Mahabalipuram aka Mamallapuram, mere 45 km from city, is city as well. Almost. The city expands upto here and further. In fact, the metrorail may be plying upto the sun-kissed dusty town in near future. Still Mahabalipuram is of Kanjivaram district I suppose for administrative reasons. Situated on the ECR (East Coast Road) enroute to Pondicherry (now Puducherry), the historic seaside maritime port is millennia old, having been a trading center for Tamils for centuries. More than six rock cut Pallava period Dravidian architecture temples here have been washed out into the sea from the shore. What remains as the Shore temple is from the 7th century CE. The Pancha Pandava Rathas, Arjuna’s Tapas all in the rock carvings (the Pandav chariot and the Arjuna tapas cave carved out of single rock formation) point to the existence and flourishing of a vibrant Hindu culture and art in the southern state from over two thousand years before. The Chinese and Romans were regulars trading with this part of India which is why there are Chinese figurines carved into cave temples in Mamallapuram.
This is the reason President Xi probably chose the scenic Mamallapuram for his informal rendezvous with Indian PM Shri Narendra Modi. Xi insisted on taking road to Mamallapuram from airport, turning down aerial transport because he apparently wanted to see this part of the country with his own eyes. I won’t say Chennai is beautiful but I would any day vouch Chennai has this ‘lakshanam’ – auspiciousness about it. Chennai does not have a soaring skyline like Noida or Bangalore or Mumbai and neither is Chennai swanky like Pune or Chandigarh or even curious and classy like Hyderabad or Delhi… Chennai is like one big overgrown village that’s all. It grows on you as and when you live here, never one for making a first and fast impression.
Chennai’s art and culture scene rocks! We could be aptly called the Cultural capital of India. Tamil Nadu is littered with ancient Hindu temples of Dravidian architectural style spreading acres, thousands of them, street to street. The state is a historian/archaeologist’s delight. A month long music season for classical Carnatic is still our annual feature that draws in fans from around the world. Birth place to classical dance form ‘Bharat Natyam.’ Many may not be aware that Kung Fu etc., the martial arts of China had a Hindu-Buddhist founder who originated from Tamil Nadu and migrated to China. While the martial art form died in India, it survived in China. The monk’s name was Bodhi Verman.
Chennai has given to the world not just the Google CEO Sundar Pichai and outgoing World Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi, but also 3 times world chess champion Vishwanathan Anand to Tennis aces Ramanathan Krishnan (world junior Wimbledon champ of his times) and Ramesh Krishnan and Vijay Amritraj and Anand Amritraj. Chennai has produced Noble laureates and eminent scientists and mathematicians and scholars who have made good at global level. Chennai still keeps a low profile ! The best part that the Tamils have played in history is, being a quiet but stable and reliable and constant rock steady part to the idea of India. And this has nothing to do with our voting preferences. Tamils may not vote for the Congress or BJP over the regional Tamil parties, yet Tamils are most nationalistic by nature, and highly underestimated.
Ancient Hindu and especially Tamil Hindu contribution to the world is amazing. Our forefathers were creators, not destroyers and terrorists. They built huge architectural marvels of temples and universities, not mausoleums. India exported the best to the world, not terror and violence. Tamil society had structured grammar by 3rd century BCE and proper built dams (over Kaveri river that stand goods today, world’s first dam) with literary courts functioning in full flow.
Mamallapuram today stands a witness to this great glorious age of our ancient Hindu Tamil Kings who ran a reign of over 1000=2000 continuous years before their lineage came to an end. Pallava kings raised the Mamallapuram structures that are classified UNESCO World Heritage today. In Tamil Nadu, every street has an ancient temple that could be a world heritage site!
I would say, Tamil Nadu has this calming effect on anyone. Not impressive at the outset. People here are less agitated. I have heard north Indians give this opinion. We don’t have a pleasant climate. We are known for our humidity levels and sweaty weather. Yet Tamil Nadu is rated a good or perhaps the best place to live in or raise your children. One reason is, my state people respect law and order and try to follow it!!! Disciplined. Hardworking. Intelligent. These are the three words I would use to describe Thamizhs.
Mamallapuram to Chennaiites is weekend escape.
The last time I was in Mahabalipuram was just a year back. We girls chose a beach resort to unwind and swim (!) in their private beach closed to public.
The ECR is dotted with entertainment places. Pubs, discotheques, beach resorts, multi-cuisine restaurants that can cater to every taste bud… A pucca party place for the party animals. Pondicherry which is less than 100 km is Union Territory where they don’t levy excise duty on liquor. Hence the weekly drive to Pondy!!!
The ECR is also a very dangerous road to drive – known for drunk driving and accidents. Hundreds of casualty every year. I am never comfortable traveling down this road. Years back, this road had the first drive-in seaside cinemas. I watched the memorable picture ‘Bombay’ here curling up in the ground under the car in a cold month. Now the cinemas is in ruins but lots more different places have become fashionable and trendy spots.
Once upon a time, an uncle of mine owned acres of seaside property here that he later sold away for a pittance. Today this stretch leading upto Pondicherry is gold. I won’t say this is a scenic road – because sea view is hidden in most places by structures that have come up in between the sea and the road. Upto 1 km range of land distance from sea level is not approved by government after the Tsunami struck, but that has not dampened the real estate development. (Real estate growth is lukewarm nevertheless happening).
My first visit to Mahabalipuram was in standard 10 in 1984. ECR was a narrow spiraling road then with just a single lane. Every school girl’s first memorable excursion! I think we did not even own a camera then. We enjoyed the day the way one ought to enjoy outings!
Many Tamil pictures were filmed in this road and in the quaint beach resorts of those days that served as lovers’ secret meeting places.
We still take friends visiting us in Chennai to Mahabalipuram. There is a sculpture school there. Good food. Ideal place to spend a weekend. Luxurious beach villas and resorts. Some theme parks are closed, otherwise even for kids the ECR used to be a great stop. Free flow of liquor. A favourite with foreign tourists. The mix with culture makes it all heady!!! Two more attractions on the road before you reach Mahabalipuram: The Crocodile Bank and Dakshina Chitra (heritage architecture showcase).
Well, never expected our PM Modi to meet the Chinese prez Xi here. Hopefully the two drank in heartily from history. Every time I step into an ancient Hindu temple that is at least 1500 or 2000 years old, I think of the Hindu king who built the magnificent structure. For instance, the Brahadeshwara temple is even earthquake proof! You have to walk through these temples to be transported by the mind’s ‘Time machine’ into virtually another world and age.The Shore temple of Mamallapuram is an abandoned structure, no more a functioning temple. It is a miracle it was not affected by the Tsunami! Whenever I visit Mamallapuram, I picture artisans working on these great sculptures in the vibrant town of the Pallavas. In Brahadeshwara temple of Tanjore, nonstop Puja to Lord Shiva is going on for over 1000 years. Most Hindu temples in India are functional for two thousand years easily minimum. North could have had more but they were razed to dust by the Moghuls who raised their bloody mausoleums over our sacred places of worship.
The Shore temple of Mamallapuram is a rare one in that, Lord Shiva is seen here with family. Nowhere else in India can you see Shiva like a family man – mostly He is represented as Shiva Linga.
In Mamallapuram time does come to a standstill – at least for me. I have been here a dozen times, no more. But every time I step in here, I am drawn to this unbelievable proud native history of ours. Pristine. I almost feel a tear drop roll down my eyes. Moving.
As for China-India tie, India is NOT in contest with anyone. India has a soul, China lacks one. India is a time-tested people’s democracy. China is yet to take the acid test that it will fail miserably. The entire future of China may be incumbent finally on this one crucial step that someday China has to dare to take. Inevitable. People in India ACTUALLY LIVE. LIVE LIFE. We are happy the way we are in India. We shall progress at our own pace. We don’t want to saturate ourselves too soon the way China is going at it. Average Indian life holds good in the present. We Indians still throng temples and cinemas and attend concerts and go on holidays. Music is not only for stage performance. Music is for caressing our soul. Sports is not just for winning the Olympic medals. Sports is for our entertainment. That way, even India’s fixation with Cricket is good. Millions soak and enjoy these games. Which is more important to most Indians than winning medals like a machine without a pleasure. India can do better, no doubt, buts India is doing fine anyway.
China is this ruthless moneylender. China has swallowed African territories and even a Sri Lankan port city when they failed to cough up principal with compounded interest. China is modern day East India Company. India will hardly be ever that. INDIA REFUSES TO PROSPER ON OTHERS’ BLOOD, AT OTHERS’ COST. Us vs. Them. When we shed every moral and ethic in the code book, we can become China in no time too. Chinese eat rat and dog for main course. Can majority vegetarian India ever do that. Eat snakes? Do Europeans, Americans do that. Trivial it may sound, trivial it is not. This is the major existential social difference between India and China. Unbridgeable gap. India: Underdeveloped for a reason. Slow with a purpose. When you can eat man’s best friend the dog, then you will stop at nothing.
We were once taken for a ride by Mao Tse Tung. Xi or no Xi, INDIA DOES NOT AND WILL NOT TRUST CHINA. INDIA WILL NOT GIVE MORE MARKET ACCESS TO CHINA. INDIA WILL NOT BE DIRECTED OR CONTROLLED BY CHINA. INDIA REFUSES TO TOE THE CHINA LINE. INDIA DOES NOT CARE WHAT CHINESE MEDIA THINK OR HOW CHINESE MEDIA PORTRAY INDIA. INDIA WILL NOT JOIN THE SILK ROUTE. INDIA WILL NOT GIVE UP TIBET. INDIA WILL NOT GIVE UP AN INCH OF INDIAN SOIL TO CHINA. Full stop.
Prez Xi, we hosted you with respect because you were our guest. ‘Adhithi Devo Bhava’ – this is our culture. India can afford to antagonize China, India can live without China. India will.