May 25, 2018

Bommai Chattiram - A 150 years old Doll House

This article is about a lesser known but interesting place called Bommai Chattiram and a unique habit of  dolls collection by a person who lived in the 19th century CE. The building, which was once called as Chithirai Chattiram, is located in the most happening South Mada Street of Mylapore locality in Chennai.

The building lies closed throughout the year and comes to life for ten days during the annual festival of Mylapore Kapaleeswara Temple. During this time, the building displays a lot of leather puppets, clay dolls, dolls on wooden sheets, metal icons and other type of dolls. Most of these dolls were the personal collection Sri Vyasarpadi Vinayaka Mudaliar (1803-69 CE). He was the one who built in choultry in 1851 CE.

The historian Mr. Sriram V. has mentioned that the inauguration of the chattiram was a gala event and the great poet Sri Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai composed 100 poems on the building and Mudaliar. They are collectively called as "Chitrai Chattira Pugazhchi". Pillai was gifted with 100 sovereigns of gold for this work.

The building which is spread around 2000 square feet has two floors. When the ground floor retains the old charm, the first floor has been modified. Outside the chattiram, two long thinnais are there. The broad pillars and the open verandah in the middle of the hall along with the mural paintings are very attractive. The bust of Mudaliar is found at the entrance of the Chattiram. It was installed in 2010 CE.

The intricately carved metal icons of Radha and Krishna, the bronze idols of Nataraja, Mari Amman and Arunagirinathar, Hanuman, Meera Bai, the girl with pots on her head and waist, Nataraja along with winged angels and Gita Upadesa are some of the notable icons/dolls.

There is a series of mural paintings that depict the story of Krishna right from Asarir message to Kamsa till his marriage with Rukmini. The painting that depict Kartikeya as hunter and then as Shanmukha is interesting. Valluvar in a separate big painting looks awesome. The twelve days of Phalguni (Panguni) festival of Kapaleeswara temple are depicted in beautiful Thanjavur paintings.

There is another series of painting that depict the story of Harischandra. The picture of Yama Lok and the punishment of people are fearsome. There are so many other paintings such as Dasavatar, Alwars, Ranganathar surrounded by deities and devotees, Gajendra Moksha, important Shaivite temples, Krishna-Rukmini marriage (Thanjavur painting) and many others. The portraits of Nawabs and a portrait painting of Mudaliar along with a boy are also worth seeing. (Mudaliar was working for the Nawabs).

Few prints of Ravi Varma's works, 4-5 big paintings on the legend of Valli's divine wedding, few mural paintings related to Shiva's legends or his different postures, the murals that depict the war between Ram and Ravan, a big painting that depicts the grand celebration of 63 Nayanmars festival of Mylapore, and so on. The list is endless.

If you are a heritage lover, you would need at least two hours to completely see all these dolls and paintings, which are mostly the collection of a single person, the great Vinayaka Mudaliar.

If you have not yet visited this place, wait till next March/April and go there without fail. It would be a unique and pleasant experience for sure.

Happy travelling.

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