I am a marketing professional holding a postgraduate degree in management. I live in Chennai and have traveled extensively in Tamil Nadu.
DakshinaChitra Museum, a project of the Madras Craft Foundation, is on the East Coast Road near Chennai. It features 18 distinct heritage houses reflecting the cultural and architectural diversity of South India. It also promotes crafts and other art forms through various activities. This is a living history museum showcasing the diverse lifestyles of different South Indian communities in one place.
12 Things to See and Do at DakshinaChitra
- Karnataka Houses
- Andhra Pradesh Houses
- Varija Art Gallery
- Tamil Nadu Houses
- Kerala Houses
- Amphitheatre events
- Admiring nature
- Children's play area
1. Karnataka Houses
The Karnataka section has two houses: Chikmagalur House and Ilkal Weaver’s House. The Chikmagalur House was a 1914 heritage building that was moved recently to the museum from Chikmagalur district. One can see the combined influence of colonial-era buildings and the grand Muslim manor houses.
The facade of the Ilkal Weaver’s House has a fort-like entrance leading to a front courtyard paved with stones. The woodwork, windows and stones seen in this house were taken from the place known as Ilkal.
2. Andhra Pradesh Houses
The first house on Andhra Pradesh is the Ikkat House, a residence for weavers. It has a courtyard in the middle. There is a side entrance that leads straight to the garden area. This is taken from Nalgonda district in Telangana state. Telangana was once a part of the undivided Andhra Pradesh before becoming a separate state in 2014.
We have another model house seen in the Coastal Andhra region. This was built using mud with thatched roofs. The houses are round-shaped to battle the fury of cyclones.
3. Varija Art Gallery
Varija Art Gallery is a prominent venue for various events. Exhibitions showcasing arts, painting, culture and books happen from time to time. The architecture of the building is contemporary and looks European.
4. Tamil Nadu Houses
The Tamil Nadu section has the following houses.
- Chettinad House
- Brahmin House
- Silk Weaver’s House
- Agricultural House
- Potter’s House
The pick of the Tamil Nadu section is the Chettinad house with its trademark courtyard and a majestic facade. Such houses can be seen in Sivaganga town that has become a heritage travel attraction. Each house has a practical design to suit the occupation of its residents.
The Brahmin House—or Agraharam, as it is called in Tamil—is the residence of an orthodox community serving as temple priests. The Brahmin Houses are usually concentrated in a single street since they are a close-knit community.
5. Kerala Houses
The Kerala section is the most expansive of all. It is arguably the prettiest section as well. Tourists may get a feeling that the organizers have a special liking towards Kerala during their visit. It is not partiality but a reflection of the rich architectural style prevalent in the state of Kerala. The Kerala section has the following houses.
- Syrian Christian House
- Puthupally House
- Calicut House
- Hindu House, Trivandrum
It is very difficult to pick a favorite house from the list. Each one looks great and one cannot help falling in love with the Kerala architecture.
The Calicut House is thoughtfully designed. The benches at the entrance and the running balcony on the ground floor make one feel welcome. There is a courtyard in the middle, and one can view the courtyard from the first-floor corridors. There are many small rooms in the house arranged around the courtyard. The Cochin House has life in it, and so do the others in the Kerala section.
6. Mehndi (Henna)
Mehndi is a hand art popular in India. Henna paste is usually applied on the hands in intricate designs. It should be allowed to dry and then washed off. It leaves a beautiful design on the hand.
Though Mehndi is more popular during wedding celebrations, women can do it anytime. For a very nominal fee, women can get Mehndi done.
One can try their hand at pottery, here, to turn clay into beautiful shapes (though skilled potters are at the ready to help). This activity is available in the potter’s house in the Tamil Nadu section. One needs to collect the tokens for pottery and Mehndi at the ticket counter near the entrance.
The Crafts Bazaar inside DakshinaChitra displays many products such as lighting accessories, garden accessories, bags and personal products. It is a small and narrow colorful street worth indulging.
There is a bigger craft shop at the entrance near the ticket counter for picking up some souvenirs from the trip.
9. Amphitheatre Events
There is an amphitheatre hosting cultural activities such as dance programs, plays and musical programs. If you have visited on a day when nothing is scheduled in the amphitheatre, it is still worth a visit for its look and design.
10. Admiring Nature
More than its heritage value, it is the lush green surroundings and nature's beauty that draws visitors to come back again and again. There are many surprises in the form of small ponds, birds, pretty flowers and trees.
11. Children's Play Area
Being a destination thronged by families, the needs of children are not forgotten. There is a separate play area for kids, with swings and rope games. Parents can relax under the shade of the trees by sitting on the benches when their kids play.
Even the restaurant and the snack bars are designed based on South Indian architecture. Hungry or not, one should visit the snack bars for their sheer rustic charm. The restaurant serves lunch and snacks on restricted timings. The snack bars are open from morning till evening.
There is logic even in the location of each food stall. The ice cream stall is near the children’s play area. Refreshments like buttermilk or tender coconut are sold in the Kerala section where visitors would complete their rounds.
If one wants to relax in the lap of nature, guest houses are available on the premises for a peaceful stay.
DakshinaChitra does not feature any colonial-era buildings created by the British, but you can find some of those in Chennai if you are curious to see them.
© 2019 Mohan Babu
Please leave your valuable comments.
Mohan Babu (author) from Chennai, India on December 06, 2019:
Thank you, Liz. I am glad you liked it.
Liz Westwood from UK on December 06, 2019:
This is a very well organised and well illustrated article. It gives great ideas for anyone visiting the area.