Ask any tourist as to what is the first destination he or she has in mind when they visit our city and the Mylapore Kapaliswarar Temple will most likely be the answer. For most Chennai residents, this ranks high as a place of worship, as evinced by the vast numbers who throng the shrine on a daily basis. On festival days the numbers swell to unmanageable proportions.
The shrine is maintained well the year round and has, in the last month, undergone a spectacularly successful consecration.
Several crores are spent on its upkeep and deservedly so. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of its environs, to which the authorities and the general public pay the least attention. The surroundings have degraded terribly over the years.
The cultural quotient of the Mylapore area ranks very high. No other locality in Madras better symbolises the city’s its ethos and heritage. Adding aura is the Mylapore Festival, unique in its design and conduct. During this festival every January, the locality surrounding the temple transforms itself. It becomes a beehive of activity for the thronging crowd, which turns its gaze towards valued memories of the past, having fun alongside. The same is true of the temple’s annual festival that takes place in March/April.
The civic amenities around the temple are no match for the crowds. For disaster management during festive times, temporary measures are put in place, with roads leading to the temple blocked and a posse of policemen posted to manage the crowd. Toilets and medical help are woefully inadequate even during normal times. During the annual Arupathumoovar festival, tonnes of garbage are produced, and these need to be cleared to make the roads usable for traffic again. The business establishments, ranging from high-end jewellers and restaurants to petty shops selling a variety of series for adults as well as children, have made North Mada Street a commercial hub. The shops put up on the temple tank’s periphery obscure its sight at the ground level. Over the years many of these makeshift shops have become permanent. Thus, while the tank and tower make for good emotional appeal, for a good view of either you need to go up the high rise structures that have, sadly, been allowed on the four streets.
Would it not be a good idea to convert the space in the perimeter of the temple into a heritage quarter and call it Temple Square, or Kapali Square, if you will? First, the four Mada Streets should be off limits to motorised vehicles. For the elderly and the disabled, electric cars can be made available for mobility around the streets. Second, hawkers on pavements and petty shops should be removed from these streets and accommodated at specifically earmarked spaces, making space on the roads available for walkers and cyclists. Third, all the commercial establishments, especially on North and South Mada Streets, need to stop encroaching on the pavements. Fourth, now that the Corporation is in the process of installing mobile toilets around the city, the four Mada Streets need to have at least two in each of them to maintain public hygiene.
A closer view of the temple tank will reveal that it has a promenade on its inner periphery, at least along the south, west and north faces. When first planned, this appears to have been a walkway with ornamental light posts that still survive.
What has since happened is that these paths are cut off by high fences and converted into rubbish tips. Can these not be opened for public use?
It is high time the administration begins thinking of how it can transform Mylapore into a model that other localities such as Triplicane, Tiruvottriyur, Tiruvanmiyur and Purasawalkam, all built around temples, can follow.
This article was co-authored with Venkatesh KrishnaMoorthy