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Notes on the Geography of Peninsular India: Chennai / Madras 1: The Hindu Base

Madras (or Chennai, as it is now known at least officially) is the site of some famous temples, especially the Kapaleshvara Temple in the Mylapore neighborhood.  Here, however, we begin with some less famous shrines.

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Peninsular India: Chennai / Madras 1: The Hindu Base picture 1

Think it's just a tank, handy for a little laundry? Not quite.

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This is Tiruneermalai, or sacred-water mountain. It's very dramatic on the approach to the city's airport, which is just a couple of miles beyond the hill. If the plane is landing from the west, sit on the right side, and the tank and hilltop spring out at you. Then, if you want to visit, you just have to find them. Not so easy if you're on your own, but with the name you can ask.

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The temple cart attached to Tiruneermalai. Twice a year, it's used to parade urchavar or metal images, the movable forms of the stone images fixed in the temple's garbagriha or sanctum sanctorum.

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Perhaps five miles to the south, there's another hilltop of only local significance. Here, steps are being built up to the top.

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Up top, there are half a dozen stone images. Here: perhaps Adi Sesha, the thousand-headed serpent that forms Vishnu's bed.

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Kali, presumably.

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An easy one: Shiva lingams. That's the Coromandel Coast in the background. The plain is dotted with tanks that pond irrigation water; here, however, the plain is being flooded by the expanding metropolis.

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Dakshinamurthy, or Shiva as teacher, literally "the one facing south." Few if any other Hindu gods are positioned in that direction.

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Draupati Amman, the Tamil mother goddess.

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Another temple cart, this one at the busy Kapaleshvara or Kapaleeshwara Temple in Mylapore, a district in the heart of the city.

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It's a busy place with perennial renovation works, in this case wrapping the gopura at the main entrance.

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A smaller gopura stands naked on the west side.

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No color too far.

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A brass lamp-column stands outside the main Shiva shrine.

Originally located on the coast, the temple was destroyed in 1566 by the Portuguese, who cannibalized parts of it for a Bishop's house. This replacement temple was built a short distance inland during the 17th century.

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It's a social place.

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Secular and sacred mix comfortably.

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Vegas-style lighting on a construction site.

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Calm prevails only beyond the western gopura, where there's a large tank. Apart from the sea and the Adyar River, it's the largest body of water within miles.


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