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Trip to Amazing Chennai 2010: Part 7 – Visit To A Historical Temple

(One of the things to do in Chennai is to visit an ancient temple and we indeed managed to get this done. The main entrance to the 300 plus years old temple – Click for higher resolution photo here)

A trip to India will not be complete without a trip to the majestic and historical temples, right?

Follow Part 1 onwards from here

So, even though our mission in Chennai was purely for shopping and other non-religious activities, we decided to visit at least one temple so as to “complete” the trip to Chennai. We decided to visit the nearby Kapaleeshwarar Temple which was “walking distant” from the apartment.

It was rather a historical temple in Chennai as per the entry below:-

The age of the temple is the source of much debate. The commonly held view is that the temple was built in the 7th century CE by the ruling Pallavas, based on references to the temple in the hymns of the Nayanmars (which however place it at the shore).

It is an example of the beautiful architecture of Pallavas. Further, the architecture of the temple appears to be 300–400 years old.

The scholarly view that accounts for the discrepancies is that the original temple was built on the shore at the location of the current Santhome Church but was destroyed by the Portuguese, and the current temple (which is 1-1.5 km from the shore) was built more recently. A small minority of people believe that the original temple was indeed on the beach, but that the sea has receded over centuries.

The Vijayanagar Kings rebuilt the temple during the 16th century. The original temple was destroyed by the Portuguese.

(Source: Wikipedia)

chennai temple Kapaleeshwarar

(The door in the interior part of the temple certainly looks old…very old. I was afraid to touch it)

An inscription at the entrance of the temple states this:-

Ptolemy, the great Geographer (AD 90-168) has referred to Mylapore in his books as Maillarpha, a well known sea port town with a flourishing trade. Saint Tiruvalluvar, the celebrated author of Tirukkural, the world-famous ethical treatise, lived in Mylapore nearly 2000 years ago.

The Saivite Saints of the 7th century, Saint Sambandar and Saint Appar have sung about this shrine in their hymns. St.Thomas, one of the Apostles of Jesus, is reported to have visited Mylapore in the 2nd Century A.D

Mylapore fell into the hands of the Portuguese in A.D.1566, when the temple suffered demolition; the present temple was rebuilt 300 years ago. There are some fragmentary inscriptions from the old temple, still found in the present shrine and in St.Thomas Cathedral

The temple was indeed old and historical and since we are already staying nearby and it is “off-peak” season, we decided to visit it despite busy with our Chennai shopping.

chennai temple Kapaleeshwarar

(The sun was not that high but who want to walk bare feet on the hot rocky floor? The “mat” helped a bit but we had to run, not walk to get to the other part. Malaysian temples fared better with proper roofing and beautiful cooler tiles)

We started early in the evening when the sun is not high and there was a cold breeze in Chennai. Just when we were about to enter the temple, my son wanted a drink. We looked around and found that 5 – 6 shops that were facing the temple were selling nothing but religious things. None of them was enterprising enough to sell bottled drinking water. I had to walk all the way to a small sundry shop near the main road just to get a couple of mineral water bottles.

We walked in after “surrendering” our shoes to the shoe guardian at the front – no token was given and the shoe guardian was busy chit-chatting with his friend. We were expecting our shoes to go missing when we returned. We realised that there was no place to wash our feet – people just walk in (from whatever place they had stepped on earlier) and start doing their prayers.

We felt it was odd since, in Malaysia, every temple would have a place to wash up before we can start with the prayers. Here we have one of the famous temples in the area and no place to wash our feet before doing prayers. It was no wonder the temple ground looked dirty especially those surrounding the deities.

Clearly someone has missed the part on cleanliness but then again, we remember that this was India where anything goes.

With no place to wash our feet, we used some of the mineral water that we had and we opted to wipe our feet on a sorry looking rag and with a heavy heart, proceeded to do the prayers.

chennai temple Kapaleeshwarar

(Sorry for low resolution, poor quality photo but those f@#kers at the front insisted us on paying a load of money before we can take photos. A load of rupees may mean nothing to wealthy Western tourists but not for budget concerned Malaysians. Good thing that handphones these days comes with a reasonable quality built-in camera)

There were plenty of signboards forbidding people from taking photos in the temple grounds. There were also signboards that stated that if one pays x amount of rupees, photography is allowed. We smell sham miles away and I instead opted to snap the interior on my mobile phone (I only took out my DSLR as we were walking out and even so, got into an argument with a guy who insisted us to pay.

Thankfully a holier looking man came to our rescue and told the guy off. He too questioned the notion of charging people for taking photos. He then smiled at us and we thought an angel had come to our rescue).

The architecture of the temple structure is simply brilliant and there was an aura of mystery and historical. I loved the carvings on the wall and ceiling and wondered how craftsmen hundreds of years ago have worked on it. Most looked too ancient especially the part when it is said that made from the older structure.

There was a feeling of a magical aura surrounding us when we stepped into the interior. When we walked in, we thought we were already been transported to ancient India.

chennai temple Kapaleeshwarar

(The very interior of the temple – I was speechless when I saw the sunlight rays beaming in from the small opening in the roof. The interior air smelled ancient but it was not that bad. It was not that crowded as well – thank God! If it has been during the major religious season, the crowd inside this small area would have been lethal – there is only one small entrance for the way in and way out)

We walked around, completing our prayers and felt somehow fulfilled. Since the ground is not clean to sit down and take our breath (and say silent prayers), we decided to leave the temple earlier. We walked out and noticed a couple of souvenir shops – we decided to hop over and check it out (some prayer items in Malaysia can be too expensive, so better to buy cheaper ones in Chennai).

We bought some items – it was cheap but not as cheap as we found out later – the fact that we were foreigners in Chennai meant the prices of the items to increase immediately.

To be continued…

3 thoughts on “Trip to Amazing Chennai 2010: Part 7 – Visit To A Historical Temple”

  1. Nice coverage BJ. Its the snippets that you write makes the place more enjoyable. Earlier on I have heard foreign tourists say that India is indeed a place for happy people. This is changing fast since inland tourism is increasing many fold. As a result, although temples are devine, the upkeep and the commerciality that has crept in is really shocking at some places. You undergo ordeals, spend hours waiting to see the God, and you are allowed only one second glimpse. If you visit Benares (Ganges), be ready for even difficult experience. I myself visit only temples these days that are not frequented and not on tourist map. They are more peaceful.

    1. Rajeevelkunchwar – thanks.

      Ya, there is one thing I don’t understand – India have plenty of historical temples – why can’t they facilitate the tourists to these temples and create a whole new industry which will not only sustain the temple operations (some in dire need of renovations, others in desperate need of a good washing) but also generate a secondary industry in tourism (tourists need transport, guides, place to stay and place to eat).

      In Malaysia, just see how the government managed to get Batu Caves (a Murugan temple) to be part of the key tourism spot in Malaysia and how we are getting tourists by the bus load. Temples in India are great but the management and exposure sucks big time.

  2. I agree. The temples are not maintained well and lack basic facilities.
    1. Earlier on they used to be maintained by private trusts. Now a days they are run by government.
    2. Most fall under archeology department since they are heritage structures, the ministry that has very little funds for upkeep.
    3.The sheer number of inland tourists pose a big challenge to keep things in order.
    4. It is true that the temple tourism is a big money spinner, but not exploited as such. Lack of vision, what else.

    Comparatively, those maintained by central government are better. I shall post on my blog some photos of Somnathpur, Gomateshwara, Halebeedu and Belluru, All around Bengalore, which are stunning.

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