Dilip Gidwani
Dilip Gidwani

Following a visit to India by the President and his colleagues on the WBF Executive Council, it has been officially announced that the 2015 World Bridge Teams (The Bermuda Bowl, Venice Cup and d’Orsi Seniors Trophy) will be held at the ITC Grand Chola Hotel in Chennai (former Madras),India from 26th September to 10th October 2015.

In this article I would like to present you the Spiritual Chennai – see a deeper side to India’s southern gateway.

Source: Lonely Planet

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Acrobats at Marina Beach

At first glance, Chennai might not seem the obvious choice for a spot of meditation. With 4.7 million inhabitants and India’s biggest motor industry, the capital of Tamil Nadu is better known for noise and traffic jams than for moments of inner peace. But scratch the surface and you’ll soon discover that the self-proclaimed first city of South India has hidden depths of spirituality.

Women mark out rangoli patterns in Mylapore

Known as Madras under the British, Chennai reverted to its Indian name in 1996, riding a surge of national pride that saw Bombay rebranded as Mumbai and Cochin rebranded as Kochi. However, hopes that the name change would propel Chennai up the rankings of Indian tourist destinations proved premature – with its lack of big-name sights, new arrivals continued to move on quickly to other, more laid-back parts of the South.

However, there are signs that things are beginning to change. The construction of the Chennai Metro Rail – India‘s first integrated mass transit network – is set to take the discomfort out of travelling through the crowded streets. In early 2015, travellers will suddenly be able to explore Chennai in air-conditioned comfort, providing an added incentive to see more of this complex, complicated metropolis. Now back to the spirituality…

Attend an ashram, tour a temple or join the crowds for a temple parade

Paddling on Marina Beach, Chennai
Paddling on Marina Beach, Chennai

Did we mention that Chennai is awash with ashrams, temples and philosophical retreats? While it lacks the ancient ruins of Delhi or the movie locations of Mumbai, what Chennai has in abundance is deep thinkers. Over the centuries, the city has attracted a veritable who’s who of philosophers and spiritual leaders, from Gandhi to Swami Vivekananda. Even the globe-trotting apostle Thomas passed through on his mission to bring Christianity to India, before being fatally speared, according to local legend, on St Thomas Mount in Mylapore.

Visit during any of the city’s frenetic festivals and you’ll see Chennai’s spirituality on proud display as temple idols are paraded through the streets and pavements are painted in mesmerising geometric patterns known as rangoli to bring good luck for the coming year. If you are intrigued by this little-known side to Tamil Nadu’s capital, make time for the following enlightening experiences.

Have your fortune told on Marina Beach

The Ice House at Vivekananda House
The Ice House at Vivekananda House

Asia’s second longest urban beach provides Chennai with some essential breathing space. As the sun sets, locals gather at Marina Beach to promenade, fly kites, go paddling, meet the opposite sex, or just sit on the sand enjoying the cooling sea breezes. If you join the sitting contingent, you can expect a visit from a wandering fortune teller, who will be happy to predict that you will find the perfect partner, come top in your class and secure the perfect job overseas, for a fee. Keep an eye out for the ‘parrot astrologers’ who use trained parakeets to predict the future by picking cards.

Chill out with a guru at Vivekananda House

When Swami Vivekananda came to Chennai in the 1890s, fresh from his ground-breaking tour of Britain and America, he chose the perfect spot to chill out – the city’s former Ice House, built in 1842 to store ice chipped from frozen lakes in New England and shipped to India in insulated tea clippers. The guru passed beyond this mortal plane in 1902, but the ashram founded in his name still offers weekly meditation classes in the hall next to the guru’s old quarters in Vivekananda House. Even if you don’t join the meditation sessions, it’s worth dropping in to see the building, which resembles something between a wedding cake and an English seaside pavilion.

The famous banyan tree at Chennai's Theosophical Society
The famous banyan tree at Chennai’s Theosophical Society

Debate with a philosopher in the suburbs

 Rediscover the meaning of silence at Ramakrishna Math

When the noise and chaos become too much, retreat to the calm confines of the Sri Ramakrishna Math in Mylapore. Founded in honour of the 19th-century sage Sri Ramakrishna, this was the first ashram run by the Ramakrishna organisation in South India, and the handsome Universal Temple, which combines elements of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist architecture, is a popular spot for silent meditation. Take a moment to exhale and put the revving car engines, honking lorry horns and jangling rickshaw bells out of your mind…

Gopurams after dark at the Kalapeeshwar Temple
Gopurams after dark at the Kalapeeshwar Temple

Join the pilgrims at the peacock temple

Mylapore is also the setting for Chennai’s biggest and busiest Hindu temple. Flanked by rainbow-coloured gopurams (temple towers), the Kapaleeshwar Temple is founded on the spot where Shiva turned his wife into a peacock as a test of her devotion. Parvati meditated on the divinity of Shiva and was transformed back to her original form, inspiring a Hindu cult which constructed the first temple on this site in the 8th century. Kapaleeshwar is thronged by visitors for the annual Panguni Peruvizha festival in March or April, when the temple idols are paraded through the streets in a lavishly decorated wooden chariot. Feeding the teeming fish in the temple tank is an integral part of any visit to Kapaleeshwar; if you feel hungry yourself, there’s a branch of delicious vegetarian fastfood chain Saravana Bhavan just outside the temple compound.