Chen­nai’s cul­tural es­tab­lish­ments

Business Traveller (India) - - CONTENTS - WORDS SHARMILA CHAND

Lo­cals say, if you visit Chen­nai and leave with­out try­ing the idlis at Mu­ru­gan Idli Shop, your trip is in­com­plete. I couldn’t agree more. e taste, tex­ture and avour of the idlis (savoury rice cakes – a sta­ple of South In­dia) here are en­tirely di er­ent in com­par­i­son to what one may have tried else­where. ey’re so er and u er, and served pip­ing hot, fresh out of the steamer and on the ba­nana leaf that is your din­ing plate.

ough the idlis are served with chut­neys, one could eat them plain as well. On in­gest­ing the last bite, I see Brahma, my guide in Chen­nai, bring­ing me a glass of a pink­ish drink topped with ice cream. “is is ji­garthanda, a spe­cial­ity of Mu­ru­gan,” he tells me. Ji­garthanda ac­tu­ally orig­i­nated from Madu­rai, an an­cient city in Tamil Nadu, about 450km from Chen­nai. e drink, quin­tes­sen­tial to the state in­tends to cool you down. In fact, the name lit­er­ally trans­lates to “cool heart”.

Brace your­self when or­der­ing it be­cause it is quite heavy – pre­pared with milk, al­monds, rice and ice cream. ank­fully Mu­ru­gan's idlis aren’t heavy on the stom­ach, and so I had enough room to pol­ish this dessert-drink.

Much to my dis­may, Brahma tells me with a grin, “Our meal is not com­plete with­out

lter co ee, madam.” Any In­dian who has fre­quented South In­dian restau­rants knows that lter co ee marks the end of your meal, ir­re­spec­tive of what you have con­sumed ear­lier. It is pre­pared by beat­ing co ee and sugar with hot wa­ter to make a some­what thick­ish paste. Hot milk is poured into it be­fore serv­ing it in a stout steel glass placed in a shal­low steel bowl. is is so you can toss the co ee between the glass and the bowl to cool it down, be­fore slurp­ing it.

us, be­gan my won­der­ful week­end ex­plor­ing Chen­nai’s cul­ture, a city of warm­hearted peo­ple who take pride in be­ing the cus­to­di­ans of her­itage, art, tra­di­tion and mu­sic.

Walk­ing around them felt a lot like a stroll through a scene out of a his­tory book – it was green and serene, away from the chaos of city life


A re ec­tion of Tamil Nadu’s art and cul­ture is Kalak­shetra Foun­da­tion (kalak­shetra. in) that has been around since 1936. It was founded by clas­si­cal dancer Ruk­mini Devi Arun­dale. In 1993 it was recog­nised as an In­sti­tute of Na­tional Im­por­tance by the Govern­ment of In­dia. e vi­sion­ary had setup this in­sti­tute to keep alive the lan­guish­ing art form of Bharat­natyam that orig­i­nated in Tamil Nadu. e build­ing it­self has a rus­tic charm to it. It re­sem­bles an an­cient Ta­mil­ian home with a ter­ra­cotta roof, pat­terned oor tiles and mod­est wooden and cane fur­ni­ture within. ere is a beau­ti­ful court­yard with a large tree un­der which stu­dents dressed in cot­ton South In­dian saris or pavada (blouse, an­kle-length skirt and a long scarf ) prac­tise Bharat­natyam to the beats of In­dian per­cus­sion in­stru­ments. When it gets too hot – April-June – the class moves in­doors. Chen­nai is known for pleas­ant weather for most part of the year. At least twice a month, mod­estly priced tick­ets have ap­pre­ci­a­tors of clas­si­cal dance and mu­sic ll the par­tially open air au­di­to­rium.


An­other open air cen­tre for arts is Dak­sh­inChi­tra. It over­looks the Bay of Ben­gal at Mut­tukadu, on the East Coast Road lead­ing to the an­cient tem­ple town of Ma­ha­balipu­ram. is liv­ing mu­seum opened to the pub­lic on De­cem­ber 14, 1996. On its land, there are 18 her­itage houses, pur­chased from other lo­ca­tions, dis­man­tled and re­assem­bled here to show­case the life­style and ar­chi­tec­ture of, for ex­am­ple, a Syr­ian-Chris­tian, Cali­cut, Chik­ma­galur or Il­kal Weavers’ household. Walk­ing around them felt a lot like a stroll through a scene out of a his­tory book – it was green and serene, away from the chaos of city life. Ex­cept for cars in the dis­tance, there is lit­tle ev­i­dence of mod­ern life glar­ing at you. Ar­ti­sans were happy to feed my cu­rios­ity while they weaved a bas­ket, beaded a neck­lace or knit­ted a stole. All these items are avail­able at the on-site bazaar to en­cour­age the ar­ti­sans’ growth with the help of NGOs who ed­u­cate them on how to ex­pand their busi­nesses. e over­all at­mos­phere here is friendly, mainly be­cause in­ter­ac­tion seems to be im­por­tant to its mem­bers. Vis­i­tors too can par­tic­i­pate in ac­tiv­i­ties such as com­pe­ti­tions, vol­un­teer­ing and work­shops to ac­quaint them­selves with al­most for­got­ten skills. (Open Wed­nes­dayMon­day 10am-6pm; `100 for In­di­ans, `250 for for­eign­ers; dak­shi­na­chi­


About half­way between the above two cen­tres is the charm­ing Cho­la­man­dal Artists’ Vil­lage. It ac­tu­ally has a heart­warm­ing story to its ori­gin. e prin­ci­pal of Govern­ment School of Arts and Cra s (In­dia’s old­est art in­sti­tu­tion in Chen­nai), K.C.S. Paniker brought to­gether and en­cour­aged artists spe­cial­is­ing in var­i­ous medi­ums to form Artists’ Hand­i­cra s As­so­ci­a­tion. e group of 30 artists worked on wood, ce­ramic and leather amongst other ma­te­ri­als to cre­ate var­ied art forms in­clud­ing jew­ellery and sculp­tures. eir sales helped raise enough money for the group to con­trib­ute `4,000 each to pur­chase ten acres on April 13, 1966.

To­day, each of the 30 plots is a stu­diocum-home for the artists, some of whom are award-win­ners – P.S. Nan­dan and M. Se­nathipathi. Over the years, a few artists have passed away, their homes oc­cu­pied by the next in kin or pur­chased by nonartists. e vil­lage it­self is equipped with art gal­leries show­cas­ing con­tem­po­rary works of mod­ern artists and beau­ti­ful gar­dens dis­play­ing al­lur­ing pieces cre­ated from gran­ite, wood, cop­per and bronze. I bought a few to take home – or at least the more a ord­able ones. Per­for­mances, poetry read­ing ses­sions and dance recitals take place o en at the open air theatre here. In­ter­est­ing pieces of ter­ra­cotta and batik, to name a few are avail­able at the vil­lage shop. I for one en­joyed tour­ing homes of the artists – it’s in­ter­est­ing to watch them trans­form raw ma­te­ri­als and empty can­vases into mas­ter­pieces. For long stays, a house can be rented here too. Open daily 10am7:30pm; +91 44 2449 0092.


Ma­ha­balipu­ram is about a two-hour drive from Chen­nai and is a small coastal town known for cen­tury-old tem­ples. e seafront Shore Tem­ple re ects the glory of the Pallava dy­nasty from the 7th and 8th cen­turies through in­tri­cate carv­ings with spec­tac­u­lar de­tail­ing on its fa­cade and in sculp­tures within. Kr­ishna’s But­ter Ball is an­other at­trac­tion here, a mas­sive boul­der ap­pear­ing pre­car­i­ously bal­anced on a small hill slope.

is UNESCO World Her­itage Site is a col­lec­tion of spec­tac­u­lar an­cient mon­u­ments and tem­ples, de nitely worth a visit. Kanchipu­ram was the cap­i­tal of the Pallava dy­nasty. is is where kan­jee­varam (type of silk) saris come from. Some of the shops have a work­shop at the back; most of them usu­ally al­low you to watch their work­ers spin a good sari. Kanchipu­ram too has an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of an­cient tem­ples from Pallava, Chola and Vi­jayana­gar dy­nas­ties.


Cabs and auto rick­shaws are eas­ily avail­able in the city and run by the me­tre.

PRE­VI­OUS PAGE: Tra­di­tional per­form­ers at Dak­sh­inChi­tra CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Dancers at Kalak­shetra; a weaver weav­ing a Kanchipu­ram silk sari; Ma­ha­balipu­ram's relics; and idli and lter cof­fee at Mu­ru­gan Idli Shop

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