Om Namah Shivaya

Om Namah Shivaya

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Apr 20, 2016

Chennai Colors: Dr. Chithra Madhavan and 9 tips on writing about Temple Architecture and Heritage buildings

Chennai Colors V: A series about amazing and creative people of Chennai.

Dr. Chithra Madhavan - A Leading heritage historian and Authority on Temple Architecture & Heritage from Chennai adds to the colors of Chennai by revealing ancient sculptures and uncovering amazing stories found hidden in the sanctum sanatoriums of popular as well as lost Indian heritage sites.
Dr. Chithra Madhavan (Picture Curtsy FB)
For years, I have been attending Dr. Chithra Madhavan’s lectures due to my passion for spirituality and architecture. Recently, in the popular series ‘Writing about Arts’ curated by Apparao Gallery, Dr. Chitra Madhavan explained how to look at ancient sites and write. It was an eye opener for dozens of enthusiast like me as well as journalists and writers / bloggers, who attended the lecture. I must congratulate the Sharan Apparao of Apparao Gallery, who has conceptualised the lecture series, for consistently brining out amazing 'Chennai Outreach' programs with great speakers like Dr. Chithra Madhavan.

In this post of the series -Chennai Colors, I am featuring Dr. Chithra Madhavan, who by her sheer passion and expertise in detailing the history of temple architecture and heritage, constitutes the beautiful and rich shades of Chennai. I am happy that there are influencers like her, who have the safety and security of our ancient heritage and culture foremost in their mind. There are many online lectures of her talking about the same, so here in this post I am focusing on her capacity as a trainer/speaker, imparting essential knowledge and tools to appreciate the beauty and the rich history behind our ancient Temples. But before I take you through the number of points that she made in the learning session, here is a brief introduction about her.

Dr. Chithra Madhavan and Sharan Apparao at Hindu Lit Festival

Dr. Chithra Madhavan has a Ph.D. in Ancient History and Archaeology from the University of Mysore. She is the recipient of two Post-Doctoral Fellowships, author of seven books and several research articles. She frequently delivers public lectures on temple architecture, sculpture and inscriptions and leads heritage walks in Chennai. Chithra is guest-faculty at several institutions including Kalakshetra Foundation.

Now lets get back to her lecture on “Writing about Temple Architecture and Heritage” as Dr. Chithra Madhavan started with the basic things. 

1) In any kind of report about any specific place, art, dance or Music, the first thing is to keep audience in mind.

2) Read some background on the temple and structure etc. so that you will be able to relate to the things that you are seeing and know the historical back ground.  

3) And the last thing to remember in writing a book or an article, never write in hurry

4) If you are visiting a temple and want to write about its rich heritage and exquisite sculptures, start with the main deity as temples are essentially about God. Notice the specific deviations from the usual practice like the black mark on the forehead of Ranganatha, in Sri Ranganatha Temple, which is Kasthuri hence it is also called Kasthuri Ranganatha. A very important thing to remember is that you write what you notice immediately, preferably within the temple as you will not be able to remember everything later. Dr. Madhavan said that this important thing she learned the hard way. She remembers calling the temple priest after the visit, trying to find that one particular thing that she had noticed in the temple and it was a hard task to find that out again.
Madurai Meenakshi East Gopuram @ Shashi 2002

5) Dr. Chithra Madhavan cautioned against writing anything about a temple, architectural heritage sites etc. without visiting the place you are going to write about. Please don’t Google for information. If you need some background information on the subject you are writing, please check the libraries. She suggested that, ‘In case of Temple architecture and heritage,’ Theosophical society is the best library in Chennai.

6) Capture the flavor of the place, talk to the local people and ask them about the temple or the place. They can give you a humane story or interesting anecdotes. All sculptures are reflection of times.

7) Notice the detailing of the sculptures, structures that is the beauty of Indian Temples. While visiting Museums, read the plaque under the sculpture to know where it comes from. It will give you more understanding of its story and history.

8) Know the traditions of the temple. In every temple there’s a unique ritual. Find the same for flavor e.g. Pancha Vadya, Nalayira Divya Prabandham. Every temple has its Religious, Historical and Architectural perspective.

Finally after 2 hours of engrossing talk with beautiful pictures and lovely presentation, she went on to talk about something that has been very close to her heart i.e. upkeep of the heritage sites and its gradual destruction in name of progress and renovation.

9) She requested all of us to notice and write about the damages, shabby restoration efforts or renovations of such rich places that are treasure house of our culture and tradition.

Leaving you with a wonderful talk Dr. Chithra Madhavan gave at TEDx IIM Shilong..

Hope you have enjoyed this series of Chennai Colors...

ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya

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Chennai Colors: Anita Ratnam            Key to South Indian Sculpture - Vijay Kumar

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