Madras Week Special 2012

Mylapore - 2

Modernity does not trample upon Mylapore, as a part of it is a vintage town. The life and activities buzzing around the temples is a mixture of colourful past and a lively present.

The four nada streets (the four streets adjoining the temples) are a microcosm of Mylapore.

The massive Kapaleeshwarar tank is the saving grace of the area and the depletion of water has reduced it to a mere sand square, laments Gopal who has seen this temple tank filled with water. There is a mantapam in the middle and the deities rest here during the float festival. It used to resemble a miniature sea but now it looks like a sand quarry, mourns Sampath who revels in spending time here during the evenings.

Over the years, the failure of monsoon resulted in the water level dwindling which rang the death knell of this area. If there is copious water in the kulam, then the water level in the adjoining wells go up and are sustained throughout the year, comments Mohan, an old resident of Mylapore.

During the Arupathimoovar festival, which occurs in March-April, Mylapore is a paradise on earth. This week-long festival reaches a crescendo on Arupathimoovar procession day when all the 63 Saivite mystics - Nayanmars - come one after another in tiny, decorated palanquins and go on a veedhi ula to bless the devout multitude who throng the streets to worship them. It is a spectacular event and the festive spirit permeates the air. The float festival lures people from all corners of Chennai to the Mylai tank to witness the celestial family afloat in the holy waters.

I have an appointment with the deities, beamed Janaki, whizzing past attired in the traditional madisar saree. Carrying a tambulam as offering to the gods on the Arvupathimoovar day, she had just completed the mindboggling pulli kolam at the entrance of her house on the streets. The kolam was decorated with myriad colors which gave an aesthetic appeal.

To avoid traffic snarls in the area, all educational institutions declare holiday on that day. It is a visual treat to see the Nayanmars amble down the road amidst chanting of verses from the holy texts. This festival encapsulates the spirit of the week-long festival, declared Parameshwaran who has been enjoying the festival for several years.

To capitalise on this event, several mobile shops and hawkers swarm this area displaying exquisite items and exotic accessories. The seashell, conches and crystal beads sold by them have a uniqueness which is captivating.

There is a predictable influx of Gypsies who ensnare the passers-by with their paasi mani malai. Madhavi swears by them as she feels that buying here is cheaper than buying in elegant shops. She invariably submits herself to awe-inspiring crystals which she feels are the Swarovski crystals of India.

The float festival – teppa utsavam - is a nocturnal spectacle which brightens up the area like a thousand suns. Kapaleeshwarar and his consort Karpagambal are afloat on an illuminated wooden palanquin and circle the holy tank to the accompaniment of music which is an ethereal vision. It looks as if a magnificent body of deepam is doing pradakshina. Teppam is a treat to behold. This breathtaking regal scene lingers in our memory forever. It creates a divine aura, remarked Rajam, who never misses this event.

It is a colourful blend of mythology and mysticism, opined Subramainam a Vedic pundit who takes part in this annual happening.

Mylapore, the musical hub of Chennai, has spawned a galaxy of musicians notable among them are Tamil Thyagayya – Papanasam Sivan, Musiri Subramania Iyer and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar who have enlivened the locale with their presence.

Renowned legal luminary Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer formed the core of the elite Mylaporevasis. Medical practitioners, eminent dancers, Vedic scholars and the most important - Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar - have contributed a lot to the evolution of Mylapore.

(To be contd)

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