Friday, 26 April 2013

Chennai - Day 14

We are in Chennai, the state capital that was once known to the world as Madras. When I was about 15, a colourful tartan fabric known as Madras was in vogue and for some reason it is that colourful fabric that now comes to mind. It's funny how the mind works.

But back to our day in Madras.

We started our day in the lobby of the beautiful Park Hotel. A new city is always exciting. Last night as we walked along the sea, we had a taste of what Chennai had in store for us so were in a hurry to start our day along with Mr. Rudi, our driver and Mrs. Githa, our guide. Our first stop was at Kapaleeshwarar Temple, a temple dedicated to Shiva that is famous for its wish-giving tree. My experience visiting India over the years leads me to believe that often the guide or driver is very keen to share the temple, church or mosque where their family worships. I was not able to determine if this was the case with Kapaleeshwarar and Mrs. Githa but her knowledge and passion for the stories of this 7th century temple made me think that it could very well be.

Lord Ganesha or Ganesh - my favourite Hindu god - greeted us as we entered the temple. He is the elephant headed son of Shiva, the remover of obstacles, and the ‘God of All Good Things’! Devotees often pray to Ganesh before beginning a journey or a new project which makes him very popular as people in India seem to be constantly on the move. Outside the temple, the flower vendors sell strings of marigolds and jasmine adding to the colour and excitement of this sacred place.

It is believed that St. Thomas, an apostle of Christ, came to India in 52AD to spread Christianity. In Chennai the memory of his visit remains in the form of the beautiful Gothic Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Thomas.

Following our visits to Kapaleeshwarar Temple and the Basilica, we passed Chennai’s Central Railway Station, a landmark in the city’s colonial heritage district, Fort St. George. And it is here, in Fort St. George, where we were to see the great Chola Bronzes that we had read about in William Dalrymple's excellent book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India. As closely as I read Dalrymple’s account of the family of sculptors whose forefathers had created these treasures, it wasn’t until I stood in the bronze gallery that I understood the work, the art and the faith that was involved in producing such breathtaking work.

After seeing the beautiful form of the gods and goddess we travelled the short distance to the city's most famous silk emporium where the regions extraordinary Kanchipuram saris were on display. While shopping is always the last thing we do and it's always an optional activity, I am always happy to see how many group members love the experience and how long we end up surrounded by these flashes and bolts of colour!

Back at the posh Park Hotel we took the elevator to the rooftop terrace and spent the rest of the sunny afternoon by the pool, relaxing on the large covered beds that are on the deck with a little liquid refreshment. I painted mini memories, had a swim and enjoyed it all.

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