A weeklong celebration was dedicated to cherish the founding day of Madras and its 377th birthday. Madras has witnessed a lot since being Madrasapatnam to becoming Madras to the transformation to the present metropolitan Chennai. The city is changing, and with it are vanishing some marvelous foot prints of the past. Mylapore is one of the oldest villages in Chennai. The character of this heritage precinct is gradually changing – and its streetscapes and building facades are transforming from unique to mundane.
Mylapore gets its name from Mayil arparikum oor, which means literally ‘the place where peacocks scream’ as it was historically a city of peacocks. It is believed, it was here that goddess Parvathi took the form of a peahen and performed penance to marry Lord Shiva in the form of Kapaleeshwarar. Once upon a time, Mylapore was indeed a grove of beautiful tress and dancing peacocks. The Shaiva saint Thirugnana Sambandar described Mylapore as a place where ‘honey-trees grow in beautiful gardens on the seashore, where Devi appeared in the form of a peahen and Kapaleeshwarar married her and they lived in Mylapore’.
A group called “Houses of Mylapore” is putting its efforts in retaining and conserving the unique historical character and features of Mylapore. Recently, they conducted a series of walks for the people of Chennai to have a closer look at the unexplored heritage and to experience the transformations happening in this village, especially as its heritage houses disappear gradually. I was part of one such walk, and this blog post is a photo-feature of my experience…
Mylapore is home to many communities and has also experienced many changes as the historical establishments of the cities have come and gone. The influence of different cultures and the evidences of transformation are visible on the facades of the houses even today.
Walking around the village, one can still sense the roots of culture going deep into the neighbourhood. On mornings, one can still see the village come to life with decorated Kolams in front of the houses, sacred chants can be heard from the houses and the temple….
Some of the buildings are proudly standing the test of time. Some deterioration in the building facades have actually exposed the changes they have undergone with time.
Exposed Flemish Bond
Maada streets surround the four sides of the temple. These streets are lined with shops selling clothes, saris, vegetables, pottery, pictures of gods and goddesses, flowers, etc. Behind these are private homes, all part of the ancient temple town.
The houses that came around abutting the temple wall were called Agraharams. They are clustered houses with courtyard. One can see the influence of French and Portuguese architecture in the Agraharams. Most of the houses are owned by the temple trust and people who live here pay a meagre rent. This is one of the reasons for low maintenance of the houses and unfortunately, those that are not occupied are slowly being demolished for up gradation of property and street.
The daily ritual includes praying – facing towards the temple. The temple’s Vimana, can be seen from the courtyard of the houses. The houses have skylights, for natural light. One of the most striking features of one of the houses here was the nesting of sparrows. The wooden cornice surrounding the courtyard has small holes for the sparrows to nest and amazingly, every year, one can can see sparrows making their homes in the house even to this date.
Previously, all the houses had roofs sloping towards the central tank. This system of rain water harvesting was designed to collect the rain water in the tank for the hot, summer season and to keep the water levels in the nearby wells high. Today, many old homes of Mylapore have been broken down and replaced by flat-roofed buildings. (Sourcehttp://bodahub.com/the-rich-history-of-mylapore/:)
There are many historical buildings and precincts within Mylapore but the plight of these buildings and areas is disheartening. What is more worrying is the lack of initiative from the community itself and the negligence by institutions responsible. ASI does not consider Mylapore as heritage neighbourhood as the evident elements of history and heritage structures are diminishing. The community is not involved as most of the property belongs to the temples trust, and those which are not under the trust have made fancy multi storied buildings.
About 3-4 of the heritage houses are demolished or torn down every month to be replaced by ‘modern’ structures. At this pace, the beauty and essence of Mylapore is in danger of getting lost forever. This is one of those places where the change over time is quite tangible – the changes in architectural styles, the changes in the community and its living. Walking through these streets, one is transported to the different eras and this neighbourhood has seen…