14 February 2011

Doorways of Mylapore


All of India’s cities are growing and quickly changing as they keep up with the times. Old buildings and bungalows are being torn down to make way for apartment blocks and shopping centres. But in every city there are still neighbourhoods which retain some local flavour and offer a glimpse of another time and way of life.

One of these is the neighbourhood of Mylapore in Chennai, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. Much before Madras became Chennai, and long before the city of Madras was even founded, there was Mylapore. Ptolemy the Greek wrote of the great port of Maillarpha (or Mylarphon). The Arabs of the 8th and 9th centuries spoke of Maila and Meilan. In the 10th century, the Nestorian Christians of Persia talked of ancient Meliapor. A 1375 Catalan map showed Mirapor.

The celebrated Portuguese poet Camoens, author of the The Lusiads (1572) also wrote about Meliapor:

Here rose the potent city, Meliapor
Named, in olden times rich, vast and grand
Her sons their olden idols did adore
As still adoreth that iniquitous band
In those past ages stood she far from shore
When, to declare glad tidings over the land
Thomé came preaching, after he had trod
A thousand regions taught to know his god.

Mylapore is the cultural hub of Chennai. There are many sabhas (musical organisations) located here where concerts and dance performances are presented, especially during the December Season.

At the heart of Mylapore is the Kapaleswara temple. Around the temple there are flower stalls and small shops selling puja items for temple goers. There’s a busy fruit and vegetable market. There are also quite a few tailors specializing in dance costumes and many shops selling temple jewellery just north of the temple.

Since I’m travelling over the next few weeks and won’t be able to write new posts during this time, I’ll be posting a different photo essay each week illustrating different aspects of this historical neighbourhood. Enjoy your visit!