We’re now in Chennai, for what will be the first of two visits. In this first visit we’ll take in temples, Marina beach, the cathedral and learn about Swami Vivekananda.
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Arriving in Chennai – TNagar
We arrived in the rather nice suburb of T Nagar last night – here are pavements, westernized stores and restaurants. Here too are pubs – like 10 Downing Street, where we were photographed on entry. I suspect, though, that we’re too old and boring to appear on their Facebook page. On finding that they we running a Heineken promotion and wouldn’t serve any other beer, we attempted to leave. It wasn’t the beer, it was the price!. A swift “I’ll serve you Kingfisher, but it has to be in a glass and you need to say its Heineken if anyone asks” led us to stay for one drink and beat a hasty retreat.
This is the first of two visits we’ll make to Chennai – and our target is the area west of T Nagar, here are temples, churches, museums and Marina Beach.
Marina Beach, says the Lonely Planet, is a great place to watch the sunset. We’ve walked from our hotel in T Nagar, down past the Kapaleeshwarer Temple. We’ll have to visit on our return as its closed. We first find the part of the beach not inhabited by tourists.
It’s a shanty town of pieced together dwellings, where the smell if not the sights would drive you away in a hurry.
Right on Marina Beach – the nicer part of it – is Vivekananda House. It’s a museum dedicated to the life and wanderings of Swami Vivekananda. We first heard of him in Kanyakumari.
Built in 1842 to store ice imported from America, it’s a gloriously cool semicircular building. It contains a host of jobs-worthy stewards and a display of the life of the Swami.
Vivekananda stayed here for 9 days in 1897 and it’s possible to meditate in the room where he stayed. If, that is you can get over the banging door, talking domestic visitors and clicking cell phone cameras.
San Thome Cathedral
San Thome Cathedral, also in the area is, quite simply, lovely.
This is the church of Doubting Thomas. Founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century, it was rebuilt in its current style in the 1890’s.
It was here that Doubting Thomas brought Christianity and here in AD72 that he was killed on St Thomas Mount.
His remains are now in Italy, but his tomb is also here, in the basement of the small museum at the rear of the cathedral. It contains a fragment of bone. The museum also contains the lance which is purported to have killed him.
Thomas was given the name “Doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles until he saw and felt the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.
The Cathedral is truly glorious – we stop by twice, the first time there’s a wedding going on, the second time a funeral. It’s a simple church, and the number of pilgrims, I suspect would be more than welcomed back in many English churches.
Walking back towards our next stop at the temple we’re passed by another funeral, a cart being wheeled towards the local ghat. Fire crackers and loud music celebrates life, although the men wheeling the cart look somewhat aggressive.
The Kapaleeshwarer Temple is again Hindu, with the colorful gopuram marking entrances. There’s also a huge tank (water tank for washing) and it is again dedicated to Shiva.
The legend of Kapaleeshwarer Temple
The legend states that Shiva, in a fit of who knows what, once turned his consort Parvati (who we met in Meenakshi Temple in Madurai ) into a peacock. In order to regain her regular form, she had to worship him here. Parvati apparently did as asked and a shrine just outside the temple’s central area marks this event.
We’ll be back to Chennai, en route to Bangalore, but our next stop is right to the heart of Backpakistan – Mammalapuram, or Mahabs – a small backpacker enclave on the coast, where we’ll be investigating more of the Pallava dynasty that we met in Kanchipuram recently. Oh and a few snakes and crocodiles too…
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