Visiting the Sites of Chennai
31.01.2013 - 31.01.2013 83 °F
We arrived yesterday morning at 2am and stepped outside of the airport to the hustle and bustle of automobiles, buses, and motorized rickshaws. The smell of the streets was powerful and we were all guided sleepily to a handful of short-buses en route to the hotel. For the next few days we'll be staying at the Ambica Empire Hotel in the heart of Chennai. Our coordinators Ramakrishna and Latha are both wonderful guides. After a brief orientation this morning we set out to explore the city and saw many of the wonderful religious, political, and entertaining sights here in Chennai (formerly known as Madras).
Breakfast and Orientation (9am-2pm)
Overheard during breakfast: "Why does the sun never set on the British Empire? Because God is afraid of what the British would do in the dark."
Amazing breakfast - loving the curries, the dumplings, the spices. Everything is hot.
St. Thomas Mount (2pm - 4pm)
This beautiful mountainside church is located where St. Thomas, the Apostle, was understood to have attained martyrdom. The church, built in 1523 by the Portugese, is small and serene with a shrine dedicated to "Our Lady of Expectation" (Mother Mary). People say that the altar of this shrine was built on the spot where St.Thomas was stabbed in the back. At the northern foot of the mount, is a gateway of four impressive arches surmounted by a cross bearing the inscribed date 1547. A flight of 160 steps leads up to the summit of the mount. There are fourteen stations of the cross erected on the way to the summit. Fortunately, because of the heat and the size of the group we never ended up pilgramidging that far.
St. George Fort (4pm - 5pm)
The East India Trading Company erected Fort St. George in the early 1600s to secure its spice market. As colonialism in India evolved, the fort became the head of the colonial territory of Madras. It is the single most important remnant of colonialism in Chennai today. When India was liberated from the commonwealth of Great Britian, Fort St. George became the seat of the Tamil-Nadu provincial government. The people of India used a symbol of colonialism and converted it to a proud symbol of self-governance.
Marina Beach (5pm-6pm)
It's beautiful to see a beach so crowded with locals. We were the only foreigners I saw my entire walk along the beach. Yet there were Indian families playing in the ocean spray, men riding horses, vendors trying to sell trinkets, games like pop-the-balloon and merry-go-rounds for the young children, and small meal stands where couples could go eat. It had an almost carnival feel to it, but more authentic and in the brisk salty air. The beach stretches 13km and is the longest in India.
San Thome Basilica (6pm - 7pm)
San Thome Basilica is a minor basilica in Santhome, a smaller neighborhood in Chennai. It was built in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers, over the tomb of St Thomas an apostle of Jesus , then it was rebuilt by the British in 1893. St. Peters Basilica (Peter), Santiago de Compostello (James), and San Thome Basilica (Thomas) are the only sacred churches built over the burial site of Jesus' apostles. While Peter and James traveled to nearby European countries and preached the word of God, James lost himself in India and devoted himself to converting a country of Hindus and Buddhists. Unlike the elaborate places of worship in Spain or Rome, San Thome is a pale white church that is understated. In the basement is a small chamber with the buried remains of St. Thomas. It felt truly holy.
Kapeleeshwarar Temple (7pm - 8pm)
Probably my favorite site visit of the day, Kapaleeshwarar Temple is a temple dedicate to the Lord Shiva. The form of Shiva's wife Parvati worshipped at this temple is called Karpagambal (from Tamil, "Goddess of the Wish-Yielding Tree"). The entrances is startled by a gate and a tower of a 1,001 gods and goddesses. Smack-dab in the middle is a bright neon sign reading the name of the temple Tamil Nadu. It's that strange combination of tradition and technology that India possesses today. We walked through the beautiful temple at night lit by candles and hundreds of people getting ashes or leaving offerings. I can't even begin to explain how beautiful of a night it was.
Eeeee Jet-Lag is catching up to me. It's the only reason I've been able to stay up this late and blog!
Here's one last photo of our country coordinator Latha & I. Aren't we cute. Cheers!