27. When in Chennai

@Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

It is difficult to remember how many times I had been to Chennai, and my first guess would be eleven, most of them didn’t require me there either. About five of those times, the name of the city was Madras though. I almost had another opportunity to go there last month too, but decided against it as it’s been only two or three months since the city last saw me and it would be surely bored by my face. It should surely be bored by my digital camera which had been flashing right from the wonderful railway station to the crowded airport. The Southern city is where Chennai Super Kings thrived, and also the same place where I had to wait for an Air India flight which was getting delayed further; but none of these interested me. There are very few occasions when I did support the Chennai IPL team, but as my favourite teams would be an already terminated new team of Kochi Tuskers Kerala and the other new team of Sahara Pune Warriors which includes Sourav Ganguly, the team was not at all part of my concern during my visit there and that leaves the cricket mind behind with no trace.

The first thing one might notice could be the Trinity Chapel established in 1831 as it is very close to the railway station and near a board saying “Biriyani”. But my first destination was always going to be San Thome Basilica, the grand Neo-Gothic cathedral built on the location where St. Thomas was supposed to be buried. It claims to be one of the three churches to be built on the exact location of apostle graves, the others being St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican and Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The church also has a museum attached to it and the presence of relics has made it a national shrine, a much visited pilgrimage centre. The rest of the pilgrimage would be to St. Thomas Mount, where the apostle is supposed to have martyred. It is close to the Chennai International Airport and it is a beautiful sight from the top of the hill, with a small, but very old church on the top. Wesley English Church and St. Patrick’s Church are also situated on the way towards this place. There was another Wesley church, but it was much older and a lot more beautiful and so was Anderson church, but located on another route which we followed another time.

St. George’s Cathedral was a huge old structure and the Cathedral Church of the Church of South India. With it’s tall church tower and it’s strong and wide pillars, it gives any camera quite some work. Meanwhile, St. Mary’s Church located at Fort St George, is the oldest Anglican church, sometimes known as ‘Westminster Abbey of the East’ couldn’t support that much photography due to it’s location at the old Fort containing Tamil Nadu Assembly and the Secretariat. Both were beautiful structures, the first one bigger and more majestic and the second one older with more stories to tell; there was also St Andrew’s Church, modelled on modelled on St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster, London. It might not be any close to it’s base model, but it is beautiful and can be easily seen from the road; it is not something which can go unnoticed, with it’s tall spire and when get closer, we can see it’s huge pillars on the front and it’s shape which is not what we assume from the front. From the front, it looked like a twin brother of St. George’s Cathedral, but when we get inside, it is a completely different structure. These three churches makes a heavy impression in our mind about those ages of splendid architecture.

Annai Velankanni Shrine was the next big thing as told by the taxi driver and he was right. There had to be a shrine to Our lady of Vailankanni somewhere around the city of Chennai and we found it; not exactly a tough discovery as it was a pilgrim centre. The shrine was kind of small compared to the other churches around, but there were so many visitors there and it was quite close to being another Velankanni itself. It is undoubtedly the largest and most popular Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Good Health outside the town of Vailankanni. It was crowded beyond the expected situation. On the way, there was also a church which looked like a temple; one wouldn’t say the difference from some distance. The city was as if filled with churches and temples as there was at least one religious structure wherever I looked. It also had the Armenian church, a simple, but different and wonderful structure. There was some real trouble in finding it, but it was not to be evaded and on the last day, it came into the picture. Here, from the symbols in the church itself, you know that you are witnessing something special.

This time, there was no usual Marina Beach in my list; the long and wide beach with the Vivekananda House facing it and with monuments, statues and memorials around, had lost it’s charm for me just like most of the beaches around; they had become just sands of time; those of death and mortality which takes all creatures in; so is the sea, all the same. The journey also featured my first gurudwara visit even as I was looking for a Jain temple. The auto rickshaw driver didn’t seem to know the difference or didn’t seem to care at all. I do wonder where would he send people if someone asks for directions to a Buddhist, Taoist, Confucianist or Zoroastrianist temple. On my book, it surely is a failure not to have found a Jain temple. It is a clear miss after coming so close. Actually, it still proved good as I got to see my second Jain temple at Kolkata and this was the first time I had been even close to a gurudwara. There was that silver lining which was to be present with that particular cloud. It was a great, calm and quiet place even as I was confused. As being confused is a common thing for me, that didn’t really matter though.

Chennai had it’s malls with McDonalds and KFC; the first which I managed to find after such a long time and it made way for many more places; it provided a base for my travel to Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram just like Kanyakumari did for Nagercoil, Padmanabhapuram and Uvari. Even the Coimbatore trip was from there and already for me, the city served as a connection to Kolkata, Colombo, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. It is the city with some of the best-looking old churches and it is the gateway to some of the most wonderful temples of the country. It was very hot at that time with temperature exceeding that of a monsoon affected Kerala by quite a big margin. But there was never enough heat to stop the journey, and that heat would be exceeded by another journey to Kolkata later. We do expect global warming to do the worse and so this was to be handled; worse things were to come, most of them in terms of nature. Just some rise in temperature was to be handled, or what would be awaiting us in those dark days which are to come in the next few years.

Diving out —>



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