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TAMIL NADU

Tamil Nadu is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world and consequently a repository of ancient history and culture. Travellers to this fascinating state situated beside the eastern coast of India and the southern fringe of the Deccan Plateau will be held in thrall by the abundance of its cultural heritage and beauty of its landscapes. Bounded by the state of Andhra Pradesh to the north, Karnataka to the west and Kerala in its south western extremity, Tamil Nadu has been blessed by nature and history. Dense forests carpet its mountains, home to a fascinating variety of flora and fauna, Tamil Nadu's coast offers numerous scenic beaches. However, the diadems on Tamil Nadu’s travel trails are its fabulous historical architecture and sculptures,in temples and forts bequeathed by ancient dynasties of Chola, Chera and Palava monarchs.
As a result of its history of maritime conquest and trade, Tamil Nadu’s culture has embraced temples, churches and mosques. St Thomas, one of Jesus' twelve apostles attained martyrdom here and Vedic Brahmin, pre-Vedic cultures have thrived here. Tamil Nadu has birthed Sangam literature, ancient classical dance forms and music were created here as well. Tamil Nadu’s Dravidian culture has now melded almost seamlessly with a cosmopolitan milieu. Chennai, the capital of the state is a fascinating amalgam of cultures, an eclectic city where the chatter of expatriates fills the air with all the languages of the world and yet, a place where people gather to learn Sanskrit.

Chennai Chennai is a restless, bustling Indian metropolis, redolent with an ancient Tamil Dravidian culture that has now melded almost seamlessly with a cosmopolitan milieu. Chennai is also an eclectic city - temples, churches and mosques abound. St Thomas, one of Jesus' twelve apostles attained martyrdom here and the city is also home to Vedic Brahmin clans and pre-Vedic cultures. To the traveller looking beneath the surface Chennai offers the ancient traditions of the Siddhas and Bharatnatyam, the renowned temple dance, besides contemporary theatre and ballet performances. It is a city where the chatter of expatriates fills the air with all the languages of the world and yet, a place where people gather to learn Sanskrit. It is a city of brilliant software engineers and scientists and mathematicians and home to outstanding artistic talent.
Kapaleeswarar Temple Legend speaks of a king who once ruled the region, who, while out hunting chanced upon an amazing sight -wild peacocks worshipping a ‘lingam’ (symbol of the Hindu god Shiva) with offerings of flowers. The king decided to build a temple dedicated to Shiva at the spot, installing the same lingam and naming the area Mylapura or ‘City of the Peacocks’. The current temple beside the sea was first built by kings from the Pallava dynasty in the 7th century AD in the Dravidian style of architecture. Subsequently most of the temple was razed by marauding Portuguese soldiers in AD 1556. Very little remains of the old temple besides some 12th century inscriptions. However, the temple was later rebuilt by the Vijayanagar dynasty during the latter part of the 16th century incorporating material recovered from the ruins. The temple now embraces a large pond and its main ‘gopuram’ or tower contains numerous shrines within. The predominat shrine is dedicated to the god Shiva or Kapaleeshwara.
Santhome Cathedral An imposing structure stands, south of Marina beach, a Roman Catholic basilica, the Santhome Cathedral. First built by Portuguese settlers in the 16th century in homage to St. it was subsequently rebuilt by the British in the neo- Gothic style by the British in 1893 and is today a magnificent landmark in Chennai. The Santhome basilica is believed to be one of onlythree to have been built over the tomb of an apostle - the others being St Peter's in Rome and St. James in Santiago, Spain. Once it was the principal church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Chennai and the extended area of Mylapore. The Santhome Cathedral was declared a national shrine in 2006.
St.Thomas Mount
Marina Beach At 13 kms. the Marina beach is the longest urban beach in India and the second largest stretch in the world. A promenade fringing the beach was built in 1884 and the country's first aquarium installed here in 1909. A number of remarkable statues line the promenade as well. A statue named ‘Triumph of Labour’ depicting four men braced to move a large rock exemplifies Chennai’s spirit. Another noteworthy statue is one of Mahatma Gandhi, caught mid stride in his purposeful march to Dandi. Both two statues symbolically depict moral righteousness, revolt against tyranny and respect for labour - values deeply enshrined in Tamil ethos. From April to October and again for a month from the middle of January to the middle of February the Chennai coastline attracts bales of endangered Oliver Ridley turtles that arrive to nest – one of the three homing grounds for these turtles, who lay their eggs in the sand before returning to the sea. Although the waters are unsafe to swim in due to turbulent undercurrents, the beach remains very popular with locals and visitors alike.
Fort St.George and St.Mary’s Cathedral The 17th century saw the construction of the first British fort inIndia, completing it in1644 and naming it Fort St. George. The establishment of the fort and later, a harbour, led to the growth of settlements in its immediate vicinity that later grew to become one large settlement named George Town, and thus the forerunner of Chennai was born. was the modern and more extensive city of Madras born. Protected by sturdy 6 metre high walls the fort today houses the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, numerous governmental offices and encloses the popular St. Mary's Church and the Fort Museum. The museum mostly displays symbols of power that once belonged to British colonialists.
St.Mary’s Church The period between1678 and 1680 saw the construction of St Mary's Church, the oldest Anglican church east of Suez and also the oldest British building in India, that later came to be referred to as the 'Westminster Abbey of the East'. The building consists of a protruding nave and two aisles forming the sanctuary. The interior of the church were renovated in 1884 to house the choir. The tombstones in its graveyard mark the oldest demises of Englishmen in India. Robert Clive, a mercenary and later a British officer who established the supremacy of the East India Company in Bengal was married in St Mary's Church - as was the earliest benefactor of the prestigious Yale University in the USA, Governor Elihu Yale.
Kanchipuram Kanchpiuram is an ancient town set on the banks of the River Vegavathy that has evolved over centuries, witness to the rise and fall of the Pallava, Chola, Pandya dynasties, the Vijayanagar empire, the Carnatic kingdom, and finally, the British empire. While most historians refer to Kanchipuram as a Chola capital, the grammarian Patanjali first mentioned the city during his lifetime (the 3rd or 2nd century BCE) and it was also described as the "best among cities" by the Sanskrit poet Kalidasa. Populated mostly by communities of weavers, the town is renowned for its cottage industry that produces the most exquisite sarees woven from silk and cotton and its profusion of ancient Hindu temples. In the Hindu theological narrative, Kanchipuram is one of the seven Indian cities of pilgrimage and moksha where people seek salvation in their final journey. Home to the goddess Kamakshi Devi, presiding goddess of the Kamakshi Amman temple, the hub around which this vibrant town functions, the goddess is believed to grant the boons of education and wealth generously.
Kailasanatha Temple Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture - between 685 and 705 AD by rulers from the Pallava dynasty, many experts believe that this is most ancient temple in Kanchipuram. It is also believed that the design of the temple served as a prototype for later temples in South India. Numerous hrines depicting the diverse manifestations of Shiva and unique (for the time) frescoes describing his legends, adorn the inner walls of the sanctum. The shrines are enclosed within niches of the outer passage, facing devotees as they circumambulate the sanctum - a feature which became typical of latter day temples, either as sculptures of the presiding deity or painted as wall frescoes.
Ekambaranatha Temple Believed to be at least 1400 years old, the Ekambarantha temple is the largest temple in Kanchipuram and one of the five major Shaivite shrines in the city. The ‘gopuram’ of Ekambareshwar temple looms over the northern skyline of the town and is possibly among the tallest in India. The 25 acres of land on which the temple stands contains five spacious courtyards and a hall with a thousand carved pillars. A legend associated with this temple revolves around a mango tree in the compound that is believed to be around 3,500 years old, that produces four different types of mangoes - perhaps the result of grafting at some point.
Vaikundaperumal Temple
Kamakshiamman Temple
Mahabalipuram Situated 60 kms south of Chennai, the ancient, historic city of Mammalapuram or Mahabalipuram was established by rulers, maritime traders par excellence, of the Pallava dynasty as a port during the 7th century, trading with Rome and Greece. Megalithic burial urns, cairn circles and jars in graves dating to the early Christian era have been discovered in excavations around Mahabalipuram. A five-storied temple believed to have been built between the 7th and 8th century AD, subsequently named the Shore Temple, cut out of solid rock and carved intricately, provides evidence of the structural abilities of the Pallava engineers. Legend has it that the temple is the sole survivor of a complex of seven temples. Local fishermen insist that the ruins of other six are underwater, far out at sea. The area around Mahabalipuram is scattered with a profusion of archaeological sites - Rathas or chariots, which are essentially temples carved like stationary chariots, mandapas or caves hewn out of rock, which might have been meditation sanctuaries of Buddhist monks.... and a sometimes bewildering numbers of sculptures and enormous stone reliefs.Nno wonder then that all these monuments, temples, sculptures and caves have been collectively defined as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Krishnamandapam Situated on a hillock beside a rock relief named ‘Descent of the Ganges’, Krishnamandapam was intially an originally open-air bas-relief dedicated to Lord Krishna, dating to the mid-seventh century, which was later enclosed within a pillared mandapa in the 16th century during the Vijayanagara Empire. Sculpted panels inside depict myths attributed to the Hindu god Krishna dated to the 7th century with later additions in the 16th century.
Mandapams (Ramanujam) Ramanuja Mandapam is one of the numerous rock-cut cave temples in Mahabalipuram believed to originate from between 640 - 674 AD. The entrance to the cave is adorned with six columns covered with stone slabs and encloses a quadrangular open to the air forecourt. The interior contains three cells, the largest with two columns and pilasters adorned with horned lions. Steps cut in stone leading to the top of rock. It is believed that the temple was first a Shaivism place of worship that was later turned into a Vaishnavite shrine. In the process many experts believe many exquisite sculptures were destroyed or defaced.
Pancha Rathas In the grand tradition of the Pallava builders, the ‘Pancha Rathas’ or the Pandava Rathas are built within a massive complex in a flourish of unprecedented monolithic rock cut sculpture and architecture. Evidence reveals that work on the structures began sometime in the 7th century and several generations of monarchs and patrons passed on before they reached completion.
Shore Temple The Shore Temple (built in 700–728 AD) set beside the Bay of Bengal is one of the oldest structural (as opposed to rock-cut) stone temples of South India, built with blocks of granite. As one among the ‘Group of Monuments’ at Mahabalipuram, it has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.
Crocodile Bank The Crocodile near Chennai is the work of leading herpetologist Romulus Whitaker and a group conservationist that began work on the facility in 1976, attempting to save India’s dwindling population of crocodiles promote the conservation of reptiles and amphibians and their habitats through education, scientific research and captive breeding. Over the years the Crocodile Bank has become an example of enduring frontline conservation and the preservation of natural landscapes.
Vellore Located on the banks of the Palar River in the north-eastern part of Tamil Nadu, Vellore is a small town that has been witness to a significant history. The town has been ruled, at different times, by the Pallavas, Cholas, the Vijayanagar empire, Rashtrakutas, Carnatic kingdom and the British. Vellore also played a significant role in rebellions against British colonial rule and the Vellore fort is the most prominent landmark in the city.
Golden Temple Situated amidst a lush landscaped park at the foot of a line of hills, a short distance outside Vellore town, the façade of the temple is encased with gold that has been intricately worked on by skilled artisans converting gold bars into foil and then mounting foil to add multiple layers on copper plates.
Thiruvannamalai- Asram & temple
Chidambaram- Thillai Nataraja Temple Two thousand years old, this magnificent temple, situated in the heart of the Chidambaram town, is spread over 40 acres, bordered by one of the largest mangrove forests in the world. The gold roofed temple with its glittering ‘gopurams’ is a fascinating example of the stupendous architectural heritage of the Chola rulers. Although the primary shrine is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva, represented by a bronze idol garlanded with gold leaves in his manifestation as Nataraja (the god of dance in Hindu mythology), there are smaller shrines in the complex devoted to other deities. The festivals at the temple are dedicated to music and dance with the annual Natyanjali Dance Festival and the Mahashivaratri being most popular where the most accomplished dancers perform.
Tanjore /Thanjavur Thanjavur is an important centre of Hindu scholarship, culture, art, culture and religion popularly associated with temples from the Chola period in history. Many of the temples in the town have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Monuments with the magnificent Brihadeeswara Temple in its heart being most renowned. Music and dance reverberated through the centuries under the patronage of many rulers such as the Nayaks of the 16th century and it is in Thanjavur that Carnatic music was codified. Many styles of Bharathanatyam, the classical temple dance form of the South also evolved in Thanjavur. Flamboyant, gold leaf paintings of the gods and similar sacred subjects, set with real gems called Tanjore or Thanjavur paintings are prized by collectors and unique to the region. The 16th century Saraswati Mahal Library in Thanjavur is one of the oldest libraries in Asia. Built for the exclusive use of royalty by the scholarly Nayak rulers of the region, the library is a repository of a fascinating collection of manuscripts and books.
Sri Brahadeeswara Temple Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, historian Percy Brown described this thousand year old Shaivite temple as "a landmark in the evolution of building art in South India". Built by the Chola monarch Raja Raja Chola I the temple is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. The inner walls of the sanctum are covered with exquisite paintings from the Chola and Nayak periods in the region’s history. Visitors are greeted at the temple’s entrance by an enormous monolithic representation of a bull named Nandi, in Hindu mythology the vehicle of the god Shiva. stands at the entrance of the temple. One among the temple's towers looms over the town indicative of the scale of its architecture. 66 meters high - indicating the scale of the Brihadeeshwara structure.
Sangeetha Mahal (Palace of Music) Sangeetha Mahal or ‘the hall of music’ was once a fabulous, gem encrusted theatre of the arts built in the early 17th century, during the reign of a ruler named Sevappa Nayak. Succeeding Maratha rulers then named it Sangeetha Mahal (‘palace of music’). The acoustics in the hall are remarkable, achieved by topping the rectangular hall with a vaulted roof and placement of a small pool in front of the performing area to absorb and deflect sound.
Art Gallery The Rajaraja Chola Art Gallery exhibits a massive collection of stone and bronze images from the ninth to 12th centuries. East of the Brihadeeswarar Temple lie the Shivaganga Park and Shivaganga Tank - both also credited to Raja Raja Chola I.
Kumbakonam Kumbakonam is a town that takes its name from the kumbha, or pot, alluding to a mythical pot and traces its history to the Sangam period in Tamil history and was an important capital of the Medieval Chola dynasty between the 7th and 9th centuries AD. Bound by the Kaveri River to the north and Arasalar River to the south, Kumbakonam is known as a "temple town" for its plethora of temples and monasteries or ‘mathas’. The Mahamaham festival, when pilgrims take a dip in the trapezoidal Mahamaham tank, attracts people from all over the globe.
Darasuram
Trichy Trichy or Tiruchirappalli, an ancient town, first finds mention in history during the 3rd century BC. Situated beside the Kaveri delta, the area is also the source of two important rivers the Kaveri and the Kollidam that together embrace Srirangam island. Befitting the town’s history, numerous monuments dot the landscape - the Rock Fort that towers over the town, the iconic Ranganathaswamy temple at Srirangam and Jambukeshwarar temple are considered the finest examples of Dravidian temple architecture. Inextricably synonymous with Trichy, the Rock Fort stands atop a 273 ft high rock and contains monolithic rock-cut cave temples. · Rock fort temple · Sri Rangam
Madurai Documented in the 3rd century BCE by the Greek ambassador Megasthenes Madurai is perhaps one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities of the world. Located strategically on the flat and fertile plain watered by the river Vaigai, there is archaeological evidence of the city's trade with ancient Romans. The city is built around the Meenakshi Amman temple, which was designed as a humungous, walled, self- sufficient city in itself - able to close off against invaders and sustain itself with ingeniously planned storages of food , water and residences in case of long sieges. Another historical monument worthy of mention is the palace of Tirumalai Nayak. The larger city is connected by regular, concentric, quadrangular streets to the temple - the social and geographical nucleus of Madurai. Meenakshi Temple · Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal · Gandhi Museum
Rameswaram
Kodaikanal Kodaikanal is a small town set around a scenic lake, situated on a plateau above the southern escarpment of the upper Palani Hills that form the eastward spur of the Western Ghats. Established as summer retreat in 1845, when British residents in India fled to the hills as a refuge from the high temperatures and tropical diseases of the plains. The hills that surround the town are covered with fragrant Eucalyptus plantations, meadows, grasslands and Shola forests cover valleys, rocky slopes with streams cascading through and sparkling waterfalls are sure to delight lovers of nature. As will acacia, cypress and pear trees, meadows draped in rhododendron, magnolia and bright yellow wildflowers. Large, vibrantly hued dahlias attract visitors to Bryant Park, an easy hike uphill from the Kodaikanal lake.
Ooty Situated at an altitude of 2240 metres in the Nilgiri or "blue hills" hills of the Western Ghats, Ooty is quintessentially a tourist destination, providing the same sort of summer retreat that Kodaikanal does. Lofty mountains, lakes, dense forests, sprawling grasslands, large expanses of tea plantations surround the town. A little meter guage train slowly chugs uphill from the plains, an exciting journey for visitors. There are energetic little ponies to ride once visitors arrive at the town’s pretty little train station and numerous picnic spots and trekking trail to explore. Ooty was once a favourite summer retreat of British colonialists who used it as a weekend getaway. When it was made into their summer administrative headquarters, colonial bungalows and cottages sprang up all around, a few of which remain to date. Ooty is famous for its strawberries and handmade chocolates, sold in quaint little shops on the High Street, where a discerning eye might also pick up an antique or two. For the curious and the adventurous, there are settlements of hill tribes known as the Toda, who still live exactly as they did centuries ago. They craft the most beautiful silver jewellery and dramatically coloured woollen shawls, which visitors may buy from them.
Kanyakumari Kanyakumari lies at the southernmost extremity of the Indian subcontinent on Cape Comorin, adjacent to the southern tip of the Cardamom Hills. It was once an important town during the Sangam period in Tamil history and in modern times, is a popular tourist destination and an important Hindu pilgrimage centre.
Pondicherry Once a French colony, the territory was ceded by the French to India and united with the Indian Union in 1962. This quaint town appeals to different people on different levels. Many visitors like to visit and sometimes stay in the Aurobindo ashram, some prefer to wander along the perpendicular streets which remind them of Paris, complete with policemen who still wear the smart French ‘kepi’, lounging in the French style cafes, restaurants and hotels and pausing to admire the old French mansions. Others prefer the Indian quarter - Ville Noire or Black Town adjacent to the French Quarter. The Indian quarter of Puducherry boasts of large verandah lined homes with grilled windows and doors. Here, both languages - the native Tamil and French are spoken equally fluently. Signposts and menus are still printed in French in many parts of the city and there is an easy relationship with the French culture. Sree Aurobindo Ashram Auroville Museum
Chettinadu Chettinadu or Chettinad is home to the extremely wealthy and prosperous mercantile community of the Nattukottai Chettiars. The region is as renowned for its well spiced, aromatic and non-vegetarian cuisine (excepting for beef and pork) as for its architecture and temples. Traditional 18th century mansions reflect both bygone and current prosperity, with wide, tiled courtyards and spacious, teak and rooms embellished with marble. The prosperous community of Chettiars with connections in different parts of the world had the wherewithal to import construction material and furnishings from East Asia, marble from Italy, chandeliers and teakwood from Burma, tableware from Indonesia, crystal chandeliers from Europe and immense mirrors from Belgium. Their homes were inspired by the great mansions of Europe, particularly those of France and are an unusual fusion of South Indian and Western architectural styles.

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