Dakshinachitra is a gem–a beautifully executed exhibition of South Indian culture about an hour south of Chennai on the East Coast Road. Brianna and I and two of her friends four hours there. We could have stayed all day, touring the authentic homes reconstructed in the midst of clean, landscaped grounds, viewing the art gallery, doing crafts. And we didn’t even make it to the playground or the bookstore.
The various museum buildings comprise Hindu, Muslim, and Christian homes that formerly belonged to merchants, agriculturalists, and fishermen. Well-placed placards in English and Tamil provide just the right amount of information on the architecture and interiors.
Additional historical information is strategically displayed, such as the history of the Tamil language in the art gallery (below) and the writing of Tamil in Arabic script in the Karnataka merchant house (not pictured). The latter house, which was originally situated on a five-acre coffee plantation, also includes an exposition of historical buildings in Hyderabad and a description of kalamkari, a method of printing textiles with ink.
In addition to typical furnishings, the interior of the houses display traditional handicrafts: ikkat cloth weaving, pottery, basket weaving, and sculpture and other religious art.
Rice flour designs like these outside the ikkat house are a common sight in South India.
Guests can buy contemporary handicrafts at the artists’ market on the grounds. The creator of the “patta chitra” art below comes from a family of craftsmen who create these astonishingly detailed works. The images are first etched on palm leaves, then washed with ink. When it is wiped away, only the ink that has seeped into the etched lines remain.
We went on a weekday; even more performances and craft activities are available on weekends. As it was, the girls got to try their hand at grinding rice into flour, painting clay pots, and making bead bracelets.
We enjoyed a very tasty (and economical) lunch that included curd rice, vegetable biryani, parottas, and lassis. Brianna especially enjoyed her curd vada–something like savory doughnuts topped with yogurt.
Dakshinchitra also features a research library with books covering diverse topics, including handicrafts, jewelry, metal crafts, architecture, iconography, numismatics, birds, landscaping, caste and tribes, folktales, food, sacred books, medicine, natural dyes, and census reports, to name just a few.
We sat through about fifteen minutes of a well produced film on South Indian customs and architecture that I found fascinating, but the girls grew restless, so we moved on.
Dakshinachitra is definitely worth a repeat visit. For more information, visit their Web site: Dakshinachitra