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Arts and Culture in Chennai

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From ancient temples to colonial relics, Chennai’s brimming with architectural gems. Alongside the traditional Tamil style – think colourful Carnatic dance and music recitals – there’s a growing cosmopolitan breeze drifting over this beachside city, with swanky boutiques and glitzy restaurants popping up amid the religious sites, cultural institutes, and historic architecture.

 

Landmarks

 

From grand Art Deco buildings to elegant colonial gems, Chennai’s bursting with eye-catching landmarks. The city’s ancient heart is George Town – a maze of winding alleys and colourful bazaars.

 

Fort St. George

 

This grand fort was founded by the British East India Company way back in the 17th century. Immaculate and white, it's a monument to the area's epic history and houses one of the oldest churches in India. There's also the Fort Museum, where you’ll discover military antiquities and a gallery lined with typically pompous colonial portraits.

 

Rajaji Salai, Chennai 600009. Tel: +91 44 2567 1127

 

Fort St. George website

 

Valluvar Kottam

 

This intricately carved monument is dedicated to the esteemed Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar. As well as an immense stone chariot, you can marvel at the 1330 verses of Thiruvalluvar’s famous work, the Thirukkural, engraved on grand granite columns.

 

34 Valluvar Kottam High Road, Chennai 600034. Tel: +91 44 2817 2177

 

Museums

 

You can find most of Chennai’s museums and galleries in the British-built Pantheon Complex. As well as the main museum listed below, this vast array of buildings is home to the National Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery, and Children’s Gallery.
Government Museum

 

Chennai’s most comprehensive museum fills an array of buildings in the Pantheon, and is a trip back through time. Alongside a fur-filled zoology section and architectural exhibition, there’s a selection of fine bronzes on show, with various deities depicted in metal.

 

Pantheon Road, Chennai 600008. Tel: +91 44 2819 3238

 

Government Museum website

 

Religious buildings

 

From rainbow-coloured Hindu temples to colonial churches, Chennai is home to a collection of interesting and vibrant religious sites. If you’re non-Hindu you likely won’t be allowed in the inner sanctum of a temple, but that shouldn’t put you off peeking around the outer areas.

 

St. Mary’s Church

 

The oldest surviving British church in India, St. Mary’s Church is a colonial gem dating from 1680 when it was the first English-built church in Chennai. Don’t miss a peek at the old frescos and teak plaques inside, including a depiction of the Last Supper.

 

Rajaji Salai, Chennai 600009. Tel: +91 44 2567 1127

 

St. Mary’s Church website

 

Kapaleeshwarar Temple

 

Nestled in the Mylapore district – Chennai’s long-loved cultural heart – this grand temple complex is the prime spot for Hindu pilgrimage in Chennai. Watch devotees line up to worship the Shiva lingam – a sacred statue of the Hindu deity – while kids run through the colourful pyramid gateway.

 

12 North Mada Street, Chennai 600004. Tel: +91 44 2464 1670

 

Kapaleeshwarar Temple website

 

Traditional music

 

From lively performances at cultural centres showcasing Bharatanatyam dance to month-long Carnatic music festivals, Chennai is a hub for traditional Tamil arts and music.Kalakshetra Foundation

 

Nestled in 100 acres of lush tree-speckled greenery, this educational institute has long been an Indian cultural epicentre. You can wander around the grounds, catching glimpses of dancing groups in a rainbow of colour practicing their Bharatanatyam dance, and take part in early morning prayers at the Banyan Tree.

 

Kalakshetra Road, Chennai 600041. Tel: +91 44 2452 4057

 

Kalakshetra Foundation website

 

 

Madras Music Academy

 

At the heart of Chennai’s Carnatic dance and classical music scene, the Madras Music Academy has a year-round programme of events, recitals, and concerts in its grand auditorium. The Academy also plays an essential part in the annual Music Season in December and January, with vibrant productions across the city.

 

168 TTK. Road, Chennai 600014. Tel:+91 44 2811 2231