Chennai (then Madras) was the capital of the entire British Empire in the east until 1774. So, many British Empire builders such as Clive, Hastings, Wellington, Yale and Pitt, started their illustrious, and in some cases dubious, careers here. The city's Corporation, founded in 1687, was the first such governing body to be set up outside Europe.
Mylapore is the great port of Pallavas from where the Indian culture passed to the lands of the East from the 7th to the 9th centuries. There is Siva temple on the shore is regarded as the most important temple in the town. It bears the rich heritage of Chennai, the "Town of Peacocks".
Another ancient heritage of Chennai is the Sri Kapalee-swarar temple, which was built 300-400 years ago after the Portuguese had pushed Mylapore far from the shore in the mid-16th century. The main shrine of the temple faces west and curiously is entered through a smaller, but old gopuram. There is a huge tank in front of the western tank, which was dug in the 18th century on the land provided by the Nawab of the Carnatic. But the steps and the walls were built in the recent century.
The eastern entrance of the temple has a 120 feet gopuram (temple tower). It was built in 1906, which can be accessed through two rows of shops and modern high-rise. There is sacred Punnai tree in the outer courtyard, which is one of the oldest trees in Chennai. Remembering the legend that bestowed Mylapore its name, a shrine can be found in the shade of the tree. A sculpture of the Goddess Uma (Parvati) built in the form of a peacock can also be seen worshipping Lord Siva, who is represented by the traditional lingam.
One of the ancient heritages of Chennai is the first suburban village acquired by the East India Company named Triplicane. It used to be the favourite residential area of the Company servants. In that village, one can still find the castellated garden houses of that era. But yet the more prominent are the buildings associated with the Muslim presence in north Triplicane. In the 17th century, Triplicane owes its first Muslim settlers to the Golconda occupation.
The Muslim contribution to the city can be traced from the finest mosques and palaces built in the Chepauk. These were built to give shelter to those Muslims, who came here to settle in Madras under the protection of the British who had supported Nawab of the Carnatic in the wars of the Carnatic Succession.
There is another ancient heritage of Chennai named Amir or Arcot Mahal. The grounds of these mahals are through the massive gateway, which is now home of the Prince of Arcot. The Nawab of the Carnatic is designated. This palatial home was built in 1798 and more than 600 persons who are kin or retainers of the prince stay in its vast ground.
The Big (or Wallajah) Mosque in Triplicane built by the Nawab's family in 1795 is one of the most beautiful heritages of Chennai.
The Armenian Church in George Town of Chennai is one of the oldest heritages of the city. Its massive gates hide it from public view. One must see the church's belfry, a tower of magnificence with the biggest bells in Madras. There is an old Armenian burial ground to the left of the belfry, where the leftovers of it still can be seen in its courtyard. In the cemetery, the tombstone of Rev. Harathun Shimavonian can be seen, who founded Madras Azdarar, the first American journal in the world. The Armenian Church of Chennai displays a 1712 date, which refers to the building of the church. The pictures of Madras's Armenian community from earliest times can be seen in the corridors of the church. Loance Square streets in the west of the church sometimes serve as a park and a parking lot at others. In the west side, there is a mini street called 'Sowcarpet', which served as the home of the Saurashtras. They were among the first lot from North to arrive in the city and to pursue their skills in the textile trade. They are followed by the Marwaris from Rajasthan and the Seths from Gujarat. As most of them were Jains, the first Jain temple of Chennai was build here in the early 1900s. It was the Chandraprabhu Bhagwan Swetambar Jain Mandir. As the Jains multiplied in number, several new Jain temples were also built since the 1970s. These Jain temples were built following the ornate, beautifully sculpted marble style of the Mt. Abu temples. This trend was followed in later period and the Chandraprabhu Bhagwan Naya Jain Mandir was constructed on the site of the old temple in 1994.
There are several landmark buildings can be found on the Esplanade Road. The YMCA building of Chennai has completed its centenary in January 1990. It is one of the oldest heritages of the city. It was built in Jaina-Jaipuri style and was the first building in Madras to be erected at the request of Governor Arthur Have-lock. It was opened in 1900 and was designed by G.S.T. Harding. The work of the building started in 1895 and the work was completed by a donation of $ 40,000 by John Wanamaker, the then Post -Master General of the U.S.
One more heritage of Chennai is the Victoria students' hostel, which was built in the Raj's Indo-Saracenic style. It was opened in 1900 as the hostel of the college of Engineering when it was in its Chepauk Palace campus, before moving to Guindy in 1920. Now, the hostel serves as the hostel for any student of the University of Madras.
There are showrooms and premises of P.Orr and Sons, once Madras's leading jewellery and silversmiths, which was build in Indo-Saracenic style can be found in Madras, which has a heritage going back to 1849.
The War memorial is another heritage of Chennai, which is an elliptical corridor surrounding a central commemorative pillar, built shortly after the Great War (1914-18). The stone clad structure situated in its garden remembers the Indian Army's dead from Madras during two world wars and the wars after Independence. With a contrast to this, there is another heritage named Sai Baba temple, which is more modern in its architectural style and is situated near Adyar. The temple is situated among the old world homes and mansions but for its unique architectural style, it stands out among all of them.
Now, the new generation hardly realise the importance of the historic and architectural heritage of Chennai. The ocean of big hoardings and the chaos of overflowing streets have dominated over those ancient heritages. The Indian Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is trying to revive the living heritage of structures still in use in Chennai through their various publications. But the effort should be from all level and the support from the big private and public sectors can help in retaining these heritages of Chennai.
(Last Updated on : 23-01-2014)
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