In Pictures: Shores of Madras
Once upon a time, numerous settlements evolved around a seaside fort, the city’s limits expanded to include ancient villages and eventually, the strip of land came to be called as Chennapatnam. Madrasapatnam which lay further away was combined and the British shortened it to Madras. And that’s how our stories began.
It’s all about experiences, places, and people, about inward shifts as well as geographical displacements.
Theera Ulaa — One Endless Journey chose the shores of that little town which determined and as a city now presents the very idea of India, besides splashing in the waves and lolling on the sands, the universal reasons for visiting Marina and the extended Coromandel Coast, not in any particular order, are good food, pleasant breeze, and activities such as walking, surfing or just sitting around and soaking in the view, and, oh yes, an atmosphere for romance! With sunrise, we rise. Far away from the waking city of Chennai, We spent the first morning of the trip at the Covelong Point, Kovalam to begin our Shores of Madras on a brighter note. The warm wind waxed our cheeks while the silly contraptions blew our minds off. And of the tons of possibilities, a running thread of discussion on if science is awesome or not. Isn’t it? “(Marina)…is not just the most important landmark of Chennai but also a temple by itself — the sea being the presiding deity, always reminding you that no matter how powerful you may think yourself to be, it considers you no different from the shell of tender coconut lying on the sands.” — An extract from a chapter named ‘A Seaside Story’ in the book ‘Tamarind City’ written by Bishwanath Ghosh. Every statue from Kannagi to Sivaji Ganesan and every person from the tea seller to the boy selling peanuts tell a story worth remembering. Ever since the East India Company purchased a strip of “waste land” along the Coromandel Coast from a Nayak ruler and built Fort St. George, the seat of power that is today, Chennai has long held the tradition of having its major share of iconic and significant structures along the shore. Take a town bus and you shall witness them all as time ticks — University of Madras, Presidency College, All India Radio, Queen Mary’s College, M.A.Chidambaram Stadium, Vivekanandar Illam to name a few. Captured during the #shoresofmadras meet up in the Thiruvanmiyur beach, this is literally the only good snap we managed to get from our camera roll. Because, we were busy having conversations and playing with the beach sand and occasionally looking at the sand castles built by a kid. Housing the fisherman community migrated from Chepauk (village) in 1799 during the rule of the East India Company, Kasimedu is one of the major fishing hubs in Chennai. The reel life Padagotti hero from the Thirukkai Klan, they say Dr.M.G.Ramachandran, former CM of the state popularly known MGR liked to eat meen kuzhambu prepared the previous day at next day’s breakfast, so the fish would perfectly absorb all the flavour in the curry. Puratchi Thalaivar, as they call was a constructed system of mise-en-scène, these films celebrate the hero’s subalternity and create an ambience that makes it possible for the audience to identify themselves with him. No wonder, every third shop and auto in the Northern part of Madras carries a portrait of this man. Located in Royapuram, which also houses India’s oldest Railway Station, the fishing harbour bustles with life from 3 in the morning. Some days they will feel like the ocean, some days they will feel like drowning in it. You got to admire the fisher folk. Between Fishermen, fisherwomen and the rest of the world. Too often we underestimate a power of a smile, a small talk… and that’s enough said. Had a good little conversation with this boy in a lit up Kasimedu lane. He knew all about fishes and believed he knew all about the sea. Believed to have served as the scurry port city of the Pallavas in the 7th and 8th centuries, the shore of Mahabalipuram hosts stone temples, chariots, caves and halls throughout its length and breadth depicting incidents of from Mahabharatam and various historical events including the descent of the Ganges. A bit of lore and history is behind these twin names. In Hindu mythology, an asura king named Mahabali was said to have ruled these shores and he was slain by the Hindu God, Vishnu in one of his avatars called Vamana avatar and hence, the name Mahabalipuram. Later on, the port was flourishing under the Pallava king, King Narasimhavarman 1 also titled Mammalla for being a famous wrestler and this place was named after him. While the circular masonry lighthouse which is open to the public now was commissioned by the British and has been functional from 1904, it is believed that the older structure above the Olaknaeeswara Temple nearby must be India’s oldest lighthouse. Built around 640 AD, the Pallavas lit Bonfire on the top of the structure to guide the sailors. Little did we know when we were standing on it facing the vast sea that we failed to capture a photograph of the same before parting way? Known initially as ‘Vaan-irai-kal’ (stone of the sky god) and as ‘the butter ball’ according to the Hindu mythology depicting Lord Krishna’s antics of stealing butter from his mother, this structure weighing 250 tons is believed to be here for the past 1200 years. According to the records, the later name was coined by a guide in 1969 who was appointed to show the sculptures of Mahabalipuram to Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India. Several failed attempts have been made to move this due to safety concerns inclusive of the one in 1908 using eight elephants by then Madras Governer Arthur Havelock. Chennai’s got swag. And Madras has got some too. She sells sea shells… never mind. He is no fisherman. This is my good friend Shafeeque (not Shafique or Shafik) standing right there because I asked him to.