As the New Year sets in, the community around Mylapore area in Chennai gears up for its big event – the Mylapore Festival which is a symbiosis of arts, cultural events and crafts. This year, I set aside all my other work and was ready to go for this acclaimed festival also known as the “temple street” festival by the residents. The old charm of the area still retained its sheen, and the spirit of the festival was quite jubilant. I shun away from too much crowds, but this crowd pulling event brought a smile to my face and I could not resist, but just manage through this crowd for once. If I forget to mention that this is the abode of the famous Kapaleeswar temple, forgive me! I have too many things to say and too little space. I was determined to explore all the four Mada streets – North, South, East and West streets for I knew that each one would offer me a surprise…and I was not disappointed. The four streets formed a square around the main temple and were filled with street stalls, vendors, and retail shops. And of course, the best part of this festival was that it was not run by any event management company, but was completely run by VOLUNTEERS! Yes, a group of people – women, college going boys and girls, senior citizens, residents of the area who wanted this event as a part of their tradition.
I had heard that this festival runs every year for 4 days featuring around 30+ cultural events. So I was excited to see the reminders they brought in of the rich heritage of the area. First, I entered the North Mada street and was stuck by the Rangoli or the rice flour patterns drawn on the road. There was a contest for the best Rangoli and each one seemed to be of intricate design, a maze in which I could not understand where the beginning and the end of the Rangoli was.
Rangoli is a very distinct art form of drawing patterns and designs using rice flour, and one in which the women folk of every household in southern part of India excel. The early morning tradition is to clean the front porch with water and add the beautiful Rangoli designs from the very simplest to the most complicated patterns and designs in the world. I wondered to myself – wow, this is an art in itself – a feast to my eyes. I watched a young girl draw lines across the dots with ease and create an effect that was elegant.
Next I turned around the temple and saw a stage hosting dances, music performances and theatre. It was an evening bonus and I stood transfixed watching several school and college students perform. The whole four evenings had a plethora of different kinds of dances like folk lores, tribal dances, the very famous Bharatanatyam, puppet dances, instrumental music with Saxophones, Mridangams and the beautiful Yakshagana which was enacted by a Karnataka troup. The entire area echoed with the sound of music and instruments adding an extra layer of rhythm and symmetry.
I moved ahead to explore the other roads and came across the Art and Craft workshop for kids, teaching them to make jewelry, Rangoli designs, paintings, stringing flowers, dance and drama. I smiled as I saw so many children actively participating in all the events engrossed in their own world on making their craft the best. The painting contest seemed to spur the kids who were totally gripped by the designs and colors they needed to make their painting stand out. I could not but admire the enthusiasm and the focus of effort that made them stand apart.
Next, I stopped to view some of the local crafts vendors selling their simple yet subtle crafts like baskets, flowers, wall hangings, clay pots, jute bags, clutches, jewelry, sarees, and other textiles. Rows of neatly displayed products were cute and affordable and the vendors gave a smile and talked and talked about the products unendingly to the customers. On the other side, there were food stalls with street food specialties, traditional delicacies and home-made authentic dishes which were all enticing. I sampled a few of the varieties of Indian sweets and savories with a satisfaction I rarely get even in five star restaurants.
The old houses surrounding all these streets brought back reminiscences of the living in the oldest part of Chennai. The temple adorned with peacocks set a relic to the well renowned name of Myla puri or the Town of the Peacock. The singularity of this place also is signaled by the presence of some very old mosques, dargah’s of which Dastagir Sahib Dargah is prominent and the St.Thomas Church all of which lend an aura to this charming area.
I can only say that the evening was a wonderful journey for me to visit and savor the heart of the city with its traditions, music, dances, arts and crafts, food, flowers and I left craving for more of everything.