Chennai has naturally expanded over the centuries to incorporate a number of what were once small villages. Mylapore existed in fact many centuries before Chennai was founded but is now surrounded by modern high-rises and offices and cut in half by the Chennai Metro (the new elevated railway): however, it still has a traditional small-town “feel”.
Most visitors to south India pass quite quickly through Chennai – it is true that since the city has no centre, and using public transport is a bit of a challenge, seeing the sights involves a lot of driving around getting steadily hotter and more and more stressed. But for those with time and energy, a walk around Mylapore is worthwhile.
The focus is the Kapaleeswarar temple and its tank, which were recently spruced up. The temple is dedicated to Siva in his incarnation as a peacock. The Tamil word for peacock is mayil, and puram is a word ending meaning town or village, hence “peacock-town”. [Tamil Nadu is full of -purs and -purams]. During the 7th and 8th centuries it was an important port of the Pallavas, but it must have declined after that since when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, taking over the coastal strip and developing the settlement of San Thome, they were easily able to destroy the original temple and nudge Mylapore inland where the temple was rebuilt.
The streets of Mylapore are busy in the early morning with visitors to the temple and the morning walkers: Chennaites who are retired or who don’t have walk for a living are keen on the exercise and after the morning puja take to the streets around 5am before the increase in traffic makes walking too exciting. Then in the late afternoon and evening the shops are alive with customers.
We go to Mylapore for certain key items. I buy my lungis there, for example. The main Nalli shop is in T Nagar, and you would need to go there for silks and saris, but for the simple Madras cotton lungi, Nalli’s in Mylapore has an excellent choice. I shall blog later about the lungi and its versatility. Then there are a number of good shops selling steel kitchenware including plates and tumblers, which are invaluable as they are completely indestructible. We use them on picnics, and in the hotel rooms for that necessary nightcap. When we lived in Chennai a German woman took an entire dinner service home from Chennai, all in steel, and apparently caused quite a stir in the fashionable part of Berlin!