peacock trail storytrails mylapore chennai inside kapaleeshwara temple

Peacock Trail with Storytrails in Mylapore, Chennai

Whenever I travel to a new city, I’m always looking for walking tours. This is because I feel that walking tours is the best way to have an introduction to a new place. Walking tour guides are different from your bus tour guides – they give you insights into the history, heritage and culture of the place by sharing stories and anecdotes. Storytelling is always more interesting than a history lesson, and for that reason, I joined a walking tour called Peacock Trail with Storytrails in Mylapore, Chennai.

After having travelled to India nine times over five years, November 2017 was the first time I visited the southern part of India – Tamil Nadu. I came to Chennai (formerly known as Madras), the capital city of Tamil Nadu, for a few days during which I spent an afternoon with Storytrails in Mylapore, the bustling cultural hub and neighbourhood in Chennai.

The meeting point for the walking tour was at Rasi Silks shop, a stone’s throw away from Kapaleeshwara Temple. Ask anyone about top places to visit in Mylapore and the immediate answer you get is Kapaleeshwara Temple.

Kapaleeshwara Temple is one of Chennai’s oldest and renowned temples. Originally built by the Pallavas in the 7th century, the temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in the 16th century in favour of St. Thomas Basilica but was subsequently rebuilt again using the remains of the old temple. The temple features remarkable Dravidian architecture and the main deity of the temple is Lord Shiva.

peacock trail storytrails mylapore chennai kapaleeshwara temple
Kapaleeshwara Temple

peacock trail storytrails mylapore chennai dravidian architecture

I met the founder of Storytrails, Vijay who led me inside the Kapaleeshwara Temple where we observed a number of rituals commonly seen in Hindu temples such as devotees smashing coconuts and prostrating themselves before the deities. We also saw devotees standing in front of the deity Ganesh, tapping their temples, crossing their arms and tugging their ears while doing a quick squat three times. I have seen some of these rituals in Hindu temples in Malaysia and have often wondered what these practices meant until Vijay explained to me the meaning behind these customs and symbolisms in the form of stories.

*Read: What To See at Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur

peacock trail storytrails mylapore chennai inside kapaleeshwara temple

Storytrails has a story for everything. For instance, they have stories to explain why there are many gods in Hinduism and why devotees walk clockwise around the temple. In fact, there is a story how Mylapore came about. Its name derived from the word “mayil” which means peacock in the Tamil language. The legend goes that Lord Shiva found his wife, Parvathi not listening to him as she was distracted by a dancing peacock. Shiva was angry, thus sent Parvathi to earth to be born a peacock. Shiva soon repented and came down to earth to take Parvathi back with him. From this story, I now understand when I see images of a peacock next to a lingam stone (shiva lingam) in Hindu temples, for they represent the deities Parvati (peacock) and Shiva (lingam). Since Mylapore was named after a peacock, it made sense that the walking tour in Mylapore is aptly named as the Peacock Trail.

*Read: Colours and Drama – Thaipusam in Malaysia

peacock trail storytrails mylapore chennai peacock and lingam
Peacock and lingam

After Kampaleeshwara Temple, we moved on to another place of worship in Mylapore – a Catholic church called St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica (also known as Santhome). In the 16th century, the Portuguese built Santhome church which is one of the only three churches in the world built over the tomb of an apostle of Jesus, the other two being St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City and Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain. Santhome houses the mortal remains of St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

peacock trail storytrails mylapore chennai santhome church
St.Thomas Cathedral Basilica (Santhome)

It is said that St. Thomas arrived in present-day Kerala from Judea in A.D.52, after which he preached and converted many Indians to Christianity until A.D.72 when he was struck dead and martyred on St. Thomas Mount.

The remarkable aspect of Santhome church is that it incorporates Hinduism and Indian cultural elements in Catholicism – the statues of Virgin Mary are dressed in sarees, the statue of Jesus is standing on a lotus flower flanked by two peacocks, and a cross atop a Hindu flag pole in the church courtyard. I would not have noticed these subtle elements if not for Vijay pointed them out to me. How fascinating!

peacock trail storytrails mylapore chennai virgin mary in saree
Virgin Mary dressed in saree
peacock trail storytrails mylapore chennai jesus on lotus flower two peacocks
Jesus on a lotus flower flanked by two peacocks

Apart from visits to the two main places of worship, there were more traditions and customs unravelled by Vijay as we walked along the streets of Mylapore during the two-hour tour. The Peacock Trail walking tour is a great way to see confluence of cultures being an integral part of Chennai’s heritage, and as for me, I found answers to the questions I’ve always had on South Indian & Hindu rituals and customs. In true Chennai style, we ended the tour with an appreciation for filter coffee at one of the popular restaurants in Mylapore.

*Read: 48 Hours in Kolkata – Part 2 – Walking Tour with Calcutta Walks

*Thanks to Storytrails for hosting me on the Peacock Trail walking tour. Opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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Planning a trip to Chennai soon? If so, let’s book your accommodation here:

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peacock trail storytrails mylapore chennai katpegimana

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*Linking with #Citytripping, #FarawayFiles, #TheWeeklyPostcard.

Wander Mum
Fifi and Hop
Two Traveling Texans

 

29 comments

  1. I agree with you. Walking is the best way to experience a new place and doing it in the beginning opens your eyes about what places you may want to revisit. I’ve never been in India, but I am considering it. The Kapaleeshwara Temple looks absolutely amazing, considering that it was rebuilt from just some remains. Did the original look exactly like this reconstruction? #TheWeeklyPostcard

  2. Sounds like you found a great tour. I love hearing all the stories behind things. St. Thomas church does look very unique. I had to do a double take seeing Mary in a saree. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  3. I go on and off about walking tours, but absolutely see their benefits. Many times, though, I just like to do things on my own time. But it’s true you can learn so much that you otherwise wouldn’t! How impressive you’ve been to India nine times! Thanks for linking up with #farawayfiles

    1. I just LOVE travelling in India, so much to explore and experience! Furthermore, it’s only 4-5 hours’ flight from Malaysia and there are many cheap flights available, hence, I don’t mind returning to the country over and over again 🙂

  4. A story trail sounds like the perfect way to discover a city. I love all the stories that you can discover in India and I thought that Southern India was a particularly magical place. The temples are just wonderful. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  5. Walking tours are great aren’t they? We did an amazing one in Kyoto with a photographer, and one deep under the city in Rome! You learn so much. This one sounds amazing, thanks for taking us with you! 🙂 #citytripping

    1. Ooh walking tour with a photographer – that sounds fascinating! I agree, we learn so much from walking tours – the part that I enjoy is that there are opportunities to see things up close compared to a guided tour in a bus.

  6. Fascinating to see these sights – such a contrast. I love the bright colours of the temple and how unusual to see the Indian and Hindu elements woven into the Christian church. Thanks for sharing on #citytripping

  7. I love starting any city visit with a walking tour as well!! I feel like it’s the best way to get a sense of the city, hear what other people believe are important details to see (as Vijay pointed out) and understand more about culture and history. It’s a great framework for the rest of the visit, and I often get great recommendations from the tour guides! I love the contrast between your visit to the Hindi and Christian sites – and also enjoy seeing the cultural flair (the virgin Mary in a bright sari!) of Mylapore manifest itself! #citytripping

    1. Yeah, it’s been a standard thing now when I travel to a new city – I’d start searching for guided walking tours. That said, there are some good and mediocre ones – it’s the guide who makes or breaks the walking tour 🙂 Glad that you enjoyed this post!

  8. It is so nostalgic to read your post. My grandmothers house was very close to Kabalieswarar temple. And I have such lovely memories of going to the temple and visiting the market around the temple. Thank you so much for posting this. #citytripping

  9. India never ceases to amaze me and you’re so lucky to have visited it so many times, Kat. I would love to explore Mylapore. Is a day trip enough to see all the highlights?

  10. I feel the same way about walking tours! We always try to do one on our first day so that we can decide what we should revisit or squeeze into our schedule! It’s also a great way to get restaurant recommendations. 😉 This one looks incredible – the vastly different architecture in a single place is really intriguing. Most of my travels have been in Europe, but I’m always astounded by the tiny details in so many temples of the east. I love the colors, too.

    1. Oh yes you brought an interesting point – walking tours introduce you to recommended restaurants. I absolutely agree. If you get the chance to travel to India, you find the country quite vibrant and colourful 🙂

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