May 30, 2017

Robert Kelly's Memorial - Arani

Arani is a historic town located in Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu state in India. It is located at a distance of around 140 kms from Chennai. The town, which is famous for silk materials, has a lot of monuments and temples. In this article, let me talk about Robert Kelly's Memorial.

Robert Kelly's Memorial is located in the fort area at the heart of the Arani Town. This monument is in the form of obelisk and stands to a height of about 45 feet. It is located on a vast old parade ground and  attracts many visitors.  This is one of the major landmarks of Arani town. Before divulging more details about this monument, let me give some background about Robert Kelly.

Robert Kelly arrived in Chennai (Madras) in 1760 CE. He was a junior rank officer then. By 1778 CE, he became Major. He proposed a military survey of South India. He was apparently made as Geographer of the Company. He was surveying Arani when he was killed on 29th September 1790 CE. By then, he was promoted as Colonel. He was in command of the troop of the 21st Battalion, which opposed Tipu Sultan later.

Colonel Kelly was killed by his junior Lt. Col. Vigors in a duel. Vigors apparently called Kelly's wife as an old woman. Kelly's wife felt insulted and she reportedly insisted Kelly to get into a deul with Vigors. When this duel took place, Vigors was just a Captain and not even Lt. Col.

Lt. Col. Urban Vigors, the son of Vigors, later erected this monument for Kelly, who had been killed by his own father.

Interestingly, Kelly's connection with Madras does not stop with his service in the city. It is believed that a property was granted to him by the East India Company in the Kellys Gardens locality of Purasawakkam in Chennai. It is said that this small locality is named as Kellys after him. However, it should be noted that it is widely believed that the original name "Killiyur" diluted into Kellys later.

It is said that Kelly's wife's was Miriam Kelly. She died in 1837 CE and her graveyard is located in St. Thomas Mount Cantonment Cemetery in Madras. (I have not yet verified this. When time permits, I will visit the cemetery).

The height of the monument is merely 45 feet today, whereas the original height was about 64 feet. Not sure when, why and how the height of the monument got reduced.

Happy travelling.

P.S. The details about Kelly's connection with Madras are given based on some articles by the Historian Shri. Muthiah and few articles/letters published in "Madras Musings".

May 28, 2017

Arani Kailasanathar Temple

Arani is a historic town located in Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu state in India. It is located at a distance of around 140 kms from Chennai and 40 kms from Vellore. Arni, which is known for its silk, has many interesting sites. Let us discuss about Kailasanathar temple located in this town in this article.

Kailasanathar temple is located within the fort area of Arani. The original temple is believed to have been built in the 13th century CE by the Cholas. The current structure and the sculptures definitely belong to the later period. This temple is one of the seventeen Shiva temples that were maintained by the Jagirs of Arani. (The Jagirs were the Zamindars who ruled Arani from 1640 CE and were the power center of Arani till 1948 CE).

The east facing temple has five tiered tower. The east facing sanctum enshrines big Shiv Linga called as Kailasanathar. The Goddess Aramvalar Nayaki is found in a separate east facing shrine in the outer prakara.

The flag staff, bali peetha and the beautiful Nandi Mandap are found facing towards the sanctum. The holy pond is located outside the temple complex.

Nardana Ganapati, Dakshinamurti, Vishnu, Brahma and Durga are found as the Koshta idols.

The sub-shrines that enshrines all the utsav deities together has an extraordinarily beautiful bronze idol of Nataraja and Shivakami. The idol is of later period but it looks unusually attractive.

Vallabha Ganapati, who is found along with Siddhi, has ten arms and looks gigantic. He is found in a separate sub-shrine.

The sub-shrines of Navagraha, Chandikeshwara, Subramanya-Valli-Devasena, Palani Andavan, Gaja Lakshmi, Saraswati, Vishnu, Kasi Linga, Jyoti Linga, Vayu Linga, Brahma Linga, Sahasra Linga and Ayyappa are found in the outer and inner prakaras.

The idols of Surya, Bhairav, Chandra, 63 Nayanmars, Ganesh and Sekkizhar are also found.

The temple is full of pillars with interesting and beautiful carvings.

Happy travelling.

May 27, 2017

Ekambareswarar Temple - Aminjikarai, Chennai

Aminjikarai is an old locality situated on the banks of the river Cooum in Chennai city. It was originally called as Amaindakarai. Shenoy Nagar and the popular Anna Nagar were part of Aminjikarai once.

In a lane near the Lakshmi bus stop in Aminjikarai, the twin temples of Ekambareswarar and Prasanna Varadaraja Perumal are located. There are many twin temples across the city of Chennai in the areas such as T Nagar, Koyambedu and Tambaram. Similarly Aminjikarai also has twin temples, but they are not as popular as the other twin temples of Chennai. As Ekambareswarar and Varadarajar temples are located in the same locality like Kanchipuram, there are people who call Aminjikarai as North Kanchipuram.

This article focuses only about Ekambareswarar temple among these two temples.

As per historian Sri. Muthiah, this temple is hardly 150 years old. However, as per the temple authorities, this temple was built by Sri. Sengalvarayar Mudaliar who belonged to Poonamallee Kondai Kati Vellalar family in 1650s or 1660s. As per them, Prasanna Varadaraja Perumal temple was older than Ekambareswarar temple.

The temple has two entrances; the east side entrance has Raja gopuram; the west side entrance is used by many people as it would help them to visit the other temple located in the opposite direction. Technically, both the temples are located in parallel lanes and both of them face east direction.

The east facing sanctum enshrines small sized Shiv Linga called as Ekambareswara. The Goddess Kamakshi is found in a separate south facing shrine.

There are two prakaras. The flag staff, bali pettha and Nandi mandap are found facing towards the sanctum.

Ganesh, Dakshinamurti, Vishnu, Brahma and Durga are found as Koshta deities.

In the inner prakara, the sub-shrines of Nataraja-Sivakami (utsav), Bhikshatanar (utsav) and Chandikeshwara are located. The icons of 63 Nayanmars, Bhairav and Surya are also found in the same prakara.

In the spacious outer prakara, the sub-shrines of Maha Ganapati, Shanmukha-Valli-Devasena, Somaskanda (utsav), Navagraha and the utsav murtis of Shanmukha-Valli-Devasena are found.

Happy travelling.

Prasanna Varadaraja Perumal Temple - Aminjikarai, Chennai

Aminjikarai is an old locality situated on the banks of the river Cooum in Chennai city. It was originally called as Amaindakarai. Shenoy Nagar and the popular Anna Nagar were part of Aminjikarai once.

In a lane near the Lakshmi bus stop in Aminjikarai, the twin temples of Ekambareswarar and Prasanna Varadaraja Perumal are located. There are many twin temples across the city of Chennai in the areas such as T Nagar, Koyambedu and Tambaram. Similarly Aminjikarai also has twin temples, but they are not as popular as the other twin temples of Chennai. As Ekambareswarar and Varadarajar temples are located in the same locality like Kanchipuram, there are people who call Aminjikarai as North Kanchipuram.

This article focuses only about Prasanna Varadaraja Perumal temple among these two temples.

As per historian Sri. Muthiah, this temple is hardly 100 years old. However, as per the temple authorities of Ekambareswarar temple, it was built by Sri. Sengalvarayar Mudaliar who belonged to Poonamallee Kondai Kati Vellalar family in 1650s or 1660s. As per them, Prasanna Varadaraja Perumal temple was older than Ekambareswarar temple. I too believe that this temple must have been built in 1600s and not in the 20th century CE. At the same time, I don't think this temple is very old; it does not appear to me that it was not built during the Vijayanagara period or Nayaka period.

The east facing temple has five tier tower. The flag staff, bali peetha and Garud are found facing towards the sanctum.

The east facing sanctum enshrines the idol of Prasanna Varadaraja Perumal. The idol is 3-4 feet high and the deity is in the standing posture. The utsav murti of the same deity is found along with his two consorts in the sanctum.

In Maha Mandap, the sub-shrines of all twelve Alwars are located in one side. In the opposite side, the idols of Ramanuja, Manavala Mamuni, Nathamuni, Mudaliyandan, Koorathalwan and Alavandar are found. 

The Goddess is Perundevi Thayar. She is found in the separate east facing shrine in north west corner of the prakara. Her idol is big in size and is very beautiful. Andal is found in a separate shrine in the south west corner of the same prakara. 

The other sub-shrines in the temple include Ram-Sita-Lakshman, Sudarshan with Yoga Narasimha on the back side, Krishna, Hanuman, Rama Padam, Srinivasa Perumal and Ranganatha-Sri Devi-Bhoo Devi. The bronze idols of all these deities are found in the respective shrines. The utsav murti of Srinivasa is found along with his two consorts.

On the inner side of the entrance walls, the idols of Ganesh and a Goddess who holds discus and conch in her arms having serpent hood above her head are found.

Happy travelling. 

May 26, 2017

Lakshmi Balaji Temple - Chennai

Kamakoti Nagar is a new locality in Velachery in Chennai city, which was developed as a residential area in the last 20+ years. In this area, there is a lesser known temple of Lakshmi Balaji.

Balaji is the name of Tirupati Venkatachalapati. In this temple, which was built around two decades ago, the deity is named as Lakshmi Balaji. He is more than seven feet high and looks gigantic. The unique feature of the idol is that Balaji has the icon of Lakshmi in his lower half of his body. As Shiva and his consort appear in single form as Ardhanareeswara, in this temple, Balaji along with his consort appear in single form like this.

Alarmel Mangai a.k.a. Alamelu Manga is found next to Balaji in the sanctum.

The temple also enshrines the bronze idols of Ramanuja, Hanuman, Andal, Sudarshan and Lakshmi Narasimha.

Garud is found facing towards the sanctum. There is no tower for this temple. The flag staff and bali peetha are there. There is a separate shrine for Hanuman.

Happy travelling.

May 25, 2017

Malola Narasimha Temple of Chennai

The hustle and bustle of the busy Velachery locality of Chennai has not affected this beautiful temple of Malola Narasimha. This is located in a calm street of Balaji Nagar surrounded by the most happening Phoenix Mall, the congested Velachery lanes and the busy By-pass Road. Not many of the citizens know about this temple. Let me discuss about this site in this article.

Malola Narasimha is one of nine forms of  Narasimha. It should be noted that there is an old Yoga Narasimha temple located in Velachery. This is another temple for Narasimha in the same locality. Do not confuse that temple with this one.

This temple is located in a two storied structure, which looks like a typical independent house. There is no tower or even vimana on top of the sanctum. In 1994 CE, Sri Narasimha Dasar, founded Narasimha Peetam in this building. In 2002 CE, the math was elevated to the status of the temple after installation of a stone idol and utsav idol of Narasimha.

The male devotees should strictly wear dhotis and the female devotees should wear only sarees to be allowed to enter into the temple. This is very strictly followed. Leather products are also not allowed in this temple.

The temple has two floors. The ground floor has very few small stone idols such as Ganesh, Nagas, Hanuman, Mari Amman and the founder of this peetam (or his Guru?).

The sanctum is located on the first floor. The sanctum enshrines the gigantic seven and half feet high Akasha Narsimha along with Lakshmi. The idol looks majestic.

The bronze idol of Narasimha along with Lakshmi is also enshrined in the sanctum. He is named as Malola Narasimha. The temple is named after this utsav deity. Garud is found facing towards the sanctum.

Beside the sanctum, there is another sub-shrine that enshrines a lot of idols such as the Panchaloha idols of Garud, Prahalada and Narasimha with his two consorts. In addition, the beautiful Kalyana Narasimha (Narasimha and Lakshmi seated on a seat), Yoga Narasimha and Hanuman idols made out of Fig wood are also found in the same shrine.

Happy travelling.

May 23, 2017

Velachery Pidari Temple

Pidari Amman Temple in the most happening Velachery of Chennai city is not a roadside temple. Not many of the residents know that this is one of the oldest temples of Sapta Matrikas in entire Tamil Nadu.

Sapta Matas worship is a very old tradition. In Tamil Nadu, we could find hundreds of temples of Sapta Matas in the name of Pidari Amman or Chelli Amman. However, this particular temple of Sapta Matrikas in Velachery is very special. It had the stone inscriptions of Parthivendra Varman dated 966 CE. (This person is believed to have beheaded Vira Pandya; it is also believed that he belonged to the ancient Pallava dynasty). Another inscription dated 967 CE belonged to the period of Aditya Karikalan. The temple is completely renovated now and the inscriptions seem to be missing.

It is such an unfortunate thing. An ancient and historic temple of a Grama devta in Chennai city has lost its identity in the name of renovation.

The temple is located at a distance of around 200 meters from Dandeeswarar temple in Velachery. The small temple has a tower, which is completely painted as part of renovation. The sanctum enshrines Sapta Matas, namely Brahmi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda. Out of these seven divine females, Chamunda is considered as Pidari or Chelli Amman (also written wrongly as Selli Amman by many writers). All these images are Chola period sculptures. The utsav icon of Pidari and the stone idols of Ganesh and Veerabhadra are also found inside the sanctum.

In the prakara, the recent time idols of Dakshinamurti and Navagrahas are there. Seven bricks, a very old tradition of representing Sapta Matas, are also found in this temple.

Happy travelling.

May 21, 2017

Cosmopolitan Club Travancore Pavilion

When Chennai was under the control of East India Company, the Madras Club was formed in 1832 CE. In those days, it was the center of social activity in Chennai. However, the Club did not satisfy the social needs of the rich Indians, as only the Europeans were allowed to become members of the Club.  In 1873 CE, the Cosmopolitan Club was set up mainly to enable the affluent Indians to have social intercourse with the Europeans.

Although the Cosmopolitan Club was set up in Moore's Road in Thousand Lights area, it soon moved to Mount Road (Anna Salai). It still remains in the same location. However, the Club extended its operations beyond its complex. It acquired the Travancore Pavilion in Nandanam area in 1938 CE.

Travancore Pavilion is named after the Raja of Travancore, Padmanabha Dasa Bala Varma, who was one of the founding members of the club. Today, this annexe has many recreational facilities. Importantly, it has the prestigious 18-hole golf course. It is one of such golf courses of Chennai.

Happy travelling.

May 20, 2017

The Anglo Indians of Chennai

What is the similarity between Perambur of North Chennai and Pallavaram of South Chennai? In both these areas, you can find Anglo Indians (though very few in numbers nowadays). Who are Anglo Indians? The child who is born to a European man and an Indian woman is considered as an Anglo Indian. (Of course, the descendants of these original Anglo Indians are also Anglo Indians). Chennai is one of the earliest settlements of Anglo Indians. In fact, the Anglo Indians were there in Chennai even before the word "Anglo Indian" was officially recognized by the then Viceroy of India, Charles Hardinge, in 1911 CE.

The Anglo Indians migrated to European countries and only few people (mostly senior citizens) still live in India.  Chennai is one major city where quite number of Anglo Indians are still found. Apart from Perambur and Pallavaram, they are also found in few other areas such as Madhavaram, St. Thomas Mount, Ayanavaram, Vepery and Purasawakkam.

As mentioned earlier, the number of Anglo Indians who live in Chennai are very less. Only few among those few people live in the traditional Anglo Indian homes. The designs of such homes are unique and look interesting. Some of those lovely 150-200 years old houses are still found in the calm and serene Veteran Lines of Pallavaram.

The architectural style of the traditional Anglo Indian houses include saddleback roofs and arched windows. If it is a big house, even spacious garden is found in the front side. Veteran Lines was designed by the Britishers as the residential area of the retired military men. However, it was occupied completely by the Anglo Indians later. Even after independence, till 1960s, almost each and every house in this area was occupied by the Anglo Indians. Unfortunately, there is a major drop in Anglo Indian population as well as their traditional homes.

In this area, we could also find four neglected structures in a corner. These dilapidated buildings are believed to have served as the club houses for the Anglo Indian community. They were constructed in the 1930s.

Happy travelling.

Manimangalam Vaikuntha Perumal Temple

Site Name: Vaikuntha Perumal Temple
Site Type: Hindu ancient temple
Location:   Manimangalam, near Chennai, Tamil Nadu state, India
Highlights: Ancient Chola period lesser known temple
Nearest Railway Station: Tambaram
Nearest Airport: Chennai
How to reach: Well connected by road from Tambaram and Chennai
Hotel: A lot of options across Chennai
Restaurants:  A lot of options across Chennai and Tambaram

Manimangalam is a small locality located near Tambaram, which in turn is located near Chennai in Tamil Nadu state of India . Manimangalam is a historic site. The battle between the Chalukya King Pulikesi and the Pallava King Narasimha Pallava was fought in Manimangalam in the 7th century CE. The village had three ancient Vishnu temples and two Shiva temples. Out of three Vishnu temples, one temple is not found nowadays. Raja Gopala Swami Temple is the bigger Vishnu temple, about which I have written in detail in this blog as well in my "Temples of Chennai" book. In this article, let me discuss about the other Vishnu temple of the village, Vaikuntha Perumal Temple.

Unlike Raja Gopala Swami temple, which is a huge temple with so many sub-shrines and beautiful vimanas, Vaikuntha Perumal temple is very small. In fact, hardly few people in the village know about the exact location of this temple. The temple remains always closed, except for 5 minutes in the morning for poojas to be conducted.

Vaikuntha Perumal is a very attractive Murti. He is found seated and has four arms. He holds conch and discus in his upper arms. His lower right arm is in abhaya hasta whereas his left arm with fingers folded is found rested on his lap. (I have heard that this unique mudra is called as Uri hasta; though I am not sure). He is flanked by Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi.

This small and beautiful Chola period temple has no tower or any other sub-shrine. An idol of Ganesh, probably excavated in this village, is placed at the entrance of the sanctum. Few inscriptions of Raja Raja Chola I and Kulotunga Chola I are found in this temple.

On the very next lane, there is a small current era Bhajan temple which has two Pallava period lion pillars at the entrance. One of the lion interestingly has horns. Such lions are called as Vyalas. This is perhaps the only Pallava period work found in this village where the Pallavas fought their best battle.

Happy travelling.

May 18, 2017

The Gigantic Muneeswara

You could probably count all the Vedic and Puranic deities of Hinduism, but it is impossible to count the Grama devtas (village deities). The tradition of depicting the ancestors as the deity is very old. Although it is said that the village deities are present only in South India,  it is a misconception. All over India, we can find village deities. No scholar has analyzed this tradition completely so far. That is the truth.

In Tamil Nadu, after Mari Amman and Ayyanar, Muneeswaran appears to be the popular and widely spread grama devta. If we can call Madurai Veeran as the boundary guard deity or grama devta of Madurai and Mada Swami as the one for Tirunelveli, we can similarly consider Muneeswaran as the grama devta for Chennai and its surroundings. Although Muneeswaran is worshiped all over Tamil Nadu and even in some foreign countries, the only male village deity who is found in every village of Chennai region (Tondai Nadu) is Muneeswaran.

Muneeswaran is considered as the Avatar of Shiva. Some believe he himself is Lord Shiva. In the last 20-30 years, the practice of installing gigantic images of village deities is followed in Tamil Nadu.
In Burma Colony of Ekkattuthangal area in Chennai, one such gigantic image of Muneeswaran is found. The idol is 48 feet high. It is located in the complex of Angaleswari Temple. The temple is located right on the banks of the river Adyar. Had the river been clean, the location would have been a treat to our eyes. You can reach this temple easily from Nandampakkam area.

This idol is the second tallest idol of Muneeswaran in and around Chennai. He is found seated and holds sickle (which is about 9-10 feet tall) in his arm. In front of this big idol, Muneeswaran is found in the form of Mukha Linga.

Karuppanna Swami is also found in this temple.

Happy travelling.

May 17, 2017

St. Thomas Garrison Church

Do you know which building bears the door no. 1 of the postal address in the famous GST Road of Chennai? It is the most elegant Garrison Church of St. Thomas Mount.

If you enter inside the Cantonment area where this church is located, you would never believe that this is located in the highly congested St. Thomas locality. The location is calm and serene with wide and neat roads having trees on both sides and less traffic.

Towards the end of the 18th century CE, the East India Company stationed troops along with their families in St. Thomas area. They felt the need for a separate church in their locality. Their request was represented to the Company by Rev. Atwood in 1804 CE. In 1817 CE, Rev. C. Ball represented this case with the Company once again. At last, in 1820 CE, the order was sanctioned to construct the church.

The building was raised in 1825-26 CE and the Church was consecrated in 1830 CE by Bishop Turner of Kolkata (Calcutta in those days). The Church is said to be designed after St. Clement Danes of London.

This beautiful church has bomb proof roof and rust proof iron railings. It is said that the iron used in the construction of the church was imported from England. Originally, the top of the tower had the bell cast in England. Now, it has been replaced by a smaller bell.

One of the highlights of the church was the multi level spire, which should have been one of the tallest structures in and around Chennai in those days. Unfortunately, it was shortened to accommodate the passage of flights, as the Chennai airport is located near this site. In Chennai, many heritage sites have suffered a lot due to various reasons, starting from Pallavaram cave temple in the beginning to the British period monuments due to Metro rail project in the recent time. This is perhaps the only monument which suffered due to the height rule of the airport.

The beautiful painting of Jesus appearing to St. Thomas adorns the altar in the church. There are many tablets around the walls that mention about various people who were buried here. Few busts of some Britishers are also found.

The attractive paintings of the other eleven Apostles are also found in the hall. The interior of the church and the ceiling look awesome and the devotees would definitely feel a positive vibration on entering inside. The exterior is also equally attractive with four giant pillars adorning the front side.

The vast golf ground located adjacent to the Church was a battle field. As part of series of wars between the British and the French, Yusuf Khan (Marudanayagam) marched St. Thomas Mount on 27th December 1758 CE. It appears that the battle was fought for three days in this site. Khan's soldiers were defeated by Count Lally's men. However, Achilles Preston's unit came to help Khan and it caused heavy losses to the French army.

Happy travelling.

May 14, 2017

Procession of Special Umbrellas to Tirupati from Chennai

If I say the procession of Chennai city, most of you would get reminded about 63 Nayanmars procession of Mylapore festival. But, this post from me is not about that festival. There is another procession which is conducted regularly every year in Chennai for the past two centuries. How many of you have heard about that? Let me discuss about this procession in this post.

Srivari Brahmotsavam is the most important annual festival celebrated in the internationally famous Tirumala Tirupati temple. This festival is conducted for nine days during the Ashvin month of Hindu calendar, which falls either in September or October. The Utsava images of Venkateshwara and his consorts are taken on different Vahanas on every day during this event. Thousand of people across the country gather to participate in this grand festival of Tirupati Balaji.

From the state of Tamil Nadu, only two holy things are being sent to Tirupati Balaji every year. One is the garland from Srivilliputhur and the other one is the set of holy umbrellas from Chennai.

Every year, two small and nine big sized special umbrellas are made in Kanchipuram and Chennai. Later, they are assembled in Chennai. During the Tirupati Brahmotsava time, all the eleven decorated umbrellas are sent to Tirupati. The procession starts at Chenna Keshava temple in Sowcarpet, Chennai with Poojas. Then, the procession of these holy umbrellas pass through various areas of North Chennai and finally reach Tirupati Devasthanam. 

It is believed that this procession started sometime in the beginning of the 19th century CE. For the past few years, the holy umbrellas are also accompanied by the idols of 10 Avatars and 12 Alwars. In addition, a piece of silk for Lord Venkateshwar is exhibited in a glass case in this procession. Hundreds of people participate in this grand procession every year. 

Happy travelling.