Celebrating Madras Day at DakshinaChitra, gave one an idea about the city and how it came to be what it is today.

Another Madras Day has come and gone, and the “grand old lady” celebrated her 372nd birthday.

The founding day of Madras is believed to have been on the August 22, 1639, when a small piece of land, (where Fort. St. George is), was transacted by the East India Company. The deal was struck by Francis Day, his “dubash” Beri Thimmappa, and their superior, Andrew Cogan, with the local Nayak rulers. It is believed that this deal was made on August 22, 1639. From this, grew settlements and the villages around it came up and slowly the city was formed. As part of the celebrations, there was a heritage walk in the cultural centre of DakshinaChithra with walkers from “Namma Mylapore” a civic volunteer group, led by Dr. Chithra Madhavan. Madras, now Chennai opened its door to diverse communities, from all part of the country, and so what better way to celebrate this city by enjoying the architectural forms brought by the different houses of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and through this, their art, religion and lifestyles.

Before the walk, the point that was stressed was that these houses were no mere exhibits.but houses that had been lived in. When the owners wanted to dispose them of, DakshinChithra bought them, dismantled them and re erected them in their present site. So it was a living museum.

The walk began with Kerala. The houses were mainly built with timber as the state had plenty of wood, especially Jack. The sloping tiled roof helped to combat the heavy monsoon weather. This particular one was of a Hindu household, and built in 1875. The pillar at the entrance had an ornate carving on top — that of a banana flower, an auspicious symbol in many a festival.

A focal point of the houses of Tamil Nadu and Kerala was the veranda and the raised tinnai.

The Syrian Christian house built in 1850 had the granary as the focal centre of the house and the canoe, that was hung outside brought home the fact that Kerala was place of vast water bodies and two people could easily paddle away to ee to their business, even shopping, come back and put away the canoe, till the next day.

Walk through

Crossing the bridge to Tamil Nadu, the first stop was at the “Nattukottai Chettiyar's” house — the sprawling space, the huge teak pillars, pointed to the fact that here was a prosperous community. They crossed the seas to do business. The teak in their homes came from Burma. The heavy doors that were decorated with protrusions were copied from the temple doors. The temple had these kinds of doors as during enemy attack, people could take refuge there. Enemy elephants could never bring down these doors because of the sharp protrusions. Eventually these doors were copied and installed in houses.

The Tamil Nadu houses also portrayed a Vedic scholar's house in Ambur, a weaver's house and a farmer's house.

The little temple to Ayyanar and his companion, Karuppusamy again brought out the beliefs of the village folk. They are believed to guard the village and its people against enemy and disease.

A few steps took us to Karnataka, through the granite doorway. The first stop was at the Lambadi's cottage where their famous mirror work clothes and the cowrie shell accessories were seen. They came from Rajasthan and Gujarat because of famine and were integrated into the society.

The Ikkal house of Andhra Pradesh showcased the Ikkat weave in different stages and a tiny room had a variety of Kondapalli toys. The circular huts with the pointed thatched roof of the Andhra Pradesh coastal fisher folk is now believed to be the best structure to hold against cyclones.

A day well spent, the experience opened out a vista of realisations, that Chennai had indeed become a richer place in everyway through the amalgamation of the different cultures it incorporated and become the grand city it is today.