Why Chennai Is Called The Cultural Capital Of India

The ‘Detroit of India’, the ‘city of temples’ – Chennai has been conferred with various titles. However, the one label that has been indelibly associated with Chennai is that of being the ‘cultural capital of India’. However, this rich culture did not evolve overnight; it emerged out of the interaction of a host of elements across a long span of time. So, let us take a look at the history of the evolution of the cultural capital of India.
The roots of Chennai can be traced back to the ‘Sangam Age’ or the golden age. Being a seaport, Chennai was embroiled in the struggle for power since time immemorial. This change of dynasties left footprints on different facets of Chennai’s culture. Thus, for instance, receiving an impetus from the rulers of the mighty Chola, Chera and Pandyan Empires, this period saw the birth of some of the most renowned talented persons of the time. Thus, it saw the blossoming of some literary classics such as the Tolkappiyam, Ettutogai, and Padinenkilkanakku. In fact, many of these poems were sung to the beats of musical instruments, which were invented during this age such as the veena, murals, and yazh. Another area that received unflinching patronage from the rulers is architecture. The foundations of some of the craftiest temples of South India were laid down. For instance, the sculptures of erotic art and deities at the ‘Meenakshi Amman Temple’, Madurai and the ‘Srirangam Ranganathaswamy Temple’ date back to the Sangam period.

This was followed by the reign of Badami Chalukyas who were known for their ‘Vergara’ style of architecture. It was in this period that the rock-cut temples of Pattadakal (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and two famous paintings at Ajanta cave were crafted. This chain of building beautiful monuments continued across time. Thus, the Pallavas built the ‘Shore Temple’ (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Rashtrakutas built the famous rock-cut temples at Ellora and the Vijayanagara Empire built Virupaksha Temple. At the same pace, music and other art forms were also developed. Duets on literary works like ‘Silappadikaram’, and ‘Thevaram’ became popular.

With the evolution of mesmerizing temples and musical instruments, dance forms started being evolved. One such dance form was Bharatnatyam, a dance form performed by the temple devadasis. Some of the other dance forms of Tamil Nadu, which evolved over a span of time include Kararagam (a dance form performed in praise of the rain God), Basava (revolving around the bull, Lord Shiva’s personification), Bommalattam (or Puppet Show) and Silambattam (which resembles a martial art), to name a few.

Thus, with rapid change of dynasties, Chennai has been at the helm of change. This has culminated in the birth of an invigorating culture, a rich heritage, flamboyant architecture and vibrant art forms. Chennai, therefore, has all the reasons to be called the ‘Cultural Capital of India’.