A singularly Chennai sight

Tank outside Kapaleeshwara temple in Chennai

If you have time to see only one thing in Chennai, I was told that it has to be the temple called Kapaleeshwarar in the district called Mylapore. I had to visit Chennai on work, and between work and traffic, unfortunately, just had time to see one thing. So I went to Mylapore in the evening of the day of Holi. I found later that the major temple festival, which occurs in the month of Falgun, had just ended the day before.

Kapaleeshwarar temple in Chennai from the west, across the tankI arrived a little before sunset. West of the temple is a large fenced tank used for ritual bathing. I walked around the north edge of this tank looking for a way in. I walked right around without finding an open gate, then turned the corner to the western end. Through a locked gate here, I took the photo on the right. The tank is pretty big, and the imposing western gopuram (gate), draped in green, is seen as just a blip on the horizon in this photo. The only open gate seemed to be on the eastern edge of the tank. I walked around to the south and through the bars of the fence took the photo of the structure in the tank at the top.

Guarding slippers at the Kapaleeshwarar temple in ChennaiThe gate on the eastern edge of the tank was open, but someone inside was shooing people out. I was bundled out along with other visitors and the gate was firmly shut behind us. All around were the remains of structures erected for the temple festival, which were now being dismantled. The temple has two gopurams, of which the western one is shorter. Although there was a lot of activity here, I walked around to the other entrance. This was busier; many more shoes were left around each entrance. A couple came by; the lady left her sandals and went in while her husband stood guard. He was the only sentry; most people were not very concerned about losing their footwear. I guess those who were just paid up a few rupees at the stalls which kept your shoes for you.

Nandi atop a gate at the Kapaleeshwarar temple in Chennai

The eastern gopuram was the taller of the two; it is supposed to be around 40 meters high. The 15th century masonry structure was shrouded in green sheets. The intricate statuary on it peeped out from the gaps in the cloth. Among the remains of the temple festival was a lattice work of bamboo over a side gate. An image of the sacred bull, Nandi, looked about calmly from under this strange cage.

View of the Kapaleeshwarar temple from the east in ChennaiThrough the open gate I could see one of the main shrines inside, perhaps the one to Shiva. As I took a photo I realized that two peahens had wandered into the frame (you can see them walking on the highest horizontal bamboo pole in the photo alongside).

The temple is dedicated to the lord of fate, Shiva, and his consort Shakti. The story is that she wooed Shiva here in the form of a peacock (mylai in Tamil), giving her name to the surrounding district called Mylapore. The temple keeps peacocks as a memorial to this story. This photo seemed to round off the visit quite nicely for me, and I left for that quintessential Tamil meal called the tiffen.

The area around the temple is full of little, and big, shops of all kinds. Many sell things you might need in the temple, but others sell kitchen equipment, and clothes. There was a tailor’s shop near a little book store. Many shops serve coffee and tiffen. The most famous of these is Saravana Bhavan. When I lived in Chennai in the late 1980s this was a small and famous shop. Now it is a famous chain of shops. As I walked up to it I saw trucks unloading food. I decided to give it a miss, and walked into a small family-run establishment nearby. The coffee was good, the bonda crisp on the outside and melting inside, the chutneys and sambar providing just the piquancy needed. Simple local food cooked well is a great way to finish the little bit of tourism you can squeeze into a working day.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


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