From Chennai, South down East Coast Road to DakshinaChitra 'museum'
Apr 13, 2008
|DakshinaChitra, Muttukadu, Chingleput or Chengalpattu municipality in Kancheepuram district, Tamil Nadu - 'a unique architectural collage of southern heritage and lifestyle'
Punctuating our drive down the East Coast Road(ECR)from Chennai to Mahabalipuram was a visit to DakshinaChitra, described as a museum, but to me, rather like the Southern Indian version of Old Sydney Town. Spread over ten acres it showcases Traditional Art, Craft and Architecture from Tamil Nadu and Kerala. By now we were somewhat drained by the intense heat and humidity, overloaded with information, and well and truly saturated with sightseeing. Nonetheless it was to me a worthwhile and interesting stop-off. We meandered through the landscape, exploring the different examples of traditional Southern Indian homes. This was good preparation for some of the luxurious accommodation in store for us further down the road, resorts with reconstituted traditional dwellings that were oh so nice.
In one such model house - standing against the wall was a musical instrument like a sitar. Mmm, are they really that big? i picked up some 'litter' from the ground - turned out to be a DakshinaChitra map and a couple of tickets. These things were gold to me with my scrapbook in mind. as i recall the houses of DakshinaChitra two phrases arise - 'Mind the step' and 'Mind your head'. Perhaps not built with the western stature in mind. Sadly both camera batteries by now are dead, so i rely on my memory, the internet, and perhaps the generosity of my tour buddies for more photos.
DakshinaChitra literally means – “a picture of the south” ..... To quote from their elaborate website ... http://www.dakshinachitra.net/ DakshinaChitra is 'an exciting cross cultural living museum of art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts and performing arts of South India. You can explore 17 heritage houses, amble along recreated streetscapes, explore contextual exhibitions, interact with typical village artisans and witness folk performances set in an authentic ambience.
The vision - to inspire people to new ways of looking at South India's cultural traditions and their connections to the present and to the future.
The history - From 10 acres of undulating sands to a vibrant heritage centre… ... 'It began as an effort to bring the hidden wealth of South India to light – to set up an institution to celebrate the myriad cultures of the numerous people of Southern India. In an era when the old and traditional are vulnerable and challenged, this nucleus of an idea triggered a cultural journey. Inspired by the artisans and fold artists of the villages, Dr. Deborah Thiagrajan, set out to form the Madras Craft Foundation (MCF) in 1984. Madras Craft Foundation is a non-profit, non-governmental organization and DakshinaChitra was conceived as its main project. With the support of like-minded board members and volunteers and financial support from the Madras community, Dr. Thiagarajan and all others associated with MCF pursued the dream with perseverance and determination. MCF received a Ford Foundation grant for research and education in 1988, a long lease of land from the Government of Tamilnadu came in 1991, followed by grants from the Development Commissioner Handicrafts (Government of India), for the building of DakshinaChitra. Matching donations came from industry. The center slowly became a reality and opened to the public in December, 1996. Laurie Baker - the renowned architect, graciously donated his services to the foundation. The spatial conceptualization at DakshinaChitra and his building techniques and process breathe his philosophy of empowering masons and craftspeople in the building process. Architect Benny Kuriakose who designed the public buildings and supervises the conservation and reconstruction of the heritage buildings, has also provided continued service in the construction and conservation of the center. Today DakshinaChitra successfully showcases the rich cultural heritage of South India. It reflects the beauty, traditions, innovations and the continuing evolution of South Indian arts and culture.'
DakshinaChitra is the inspiration of Dr. Deborah Thiagrajan - an American academic, who settled in India in 1970.
'Deborah Thiagarajan is an American academic, who settled in India in 1970 after marrying Karumuttu Thiagarajan, a wealthy industrialist from the Chettiar community, who died in January, and with whom she had three daughters. Deborah recalls how she gradually became the favorite daughter-in-law of his conservative in-laws. A Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, she has always been keen on architecture, conservation and heritage. India offered untold visual treasures and Thiagarajan fell in love with its textiles and crafts. She began collecting Indian treasures in earnest. During her work with the humanitarian organization CARE, she toured many southern villages, becoming familiar with local art and architecture. Gradually she realized the great need for conservation of vernacular architecture, to protect it in the face of haphazard progress and established the Madras Craft Foundation in 1984. Six years of desperate search yielded 10 acres of barren land along the coast at Muttukadu, 25 kms south of Chennai, granted on a lease by the government. "I wanted to create an awareness, to put everyday culture in an upmarket situation," says Thiagarajan. Thus was born Dakshinachitra, a unique architectural collage of southern heritage and lifestyle museum, spread over a huge expanse of 10 acres. Eminent western architect Laurie Baker, another Indophile, designed the layout based on the map of India. It took her more than three years to identify the first building, which was finally bought, dismantled and stored for five years, before being rebuilt at the museum. More traditional homes were bought up, until the layout was complete. Small grants and her own money funded the initial development, sustained by her feverish passion for the land. In 1991 she secured a grant of $400,000, which she matched with almost $1 million and Dakshinachitra was well on its way to becoming the rare tourist spot it is today, attracting visitors from all over the world. Many of the villagers who knocked down the first walls and dug trenches across the lane inside are today happily employed there. A huge antique textile display, kitchen wares, religious artifacts and handicrafts beguile the visitor and bemuse the art lover. Thiagarajan, who speaks fluent Tamil and loves to wear saris, plans to donate more of her own collection to the museum. Her devotion to bringing alive the living traditions of South India has inspired many locals into seeing India with new eyes.'
One can read more of this inspiring woman, now 65, ....
'The Heritage Keeper' by Hema Vijay at http://www.boloji.com/wfs5/wfs997.htm
Also, 'Piecing together the past (WOMEN OF THE WEEK)- Online edition of India's National Newspaper THE HINDU http://www.thehindu.com/mp/2005/11/17/stories/2005111700820300.htm - Thursday, Nov 17, 2005