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Chennai: Tamil Nadu is the southernmost State in peninsular India. It is bordered in the north by the State of Andhra Pradesh, in the northwest by the Karnataka State, in the west by the Kerala State, and in the east and south by the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. The State has an area of 130,058 square kilometers or 50,215 square miles. In the British period and for some time after independence of India the state was called Madras. The capital city of the State was also called Madras. In the process of promoting the regional language and the culture of the State it was renamed as Tamil Nadu in 1969 and the capital city was renamed as Chennai in 1996. The population density of the State is 61.5 million people per square kilometer. The State has only one single chamber of Legislative House with 235 members and it sends 39 members to Lok Sabha or the National Parliament of India as well as 18 members of Rajya Sabha or the upper house of National Parliament of India. Chennai is the fourth largest metropolitan city in India.

Tamil language and culture is believed by some scholars to be older than Sanskrit, the language of the ancient Hindu texts of Vedas. The Dravidian culture flourished in the region of Tamil Nadu for thousands of years. The Chera, the Chola, the Pandya and finally the Pallava Dynasty of Kanchipuram ruled most of the area of Tamil Nadu and in some periods even expanded into Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala regions. The Pallava Dynasty came to power in the fourth century and held sway in the region for almost four hundred years. The rise of Islamic power in the north of India had its impact on this region also. Finally the British East India Company settled in the region in 1639 and left an indelible mark on its history. After independence the Telugu speaking regions were separated from the state to create the new linguistic State of Andhra Pradesh. In 1956 the States Reorganization Act cut of the Malabar area and Kasaragod Taluk (district) to create another linguistic State of Kerala facing the Arabian Sea.

Although Tamil culture is very ancient, the Chennai city is relatively new. Mylapore was the first European colony in this area that was established by the Portuguese in 1504 CE. They named it San Thome after the name of the Apostle of Lord Jesus Christ, Saint Thomas. The Sultan of Golconda did not like their presence so near to his kingdom and ousted them. But he could not retain St. Thome because in the meantime the French traders conquered the port town for their benefit. The Dutch soon expelled the French from this port but the French still remained in the southern town of Pondicherry. The rulers of Vijayanagar Empire granted lease on a strip of coastal land to Francis Day and Andrew Cogan, two agents of the English East India Company thereby laying the foundations of the city of Madras. They built the Fort St. George complex in 1639 that is today the heart of administrative and cultural Chennai. The Fort was originally built to protect the English factory and the small settlement of English people. Gradually the neighboring villages of Triplicane, Puraswalkam, Egmore and Chetput were merged into a development area of Chennapatnam. With population growth the city occupies more than two hundred square kilometers of coastal region facing the Bay of Bengal and houses a population of about six million. Chennai has contributed some of the most important personalities in the freedom struggle and also to successive national governments after independence from the British.

The Fort was named after the patron saint of England, St. George. Both the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and the State Secretariat are now housed in the Fort St. George area. The Fort Museum is near the Fort St. George. It shows the history of the British East India Company. The ground floor houses a collection of the armory used by the company soldiers. The first floor used to be the Exchange House and is now used for display of the coins and medals. Another and perhaps the most important section displays the pictures and engravings done by Thomas Daniell and his nephew, William Daniell in the eighteenth century. St. Marys Church is the oldest Anglican Church in India. Edward Fowle designed this church in 1680 and it was completely renovated in 1759. The oldest British tombstones in India are in its courtyard. Elihu Yale was the governor of Fort St. George from 1687 to 1691. He endowed the St. Marys Church in the Fort St. George area. The most famous marriage in this church was that of Robert Clive, the ambitious and cunning English Governor General of East India Company, to Margaret Maskelyne in 1753. Robert Clive was instrumental in expanding and consolidating the British East India Company's rule in the Sub-Continent. Elihu Yale of Madras Presidency, who later endowed the famous Ivy League Yale University in the USA, was also married in this ancient house of worship. Another famous personality in the Fort St. George area was Thomas Pitt who was governor of the Fort from 1698 to 1709. The Marina Beach in Chennai is the second longest beach in the world and has a wide sandy shore. There are memorials of two very powerful regional leaders and former chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, C. N. Annadurai and M. G. Ramachandran, on this beach. The beach drive has some of the most important institutions of the State like the University of Madras, the Senate House, Chepauk Palace, Presidency College and the Ice House. Santhome Cathedral Basilica is believed to be the ancient church where St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Lord Jesus Christ, is buried. He is believed to have come to this area just after the crucifixion of the prophet in 52 CE and was martyred on the St. Thomas Mount, a 76 meters or 249 feet high hillock outside the city. The Portuguese built a church here in 1514. There is an interesting relic in this church: an old cross that the apostle is believed to have clutched while he was dying. It is called the Bleeding Cross because the stains of his blood are believed to be still visible on the cross. The painting of Madona on the wall of this little church is believed to have been brought here by the apostle and is one of the original seven paintings that St. Luke painted. His remains were originally buried near his place of martyrdom and then transferred to this Basilica several years later. There is an ancient temple that was built by the Pallava rulers in eighth century in Mylapore. Its Gopuram is constructed in the typical Dravidian architecture. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and some very remarkable sculptures including those of sixty-three Nayanmars, the Shaivite saints in its courtyard. The shrine of goddess Parvathi in the form of peacock is in also in this courtyard. The name of this locality, Mylapore, is derived from the Tamil word for peacock, Mayil and Oor that means a town. The festival to commemorate the sixty-three Nayanmars is celebrated in the months of March/April every year in this temple. The temple is open from 5 to 11 AM and from 4 to 9.30 PM.

The Government Museum, the National Art Gallery and the Connemara Library are located in the Pantheon complex that was constructed in 1789 as a place of assemblage for the British. The British Government purchased it in 1830 and built additional buildings. The Government Museum was established by the British in 1857 and houses the best collection of ancient and also some modern South Indian bronze sculptures. The older sculptures are from the tenth and thirteenth century. The most famous among them are those of Shiva Nataraja, Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman. This museum also has geology and anthropology sections. The Amaravathi Gallery houses some very rare second century CE marble sculptures from the excavations of the ancient monastery of Amaravathi that depict the important events of the life of Gautam Buddha. The National Art Gallery has a collection of paintings including some from sixteenth and eighteenth century from various schools of Rajasthan, Mughal and Deccani art from seventeenth century. All sections of this Museum, Gallery and Library are open from 9.30 AM to 5.30 PM everyday except Fridays.

There are two famous Hindu Temples in Chennai - Kapaleeswara Temple is dedicated to Shiva and his consort Uma. Non-Hindus may enter only up to the precincts of this Temple. The second one is Parthasarathy Temple that is dedicated to Lord Krishna.

Bharatnatyam is an ancient dance form that evolved in the Tamil Nadu area and was originally a temple dance in the Shiva temples. It is a highly specialized form of dance that uses a traditional background and very rigid codes and conventions. Bharatanatyam skillfully embodies the three primary aspects of dance. They are ‘Bhava’ or mood, ‘Raga’ or music and melody and ‘Tala’ or timing/rhythm. Bharatanatyam is performed by the use of the hand, foot, face and body movements that are accompanied by sixty-four principles of coordination. For many centuries only certain families in the district of Thanjavur performed Bharatanatyam. The inheritors of this very special form of dance were known as Nattuvans. In ancient times the chief exponents of this dance were the Devadasis or temple dancers. They would perform the dance daily at the time of worship or on festive occasions. It came to be patronized by the Rajas and Princes. In course of time the Devadasis began to dance in the courts and palaces and the sanctity of the dance was lost. Bharatanatyam stands in the forefront of all the classical dance art forms that are now prevalent in India. Owing to its religious origins and its highly developed technique, it is the form of dance most akin to the code compiled by the sage Bharata Muni in his famous composition, the Natya Shastra. The modern form of Bharatanatyam presentation is an arrangement originally done by four Nattuvans of Pandanallur who were brothers. These four brothers: Ponniah, Chinniah, Vadivelu and Sivanandam, lived in the eighteenth century. The Vidwan, Meenaskshi Sundaram Pillai of Pandanallur, the greatest teacher of Bharatanatyam is a direct descendant of these brothers. It was Rukmini Devi Arundale, the celebrated dancer and scholar who took this dance form out of the temple and gave it new respectability. She started the dance school Kalakshetra in Adyar. The school was later shifted to Thiruvanmiyur where it functions now. Here the old, Gurukulam system of education is still followed and many classes are conducted in traditional surroundings. There is a very rigid and respectful relationship between the student and the teacher in the traditional Gurukulam system. In the Nataraja temple or the temple of dancing Shiva at Chidambaram, the 108 poses of the classical form of Bharatanatyam are sculpted on the pillars around the shrines and on the gateways.

5-star hotels:

Westin Chennai Vellacheri - 215 rooms
Leela Palace Chennai - 326 rooms
ITC Grand Chola - 283 rooms
Park Hyatt Hotel - 201 rooms
Taj Connemara – 150 rooms
Taj Coromandel – 205 rooms
ITC Hotel Park Sheraton & Towers – 283 rooms
Courtyard by Marriott – 238 rooms
Trident Hilton Chennai – 167 rooms
GRT Grand Hotel – 133 rooms
The Rain Tree Hotel – 105 rooms
The Park Chennai – 214 rooms
Chola Sheraton – 92 rooms
Le Meridien Hotel – 243 rooms

4-star hotels:

Fisherman’s Cove – 88 rooms
Radisson Hotel – 101 rooms
Residency Towers, Sir Thyagaraja Road – 171 rooms

3-star hotels:

Best Western Pleasant Days – 40 rooms
Ambassador Pallava Chennai – 100 rooms
Days Inn Deccan Plaza – 100 rooms
Best Western Ambica Empire – 40
Radha Park Inn Chennai – 91 rooms
Raj Residency – 82 rooms
Ramada Raj Park Chennai – 87 rooms
The Accord Metropolitan – 162 rooms
New Woodlands Hotel – 175 rooms
Hotel Maurya International – 50 rooms
Sindoori Hotel – 99 rooms
Quality Inn Sabari – 72 rooms
Aadithya Hotel – 48 rooms
Dee Dee Cee Manor Hotel – 58 rooms

Distance from Chennai in Kilometers and Miles:

Mamallapuram: 58 Kilometers or 36 Miles
Kanchipuram: 71 Kilometers or 44 Miles
Pondicherry: 165 Kilometers or 103 Miles
Thanjavur: 342 Kilometers or 212 Miles
Thiruchirapalli: 316 Kilometers or 196 Miles
Madurai: 444 Kilometers or 276 Miles
Kanyakumari: 683 Kilometers or 424 Miles

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