The glass of chilled mosambi juice was a life-saver. The blinding white heat and the humid haze that had assaulted my senses from the time I had landed in Chennai dissipated a wee bit.
I became aware of the quiet and calm of Dakshinachitra, “a living museum of art, architecture, crafts, and performing arts of South India”.
Located on the East Coast Road in Muthukadu, Dakshinachitra is about 21 km south of Chennai. The sprawling, 10-acre complex houses carefully recreated heritage structures, traditions and culture from the four southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is also a hub for performing arts, a retreat for artists, a learning centre for students, an exhibition space, a place to visit for the culturally inclined tourist… And a place that I had been wanting to visit for a long time, particularly to see the heritage structures.
So when the opportunity to visit Chennai came up about 10 days back, I planned my itinerary in such a way that I would go straight to Dakshinachitra from the airport itself. So far so good. What I had not accounted for, or rather ignored what everyone told me, was the severity of the infamous Chennai heat. I mean, how much more different could Chennai humidity be from Mumbai’s? By the time I reached Dakshinachitra, I was almost dehydrated and was having fond thoughts about Mumbai weather !
Though the mosambi juice and lots of water revived me enough to brave the heat and take a walk through the heritage houses, the relentless heat made it difficult for me to really enjoy my visit there. I did manage to walk through the entire section of heritage structures, but my mind and camera did not register or record everything I saw.
But do allow me to share with you what the mind and the camera recorded.
Dakshinachitra is a work in progress. It has a small, but growing collection of heritage structures from the 4 southern states with representations from certain dominant communities. What is striking is that even the vegetation of a particular region has been recreated to a certain extent to complement the area the heritage structures belong to. So while we can see the scrubs and bushes of northern Karnataka around the houses from that region, Kerala’s lush green vegetation is also seen around the houses from that state.
The heritage house in the photograph below is from Karnataka and was not yet open to the public as it was still being reconstructed. Don’t you think it looks rather grand and beautiful?
The cluster of houses in the photograph below belong to the weavers community from Ilkal in northern Karnataka. These houses are typically built of granite and the largest room in these houses is the one with the loom.
South India has a large population of the Lambani or banjara or gypsy community, who are well known for their embroidery. The photograph below depicts the Lambani version of the “Ardhanareeshwara”. Isn’t it stunning?
This cluster of houses originally formed the agraharam at Ambur village in Tirunelveli District in Tamil Nadu. When it was demolished, they made their way to Dakshinachitra to be reconstructed as they were in their original place. Personally, this was the highlight of my trip to Dakshinachitra, as my ancestors were from Tirunelveli District. I like to imagine that they must have lived in a house like this.
The merchant’s house in from the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu in the photograph below was grand, but what I liked the most was this sepia-toned photograph mounted on a door. This prim and proper little girl with a sulky expression reminded me so much of someone I know.
The Kerala section has a two Hindu houses, a Syrian Christian house, a granary and a cattle shed—with each house being special and unique to the community and purpose that they served (see the next 3 photos).
Dakshinachitra also offers space for artists to exhibit their art and craft and at any given time there are 2-3 artists exhibiting their work. I saw an exhibition of giant leather puppets from Andhra Pradesh. All the puppets were mounted on the walls and most were on characters from the Ramayana.
If only the weather was nice, this trip would have been a dream come true. It was the perfect time to visit as apart from a group of some 10 odd college kids, who were probably there on a study trip, there were no other visitors. At any other time, I would have relished this opportunity to explore and photograph and generally soak in the atmosphere. And when I would have left the place, it would have been with a happy buzz of having discovered and learnt something new. Something to talk about, something to share with others, and something to write about too.
But when I finished the tour of Dakshinachitra, I think I must have looked like Surpanakha in the photograph above; I most definitely felt as bad tempered as she looks here !
Note to self: (i) Please listen to well-meaning friends about weather updates in a city you are not familiar with. (ii) Another visit to Dakshinachitra is needed, but in better weather.