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Explore South India – Tamil Nadu

Temple with colorful stucco images of gods, goddesses and animals

Tamil Nadu is a South Indian state.  It is famed for its Dravidian-style Hindu temples.  At the southern tip of the sub-continent is the city of Kanyakumari (formerly Cape Comorin) right on the intersection of the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean.  These seas brought explorers and traders from Europe and Far East, enriching the rulers of the Cholas, the Cheras and the Pandyas for centuries.

Tamil culture originated from the Dravidian peoples with additions from subsequent Tamil rulers as well as external influences from both Eastern and Western explorers.  In turn, Tamil culture has been exported to Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and across the globe.  Modern day explorers can savor a wide-range of Tamil culture encompassing music, dance, folk arts, martial arts, painting, sculpture, architecture and more!

Chennai

Shiva temple a tourist attraction

Chennai (formerly Madras) is capital city of Tamil Nadu state.  It is the keeper of South Indian artistic, religious and culinary traditions.  However it is not stuck in the past, with luxury hotels, contemporary restaurants and swanky clubs as good as any other modern city.

Marina Beach is 4 miles long, one of the longest beaches in the world.  Near the north of Marina Beach is the Fort St George which was the first English fortress in India.  The fort also houses St Mary’s Church, it is the oldest Anglican church and the oldest British building in India.

One the south side of Marina Beach is Mylapore, one of the oldest residential parts of Chennai.

Mylapore has been inhabited for over 2,000 years and is the religious and cultural epicenter of the Tamil people.

In the mid-sixteenth century, the Portuguese invaded and demolished the original Kapaleeshwarar, a great temple on the shore dedicated to Shiva at this ancient thriving seaport.  They built a Portuguese colony on the shore and pushed Mylapore inshore where it still stands today. The Kapaleeshwarar temple, re-built 300 years ago, is a fine example of the pure Dravidian style with gopurams and mandapams.

The temple is surrounded by the jewelers, silk merchants, fruit and vegetable sellers, flower vendors in the bazaars.  You will also find stores selling music and religious memorabilia in this neighborhood.

Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram)

Thousands of 7th and 8th centuries rock sculptures dedicated to the God Shiva

Mahabalipuram, south of Chennai, was the major seaport of the ancient Pallava kingdom based at Kanchipuram.

It has a group of sanctuaries carved out of rock in the 7th and 8th centuries: rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air rock reliefs such as the famous Descent of the Ganges, and the Shore Temple, with thousands of sculptures dedicated to the glory of God Shiva. The Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It has an average elevation of 12 meters (39 feet). The modern town of Mahabalipuram was established by the British Raj in 1827.

 

 

Thanjavur

Brihadishvara-temple a tourist attraction

Thanjavur thrived as the ancient capital of the Chola kingdom, later of Marathas and Nayaks. Thanjavur was at the height of its glory during the Chola period between the 10th and the 14th century and became a great centre of learning and culture. With the rich cultural background, the town itself is diverse, with a literacy rate exceeding 75% and a heterogeneous population of all religions.

The great Brihadeeswara (Brahadeeswara) Temple in Dravidian architecture, is also known as the Big Temple, built by Rajaraja Chola I. It is one of the most magnificent pieces of South Indian temple architecture. Established in 1011 AD in celebration of the victory of Chola kingdom that extended till Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and some parts of the Malaya archipelago. Now it is a world heritage site.

To explore more about Chola artifects, visit the Thanjavur Palace, Saraswati Mahal library and the art gallery.  The art gallery hosts an excellent collection of Chola bronzes and stone carvings.

Karaikudi

Chettinad cuisine from Karaikudi is renowned to be the most aromatic and spiciest cuisine in South India.   It uses a variety of spices and dishes to make fresh ground masalas.  Chettiars also use a variety of sun-dried meats and salted vegetables, reflecting the dry environment of the region.  Major spices used include star aniseed, lichen, tamarind, chilies, fennel seed, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, peppercorn, cumin seeds, and fenugreek.

Chettinad cuisine is famous for its spicy non-vegetarian dishes made with fish, crab, shrimp, chicken and mutton.  Popular vegetarian chettinadu recipes include kuzhipaniyaram, paal paniyaram, vellai kurma, kaikari pirattal.

 Madurai

Meenakshi Temple colorful stucco images of gods, goddesses

Madurai is one of the oldest cities in India, a metropolis that traded with ancient Rome.  A centre dominated by a medieval temple with an economy that today is increasingly driven by information technology.  It’s celebrated Meenakshi Amman Temple is one of India’s greatest temples with a dazzling maze-like structure.  Meenakshi Temple with its nine gopurams (temple towers) soaring to almost 164 feet above the gateways, is decorated with colorful stucco images of gods, goddesses and animals.  The thousand-pillared hall and the Golden Lotus tank are must-sees!

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