Chennai, (formerly known as Madras) the capital of Tamil Nadu, lies along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, developed after 1639 when the British East India Company established a fort and trading post at the small fishing village of Chennai.
Over the past three and a half centuries, the small fishing village has grown into a bustling metropolis which is especially known for its spaciousness which is lacking in other Indian cities. This characteristic is exemplified by the long esplanade called the Marina and which is lined by impressive buildings which remind the casual visitor of the long and inseparable association the city has had with the British.
Even elsewhere in the city, one cannot fail to notice the dominant British influences in the form of old cathedrals, buildings in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, wide tree lined avenues.
However, though the English legacy is undeniable, Madras has continued to be a centre which has blended the foreign influence with the traditional Tamil-Hindu culture. As a city it continues to maintain the best of South Indian traditions. This is not surprising because the region was an important centre of Pallavan culture long before the British came here and the traces of which are to be found in the numerous old temples.
Thus, the unwary visitor will find Madras more than just a gateway of South India. He shall find it a convenient base to peep into the varied aspects of traditional south Indian culture and life styles which intermingle with the modern city complete with its plush hotels and restaurants – offering a range of continental and typical south Indian cuisine, long and uncrowded stretches of beaches, modern shopping centres which offer traditional handicrafts, textiles and much more peculiar to this part of India.
Besides the modern city itself, there are several interesting towns like Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram, each with a rich collection of ancient temples and an array of traditional handicrafts which are very much their own. Pondicherry, famous for its Aurobindo ashram.
FORT ST. GEORGE: Built by the East India Company in 1639-1640, the fort marks the beginning of Madras as a modern city. It was one of the first bastions of British Power in India. Today the fort is used by the state legislative assembly and as the secretarial offices of the Tamil Nadu government
FORT MUSEUM: This museum contains many relics pertaining to the tenure of the East India Company and British India. Besides, it has a collection of contemporary paintings as well.
KAPALEESWARAR TEMPLE: The temple is the biggest in the city and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple contains inscriptions dating back to the 13th century AD, and isa fine specimen of the Dravidian style of architecture. The 37 metre gopuram is especially noteworthy for its intricate carvings depicting tales from Hindu mythology.
SRI PARTHASARATHY TEMPLE: This temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna, was built in the 8thcentury AD under the patronage of the Pallavas. It houses the idols of the five avatar as of Sri Vishnu and has a small temple shrine dedicated to Vishnu’s consort called Vedavalli Ammai inthis part of the country.
SANTHOME CATHEDRAL: Though Madras is predominantly populated by Hindus, it has several fine monuments and places of worship connected to the Christian faith. The Santhome cathedral was built by the Portuguese between the 14th and the 15 century AD and derives its name after St.Thomas. To this day it continues to be an important place of pilgrimage for the Christian community in the country and is also historically important.
LITTLE MOUNT SHRINE: This shrine is said to be built at the site where the St. Thomas lived and preached from a small cave.
ST. THOMAS MOUNT: Situated near the Airport, the small hillock is believed to be the place where the apostle was killed by his assassins.
ST. MARY’S CHURCH: This is the oldest Anglican church in Asia. The imposing whiteedifice was consecrated in 1679 AD, and continues to be an important place of worship.
THE SNAKE PARK AND CHILDREN’S PARK: The snake park will interest visitors of all ages. It houses a variety of Indian snakes and reptiles which can be viewed from close quarters. Adjacent to the snake park is a children’s park which has a large playing ground and collection of birds and animals.
THE MARINA BEACH : Lining the east of the city is the famous Marina Beach. This is supposed to be the second longest beach in the world and runs to a length of 12 km. The beach can be ideally visited in the early mornings or in the late evenings when the area becomes a virtual fairground; with food stalls and other entertainment.
THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY: Madras is also the fountainhead of the theosophical movement which spread worldwide. The Theosophical Society is located along the Adyar River. Discourses are conducted here under a huge banyan tree which spreads to almost 40.000sq. ft. of area. It is open from 8 am and11 am and 2 pm to 5 pm on Mondays to Fridays and from 8 am to 11 am on Saturdays.
KALAKSHETRA: Founded by Rukmini Devi Arundale in 1936, the institution is devoted to the revival of traditional dance, textile designing, and weaving which are taught in naturally harmonious environs. Visitors may fix an appointment with the concerned authorities priorto the visit.
BIRLA PLANETARIUM: This modern planetarium houses a fully computerised projector to depict the skies. It is situated at Kotturpuram in the city.
NATIONAL ART GALLERY AND GOVERNMENT MUSEUM: The museums situated in the heart of the city at Egmore were founded in 1857. It houses various sectionson geology, archaeology, numismatics, anthropology, botany and zoology. There is also a fine collection of sculpture and armoury in the museum. It is open on all days except Fridays from 8 am to 5 pm.
ANNA SQUARE: The mortal remains of Dr. C.N. Annadurai, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was buried at the Anna Square which is at the northern end of the Marina Beach.
AQUARIUM: The aquarium located at the Marina. Beach is open from 14.00 to 20.00 hours on weekdays and between 10.00 to 12.00 hours and 14.00to 18.00 hours on Sundays.
ELLIOTS BEACH: This beach is comparatively quieter and an ideal place to go sea bathing. It islocated near Besant Nagar.
VALLUVAR KOTTAM: Erected in memory of the poet saint Thiruvalluvar, the shrine at Nungambakkarn is constructed after the temple car of Thiruvarur. The place also has a large auditorium.
ANNA ZOOLOGICAL PARK-(VANDALUR): Situated about 30 km from the city, the zoo logical park is spread over an area of 510 hectares. It is open from 08.00 to 15.00 hours on all days except Tuesday.