September 30, 2017

Mylapore during Navaratri

Navaratri is celebrated for ten days (including Dussera) all over India. In every state, it is celebrated in a unique way. It is famous as Durga Pooja celebrations in Bengal. Gujaratis celebrate Navaratri with dandiya and garba. In Tamil Nadu, Kolu is the highlight of Navaratri celebrations.

Kolu (which is usually mis-spelt as Golu) is an interesting and artistic way of displaying dolls during the Navaratri times. The dolls are placed on odd numbered steps. This tradition of Kolu has been followed for hundreds of years in the houses and nowadays even in the temples.

During the Navaratri times, all over the state, the dolls are sold on the temporary road side shops. Although the dolls are sold in every nook and corner of the state during the festival time, when it comes to Chennai city, people would mostly like to buy the dolls from Mylapore locality. The heritage rich area would have hundreds of road side shops selling thousands of dolls during the festivals. The Mada Streets around the famous Kapaleeswarar temple would have the festive-look. The dolls depicting various deities, saints, kings and even common man in different postures, some theme based dolls and few dolls with unique designs are all found on the streets.

Mylapore is traditionally famous for many things including Kolu bommais (dolls). It would be interesting to visit the area during this festival, whether you would want to buy the dolls or not.

Happy travelling.

September 29, 2017

Mannivakkam Manneeswarar Temple

Mannivakkam is a village located at a distance of 9 kms from Tambaram in the southern outskirts of Chennai. There is an ancient temple for Shiva called as Manneeswarar located in this village.

It is said that this temple was built by Kulotunga Chola I towards the end of the 11th century CE. It is believed that he built 108 Shiva temples in Thondai Mandalam. Some of the other temples built by him include the temples of Manimangalam, Somamangalam and Tirumazhisai.

I personally could not find any historical record or reference that this temple is a Chola period temple. Except for the idol of Dwara Murugan, which appears to be Chola period, everything else in the temple appears to be later period.

The temple has an inscription on the outer wall of the sanctum which belongs to the Nayaka kings in the beginning of the 16th century CE.

A small kalyana mandap within the temple has an inscription dating 1818 CE. The mandap was built by Pachai Ammal, the wife of Periyalingappa Mudaliar.

Kanchi Puranam talks about a river called Manniyaru which was running across this village in those days.

The village is a quiet and calm place. The east facing temple has no tower but few stucco images on the facade of the entrance are found. The east facing sanctum enshrines the four feet high Shiv Linga. He is named as Manneeswarar and Mrityunjeswarar.  At the entrance of the Ardha Mandap, the idols of Ganesh and Kartikeya are found.

In Maha mandap, there are two sub-shrines that have the bronze idols of Nataraj-Sivakami, Uma-Chandrasekhar and others. The pillars of the Maha Mandap are circular in shape.

The entrance of Maha Mandap has the ancient idols of Dwara Ganesh and Dwara Murugan. Murugan appears to be of Chola period. He holds Vajra and Akshara Mala in his two upper arms.

Maragambikai is the Goddess. She is found in a south facing shrine.

Nandi is also facing the eastern direction and not towards Shiv Linga. It is said that Nandi was helping the Chola king in some battles and hence it is facing towards the exit. The bali peetha and the flag staff are located near Nandi Mandap.

An old sculpture of Nandi is additionally found in a corner in this temple.

Surya and Chandra are found facing towards the sanctum. Navagraha and Bhairav are also found in the temple.

Kannimoola Ganapati's sub-shrine is located in the prakara.

Ganapati, Dakshinamurti, Vishnu, Brahma and Vishnu Durga are found as the Koshta images. Chandikeshwara is found in his usual location near Brahma and Durga.

Happy travelling.

September 28, 2017

The Wrestler-turned-Godman of Chennai

Not always the history books, travel guides or even the Google Map would help you to find or explore a lesser known site. Sometimes, only a localite could help you on this. Being a localite of Sowcarpet area of Chennai city, let me introduce you to a 120 years old temple and its history. This is getting documented in detail for the first time. No other print media or electronic media has ever mentioned this temple.

There is no tower or vimana. It is an old two storied building with a narrow entrance in the busy NSC Bose Road. You might either miss this out or mistake this building as an old independent house.  The stucco images of Radha Krishna and few other Vaishnava deities on the facade of the first floor are the only clue to connect this place with a religious site. It is the 120 years old Radha Krishna Temple. This temple has an interesting history.

Shri Ram Prasanna Swamiji
In 1905 CE, a holy man, Ram Prapanna by name, from Mirzapur of Uttar Pradesh state, came down to Madras. He belonged to Tingala Brahmin community. (Tingala Brahmin community follow Vaishnavism and they consider Ramanuja as their Guru). As there was no temple for his community people, he sought the help of a wealthy person. That person was from Allahabad and he owned more than 100 houses in Madras. He donated the land to Swamiji. Swamiji installed the idols of Radha and Krishna in a simple structure on that land. After gifting the land for this temple, the childless wealthy person was blessed with a child. He believed that it was due to the blessing of Radha-Krishna. He donated additional funds and built this big building for this temple.

Pahalwan Swamiji 
In 1920s, there was a famous wrestler Pari Pekkar by name in Mysore region. A wrestler from Uttar Pradesh defeated Pari Pekkar in a wrestling match. Then, that victorious wrestler came down to Madras. There he met Swamiji. Swamiji made him as his disciple. Thus, the wrestler turned into a Godman. His name is Raghavendra Prapanna. He was also called as Pahalvan Swamiji. He took over the administration of the temple in 1927 CE. Ram Prapanna went to Bhagalpur in Bihar state and started taking care of a Radha-Krishna temple there.

The current person who administer the temple is Shri. Brij Kishore. He is the great grandson of Shri. Raghavendra Prapannaji.

The temple is on the first floor. There is only one shrine. The beautiful white colored marble idols of Radha and Krishna are found in the shrine. The image of Ramanuja is also placed in the same shrine.

A big meditation hall is found in front of the shrine.

This temple is located in the opposite direction of Chinna Kadai Renuka Parameswari Temple.

Happy travelling.

Pahalwan Swamiji

Brij Kishore


September 27, 2017

Kakada Ramprasad - Chennai

According to me, Mint Street in Sowcarpet is the best place in Chennai for a pakka food trail. For every ten steps you would find a unique option here. Especially, if you want to taste the Gujarati or North Indian snacks, Sowcarpet is unarguably the best option in the city. Kakada Ramprasad sweet shop is one of the best among those few popular Guajarati/Rajasthani/North Indian shops.

Ramprasad Kakda from Rajasthan started a sweet shop in Mint Street in 1958 CE. He apparently served only jalebis and moti paks initially. Today, there are hundreds of varieties of sweets and chat items available in this shop. Also, there is a restaurant that has come up on the top floor in the recent years. The shop has also opened its branches in other localities of the city.

This is arguably the best place to have badam milk in the entire city. Apart from badam milk, the shop is known for aloo tikki and hot jalebis too.

If you go to Sowcarpet, do not miss this 60 years old shop.

Happy travelling.

September 26, 2017

Juna Jain Mandir of Chennai

Sowcarpet is the locality of Chennai where a large number of North Indian and Gujarati communities are still found. Ananda Ranga Pillai in his famous diaries of 1746 CE mentions about the Gujaratis of Madras.

After the formation of Black Town, a lot of Gujarati families migrated to Sowcarpet. The migration continued till 1950s. The migration happened not to a particular reason and different groups of Gujarati speaking people migrated to Sowcarpet. It included the Gujarati traders from Gujarat, Khedaval Brahmins who had already migrated to Thanjavur, Gujarati Jains, etc. Hence, it is not surprising to find so many Gujarati Jain temples in Sowcarpet.

Two notable Jain temples are located in Mint Street in Sowcarpet. One temple, which was rebuilt with white stone marbles in 1994 CE, was constructed in the site where the original Jain temple stood for about 90 years. There is another temple in Mint street which is much older than this temple. It is referred as Juna Mandir. (In Gujarati language, Juna means old). I could not find any records on the date of construction of the original structure of this temple. However, I believe that the original temple could have been built in the late 1700s or early 1800s. The wealthy community which migrated to Sowcarpet in the middle of the 18th century would have definitely built their temple by then. The current structure of the temple is hardly 100 years old.

If the name boards are not there, anyone might mistake this building for an independent house. The ground floor has administrative office, the first floor is used for religious gathering and the temple is found only in the second floor.

Although the temple is referred as the Juna Mandir, the actual name of the temple is "Shri Chandraprabhu Bhagwan Jain Swetamber Temple".

The sanctum enshrines the white marble idol of Chandraprabhu Bhagavan in the middle. He was the eighth Tirthankara of the Jains. On his either sides, Sambhavnath, the third Tirthankara and Sumatinath, the fifth Tirthankara are found.

The small images of Godi Parshwanath (23rd Tirthankara) with the hood of a serpent above his head as well as Chintamani Parshwanath (24th Tirthankara) are found on the two corners in the sanctum. All the five Tirthankaras are in Padmasana posture.

Bhairav is a guardian deity in Jainism. The bust image of Bhairav is found in a niche in this temple. The small image of Manibhadra with boar head seated on an elephant is found. He has six arms. He is a Yaksha as per Jainism.

Jwalamalini, the Yakshi of Chandraprabhu, as well as Chakreswari Devi, the Yakshini of Rishabha, are also found in this temple.

The community hall, Jain Sthanak is also located near this temple.

Happy travelling.

September 25, 2017

The Unknown Temple of Abhaya Anjaneya in Chennai

If I am not wrong, no other print or electronic media has covered the temple on which this article is written.

Anjaneya is generally found in Anjali Hasta (depicted with folded hands). Only in few temples, he is found in Abhaya Mudra. There is one such temple found in Sowcarpet area of Chennai. The lane where the Rath (car) of the twin temples Chenna Kesava and Chenna Mallikeswarar is stationed is called as Theradi Street. This lane being a dead end and as the Rath blocks the passage, hardly anyone would venture into this lane. Even Google Map does not help us to find this lane. It is located diagonally opposite to the twin Pattinam temples. At the end of this small lane, the temple of Anjaneya is located. It's a small temple with one shrine. Few pillars and a mandap like structure is found nearby. The temple is named as Bhakta Abhaya Varaprada Anjaneya Swami. Hanuman is found in the standing posture. His right arm is in Abhaya mudra and his left arm is holding a mace.

In 1940s, the Madras Jewellers & Diamond Merchant's Association, was functioning in an office in this lane. This temple must be minimum 100 years old.

Happy travelling.

September 24, 2017

The Madras Temple which witnessed Communal Violence

If you are from George Town/Sowcarpet area of Madras, you would have definitely noticed this temple, if not entered inside. This temple of Ganesha called as Varasiddhi Vinayakar is a very small temple, located at the junction of NSC Bose Road and Devaraja Mudali Street. Except for Lord Ganesha and a small prakara around the shrine, the temple has no other idol. But, not many know that this temple has a 300 years old history.

(I am quoting few historical details based on the book "Vestiages of Old Madras" written by H.D.Love and another book called "Madras in the Old Time" by Talboys Wheeler).

Ever since the city of Madras was founded, there had been tensions between the left hand Chetti community and right hand Komati community. The Governor, Thomas Pitt settled the dispute through an agreement in 1708 CE. However, a fresh community dispute broke out in 1716 CE. According to Chettis, the Komatis upsurped several titles that belonged to Chettis and also they performed some ceremonies in front of the icon that belong to Chettis. It was complained by the representative of Chettis, Collaway Chetti on 18th October. The icon is Chindadry Pillary and the ceremony was Pennagundoo Naggarum (as per the British records - it's a kind of recital of prayers in Sanskrit language).

On 20th December 1716 CE, the matter escalated and the Left Hands Chettis called for the closure of shops. It was followed by full scale riot. The British summoned the heads of both the communities and tried for a pact between them. This meeting which was held on 24th December 1716 CE was not successful. On 7th January 1717 CE, just one day before embarking to Britain, the Governor Harrison ordered that the Komaties could cry out Pennagundoo Naggarum at their houses and on ceremonies, but not before the icon of Ganesh. The matters were still not settled properly. On 8th January 1717 CE, Governor Collet, who had succeeded Harrison, issued an order. As per that, neither community would have any right to recite prayers before shrines of the other caste. He also warned that the icon would be shifted into the Gentoo Pagoda, if the disputes would continue. He further added that no small Pagodas should be constructed without getting Governor's permission to avoid future disputes.

The Gentoo Pagoda mentioned above is Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple, which stood in the current site of High Court. The historian, Mr. Sriram V. has identified Varasiddhi Vinayakar Temple as the Chindadry Pillary Temple. Interestingly, the Ganesh icon never moved to Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple. But that temple was demolished and was rebuilt near this Ganesh temple.

Happy travelling.

September 19, 2017

The 19th century Stationery Store of Chennai

Rajaji Salai is one of the few roads in Chennai which has so many historic buildings. It was called as the First Line Beach and was one of the most important roads of the city in the early 1800s. In 1700s, it was perhaps a beach similar to Marina beach.

The 2nd Baron Clive, the Governor of Madras, decided that the customs department should have its own building outside the St. George Fort. From 1798 CE onwards, the Customs House and a lot of business establishments were started on the left side of the First Line Beach. Thus, the beach was replaced by commercial establishments and port.

A big stationery store was constructed in the early 1800s. Although many of the British period buildings on this road were lost, fortunately this building still survives. The Government Stationery Depot now runs in this lesser known heritage building. The building's entrance is located in Arbut Not Lane.

Arbut Not Lane - Many of the Chennai streets are not spelled correctly. It is Arbuthnot Lane. The lane was named after Arubuthnot & Co. One of the partners of the firm was Sir George Gough Arbuthnot. It was a financial establishment located near this lane. As the bank was hit by major financial crisis in 1906 CE, a lot of Madras citizens lost their hard earned money.

Happy travelling.

Access Card, Burger Prasad and the Air Conditioned Temple

Access card, burger prasad and the air conditioned temple - it's true and I am not kidding. A temple near Chennai offers everything mentioned above. This article focuses on that temple.

Jaya Durga Peetham is a private temple. There was a saint who was called as Jaya Durga Siddhar. His disciples run a trust and also this temple. It is located in Raghavendra Nagar in Padappai, a sub-urb of South Chennai.

You will be required to show your original ID card at the counter and provide your details for registration. Then, you will be given an access card. You could enter and exit the temple only with this. Once you enter into the temple, you would feel as if entering inside an IT company. The temple is very neatly maintained.

Before entering into the temple, you will be given a water bottle. And, before leaving the premises, you need to swipe your card to get Prasad. The temple authorities do not charge for this and there is no Hundi in the temple. However, they have a big laundry list for various sevas and services with the pricing details.

On some special occasions, the temple authorities give burgers and brownies as the prasad. They even send cakes to the nearby regular visitors during their birthdays.

The sanctum enshrines Jaya Durga, the presiding deity. She is found seated on a lion. She has twelve arms and holds discus and conch in her upper arms.

In another shrine, Ucchistha Vinayak is found along with his consort. Interestingly, he holds conch and discus in his upper arms.

Varahi is found in seated posture in a separate shrine. The stucco images of different forms of Varahis are found as the niche images on the walls of this shrine.

The sub-shrine of Hanuman is very interesting. He is found along with his parents. When Vayu is depicted with a traditional deep (light), Anjana is depicted in human form. She does not have vanara face.

Panchakshara Ganesh, Mahamayi and Bhuvaneswari (utsav idols), Dhanvantri, Subramanya-Valli-Devasena, Swarna Akarshana Bhairav with his consort and Raja Karuppar with his consort are some of the other deities who are found in separate sub-shrines.

The samadhi of Swamiji and a Mukha Linga installed on top of it are located in a shrine.

Happy travelling.

Cherappanancheri Veemeeswarar Temple

Around 20 kms from Tambaram, the southern outskirts of Chennai, a small and lesser known village called Cherappanancheri is located. In this village, an ancient Chola period temple called Veemeeswarar Temple is found.

Temple Layout and Structure

Veemeeswarar is a 5.5 feet high Shiv Linga. The Goddess Swarnambikai is also found in the sanctum along with Shiv Linga. She faces the southern direction whereas the Linga faces the eastern direction.

The temple is located on an elevated platform. Also, it a Chola style Gajaprshtha (apsidal) temple. Unfortunately, the temple is in the ruins. Few years ago, the temple did not have ceiling. The local villagers collected funds and put an asbestos sheet on top.

The walls around the sanctum are completely damaged. No niche image or any other Parivara murti is found in this temple.

A comparatively new Ganesh temple is located near this ancient temple.

Two Nandis, one behind the other, are found facing towards the sanctum. It is said that the Nandi idol which is seen behind is the original one.

Surya is found on the other side of the road and he faces towards the sanctum. Originally, the sub-shrines of Surya was part of the temple. A road is passing through the shrine and the sanctum now.

Except for Shiv Linga, Nandi and Surya, no other image is found in this temple. Swarnambikai idol was made few years ago and installed. It is not an original idol. In the inscriptions, the Goddess name is mentioned as Swarnambikai. It is believed that the temple had Swarnambikai's idol originally.

The temple has (rather had) three Teerthams. Surya Pushkarani, Brahma Teertham and Vishnu Teertham, the first one on the true left side of the sanctum and the other two ponds behind the idol of Surya.


The temple is a Chola period temple. Historically, the village was called as Rajendra Chola Nallur, Kesari Nallur and Peruvanchur. As per the inscriptions on the walls of the temple, it is said that the temple was renovated by Kulotunga Chola III towards the end of the 12th century CE.


As per the legend, Surya came down to this village and worshiped Shiva during a Ratha Saptami day. All the 27 stars followed him and they also worshiped Shiva in this site. Hence, Shiva was named as Vinmeengal Ishwaran, which diluted as Veemeeswarar.

Happy travelling.

September 15, 2017

The Gymkhana Club

The Gymkhana Club is one of the prestigious clubs of Madras city. It is a popular landmark of the city. It is located on Anna Salai in the Island Grounds locality. It bears the door number 1 of Anna Salai.

The Club was started in April 1884 CE. Brig. General Johnson and Brig. General Alexander Arbuthnot penned the proposal to form this club on the land that belonged to the army. Johnson named the club as Gymkhana and he was one who formulated the rules and objectives of the club.

The membership was initially restricted to the British executives, Garrison members and few selected high profile Indians.

Today, the campus is spread across 7 acres of land. But, originally it just had a tent in the open ground. It all changed after the Raja of Venkatagiri (Muthukrishna Yachendra) donated land and the present building to the club in 1886 CE. The club grew and added more and more games/sports with the generous donations from the South Indian Zamindars (who called themselves as the Rajas).

The club brought football first to the city. The first tournament was held in 1884 CE, the very first year of the club itself. The club also brought rugby to the city in 1914 CE. The club has one of the oldest golf courses in Asia.

The first president of the club was Lt. General C.B.Johnson.  One of the prominent figures, who served as the President of the Club was Sir George Montgomerie John Moore. The famous Moore Market (which was lost in fire) was named after him.

Today, the club has around 4000 members. The elegant British period lime-mortar-brick building stands in the middle. The building has an imposing porch, broader verandahs, beautiful wooden staircases and grand lounge. The different designs of chandeliers are hanging down. The hall displays the portraits/paintings of the Raja of Venkatagiri and other prominent figures. The first floor has the dining hall and the balcony overlooks the green lawns and the swimming pool. This swimming pool is one of the city's first.

The Club offers a lot of facilities that include bar, catering, children's play area, guest house and party hall. The library in the club has massive collection of books. The sports facilities in the Club include cricket, billiards, board games, tennis, swimming, table tennis and golf.

Happy travelling.

P.S. The historical details, names and dates were taken from the articles written by the historian Sriram V and the official website of the Club.

September 14, 2017

Sir Thomas Munro - The Desi Videshi

Sir Thomas Munro - this man was not born in India, but he was truly an Indian by heart.  He was the Governor of Madras Province from 1820 CE to 1827 CE. He was a great reformer and was loved by Indians.

Munro is called as the father of the Ryotwari system. The Zamindari system of Bengal was followed across India. In that system, the Zamindars were given the task of collecting revenues. Munro felt that it was not suitable for South India. He introduced Ryotwari system in which the taxes for agricultural land were directly collected from the land owners. (The land owners were called as Ryots).

In his earlier days, Munro had served in the army and fought against Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali.

When Munro served as the Collector of Bellary earlier, Sri Raghavendra Swami appeared to him and gave details about the land of Mantralaya Mutt. It should be noted that Swamiji was not alive and had died around 130 years before. This incident is recorded in the Madras Government Gazette.

It is said that Munro was a great devotee of Lord Balaji of Tirupati. He gifted a vessel to the temple, which is used to offer Pongal prasad even today. The vessel is called as Munro Gangalam. He made arrangements for the revenue to flow from a village to the temple so that Pongal prasad would be offered everyday. The tradition is still followed in the temple.

It is said that many of the Indians named their children as Munrolappa in those days.

Munro died of cholera on 6th July 1827 CE. He was buried at Gooty in Andhra Pradesh. The Governor's Council in Madras decided to have a bronze statue of Munro. Francis Chantrey, the English sculptor, was entrusted with the task of making the statue. The work began in 1828 CE and the sculptor took more than ten years to complete the task. The magnificent Munro statue which is weighing about six tonnes was ultimately brought to India and was opened to public view on 23rd October 1839 CE. Holiday was declared on that day. The public gathered in large number on this occasion and offered their love and respect to their beloved leader.

The Munro Statue is located in Anna Salai in the Island area. This magnificent statue attracts a lot of visitors and has found a permanent place in the itinerary of Chennai travel right from the 19th century CE.

The statue has Munro seated on a horse without saddle and stirrup. Due to this, this statue has been criticized a lot. Even the way how Munro has placed his sword on his foot has been made fun of. Nevertheless, this remains a major landmark of the original Madras.

Happy travelling.

September 12, 2017

Armenian Cemetery - The Madras Unknown

The association of Armenians with India is very old. Arguably, the Armenians are believed to have come to India as part of the forces under Alexander.

The Armenians have trading relationships with various parts of India for several centuries and hence they had their settlements all over India. It is believed that the Armenians settled in Madras probably towards the end of the 17th century CE.

The Armenian Street in George Town and the Armenian Church are the well known landmarks of the Armenians in Chennai. However, there is yet another landmark in the city, which is literally unknown. That is the Armenian Cemetery.

The Armenian Cemetery is located on Pallavan Salai. It is hidden inside a slum area near Kendriya Vidyalaya School.

This cemetery was built in 1812 CE. As per the historian Mr. Sriram V., the Armenians petitioned the Government that the cemetery in their church yard was full and a new site was needed in the same year. It was apparently given to them as per their request.

The area is completely encroached. The cemetery is closed and locked with a big grille gate. There are few tombs that are visible from outside. Who all lie there? Any important personality, by any chance? How many tombs are there? Who actually controls this site now? And, how to enter inside? The questions remain unanswered.

Happy travelling.

P.S. My sincere thanks to Mr. Sriram V., who took me to this site, as part of a heritage walk in 2017 CE.