Chennai, Feb. 11: Taking a stroll may never be the same again for the residents of this city.
Following an initiative by a free weekly English newspaper, Chennai is witness to a new concept of ‘Heritage walks’. As the name suggests, it is a journey of exploration of centuries-old history — in this case, a discovery of the rich cultural and spiritual past of Mylapore.
One of the oldest parts of the city, Mylapore’s 2,000-year-old history goes back to the days of the Tamil saint-poet, Thiruvalluvar.
“We have been doing things beyond the newspaper,” said Vincent D’Souza, editor and publisher of Mylapore Times, who launched the concept by expanding the paper’s cultural activities that goes under the rubric of Mylapore Festival during the December-January season.
The idea, he said, “is to do things in keeping with the character of the local area, which means taking a peek at history, traditions, culture and customs”.
The walk around Mylapore takes three hours and is flagged off from the Luz Church. Arguably the oldest church in the city, according to historians, it is reminiscent of how some “Portuguese sailors, in distress while at sea, were guided to safety by a light”.
Then there is the House of Amrutanjan, an all-purpose soothing balm dating back to 1893, a typical Mylapore Agraharam (the area where Brahmins traditionally lived) and the striking and massive portico of the Luz House that belongs to the family of Buchi Babu, credited for introducing cricket in Chennai.
Further down is the Thanithurai commodities market on the banks of the Buckingham Canal, the over 100-year-old building of the Sanskrit College, the historic Krishna Vilas house on West Mada Street associated with the birth of the Indian National Congress, the Lady P.S. Sivaswami Girls School, founded by the Maharaja of Vizianagaram in 1869 and in the forefront of women’s education in Chennai, and, of course, the majestic San Thome Basilica. The latter owes its name to the apostle St Thomas, believed to have been buried in the village in the first century AD.
Walking down Bazar Road one discovers a sprawling bungalow of one Chandraprakash, whose great-grandfather had walked with other Marwari families all the way from Rajasthan in search of new business opportunities. “In some houses, you can see a rare collection of photographs, pieces of jewellery, old vessels or a string of marriage invitation cards of people across generations,” says Vincent.
Along the route are hospitable hosts who greet the touring group with a cup of hot filter coffee. “Last time, we even organised a typical South Indian breakfast,” Vincent said. The objective being that the participants “get a feeling of the history, religious, and cultural heritage and the social life of one of the most lived parts of the city with its stamp of pride,” he adds.
Future walks through Mylapore will also include a visit to the Fort St. George, the seat of government, and George Town. There are also plans to rope in expert tour guides to provide interesting details about the landmarks gleaned from history, folklore and myths.