed the children in the tsunami but lost her grip. Afterwards she refused to eat. A girl who survived with her siblings but lost her mother, said, “Our mother could not run fast. We are young: we ran away faster."

A seven-year-old Indian boy allegedly survived after a his dog “nipped and nudged” him up a hill to safety.

Tourism in Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu has a lot to attract tourists: cerulean mountains, silver waterfalls, verdant vegetation, sandy beaches, mammoth monuments, timeless temples, fabulous wildlife, exotic sculptures and lively and friendly rural life, a rich history and heritage, cultural confluence and aesthetic brilliance. The major tourist centers are Chennai, Kancheepuram, Mamallapuram, Vellore, Thiruvannamalai, Chidambaram, Tiruchirappalli, Thanjavur, Ooty, Kodaikanal, Coimbatore, Yercaud, Madurai, Rameswaram, Tirunelveli, and Kanniyakumari.

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “Though Kerala, the state just to the west, draws larger tourist crowds, Tamil Nadu is an increasingly popular destination. One of India’s most developed states, it also has beaches and lush farmland, and its cuisine is among the most flavorful — and hottest — in India. But it is the temple circuit that is the main draw, as it has been for centuries. Indeed, many of Tamil Nadu’s residents see the state as a repository of “pure” Hindu culture. In many ways, it is a country within a country, proudly preserving its ancient Dravidian culture, most noticeably in the widespread use of the Tamil language. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, September 19, 2008 /*/]

Tamil Nadu has five UNESCO declared world heritage monuments viz. Mamallapuram monuments, Brihadeeswarar Temple – Thanjavur, Brihadeeswarar Temple – Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Airavatheeswarar Temple – Darasuram and Nilgiri Mountain Railway. Tamil Nadu has four international airports at Chennai, Madurai, Tiruchirappalli and Coimbatore. It has well connected railway and roads.

Traveling in Tamil Nadu

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “ I had been to India four times, but never to the south, so I had little idea of what to expect in December, when I flew with my friend Tini into Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu. We were met by a driver from a hotel in Mahabalipuram, a beach town 36 miles south. He whisked us into an Ambassador, those grand 1950s-style sedans ubiquitous throughout India, and off we went, veering past cows, motor rickshaws and overcrowded buses. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, September 19, 2008 /*/]

“The chaos of India — sometimes the very quality that draws me there — wasn’t quite what I needed on this vacation. For a moment, as we were flying through the insane traffic, I had second thoughts about the whole trip. Then we pulled into Mahabalipuram; I could see the ocean as we cruised into town. There was the smell of salt in the air, and we drove through quiet lanes to the seaside hotel. The beach there is not of the golden-sand-and-swaying-palms kind you find in Goa or Kerala, but it is a pretty stretch to walk along and unwind from sightseeing (think fishing skiffs and seafood restaurants). [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, September 19, 2008 /*/]

“Once in Tamil Nadu, the easiest way to get between cities is to use local buses or to hire a car and driver, depending on your budget. To give an idea of prices, a driver from the Hotel Sea Breeze in Mahabalipuram met me at the Chennai airport and took me straight to the hotel, 36 miles, for 1,200 rupees, or about $26 at 46 rupees to the dollar. In a car without air-conditioning, the ride would have cost 900 rupees. The two-hour bus ride between Mamallapuram and Pondicherry cost the equivalent of $1 or $2. Tamil Nadu has one of the most flavorful regional cuisines in India. The traditional style of cooking, called Chettinad, often mixes curry leaves, tamarind, anise and even rosewater. Hot pepper is used more liberally than in other parts of India.”

Tamil Nadu Temples

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “Few things in India express the continuous presence of the gods better than the ancient, massive temple complexes of Tamil Nadu. Walk through any city there and what catches your eye first are the soaring temple entrances known as gopuras, sacred skyscrapers decorated with a phantasmagoria of Hindu statues of multi-armed, bug-eyed gods, mythical beasts and chiseled warriors. Thousands of such statues adorn the largest gopuras, like the ones rising from the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar temple in Madurai, one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in India. “Here, we have a proverb: ‘Where there is a temple, people can live,’ ” said Ram Kumar, a guide I had hired in Madurai. “The temple is the center of a person’s living space.”“ [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, September 19, 2008 /*/]

“In Mahabalipuram, “by the crashing waves of the Bay of Bengal sits the town’s most important architectural site, the Shore Temple. My Rough Guide said the Shore Temple was built in the early eighth century during the Pallava dynasty and is considered the earliest stone temple in the south. Its two towers were modest compared with some of the gopuras I would later see, but the style — a layered, wedding-cake look whose sharp edges have been eroded by the seaside weather — had enormous influence on the development of later temples both in India and in Southeast Asia. The corncob towers of the beautiful Angkor complex in Cambodia, built by the Hindu Khmer rulers, are one example. /*/

“The next morning, with the rain lessening, I went to the Brihadishwara Temple, the most jaw-dropping architectural achievement of the Cholas. The impressive scale of it was apparent as soon as I walked past the temple’s pet elephant in the outer courtyard and toward the interior. The vimana, the tower above the inner sanctum, rises 216 feet into the air and is topped with an 81-ton-ball of stone. One theory says that the builders used a 3.5-mile-long elevated plank to roll the ball to the top. As I peered at the thousands of statues decorating the tower, pilgrims streamed into the compound, many going into the inner sanctum to be blessed by the priests and to gaze on the 10-foot-tall black lingam. In appearance, a lingam is essentially a big phallus. It is the most common representation of Shiva — the destroyer, the transformer, the god who embodies both life and the negation of life — at temples across India...A massive, brightly painted gopura rose above each of the four entrances to the temple, the 12 towers visible for miles around. The tallest, above the south entrance, was more than 150 feet tall. /*/

“Madurai is one of the most ancient cities in India, so it is only fitting that at the center of its teeming bazaars stands what some call the most magnificent temple complex on the subcontinent. It is actually two temples joined, one dedicated to Meenakshi and the other to her husband, Sundareshwarar. Unlike many temples in India, the female god is the dominant one here. “This temple is a special one,” said Mr. Kumar, my guide. “You feel it as soon as you walk in.” /*/

“At least 15,000 visitors come each day. That afternoon, pilgrims kept pouring in. Mr. Kumar said many had temporarily left behind their material lives — jobs as software engineers, rickshaw drivers, whatever — to spend weeks walking to these temples barefoot and in robes. That night, when I went to see the ceremony that would bring about the union of the husband-and-wife gods, the pilgrims were there as well, bearing witness to the holy coupling. They believed the gods had given them life. But it was, in fact, they who — through their devotion, through their journeys to these great temples — were breathing life into the gods.” /*/

At Brihadishwara Temple, Male pilgrims draped in orange robes shuffled past us to stand in front of the lingam. Many were Shaivites, easily recognized by three white lines drawn on their foreheads. I saw them everywhere in Tamil Nadu, including at the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar temple in Madurai, my final stop. I stood by the bathing tank in the courtyard outside the Meenakshi shrine, watching as pilgrims dunked their heads or entire bodies into the water, a scene repeated at rivers, lakes and pools all across India.

Chennai

Chennai (350 kilometers east of Bangalore and 1,200 kilometers southeast of Mumbai by rail) is the capital of Tamil Nadu with 7 million people in the city, and 9 million in the metro area, making it the sixth largest city and fourth largest metro area in India after Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Chennai is the gateway to southern India and one the best places to observe Indian traditions. Situated on the Bay of Bengal and established in 1639 by the East India Company on the site of a small fishing village along a mile-wide spit of sand, the city gave the British their first foothold on the Indian subcontinent.

Chennai was known as Madras until 1997 and many local people still all it by that name The people of Chennai are sometimes called the Madarsis by people in the north..Chennai’s main attraction are its Indo-Saracenic English colonial buildings, Pallavas temples, and Dravidian (South Indian) culture and architecture. Architecture afficionados are alarmed with the demolition and state of disrepair of many of the city's most outstanding buildings. Wandering in the streets are goats, water buffalos and a surprising number of peacocks.

Located on the Coromandel Coast, Madras is a busy metropolis with a rich cultural scene. From the resplendent classical dance form of bharatnatyam to the rich flavors of its iconic cuisine and from the lustrous silk saris traded here to the gorgeous temples and churches, there are many facades of South Indian art, culture and tradition in Chennai. There are also sprawling beaches with natural and man-made wonders, a bustling seaport, quirky cafes, a multi-transport system, theme parks, industrial hubs, hi-tech parks and universities. Its population is a heterogenous mix of locals, expats and people from the rest of India. Chennai is widely known as the “Detroit of India” because of the high concentration of automobile factories located in and around the city. It is also the perfect base for launching trips to other places in Tamil Nadu.

An industrial, business, and technology center of South India along with Bangalore, Chennai is one of India's more pleasant major cities and is spread out over 50 square kilometers. It served as trading port and military post for the British and has grown with very little planning. Modern concrete buildings are often flanked by small shops, thatched huts, and vacant lots. The streets are congested with scooters, bicycles, handcarts, buses, oxcarts, and deisel-belching trucks. The general pace of life is slower than in Mumbai or Kolkata. Many people in the Chennai area are still engaged in agriculture, though Chennai is known for producing engineers.

The population of Chennai is about 81 percent Hindu, 9.5 percent Muslim and 7.7 percent Christian. The traditional jibba, veshti and lungi are worn by many men. South Indian women typically wear saris, although the north Indian tunic sets are gaining popularity. South India is famous for Carnatic music and classical dance in the Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, and Kuchipudi styles.

English is spoken by about 5 percent of the people in South India. Tamil is the primary language in Chennai.

Geography, Climate, Flooding and Environmental Concerns in of Chennai

According to Cities of the World: “Chennai has a medium-sized artificial harbor and a wide sandy beach that extends for several hundred miles along the coast. The surrounding countryside is a largely flat, coastal plain devoted to rice cultivation. It is green and fertile during part of the year but dry and dusty during the rainless spring and early summer months. [Source:Cities of the World, Gale Group Inc., 2002, adapted from a January 1997 U.S. State Department Post report]

“Chennai is about 1450 kilometers north of the Equator. The climate is tropical throughout the year. December and January are relatively cool months. The weather heats up drastically from March through June. Unfortunately, as the temperature rises, so does the humidity. Chennai is unique among the consular cities — it experiences a late monsoon from August through November. Pre-monsoon rains bring slight relief in July, and the temperatures decrease slowly until the cooler season returns in November. During the hottest months, sea breezes occasionally lessen the discomfort.

“Chennai averages 48 inches of rain annually, although droughts occur when the monsoon fails. Most rain falls from October through December, but frequent showers can occur from May to September. Occasionally, cyclones strike the coast. Mildew damage occurs throughout the year. All U.S. Government houses have air conditioners in every room to help combat this fungus, as well as for comfort.”

Poor sanitation and overcrowding are problems in Chennai as they are throughout India.. Air quality is poor, partly due to coal dust from the port. Residential and business/industrial areas are intermixed, due to unplanned growth. Public services, including garbage removal, are inadequate. Road are seldom cleaned. Sewers are often blocked. Fires occur more frequently in northern Chennai than in other areas of the city.

Flooding risk is highest October through December, Chennai’s monsoon season. Flooding is most severe when heavy rains coincide with a high tide The city lacks an adequate drainage system. Storm sewers are often clogged. Heavy rains can quickly gridlock traffic and may close Metro. Risk of flooding is highest in city’s densely populated coastal region. Shoreline erosion and damage to roads, bridges, structures are common during severe storms and cyclones.

History of Chennai

Chennai was established in 1639 by the East India Company on the site of a small fishing village along a mile-wide spit of sand,, the city gave the British their first foothold on the Indian subcontinent, from which they expanded outwards. It is also where Robert Clive fought some of his most famous battles and Elihu Yale earned enough money to finance a university bearing his name in New Haven, Connecticut. The British were the ones who named the city Madras..

For a long time Madras was known mostly as the source of madras plain, a colorful, comfortable cloth prized by the upper classes in Britain and New England. The “better cheape” cloth sold well from the 17th century until the late 20th century when it was finally done in by even cheaper cloth.

There are several stories about the origin of the city’s names. Initially, during the Nayakars rule, its name was Madras, which was inspired by Madraspattinam. At that time, it was a fishing village that was situated to the north of the area that is now Fort St George. The king of Vijaynagar sold the piece of land to the British on which now stands Fort St George, which houses the Secretariat Complex of the Government of Tamil Nadu. It was the British officers who retained the name Madraspattinam. For local populace, it was more common to call the city Chennapattinam. According to another legend, the city was named Chennai in honour of Damal Chennappa Nayakkar, a Nayak ruler. In the year 1996, the government renamed it to Chennai officially and the name stands even today.

December 2004 Tsunami Strikes Chennai (Madras)

The December 2004 tsunami that killed 220,000 people in Southeast Asia struck the southeast coast of the state of Tamil Nadu, including Chennai (Madras). The Los Angeles Times reported: “At a dawn Mass the day after Christmas, as Father Maria Devanesan lifted the host above his head in reverence, the large white wafer began to tremble. It was 6:30 a.m. in southern India. A tremor had traveled more than 1,000 miles, speeding through the Earth's crust from the seabed off Indonesia to the seashore of India. Now it rattled the pews of St. Thomas Cathedral. [Source: Paul Watson, Barbara Demick and Richard Fausset, Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2005]

“The members of the 500-strong congregation, many of them poor Tamil fishermen and their families who live in shanties at the nearby beach, rose from their knees in fear and ran from the 108-year-old church. Father Maria hurried down the stone steps from the altar, following his parishioners, who were too afraid to receive Communion. Outside, people rousted from sleep ran from their homes in panic. When the shaking subsided, the priest persuaded a small group to follow him into the cathedral to pray at the statue of Our Lady of Mylapore, an icon of a woman adorned in gold leaf, joyously anticipating the birth of Christ. The congregants cried and prayed, thankful that there had been no serious damage from the quake and that the crisis had passed.

“About two hours after he had first felt the tremor Father Maria was back in the cathedral leading Mass when he heard a whisper from the catechist. The man was shaking as he approached. "The seawater has reached the steps to the beach, so kindly pray for the people," he said. "And try to finish it fast, Father." In just a few minutes, Father Maria rushed to the concrete steps behind the compound's school campus. The sea had climbed about 15 feet and stopped, as if by a miracle, just inches before it would have flooded the cathedral grounds.

“The water was an oily black. But Father Maria immediately thought of the Red Sea and Charlton Heston as Moses. "I saw the picture 'The Ten Commandments,' " he said. "That was only cinema. We didn't believe it. But here we saw it. Naturally, it created some shock." Outside the church, umbrella repairman Raju, 45, and his sister Maliga, 37, had been sitting in the sand in front of their shanty on the beach, chatting and watching the fishermen come and go. The surf, about 30 yards away, had not betrayed the tsunami that was still racing beneath the surface of the ocean, gradually slowing down as it neared shore.

“As the wave hit the more shallow coast, Maliga heard only the idle chatter of her family and friends against the white noise of morning life in the shanties. "We didn't hear anything," said Maliga, who, like many Indian Tamils, uses one name. "It was like a silent wave." Only when they saw the water suddenly rising did they know something was wrong. At the first scream from the shoreline, they ran for the steps up to the church and watched the sea swallow their one-room home.

“Nine miles away, from the control tower on one of the piers at the harbor of Madras, signal boatswain Guruswamy Napolean, had a 270-degree view of one of southeastern India's busiest ports. About 9:05 a.m., just before Father Maria's catechist whispered his warning, Napolean noticed a swirling eddy of white foam, like water being pulled down a large drain. He wondered aloud whether it was a big fish. The rest of the crew laughed. Less than five minutes later, a wall of water stretched across the horizon.

“The flood into Madras knocked out the control tower's power. Then, just when Napolean thought the worst was over, the water level in the harbor suddenly dropped, and the current started to suck the ships toward the sea. The first to go, a container ship about 650 feet long and weighing up to 12,000 tons, snapped free of its bonds. The order went out over the radio for all ships to drop anchor.

“The towers' radios crackled with panicked voices from ships' bridges. "I just kept hearing people shouting at me: 'Please, I need immediate assistance! I need immediate assistance!' " Napolean recalled. " 'I need help! I need help!' " In the enclosed harbor, hulking ships converged in a tight circle as the water swirled and the masses of steel collided like drunken sailors. About half an hour later, the Internet and 24-hour TV news stations began to broadcast the first reports of death and mayhem around the Indian Ocean.”

Getting to Chennai

Getting There: By Air: Chennai International Airport is located about 7 kilometers away from the main city. It is connected by direct daily flights to major cities like New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. In addition to this, it also connects the city to international destinations like Singapore and Colombo. Chennai International Airport is located in Tirusulam, 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) south of the city. Airport buses provide transport between terminals. Suburban Rail Service has a line to the airport. Chennai Corporation has bus routes to and from the airport. Inter-city bus transport is available at Koyampedu Bus Company’s desk. Arrange prepaid taxi service in arrivals lounge. Hotels generally provide transport services for guests. Rental cars are available.

By Road and Bus: The Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminal is connected to various Indian cities like Puducherry (about 166 kilometers), Bengaluru (about 347 kilometers), Tirupati (about 133 kilometers), Coimbatore (about 507 kilometers), and Tirunelveli (about 625 kilometers). Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminal is Asia’s largest bus station. Bus fares depend on distance traveled and service type. Express buses: Fares are 50 percent higher than regular bus fares.Deluxe buses and Night buses: Fares are twice as high as regular bus fares. Volvo AC Buses: Fares are 2.5 times fares for deluxe and night buses.

By Train: Three major railway stations, Chennai Central, Chennai Egmore and Tambaram, make it one of the train service hubs in South India. The has two main main long-distance train stations: Chennai Central (MAS) and Chennai Egmore (MS) are both linked to the airport via the suburban trainmen and city buses. There are daily trains to and from Bangalore, Mumbai, Coimbatore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and most other major cities in India. Several trains connect Chennai daily to major Indian cities like Mumbai and Bangalore.

Transportation in Chennai

According to to ASIRT: Roads are generally in fair condition but the road network is inadequate to handle rapidly growing traffic levels. Chennai Bypass (Outer Ring Road) goes through Maduravoyal. The city lacks an adequate drainage system. Storm sewers are often clogged. Heavy rains can quickly gridlock traffic and may close Metro. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2010]

“Streets are heavily congested. Traffic mix includes pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, freely wandering animals, pushcarts, cars, taxis, trucks and buses. Drivers honk horns often. Drivers seldom obey traffic laws. Bus and truck drivers often drive aggressively Road improvement designs may not take into consideration the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and non-motorized vehicles.

“Pedestrians and cyclists comprise 60 percent of commuters. Traffic is not pedestrian- or cyclist-friendly. Many sidewalks and cycle paths have been eliminated. Existing ones are narrow and in poor repair. Vendor stands, sign posts, power junction boxes and randomly parked vehicles frequently obstruct sidewalks. Underpasses are poorly lit, poorly maintained, have very steep steps and are often obstructed by vendors.. Pedestrians often avoid underpasses and risk crossing through traffic. Open manhole covers pose a risk to pedestrians.

Types of bus services available include: 1) Volvo AC Buses: Available on a few routes. 2) Mixed fleet: Single-decker, double-decker and articulated buses. 3) Blue/Yellow Line and Orange/White Line: Low- floored and deluxe buses. 4) White board buses: Stop at all bus stops. 5) Express buses: Stop at a few bus stops. 6) Deluxe buses: Stop at Express bus stops. 7) Black board buses, night buses: Stop at alternate stops. 8) Ladies Special: Buses operate during rush hours. Only open to ladies.

Buses are often overcrowded. Some bus stops have "Park and Ride" facilities for 2-wheeled vehicles. Buses can be rented. Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) provides public bus services in the city and surrounding areas. Website: mtcbus.tn.gov.in ; Tel: 23455846 / 23455858 /23455859.

MRTS (Mass Rapid Transit System) is an elevated suburban rail service with 21 stations. Service is limited on Sundays. MRTS is under-utilized due to many factors, including inadequate maintenance, frequent elevator and escalator break downs, poor security, frequent acts of vandalism, poor security and lack of connectivity with other transport options.

Auto rickshaw drivers commonly demand fares higher than set rates and refuse to use fare meters. In Northern ChennaiMost roads are narrow, potholed and poorly maintained. Main roads and many secondary roads are heavily congested; increases response times for police, fire, rescue and ambulance services. Parking is scarce. Public transportation is inadequate.

Chennai Food And Coffee

South Indian dishes can be vegetarian or non-vegetarian based on which region you visit. They usually use a lot of coconut and spices in their preparation. Rice, pepper and lentils feature prominently along with seafood. The best way to sample these dishes at one go is to opt for a South Indian thali.

Chettinad is a popular style of cooking that uses local spices generously. Some of the common flavors you would come across are star anise, maratti mokku (dried flower pods), kalpasi (stone flower) and pepper. Authentic Chettinad dishes mostly use seafood and some of the delicacies you can sample are pepper chicken, chicken varuval (dry spicy fried chicken), mor milagai (chillies marinated in yoghurt and dried in the sun), poriyal (a sautéed vegetable dish), masiyal (a vegetable curry), kootu (lentil curry), delicious lamb biryani (layered meat and rice dish), urundai (fried lentil balls), home-made coconut ice cream and payasam (a sweet pudding). The vegetarian counterpart of the cuisine is murukku (a deep-fried round crunchy snack made with rice flour). All the dishes in a traditional Chettinad meal are served in a specific order and have a designated place. For example, fritters are placed at the bottom left while rice and flatbreads, paired with lentils, occupy the center point. The bottom right is reserved for desserts.

A speciality drink from the region, filter coffee is prepared by mixing together milk and a decoction of coffee, made by filtering finely-ground coffee beans through boiling water. It can be had with or without milk. Filter coffee is a potent beverage that is brewed extra strong. Coffee is believed to have come to India in the early 17th century in Karnataka. At the time, coffee was a safely guarded secret of the regions of present-day Yemen. According to legend a Muslim saint, Baba Budan from Chikmagalur, smuggled seven coffee beans in his beard and planted them in the Chandragiri Hills, in Karnataka. By the 19th century, the coffee culture had invaded most of South India, where people began brewing their beverage with milk and sweetening it with jaggery and honey. Today, coffee is served in stainless steel glasses, which have two halves that look like cylindrical cups. One is used to load fresh grounds, which are then compressed, and the other collects the brewed beverage.

Shopping in Chennai

There are many opportunities for shopping in Chennai. These include high-end boutiques, arts, crafts, souvenirs and textiles. The market area of T. Nagar is good place to shop for Kanchipuram silk, Kanjeevaram saris and gold jewelry; Pondy Bazaar for leather goods, clothes for men and women and trinkets; Kader Nawaz Khan Road for branded shops and boutiques. While Ritchie Street is popular for electronic items, Anna Salai is famed for the Spencer Plaza Mall, which is one of the oldest shopping complexes in the city. There are a wide variety of malls located in Chennai that house international brands too.

One of the best buys in the city can be the renowned Tanjore paintings, an indigenous art form, which can be a great way to beautify the interiors of your homes. Wood carvings are a speciality of the city and you can indulge in shopping for various furniture and home décor items. Chennai is also noted for basket and fibre products that are made with palm trees, along with bamboo shoots, cane, grass and reeds. Besides the use of wooden barks, the artisans also use coconut fibres to make products like baskets, ropes, mats and other items.

Found across the temples of Chennai, stone carvings are an exquisite attraction of the city, and tourists can buy souvenirs like figurines and sculptures reflecting duplications of those carvings. Moreover, there are many unique and handcrafted items available that make for great buys.

Yoga im Chennai

There are a number of professional, modern, up-market yoga studios offering varied-level drop-in classes, from beginners' satyananda to intense ashtanga. Several are popular with foreigners. For those interested in training in Yoga therapy, Chennai is home to the Asana Andiappan College of Yoga & Research Center, and the Viniyoga Healing Foundation of India, where you can gain in-depth knowledge from pioneers on the cutting edge of Yoga therapy practices.

The Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram is one of the most popular spots to practice yoga in Chennai. This is one of the foremost institutions for yoga therapy in India. The center follows the philosophy called yoga for the individual. This approach is called viniyoga and is used to create a tailored program for individuals. The designed programs are used to access the core of the problem, uproot it and then treat it. Yoga is not treated as a generalised fitness regime here but as a dedicated course of therapy. If one wants to be a part of the center, it is done through an interview and a physical assessment test. As a part of the course, the would-be student presents the problems and the experts prescribe asanas and other exercises to cure it. While the student carries out the prescribed exercises, regular meetings are also scheduled with teachers to reassess the problem and instruct the students as and when necessary.

The building of the center also noteworthy. There are small therapy rooms where the consultant examine the practitioner, who is then guided through steps of meditation. To create a peaceful environment, airy and polish-floored practice area is kept minimalistic.

Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram is recognised by Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga (MDNIY) as one of the leading yoga institutes in India. It also received the SIRO (Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) recognition awarded by the Department for Scientific and Industrial Research, Government of India. Recognised by the Health and Family Welfare Department, Government of Tamil Nadu, the institute is a unique yoga center as it possesses the ISO 9001:2015 certification. General wellness, yoga therapy, yoga teacher training programs, Vedic chanting, and holistic health are some of the services offered here. It was established by TKV Desikachar in 1976 as a not-for-profit Public Charitable Trust.

Sights in Chennai

Chennai’s main attraction are Indo-Saracenic English colonial buildings, Pallavas temples, and Dravidian (South Indian) culture and architecture. Architecture afficionados are alarmed with the demolition and state of disrepair of many of the city's most outstanding buildings. There are numerous shrines and churches as well as a snake park, children's park, planetarium, an aquarium and huge banyan tree spreading over 40,000 square feet. The 1,330 couplets of the Thirukkaural (the Hindu equivalent of the bible, written by a sage named Thiruvallur) are inscribed on the stone walls of the Valluvar Kottam (See Below).

Sights in Madras include Kapaleeswarar, an ancient Shiva temple with 125-long, 700-year-old stone panel with carvings of Hindu legends; the 8th century Sri Parthasarthy, a temple devoted to Lord Krishna with five avatars; Little Mounta Shrine, a small monument located in cave where its said St. Thomas preached and lived; St. Thomas Mount, a shrine built on the site that St, Thomas was purported to be assassinated; Santhome Cathedral; St. Mary’s Church; and the Theosophical Society. MGM Dizzee World is an amusement park with characters based on Hindu myths. Located on East Coast Road, The park has a log flume, Ferris wheel, spider spin, roller coaster, the funny mountain, dashing cars, super trooper, a water world and it also hosts special seasonal shows. It is owned by MGM Group of Companies.

Vivekanandar Illam was earlier known as Ice House or Castle Kernan. It was constructed in 1842 by Frederic Tudor. Indian Saint Swami Vivekananda stayed in the building when he visited Chennai in 1897 and was later renamed in his honor. It is currently maintained by Ramakrishna Math and houses an exhibition on the life of Vivekananda.

Valluvar Kottam Kodambakkam is a historical monument dedicated to the well-known poet, philosopher and saint, Thiruvalluvar. The temple is built in the shape of a chariot, and is 39 meters high. As you enter it, you can see a huge effigy of the saint. What makes this temple unique is that it stands without the support of any pillar. On the giant columns of the auditorium, the facade and in the hall corridors, one can find 1,330 verses of the Thirukkural, a classic Tamilian text, that was penned down by the saint about 2,000 years ago. In the construction of the temple, around 3,000 blocks of stones were used. There is also a lion on the main gateway that features a beautiful design. The temple was built under the guidance of a South Indian architect, V Ganapati Sthapati, who also built the statue of the saint at Kanyakumari.

Marina Beach

Marina Beach is the pride and joy of Chennai. It stretches for 13 kilometers, making it one of the 20 longest longest beaches in the world. A long stretch of soft sand, Marina Beach invites tourists to unwind, take a dip in the water and indulge in local snacks. The street facing the beach is lined with one illustrious landmark after another. These include Madras University, Government departments, Senate House, Presidency College, Cricket Stadium and Swami Vivekananda Memorial House and the building of All India Radio. It is said that it was the personal favorite beach of ME Grant Duff, the British Governor of Madras (1881-86). Sunrises and pony rides can also be enjoyed here.

Marina Beach was beach badly ripped up by the tsunami in 2004 but that was a long time ago now and it has since recovered The credit for converting this place into a tourist spot goes to Governor Duff. He took the required measures to change the face of this place in 1880s. The historical monuments are built at the junction of pathways. These include Annadurai and MG Ramachandran memorials, statues of heroes from Tamil culture, Indo-Saracenic buildings, monuments of Tamil scholars, patriots and famous personalities including Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose.

One of the most remarkable sculptures of the beach is the Triumph of Labor by Debiprasad Roy Choudhary. On the beach, one can enjoy a variety of South Indian snacks and ice creams. There is also an aquarium situated near the beach. It is home to some of the mesmerising species of sea and fresh water fish. One can also visit the Ice House, which has ice brought from lakes in North America during the British rule. The best time to visit the beach is between November and February.

Colonial Buildings and British-Era Sights in Chennai

Impressive colonial buildings include the Senate House of Madras University, a splendid Indo-Saracenic structure with domed filials, square towers, projected balconies and colored glass; the High Court, a red-brick marvel believed to the large judicial building in the world; and the railway station in the Egmore district. The Marina is a two-mile-long Promenade on the Bay of Bengal. Built during the Victorian era, it features some stately British buildings and statues such as the Indo-Saracenic domes of Madras University; Government departments and the Senate House.

Fort St. George is a great white fortification established by the British in 164. At first it was little more than a fortified warehouse. Over the years it was enlarged and strengthened until it became the size of small town. In 1947 it was transformed into the seat of the Tamil Nadu governments. Visitors can check a small museum with an eclectic collection; the oldest Anglican church in India, where Robert Clive and the founder Yale University prayed; and a parade ground surrounded by barracks for local regiments. Nearby is Georgetown, where Indians lived during colonial times and much of the city's business and trade us carried out today. It is crowded and bustling with activity in typical Indian fashion.

Fort St George Museum is housed in a building believed to be one of the oldest surviving structures within the fort. The Fort St George Museum started with a small collection of objects of the British raj donated by the then Madras presidency government. Today, it houses over 3,600 registered antiquities in the collection. The best of these are on display in 10 galleries. As you enter, an imposing marble statue of Lord Cornwallis, former governor-general of India, greets visitors. An imposing display of swords, daggers, rifles, pistols, mortars, helmets, batons, bows, arrows and more can also be seen. Moreover, one can see displays of uniforms of various ranks of the British army. Tableware, porcelain, portraits, canvas oil paintings, church silverware and a palanquin of Arcot Nawabs can also be seen. The Indo-French Gallery has fine, decorated porcelain, clocks, stamps and coins, furniture, lamp shades and clocks.

Government House Museum

Government Museum (in Egmore) contains a fine collection of ancient bronze statues form the Pallava and Chola Empires and used to be infamous for its power outages. There are also interesting displays on geology, archeology, anthropology, sculpture, armor, coin and zoology. The Government Museum is spread across an area of 16.25 acres. It is made up of six independent buildings and has 46 galleries. It celebrated its centenary in 1951 with a ceremony attended by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India. This is an excellent museum that also has the National Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery and Children’s Museum.

Government Museum was established in 1851 and is the second-oldest museum in India It contains impressive collections of archaeological, Roman and numismatic artifacts. One can find exhibits of Buddhist ruins from Amaravati. A key highlight here is the Bronze Gallery that has sculptures from the modern times to the Pallava era dating back to the 7th century. Check out the statues of Lord Shiva as Nataraja (the cosmic dancer) and a Chola bronze figurines of Ardhanarishvara, the manifestation of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. There are several archaeological representations of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain sculptures as well Anthropology galleries that actually trace South Indian human history back to prehistoric times! In fact, it is said that it has one of the largest collections of Roman antiquities outside Europe.

National Art Gallery (within the Government House museum complex) was built in 1906 and is one of the oldest of its kind in India. Constructed with red stones sourced from Satyavedu, in Andhra Pradesh, the building is a grand structure that has been built in an Indo-Saracenic architectural style. The gallery is categorised in four segments: Decorative Art Gallery, Ravi Verma Painting, Thanjavur Painting, and Indian Traditional Art Gallery. There is a separate painting section that boasts works from Thanjavur, Rajasthan, Deccan and Kangra, along with few miniature paintings delineating battle sights. There are many other exhibits in the gallery, including historical artefacts, religious statues and sculptures. One can also see ancient handicrafts dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries. Images of Lord Rama and his wife, Goddess Sita, along with some periodic books and manuscripts are interesting additions. The building is situated near the Contemporary Art Gallery.

Kalakshetra Centers of Indian Classical Dance and Music

Kalakshetra (southern Chennai near the beach) is one of India's premier centers of Indian classical dance, music, traditional textile design and weaving. In 1936, the Kalakshetra Foundation was established by Rukmini Devi Arundale. The aim of this organization can be summed up in her own words: “with the sole purpose of resuscitating in modern India, recognition of the priceless artistic traditions of our country and of imparting to the young the true spirit of art, devoid of vulgarity and commercialism."

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Kalakshetra was established in 1936 by Rukmini Devi Arundale near Madras, (Chennai) in South India. It was built as an arts academy forming an extension to the Theosophical Society. Kalakshetra became the first dance institute to establish a meaningful theoretical syllabus for dancers. The academy provides not only education in fine arts but also runs a craft education research center and a school where students have the opportunity of combining fine arts studies with the regular primary and secondary education syllabus. The academy advocates a holistic approach towards education. Open air classes are conducted in order to provide exposure to arts and help students appreciate nature. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India]

Several notable and famous bharatanatyam performers have learnt the art form here. The place is a testimony of Rukmini Devi's dreams. She wanted to create a space where the Indian thought would find expression through artistic education. The institution is spread over 100 acre by the seashore. It is an important center for the study and performance of fine arts. The Government of India recognised the institute as an Institute of National Importance by an act of Indian Parliament in the year 1993 and it is now an autonomous body under Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

Here, the students are taught dancing and are educated to become more that just an artiste. Their training includes learning the right attitude to life and art. Across the road, one can also visit the Kalakshetra Craft Center. One gets a chance to see Kanchipuram-style of handloom weaving, block printing and the art of kalamkari. The center also gives an opportunity to tourists to join various courses and learn them

Temples in Chennai

Kapaleeswarar Temple is one of the oldest and most revered temples of Chennai. It is a shrine of Lord Shiva. In the temple, the wife of Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati is worshipped in the incarnation of Goddess Karpagambal. She is believed to be the 'Goddess of the Wish-Yielding Tree'. As a ritual of Friday worship, Goddess Karpagambal is offered a garland made of gold coins called kaasu mala. A 10-day long procession is carried out every year during the Aruvathumoovar festival in March-April, which sees hundreds of people.

A classic example of Dravidian style of architecture, the best known feature of the temple is 37-meter-high gopuram (gateway). On entering the temple, one is greeted with the view of a sculpture of a holy saint named Gnanasambandar. There are beautiful bronze carvings of the 63 Shaivate saints and one of the oldest trees of Chennai, Punnai tree, is in the courtyard of the temple. The temple has a number of interesting features, including vahanas (Sanskrit word for vehicles), bull, adhikaranandi, elephant, bandicoot, peacock, goat, and parrot, along with a golden chariot.

Gujarati Shwetambar Murtipujak Jain Mandir is one of the first Jain temples in South India. Home to three beautifully carved gopurams (gateways) and five doors, the temple built completely in marble is a fine example of glass work. The structure differs in construction from other buildings as the use of iron has been totally avoided in the temple. The idol that sits inside the premises is made of quartz. In the central hall, one can see extensive glass work due to which the hall glows with a spectrum of colors. It is believed that the architects, the stone carvers and the workers who were involved in the construction of the temple were hired from Rajasthan. The deity worshipped in the temple is Lord Parsvanatha, the 23rd tirthankara (saint) of the Jains.

Near Chennai

Outside of Madras you can visit Sriperumbudur (40 kilometers from Chennai), the village where Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991; and the M.G.R. Memorial House, the home of a late actor-politician with some interesting mementoes including a pet lion raised by the actor and stuffed after it was killed in a shooting. The ancient rock carvings at Mamallapuram (also called Mahabalipuram) and the temple cities of Kanchipuram are worth a visit.

DakshinaChitra (25 kilometers south of Madras) is delightful living museum of architecture, crafts and folk art with a beautiful old brick-and-wood merchant houses restored with period furniture, utensils and toys. Traditional houses from various parts of southern India have been transported here brick by brick and reassembled. There are examples of art and architecture from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Beaches in Chennai Area are not recommended for health reasons. Many Americans use a resort area 35 kilometers south of the city for swimming and sunbathing. You can rent a beach house for weekends and holidays. However, be aware of the powerful undertow, and avoid leaving the beach line. Individuals who plan to use the beach should bring a sufficient supply of sun-screen. [Source: Cities of the World, Gale Group Inc., 2002, adapted from a January 1997 U.S. State Department Post report]

Between Chennai and Pondicherry is a long stretch of palm fringed beach. Mahabalipuram is located at about the halfway point. On the road from Mahabalipuram to Chennai is a large crocodile farm, a recreational lake, a ruined fort converted into luxury hotel and an artist village and numerous small seaside communities.

Guindy National Park (just south of Chennai, adjacent to Raj Bhavan) boasts a rare type of foliage: tropical dry evergreen vegetation. Spread over a vast area of 2.7 square kilometers, this park is probably amongst the smallest of national parks, yet is teeming with wildlife like blackbucks, spotted deer, jackals, a variety of snakes, geckos, tortoises and over 100 species of birds and 60 species of butterflies and spiders. Sheltering over 350 species of plants, the park is a botanist’s delight. Some part of this space has a zoo and a children’s park. Another attraction is the Guindy Snake Park that houses king cobra, pythons, vipers and other reptiles. The park is open from 9:00am to 5:30pm and is shut on Tuesdays.

Tiruthani (60 kilometers east of Chennai) is the home of temple dedicated to Lord Subrahmanya (Muruga). The temple is situated on a small hillock and is said to be one of the six abodes, or “padai veedu”, of Lord Muruga. According to legend Lord Muruga married one of his two consorts, Valli, here. He also stayed in Thiruthani after defeating the demon, Surapadman.The temple can be reached by a series of 365 steps. There are four enclosures, along with a shrine dedicated to Aapat Sahaaya Vinayakar, who supposedly helped Lord Muruga in winning Valli's hand in marriage. The image of Lord Muruga himself is placed in the Rudraksha tower, and is seen wearing exquisite ornaments. The town of Thiruthani is also the birthplace of leading scholar, statesman and former President of India, Dr S Radhakrishnan. It receives thousands of tourists during the festivals of Poosam and Panguni Uthiram, which are celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm by the priests of the temple and locals alike.

Cholamandal Artists Village

Cholamandal Artists Village (near the beach five kilometers south of Chennai) was started in 1966 by KCS Paniker, who was not only a legendary artist but also a revolutionary thinker. The village is the perfect place for anyone who has even a slight inclination towards art, culture and craft. So, whether you are an artist, art buyer, art lover, art connoisseur or simply someone curious about Indian art, Cholamandal Artists’ Village has something to offer to everyone. Housed within the campus are museums, art galleries, an open-air theater, a bookstore, a craft shop as well as a restaurant where you can spend your time enjoying the essence of everything handmade.

As you enter the quaint premises, the countryside and pleasantly refreshing vibes are evident. Just past the main gate, the sculpture garden dotted with absolutely stunning artwork in stone is a fitting preview to what can be expected inside. The pieces that range from traditional to abstract are not only magnificent in appearance, but also stand out in terms of their craftsmanship and finesse. There are exquisite pieces made of granite, wood and bronze. Some of these are the works of visiting international artists as well. The village also has two art galleries, the Labernum in the HK Kejriwal wing and Indigo in the Tulsyan wing where artworks are displayed.

The pieces range from a wide variety of handicrafts to unique art forms, and include sketches, paintings, Batik, woodwork, terracotta, pottery and ceramics. The myriad items on display are sure to give you a perspective on the various kinds of art forms in the form of a pleasant art attack! There is an open-air theater where you can catch a dance, music or a theater performance. The amphitheater is also used for poetry reading sessions at times. In addition to artists, books and coffee, you can also view the homes of the artists who reside here. Replete with old world charm and resonating with character, the houses are distinct and speak volumes about the kind of lives artists lead. If you are lucky, you may even witness artists teaching budding students or catch them working on their art pieces and also interact with them over a cup of coffee.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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