Friday, July 09, 2010

Mylapore Temple Bazaar, Chennai

There are two kinds of people – those who hate chennai and those who love chennai. The ones who love chennai will always continue to love chennai, no matter where life takes them. As one of our friends put it: “It is only in chennai that you will meet an elderly mami (Tamil word for ‘aunty’) at a wedding, dressed in her traditional nine yard pattu (silk) saree, whom you begin to make conversation with, expecting the talk to revolve around the home and the hearth when you hear her wax eloquent about the latest happenings at Princeton and suddenly your own knowledge about matters of the world seem so limited. That kind of sums up what we like so much about Chennai – a globally aware metropolis where traditional customs are still followed and much of their meaning understood.

In Chennai, you come across a temple or a shrine ever so often as you walk along the streets, especially in Royapettah, Mylapore, Triplicane and the other older parts of the city. The city has two large temples, one at Mylapore – the Kapaleeswarar Temple, and the other at Triplicane – the Parthasarathy temple. Both the temples are enveloped by bazaars.

The Bazaar at Mylapore is primarily the four streets that border the temple and its tank. During festivals, these four traditional Mada streets that encircle the temple burst with people and celebration as the huge wooden temple car housing the idols is taken around the temple. 

In his book 'Madras Rediscovered' the historian, S.Muthiah notes that the Mylapore temple was on the shores in the 15th century and part of the great port of the Pallava Kings who bore the title Mylai Kavalar (Protectors of Mylapore). Meaning ‘Town of Peacocks’, Mylapore derives its name from a legend now depicted in one of the idols housed within the temple, where the Goddess Parvathi, the consort of Shiva, is shown worshipping him in the body of a peacock.

As you begin to walk along the North Mada street, you find shops that sell clothes for the deity. There is the Shree Sathyanarayana Silks – a Wholesale and Retail shop established in 1973 for Handloom Lace, Pure Silk sarees, Cotton sarees, Dhoties, etc. This is also the street that has the shops selling Temple Jewellery, which are worth a visit.
Earlier, the jewellery was all hand-made whereas today it is mass-produced. There are thousands of designs that have been carried on through generations of master artisans. They are now codified and each design has a name. The 'Radha Gold Jewellers' has 120 artisans working in silver and gold. The shop gets several orders from the Kalakshetra dance school, which was established by Rukmini Devi Arundale in Chennai and from well-known dancers all over South India.

Then, there are stores that sell Brass and Copper Pooja articles, Handicrafts, Gift articles and Devotional Decoration articles. These shops occupy some of the charming old vernacular houses that still exist in Mylapore, with their country tile roofs and their lime-plastered walls. The items for sale are displayed in the small rooms of the house and you pick up gifts for friends and family as you walk through the house with the salespeople being there when you need them.

At the entrance to the street leading to the east gate of the Temple and occupying a prominent corner is the Ambica Appalam Depot. It is actually 65 years old but in its current location since 12 years. When it first started on Madha Narayana Street, it sold primarily appalam and sambhar powder. Today, it sells all groceries and includes products such as Betel nut powder, Ginger sweets, Groundnut rounds, Idli Dosai chilly powder and the Payasam mix. There is a smaller outlet of Ambica Appalam also on the R.K.Mutt road.

There are shelves and shelves of ambica products such as the Lemon Rice paste, the Tomato Thokku, the Curry Leaf Rice paste, the Tiffin Sambhar paste, the Puliyodharai Rice paste and the Vathakuzhambu paste. You can also buy the MTR sambhar powder and Sri Ganeshram’s 777 brand of sambhar powder here. All of this makes Ambica Appalam a special place for those who miss what their mothers and grandmothers made ever so lovingly at home!

Facing the East entrance of the Temple is a small lane, which houses the well-known music shop – GIRI stores. This place is so special because you can find here recitations from the Gita, Carnatic Classical Vocal, Tamil discourses, Epic T.V.serials, Hindustani Classical and lots more. There is also music from Tamil films and Malayam songs.

There is Sanskrit devotional music that includes Sacred Vedic chanting, Veda Vahini, Chalisa, Shiva Stuti, Gayatri Mantram, Suprabhatam, MahaShivrathri puja, Shrimad Bhagvad Gita and the Lalitha Sahasranama Stothram. As you walk into the three-storeyed shop, there is devotional music playing in the background and pictures of Dr.Chitti Babu (Veena), Bombay S.Jayashri (Vocal), D.K.Pattamal (Vocal), Neela & Kunjumani (Flute), Prasanna (Guitar) and Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan (Violin).

On South Mada street, you will see and smell coffee shops and more coffee shops!! There is the P.R.K.Nadar Sons who are wholesale merchants for coffee. There is the Leo Coffee shop, which is where we always bought our daily dose of “Houseblend” when we lived in Chennai some years ago. Further down the same road, there is the ‘Brahmalaya’s Kumbakonam Degree’ coffee. Then, there is the simple outlet ‘Sobana Tea and Coffee bar’ and the contemporary Café Coffee day as well.

The west entrance to the temple abuts the temple tank and the street is lined by flower sellers, a fortune teller and vendors selling stickers with kolam designs. Further west, on R.K.Mutt road is a house that is simple looking but prominent in the history of Mylapore. This is the 'Samaithu Par' house that belonged to Meenakshi Ammal who is well-known for her three-volume book series 'Cook and See' which was first publised in 1951. It was written at that time for the young bride with advice on how to make the perfect coffee decoction and with recipes for adais and dosais and guidelines for how to manage a wedding function in your family!
To the west of the tank is the famous Ramakrishna Mutt, on R.K.mutt road. Further north on this road are shops that sell musical instruments such as the violin and the veena. There are people who come from all over South India for purchase or repair of their instruments here. 

What we also loved when we lived in Chennai for three years, were the neighbourhood newspapers that provided so much local news. There is the Mylapore Times - a free, English weekly that covers news about Mylapore, Alwarpet, Santhome and R.A.Puram. Every year, in the month of January, there is the 4-day Mylapore Festival with its dance recitals, its storytelling, its Rickshaw tours, Temple tours and its kolam competitions!

The Mylapore temple bazaar has also come to be a place where the women of the music-loving city of madras, shop for their silk sarees. For sarees, there is the famous Raasi silks, which is the biggest in this part of Chennai. This is opposite the Karpagambal Mess, a place to visit for idlis and dosas when you are here. It is especially well-frequented in the Kutcheri months (Music season) in December/ January when the Gana Sabhas (music halls) in the Mylapore region are overflowing with ardent music lovers. You have just listened to Bombay Jayashree or Aruna Sairam sing at the Mylapore Fine Arts Society and then you come by here for a tiffin (snack) and a filter coffee which is an apt end to the blissful day.

On the food front, there is also the Vasantha Bhavan on South Mada and the Saravana Bhavan on the North Mada Street. What you don’t want to miss at Saravana’s is their natural icecreams - including flavours such as tender coconut, jackfruit and panchamrutam! Near Mylapore are also the Luz Church and the Santhome Cathedral, which was part of an old Portuguese settlement of the 16th century - also worth a visit while you are at this most exciting temple bazaars of South India. If you want to get to know the real chennai this is the place to begin!

Other Bazaar tours in India :
Bazaar Tour 1 : Dadar Flower Market, Mumbai
Bazaar Tour 2 : Antique market, Mumbai
Bazaar Tour 3 : Varkala, Kerala
Bazaar Tour 4 : Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore


Aaarti said...

Wow, that is one extensive post... Loved reading it..
Am from chennai and hyes, i do love this city to pieces... :) no matter wot!!

radha said...

I was one who hated Chennai, but over the years the city grows on you. I would like to live here once I retire. And the temple visits are a must. Married to a Tambram, I was gifted the Samaithapaar books by my father-in-law, it is in tatters but very much there for reference. The Raasi silk, the Karpagambal Mess, all had to be a part of the temple visit. Like Aarati, loved reading the post.

Indian Bazaars said...

Aaarti : It's a nice city, isn't it?!
Radha : Nice to know that you have the Samaithapaar books. I like reading the descriptive guidelines so much - how to save fuel & so on.

Lakshmi said...

I love chennai. period. nice post :)

Coni Immanuel said...

Hi there,
I am an Indonesian living near this Kapaleswaara Temple.
I do enjoy Chennai with it sound, sight, smell, colour, people, culture, food, and ofcourse surprises :)

Indian Bazaars said...

It must be quite special to live near the Kapaleeswara Temple and to experience it early morning and at different times of the day. Thanks for leaving a comment!