On way to our native place in Kanyakumari, my sister and I had a 2-day halt in Chennai. When we asked people about places nearby that can be toured in 3-4 hours, the first options are temples – Kabaleeswar, Parthasarathy, Anjaneyar (in Mylapore, where we stayed), and yes, Kanchipuram, Thiruvannamalai – half day tours. If you say, one temple is enough, then the alternatives are beach, Mahabalipuram …. Then someone suggested a different site – Dakshin Chitra.
Curious, we did some research and found that it was about an hour’s drive from Mylapore, on the way to Mamallapuram, a few metres away from the VGP Amusement park, on the main road. Though the 3 hours we spent there were not really enough, we saw quite a lot and returned home in time for lunch and to catch the evening train to Kanyakumari.
What is Dakshin Chitra? It’s a live museum of restored ancient cultures – architecture, paintings, houses, lifestyles – of the four South Indian States, we were told. We thought it was some kind of artisans’ village. Anyway we set off and spent a delightful 4 hours – too short a time to see the entire place, but enough to appreciate this unique venture.
The place is huge – about 10-12 acres, spread out. There is sufficient parking. No food is allowed inside. You can carry a water bottle. You can also eat in the parking area. There is a washroom and a small shaded area here for drivers.
At the entrance are list of programmes, workshops, seminars etc. On that day there was an Andhra dance and drums performance. Also available is a video about the museum.
Timings: 10 am to 6 pm
Days : All days, except weekly holiday, Tuesday, and some limited public holidays. (It was open on Republic day, the day we visited).
Entrance fee: Rs.100/- per adult (Rs.120 on festival days)
There is a charge for cameras, but we did not have one, so no question. We took pictures on our mobile and no one minded
After a short walk of a few metres, you come to a central area from where arrows direct you to the State you want to see and as you move on there are more indicators giving you directions to the kind of exhibit you want to view. Along the pathways, there are vendors selling various artefacts, drawings, paintings, jewellery, mementoes and some snacks and soft drinks.
We were there by opening time. The crowd grew as the day progressed, but there was no pressing or jostling as the area is spread out. We could walk and view very comfortably at our own pace.
We first took a tour of Tamil Nadu and were amazed to find a replica of our own village house in a Brahmin street. The house was furnished with the swing, staircase, pillars, cradles, well, pooja room, stone grinders, even photographs as you would find in old houses. The outside had a ‘kolam’ (rangoli), freshly drawn and here and there were some lifelike models. The streets too were well replicated, with temples, idols, lanes where other castes lived including the model of their houses, cowshed, bullock-carts etc.
We were told by our local guide that the curators had actually dismantled the structures of old houses and had them transported to this museum where they are restored and restructured – very, very unique. When we came out, we felt transported from another age, as though we had been through a time machine!
As we moved to other States, we realised that 3 hours were not enough. One could spend the whole day in this museum, literally experiencing a century old lifestyle in the South of this country. Christian, Muslim houses were also represented with their symbols, prayer rooms, the area outside the houses very realistically. There are also separate exhibition halls displaying period clothing styles, textiles, jewellery etc.
There is a café, apart from small shows and displays here and there. There are sufficient, clean toilets outside every lane. The place is very open and well-maintained.
I wonder if there are similar museums elsewhere representing the northern, western and eastern States of our country. If you do happen to be in Chennai, do not miss Dakshin Chitra village.