A Glimpse of the Past- Dakshinachitra

Faint notes of ‘Saamajavaragamana’ struck me, when I stood at the reception of Dakshinachitra to buy an entry pass. This krithi in Hindolam is by Saint Sri Thyagaraja, who lived in the 18th century A.D. The fragrance of agarbaththis wafted through the air, bringing with it the scent of Arali (Nerium) flowers. All these eased me up for a laid-back walk inside Dakshinachitra.

Dakshinachitra is nothing like a conventional museum. The absence of glass-covered artefacts and long corridors can confuse anybody. Reconstructed traditional houses from the four south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh find their places here. Dakshinachitra is a walk through the memory lanes of our ancestors and the lives they lived.

Checking my pass in, I crossed over a small archway, to see the vast expanse of land. Huge canopies lined up along stony pathways. A tiny market made its presence felt, thanks to the bling that were up for sale.

All the old houses that are replicated in Dakshinachitra are bought from the contractors who are assigned to demolish them by their owners.  More often than not, the owners want a modern house in the places of these old houses and hence sell them off.

We do extensive research on the background of the house and its people and try our best to recreate it here,” says Sharath Nambiar, Deputy Director of Dakshinachitra.

My favourite was the Chuttillu House, which sadly is placed at the fag end of the trail. Found in the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh, the structure in Dakshinachitra was specifically from Yelamanchilli, Vishakapatnam district. These houses are made of mud and circular. They have thatched roof that extends until the ground, in order to drain off the water, from the incessant rains that the storms bring. These roofs are built at an angle of at least 45 degrees to drain the rainwater away. The round shape of the building is to combat the raging winds, which are usual in the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh.

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The Chettiar house from Tamil Nadu was another memorable piece.

The term ‘Chettinad’ denotes the region Pudukottai, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu. Trade was their main occupation and it reflected in their lavish lifestyle. Polished wooden interiors, which kept the temperature inside the house in check and a collection of expensive articles that were given as gifts during their weddings vouched for the prosperity of the Chettiars.

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A typical Chettiar house has a long thinnai , which is the porch at the entrance of the house and an inner open-roof courtyard in the middle of the house. The thinnai is for the men and outsiders to meet and talk while the courtyard is for events that are more intimate. It is the sacred space and is designated only for family members.

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The Syrian Christian house is characterised by the woodwork, mostly with timber and jackfruit wood, the well in the kitchen and long verandahs. The polished, dark brown wooden walls were attractive and gave a rich texture.

IMG_20171026_114309These houses had huge granaries too, which were built immediately at the entrance. The Syrian Christians used to pray in front of their granaries and hence their houses were built to store huge quantities of food grains. Their settlements were concentrated in the districts of Kottayam, Kollam and Aluva, mainly in the valley of the river Pamba.

Karnataka is a state, whose history is rich. From the mountainous regions of Coorg and Talacauveri to the heritage of Hampi, it has it all. The exhibit of the Chikmagalur house told the story of its original inhabitant, a Muslim trader named M.A.Ismail. The house’s special feature was the patterns in the doorways and windows made of fine limestone. Houses in Chikmagalur are built with varying grades of limestone, found in abundance in Karnataka. The most coarse grade would go to building the base of the building while the finest will be made as floral patterns over doorways.

Chikmagalur was populated by Muslim traders, credited for bringing the art of perfume oil extraction from Arabia.

On my way out, I stop by Nambiar’s office to ask about the loud voices that sang the basic notes of Carnatic music all along.

“We work with a lot of folk performers and expose them to various other styles of dance and theatre,” he says.

Dakshinachitra is also planning to hold thematic exhibitions and environment awareness programs to school students who visit the place. I take a quick walk inside the craft shop and being broke, started on my way back home, with loads of memories and pages of heavy notes.

*Dakshinachitra is located on the East Coast Road (ECR), very close to MGM and is well connected by bus.

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Xtra Silra

The blog prompt for this comes from my ever vibrant friend Buroos who lives and breathes Chennai.

Many cities have their own rules, which might even indicate borderline OCD and obsession. Chennai is no exception to that trait. From “Avoid Rajnikanth and Oh Bangalore so great” to ” CSK is supreme”, Chennai city has its own quirks that are too weird at times. One such quirky trait is the mandate of carrying coins in your wallet, when travelling by bus. MTC buses have this unwritten rule. Deboard if you don’t have exact change for the amount of ticket. I know you are gonna rip me apart asking what if one does not know the ticket fare. I counter it by saying “Always carry coins worth twenty rupees in your wallet”. 

coins-in-pile-1-DHDPeak hours, slow moving traffic and nasty passengers can make any conductor cranky and Chennai conductors super-cranky. Not to drag in the almost always “under maintenance roads”. So one just cannot help but feel sorry for them.

So to ease the situation for all of us who travel with you in the bus, carry some change with you and see the conductor be happy about it. In return, you might be blessed with some awesome, witty quips from the conductor which guarantees you wholesome entertainment for the duration of your journey.

 

Vanakkam Chennai!

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Imma Chennai City Gangsta!! 😛

Before you guys think I am crazy enough to say this, let me say I am. Chennai means that much to me. Besides having a bazillion memes that glorify Chennai and its people ( Chennai is a name, Madras is an emotion!!), this city is a pleasure to live in, except for Bangaloreans of course! *wink wink*

Now as a person who has lived in Chennai for about seven years now, let me give some tips for people who are looking to travel to the city and experience the emotion.

  • The best time to travel to Chennai would be October-November every year. We have our Decembers jinxed so far and hence I am not betting on that. However, you are welcome to join us in the mayhem and we assure you the best of our support in case you get stuck somewhere in the chaos.
  • It is wise to depend on cab services like Ola or Uber, in case you plan to use public transport extensively. For certain routes, I would also suggest Volvo city buses which are comfortable and good.
  • Do your research before you book hotels. We do have a big community who rent their places out to tourists seasonally.
  • Do not be apprehensive to try out local cuisine. There is no ‘Delhi Belly’ scare and you can go ahead and experiment all you want to.
  • Always carry water and towel with you. Its generally humid and hence you might need them to provide comfort.
  • Approach people when you feel uncomfortable. People are friendly and would definitely help you out. Do not be laid back in seeking help.
  • Enjoy the city in all its glory. The beaches, the temples, the jasmine flowers, the aromatic biryani and street food etc. Plan atleast 3-4 days so that you can get the best of all the above.

Chennai is a tourist friendly place and I swear you would not regret choosing to visit.

Tea Kadai Bench

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Tea Kadai Bench indicates the benches put outside the tea shops in South India. In this part of the country, this is not just a mere aspect of timepass. It is much more than that.

Tea kadai benches are the places were the menfolk in the rural areas catch up with the latest news and events. A place that transcends the man-made boundaries that are religion, caste and sometimes socio-economic status. It is the male equivalent of the gossip sessions that women indulge in, during the afternoon.

Often, one might wonder how the shop keeper allows so many people to block the space that he has made exclusively for his customers in such endless banter. Be rest assured that, in most such occasions, the shop keeper would also enjoy the chatter and would be happy to chip in new information or his take on the topic that is being discussed.

Though the advent of cities has made this ritual vanish, there are still places in suburbs and villages, where this is probably the only source of entertainment to the people who live there.

Afterall, what goes better with hot news other than a hotter cup of chai, right?? 😉

Image Credits- The featured image is a lovely one I found while browsing, which was featured in the newspaper The Hindu.

Sowcarpettai

This post has been written by a good friend Kishor.  He is a story teller and a very talented person who has an inclination towards comedy and movies.  His posts can be read at Blind Man’s Bluff and you can check his videos out at “Moving Images” on YouTube. 

Sowcarpettai – First thing that comes to mind is “Saroja, samaan nikaalo”. But this place has a rich history and is a very distinct neighborhood. Sowcarpettai or Sowcarpet has a huge Marwari population. 

I moved from Chennai to Cuddalore during my high school days and one thing that Cuddalore has in common with Sowcarpet is the Marwari population. Cuddalore is home to many migrants from Rajasthan and Gujarat and they share links with the people from Sowcarpet. 
The street is a time capsule, as nothing drastic has changed in this area for decades now. We all know the wholesale and money lending shops that decorate Sowcarpet, but Sowcarpet also preserves one the oldest identity of “Madras” – Rickshaws. Once upon a time, these 3-wheeled wonders were the identity of Madras. With a rich history, rickshawalas were essential to everyday lives of Madras-vaasis as much as the milkmen and paperboys. So much so that they were portrayed by the one and only MGR in his movie. Losing their business to autos, the once hundreds in number rickshaws have dwindled down to about one hundred now and they all predominantly run in Sowcarpet. Thanks to the continued patronage of the Marwaris in Sowcarpet, the tell-tale three wheels still turn. 

Sowcarpet is close to Parrys Corner and the Central Station. Try the lassi while you are there and holi is the best time here to authentically drench in vivid colors.

If you are in the mood for a quick trip to the North of India, just catch any bus to Parrys Corner and you should reach your own personal Rajasthan.

Sowcarpet is also the best place to taste chaats and North Indian sweets.  You can also shop till you drop there and find amazing tailors nearby.  

The beautiful images found here are by a fellow blogger, Srivatsan, whose stories can be found here. 

Pondy Bazaar

Any festival in Chennai is incomplete without a trip to the shopping haven that is Pondy Bazaar.  

Originally called ‘Soundarapandiyanaar Angaadi’, this got anglicised like many other things in Chennai.  Pondy bazaar is the place where you can go with a thousand rupees and still rake in the moolah for that money.  

The place used to be lined with shops on the pavements on either sides of the road till a few years back.  Latest fashion jewellery and clothing, bags, shoes, books and other goods used to be sold here.  Now all those shops have been moved to a multistoreyed building on one of the sides of the road.  

This place also has a lot of branded shops and many small outlets that sell tasty sweet corn kernels and ice creams.  
Pro tip-

1. Check out the sweet corn with a dash of butter and pepper. 

2. Bargaining is the key.  Don’t feel bad, because the prices would normally be factored in for the bargain.  

Nirbhaya and Nightlife

Well, One of the most remarkable feature of Chennai as a city is that it is safer than many other metro cities.  

With decent connectivity and helpful people, it is easy to survive in Chennai. When incidents of harassment and rapes were haunting the country’s capital, Chennai stood strong with its record of claiming to be safe by the residents.  

This can be owed to multiple factors although a major one would be it’s relatively conservative fabric.  

This conservative nature can also be a reason for the city’s not so enviable nightlife.  

People from Bangalore always have this against Chennai.  The nightlife here sucks. With a handful of pubs and nightclubs, that too mostly concentrated among the 5 Star hotels of the city, Chennai is one city that most probably sleeps at night.  

The recent directive of the Government related to bars and alcohol has only made things worse to the pub – hopping scene in the city.  

By the way, nights are for sleeping, aren’t they?? 😉 

Half-Way Mark- Update

It has been quite an experience blogging my way through the A to Z Challenge

Thinking about topics, checking if the topic would be fine to be written about, the reception among the readers, the new friends, reading my fellow bloggers’ posts etc have been amazing so far. It is making me a better person and I hope to stay on course till the end.

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Today is Day 13, which also marks the midway through this journey. My course so far, has been documented below. Click the links to read about the topics.

A- Auto Rickshaw

B- Biryani

C- Central

D- Dabba Chetty Kadai

E- Egmore Museum

F- Fort and FDFS

G-Gilma

H-Hot, Hotter, Hottest

I-Idli

J- Jam Bazaar (Guest Post)

K- Kabali and Kaapi

L- Light House

M- Margazhi

It has been great so far. 🙂

Margazhi

Madras or Chennai, is incomplete without the famed “Margazhi” festival.

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Margazhi is a tamil month which falls roughly between the 15th of December and 14th of January. This month is famous for Fine arts, in Chennai. Numerous sabhas organise concerts and programmes classical dance and music. It is a month filled with music and dance all around.

Every December, the early morning air is filled with the tunes of the hymns of Thiruppavai and Thiruvembavai. Later that day, one gets to devour the divinity that is classical music and dance. This is also the month when the car porches are decorated with the most colourful of kolams (Rangoli). 

Listen to a Thiruppavai here.

One would be surprised to know that these concerts and programmes happen all through the day. Almost all the sabhas in the city have their own line ups and schedules and it is considered a privilege to be able to perform in one of those slots. We have Rasikas (enthusiasts) from all over the world, who throng Chennai just to be a part of this extravaganza.

Apart from getting to listen to the best of artistes, this season is also for tasting the best of South Indian food in these Sabhas. Each sabha has its own list of food items that are famous and they have their own set of patronage, who stand by them no matter what.

Chennai also has its own set of people who let their houses and free rooms in their homes for rent to accomodate these tourists. They provide the best of hospitality and convenience to the visitors, who also get to experience the Touch of Madras. 

Mid December to Mid January is the best time to visit Chennai and I swear you will not regret it.

Have you booked your tickets yet? 😉

Kabali and Kaapi

Two topics that are very close to my heart. Kabali refers to Kapaleeswarar temple in Mylapore, Chennai and Kaapi is, of course, our own filter coffee.  

Mylai Kapaleeswarar temple is a temple build for Lord Shiva.  Legend says that this temple is equivalent to Mount Kailash among many other interesting stories.  

Located in Mylapore, the temple is a landmark of the city.  This is one of my favorite temples, mainly due to the ventilation inside the complex and the peace one gets to feel when inside the complex.  
There is always some program or concert happening inside the temple premises and trust me you could find many celebrities walk around here.  The Arubathumoovar is the main festival of the temple, which is all about the 63 nayanmars who sang in praise of Lord Shiva.  It is during this festival that one can aptly take a food walk in the streets around the temple.  It’s worth the effort taken to navigate the crowd.  

This festival happens between 15th of March and 15th of April every year.  

Also, the Puliodharai (tamarind rice) available inside the temple is extremely tasty and a ‘must’ in the bucket list of every foodie.  

What is a trip down south, without a cup of Kaapi?? 

Kaapi or Filter coffee is the famous brew of coffee prominent in the Southern part of the peninsula.  If brewed in the right way, this coffee has the perfect blend of heat, taste, colour, consistency and aroma.  

From my personal experience, I would say that there is a particular way by which the coffee must be brewed to get that cup of perfection.  There is also a lot of detail that goes into the powder that we use to make that perfect cuppa.  

I can go on and on when it comes to coffee, but I should stop right here because my cuppa Kaapi is waiting for me in my kitchen.  
So two things that must not be missed when on a trip to South India- Kabali and Kaapi.  

Kapaleeswarar temple is accessible from all major transit points in the City- The airport, railway station and the bus terminus.  Just ask around or drop in a text, I would be happy to guide you.  Bonus points would be restaurants suggestions in and around Mylapore.  

This post is a part of the A to Z challenge