Located outside of Chennai, the DakshinaChitra is a living museum that depicts life, art, culture, and architecture of Southern India, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. DakshinaChitra features 18 authentic historical houses that were deconstructed from their original region and then reconstructed by artisans from the region on the grounds of the museum. Each of the houses features exhibits that represent the region’s art and daily life. Although we visited during an off time, the museum features typical artisans and performers from the various regions that you can interact with, thus making it a living museum.
DakshinaChitra actually means picture of the south, which is what the living museum is meant to represent. There are opportunities to participate in making crafts and folk performances happen at different times. Regardless of the interactive activities, just wandering the trails and going inside of each of the houses is a wonderful experience. Each of the regions is unique in their own ways and that can be seen by the varied architecture, arts, and crafts that can be found in the different houses. The museum opened in 1996 and has continued to grow ever since.
We spent a couple of hours walking the grounds, visiting the various houses, and admiring the displays. In many ways it was overwhelming, like many of our experiences in Chennai, but we were definitely glad that we took the time to go there. If you visit Chennai, we would highly recommend taking the time to go to DakshinaChitra and learn about all of the regions of Southern India.
Visiting the city of Chennai in India is a trip that we will always remember. We have mentioned previously that it was a trip that not only had a profound impact on us personally, but also changed the way that we have traveled since that visit. Although we only had a limited amount of time to spend in Chennai, we certainly made the most of the time that we had. We tried to see as much of the city as possible, but also made sure to take a couple of day trips to see the surrounding area. It can certainly be overwhelming to visit a city with as many people as live in Chennai and it takes a little getting used to as you visit the various sites. If you get a chance to visit Chennai, here are some of the places that we would recommend that you take time to see.
Kapaleeshwarwar Temple – With all of the colorful details on the roofs, it is an amazing sight to see. Depending on the time that you go to the temple, you can certainly expect large crowds. The temple was one of the first places that we visited in Chennai and it only kept getting better.
The Government Museum – Featuring exhibits that range from zoological, archeological, cultural, and historical, there is a lot to see in the second oldest museum in India. From the statues to the architecture of the museum buildings themselves, it should certainly be on your itinerary for Chennai.
Saint Thomas Cathedral – One of only three churches in the world to be built over the tomb of a disciple, it is also the location of the cave where St. Thomas hid before eventually being speared to death.
Mahabalipuram – The first of our day trips outside of Chennai, seeing the ancient temples of Mahabalipuram was probably the highlight of our time in India. There is much to see as you walk around the various temples, so expect to spend several hours at Mahabalipuram.
DakshinaChitra – Meant to represent the culture and lifestyles of the entire Tamil Nadu region, where Chennai is located, this cultural center is certainly worth a visit. We stopped on our way down to Mahabalipuram and enjoyed walking throughout the different buildings within the complex.
Tiger Cave – Also located near Mahabalipuram, visiting this temple cave with tigers carved at the entrance is certainly interesting, but it won’t take longer than about 30 minutes to take a guided tour around the area. Although probably not worth a trip on its own, it is certainly worth stopping to see while on your way to Mahabalipuram.
Kanchipuram – Known for its production of silk, it is certainly worth a visit to learn about the production of silk and to purchase silk items at prices that are better than in Chennai. We also visited the Ekambareswarar Temple while we were in Kanchipuram, which was another beautiful temple with many interesting features.
Chennai is certainly a busy city with a lot of technology and manufacturing businesses with international ties located there. The people were very welcoming and we enjoyed seeing the sights within the city as well as the surrounding area. Another highlight to Chennai and the coastline are the beaches, although we didn’t spend time at the beach during our visit. We are hoping to make it back to India in the near future and are looking forward to seeing more of this truly interesting country.
One of the most memorable day trips that we took during our time in Chennai, India was visiting the city of Kanchipuram. We were told that Kanchipuram was the place in the state of Tamil Nadu to buy silk, so we drove the hour southwest out of Chennai, about 45 miles (72 kilometers), to visit the city. In addition to buying scarves and other silk products, we also visited the Ekambareswarar Temple, which was another gorgeous temple that we were able to see while we were there. It was one of the hottest days that we encountered while we were in India, but the beautiful sites and the thrill of buying the silk items more than made up for any discomfort we felt.
Walking around the Ekambareswarar Temple was one of the few times while we were in India that we weren’t overwhelmed by crowds. Obviously, it is India, so that is a relative term, but it did feel more relaxed than some of the other places that we went to. As with most temples, tour guides will come up to you and offer to take you on a tour and the price always has to be negotiated, but we chose not to pay for a tour at this particular temple. Heading southwest away from Chennai takes you to more of a jungle feel and we enjoyed seeing the parrots that were content to make the temple grounds their home.
One memory that we’ll never forget was getting blessed by a temple elephant while we were in the temple. Apparently, at the time that we were in India, many of the temple elephants were on “holiday” where they are pampered and spoiled once a year for all of their hard work. We handed the elephant a coin, which he took with his trunk, and then we bowed and the elephant gently tapped us on the head with his trunk. We were surprised by how soft the elephant’s trunk was, we were expecting it to be leathery and hard, but it wasn’t. In addition to being blessed by the elephant, another interesting site within the temple was seeing all of the ribbons tied to the “wishing tree”. We were told that many woman would tie a ribbon in hopes of getting pregnant, but people would tie ribbons on the tree for many other reasons as well. It was just another tradition that we enjoyed learning about.
Going to the silk shop in Kanchipuram was quite the experience. We were told that Indian women from around the country order the wedding saris from Kanchipuram due to the high quality of the silk. We sat down at a table and the owner of the shop started pulling out bundles of silk and laying them before us. If we found a color pattern that we liked, he would pull out several more bundles and lay them in front of us. We ended up buying scarves for every female family member that we could think of as well as a beautiful table runner that we use on our formal dining room table. The best thing that we bought, however, was an absolutely gorgeous sari. Everything that we bought in Kanchipuram that day probably cost us less than what a single silk scarf would cost us here in the United States and was even less expensive than the silk that we bought in Chennai.
If you are ever in Tamil Nadu and want to buy some silk, a trip to Kanchipuram should definitely be on your agenda. The owner of the store couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly and we truly enjoyed the experience, even with some struggles with the language. Fortunately, you don’t have to haggle over prices at the silk shops, the price that they quote is what you pay and it is so reasonable, there isn’t any reason to complain. We came home with several souvenirs on our trip, but the silk items we bought are definitely some of our most treasured. Not to mention that our family and friends were quite thrilled to receive such beautiful items.