Dakshinachitra Heritage Museum

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.

Tamil script 1

Tamil thatch house. The placard told us that this is the most common form of housing in Tamil Nadu.

According to the placard by the door, thatch homes like this one are the most common form of housing in Tamil Nadu.

This fisherman's hut from Andhra Pradesh is designed to withstand coastal storms.

This cob-and-thatch fisherman’s hut from Andhra Pradesh is designed to withstand coastal storms.

This is the fisherman's kitchen, located under a separate thatch structure.

The fisherman’s open-air kitchen, located under a separate thatch structure.

Kerala Hindu house-big--spice drawers

Storage chest in the indoor kitchen of a Kerala Hindu house, early 20th century.

Syrian Christian house 6

Kitchen in a Kerala Syrian Christian house, ca. 1850.

Syrian Christian house book

Book (Bible?) in the Syrian Christian home.

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.

Ikkat weaver in an Andra Pradesh (to the north of Tamil Nadu) house.

Ikkat weaver in an Andhra Pradesh house.

I've read the definition of

Exposition of the steps involved in weaving ikkat cloth. Read more about it here: Wikipedia “Ikat” article

Rice flour designs like these outside the ikkat house are a common sight in South India.

Andra ikkat house rice flour designs

According to information we read elsewhere, they are not only aesthetic but represent a figurative offering of food to ants and cows.

Andra ikkat house cheriyal dolls 2

“Cheriyal dolls,” used among the Golla caste in Andhra Pradesh for telling the story of their ancestral oral epic.

“Cow of Plenty” in the religious arts gallery.

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.


The artist, Prakash Kumar Maharana, told us it can take months to complete one piece.


Some of these intricate works include tiny cut-away sections and flaps that can be lifted to reveal another picture, much like a pop-up book.


The girls got to try their hand at writing their names on a palm leaf.

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.

Tamil agric house rice grinding--Brianna 3

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.

restaurant courtyard

The restaurant is situated on a verandah that overlooks this shady courtyard. A painting workshop was taking place on the other side.

restaurant capital gecko

Can you spot the camouflaged visitor on this carved pillar?

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.

The library also has a few collections of traditional tales, and I had to drag the girls away--who would've guessed?

The library also has a few collections of traditional tales, and I had to drag the girls away–who would’ve guessed?

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


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