Arguably the least flamboyant of all the metros, Chennai is probably the most culturally rich of the lot. While a big deal is made of the sweltering heat and love for everything Tamil, the city is a potpourri of culture, tradition, heritage with a contemporary twist. So while you are in Chennai next make sure you stop by at these places and discover the great culture.
Chennai is one of the oldest cities of India with a rich cultural heritage along with highly urbanised population. It has been one of the most important places in Indian history which was part of many landmarks.
Apart from the Superstar Rajinikanth and the Mozart of Madras – AR Rahman, Chennai has a lot more to offer – the authentic filter coffee, the beautiful marina beach, India’s first bookshop at Higginbothams, hot and steaming idlis, the Madras Music Season, countless temples, automobile industry, and the list goes on.
The best part of living in a coastal city is the easy access to the sea. Water sports like wake boarding, water skiing, and even boat rides of every kind are available.
Start your journey with a hot cup of filter coffee accompanied with pakoras or batter-fried vegetables, and vadas.
In the Lanes of History
Started in 1851, it is the second oldest museum in India and has an enviable set of archaeological and numismatic collections. In fact, it is said that it has the largest collection of Roman antiquities outside Europe. This is an excellent museum that also has the National Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery and Children’s Museum. A key highlight here is the Bronze Gallery that has sculptures dating back to the 7th century Pallava era through to the modern times. Check out the statues of Shiva as Nataraja, the cosmic dancer and a Chola bronze figurines of Ardhanarishvara, the manifestation of Shiva and 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!
Fort St George
The Fort St George Museum started with a small collection of objects of the British Raj donated by the then Madras Presidency Government and today houses over 3,600 registered antiquities in the collection. The best of these are on display in the 10 galleries. The building housing the museum is believed to be one of the oldest surviving buildings built within the fort. As you enter this place, an imposing marble statue of Lord Cornwallis greets visitors here. An imposing display of swords, daggers, rifles, pistols, mortars, helmets, batons, bows, arrows and more is seen here. There are also 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 here. The Indo-French Gallery has fine, decorated porcelain, clocks, stamps and coins, furniture, lamp shades and clocks.
Beyond the faith Kapaleeshwarar Temple
Located in the most traditional areas of the city in Mylapore, the Kapaleeshwarar Temple has a majestic multi-hued gopuram or gateway tower, pillared pavilions and a huge tank towards the West and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The name is derived from the words kapalam (head) and eeshwarar or Shiva. Built around the 7th century in the Dravidian style of architecture, this is where Shiva is worshipped as Kapaleeswarar and is represented by the lingam and his wife Parvati is depicted as Karpagambal. Apart from the main deities, there are numerous shrines here and the temple complex houses many halls. There are six main rituals conducted through the day from 5:30 am to 10 pm. The annual Brahmotsavam festival held in March/April is celebrated with much fanfare when the festivities spill onto the streets. Noteworthy here are also the 63 bronze idols of Saivite saints that are flawlessly sculpted.
San Thomas Basilica
A beautiful Roman Catholic cathedral in pristine white, this church has Portuguese origins dating back to the 16th century. It has been rebuilt in neo-Gothic style in 1896 and is said to be the final resting place of St Thomas the Apostle. A small cross on the tomb wall contains a tiny bone fragment referred to as the ‘Relic of St Thomas’. An underground tomb chapel is worshipped here and the devout believe that sand from the tomb has miraculous healing powers. A beautiful stain glass window at the basilica portrays the story of St. Thomas and the central hall has 14 wooden plaques that depict the stations of the cross. The cathedral also has a 3 feet high statue of Virgin Mary believed to have been brought from Portugal in 1543! Admire the nature
Believed to be the second longest beach in the world stretching a whopping 13 km long, the Marina Beach is in the centre of the city and is naturally quite crowded. However, it is advisable to reach here at the stroke of dawn when it is still quiet and you can catch a breathtakingly stunning sunrise. Enclosures with palm trees compel you to take a slow and relaxed walk. You can even opt for a horse ride here. The interesting part of visiting the Marina beach is that you can also take a look at some of the historical monuments surrounding it like the Annadurai and MG Ramachandran memorials, statues of heroes from Tamil culture and the effigy of the Triumph of Labor by Debiprasad Roy Choudhary. The beach is a melting pot of action with children playing cricket, flying kites, vendors selling everything from ice cream to corn to snacks and families having fun on the seaside. Make sure you visit the adjacent aquarium to get up close with the marine life of the city. Also check out the Ice House, said to have been used for storing ice brought from lakes in North America during the British era.
Guindy National Park
Spread over a vast 2.7 sq km, this park has a unique tropical dry evergreen vegetation and is probably amongst the smallest of national parks. Home to black bucks, spotted deer, jackals, a variety of snakes, geckos, tortoises and over 100 species of birds and over 60 species of butterflies and spiders all the free-ranging fauna here live with minimal human intervention. And also this is a botanist’s delight with over 350 species of plants on its premises. Some part of this space has a zoo and a children’s park and the Guindy Snake Park is next to this place housing king cobra, pythons, vipers and other reptiles.
This heritage village is an attempt to preserve traditional South Indian way of life. This place is a living museum of art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts and performing arts and has a collection of 18 authentic historical houses with contextual exhibitions in each house. These houses have been painstakingly recreated by a team of architecture students, carpenters and workers and are original houses that have been dismantled systematically under the guidance of experts, transported to the museum site and in their exact original form! Apart from shopping for some good souvenirs, you can also try your hand at simple art and craft activities and play traditional games apart from watching a traditional leather puppet show on the weekend. Founded in 1984 by the Madras Craft Foundation (MCF), an NGO, the entire space is spread over 10 acres.
Written by: Bindu Gopal Rao