CHENNAI

Things to know

Things to know about Chennai


Talk

Tamil is the most widely spoken language in Chennai and is the official language of the state of Tamil Nadu. However, English, is well-understood and considerably well known in the city, with most of the well-educated upper class being fluent in English. The dialect of Tamil used by the locals is called Madras Bashai and includes a disproportionately high chunk of the English, Telugu, Sanskrit, Hindi and Urdu vocabulary and their derivatives. White-collared professionals use Tamlish, a form of conversational Tamil with a large number of English words. Both forms of Tamil are different from the dialects spoken in other parts of the state and are often viewed upon contemptuously by Tamil purists.

Telugu is spoken by quarter population of the city. Most Telugu-speakers are settled in the city for generations and are usually bilingual in both Tamil and Telugu. However, the Telugu script is far-less understood and very few are literate in the language. As the centre of anti-Hindi agitations from the 1930s and the 1960s, the city has historically cherished a deep-rooted animosity for Hindi. However, since the 1980s, when the much-politicized rhetoric against Hindi began to tone down, tolerance for Hindi has been growing. Consequently, native Hindi speakers will not run into any problems speaking Hindi among themselves. Nevertheless, Hindi is not widely spoken or understood by locals. Hence, if you don't speak Tamil, you will be better off trying English instead of Hindi when attempting to speak to locals.


Culture

Chennai is gateway to the South, and its culture is distinctly different from that of any other city in India. Tamil tradition and culture is essentially the celebration of the beauty, which is exemplified through dance, clothing, and sculptures. Chennai is both an orthodox and a modern cosmopolitan city; the culture of the city reflects its diverse population. The traditional arts, music, dance and all other art forms of Tamil Nadu grow and flourish here. The food is a unique blend of traditional, to fast foods and filter kaapi. It’s a land of temples and priests. The architecture ranges from ancient temples to modern high-rises. Music is classical and western, to the growing nightlife in the city. You can find a school for traditional Bharatanatyam or Salsa dance and for music a veena / violin or for Guitar/drums school in almost every neighborhood of the city. Chennai checks reflects its traditionalism every December when the music season is in full swing. Clothes are generally conservative but young people are contemporary.

  • Traditional Tamil Clothing - Tamil women traditionally wear the Saree or Sariwhile the men wear Dhoti, which could be either a white pancha or a colourful lungi with typical South Indian patterns. The sari, being an un-stitched wrap, enhances the shape of the wearer while only partially covering the midriff. In Indian philosophy, the navel of the Supreme Being is considered as the source of life and creativity. Therefore by tradition, the stomach and the navel is to be left unconcealed, though the philosophy behind the costume has largely been forgotten. This makes the realization of sharira-mandala (the body), where in Angikam bhuvanam yasya (the body is your world) unites with the shaarira-mandala (the whole universe), as expressed in the Natyashastra. These principles of the sari, also hold for other forms of wraps, like the lungi or worn by men. The lungi can be wrapped over clockwise or anticlockwise and can be tied at the back or fixed just along the waist line. It's sometimes lifted till knee and tied at the waist leisurely or just held in hand to speed up walking. In tradition Brahmin homes men wear kachche panchey where it is tied at back by taking it between legs. Similar pattern is seen in women.
  • Tamil Nadu Cuisine - Rice is the staple diet in Chennai, Dosa, Idli and Uttapam are popular in Chennai. The state of Tamil Nadu has a distinct place in culinary map of the country. Chennai has a wide range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacies to offer. The food here gets its flavor from a host of spices and condiments used in Tamil Nadu. Coconut, tamarind and asafetida are a must for almost all vegetarian recipes. Garam masala is avoided in Tamil cuisine. Refined gingelly oil is normally used as the medium of cooking. Chutneys and mixed spice are served in the lunch and enhance the taste of the meal. The Tamil Nadu lunch or meals in Chennai consists of cooked rice served with different kinds of vegetable dishes, Sambar, chutneys, Rasam (a hot broth made with tamarind juice and pepper) and curd (yogurt). The non-vegetarian lunch includes curries or dishes cooked with mutton, chicken or fish. Tamil meals are incomplete without crisp Papads or Appalam. In Chennai, Chettinad cuisine of Tamil Nadu is particularly famous. This cuisine is hot and spicy and provides delectable variety in mutton, chicken and fish dishes.Chettinad Pepper Chicken is one of the most famous dishes in Tamil Nadu. The Chennai style of Mughalai food can be tasted in the Biryani and Paya. Paya is a type of spiced trotter’s broth and is eaten with either Parathas or Appam. Breakfast or tiffin in Chennai includes idly (steamed rice cakes), dosai(a pancake made from a batter of rice) and lentils crisp fried on a pan, vadai(deep fried doughnuts made from a batter of lentils), pongal (a mash of rice and lentils boiled together and seasoned with ghee, cashew nuts, pepper and cummin seed), uppuma (cooked semolina seasoned in oil with mustard, pepper, cumin seed and dry lentils). Most of the breakfast dishes in Chennai are eaten with coconut chutney, sambar (seasoned lentil broth) and melagai podi (a powdered mix of several dried lentils eaten with oil). Tamil Nadu, especially Chennai, is famous for its filter coffee. Most Tamils have a subtle disliking for instant coffee; therefore filter coffee is more popular. The preparation of filter coffee is almost like a daily chore, the coffee beans have to be first roasted and then ground. The coffee powder is then put into a filter set and hot boiled water is added to prepare the boiling and allowed to set for about 15 minutes. The decoction is then added to milk with sugar to taste. The drink thus prepared is then poured from one container to another in rapid succession to make the perfect frothy cup of filter coffee. An exotic drink that refreshes you and the taste that lingers, served best in "Dabarah" set which includes a steel tumbler and saucer with a rim.
  • Music - There are many composers in Carnatic music. Purandara Dasa (1480-1564) is known as the father (Pitamaha) of Carnatic music due to his pioneering contributions to Carnatic music. Purandara Dasa is renowned for formulating the basic lessons of Carnatic music. The contemporariesTyagaraja (1759-1847), Muthuswami Dikshitar, (1776-1827) and Syama Sastri (1762-1827), are regarded as the Trinity of Carnatic music due to the quality of Syama Sastri's compositions, the varieties of compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar and Tyagaraja's prolific output in composing kritis. The compositions of these composers are rendered frequently by artists of today during the music festival season. Chennai Music Festival or December Season is a celebration of classical music and dance of South India held during mid December to mid January in the capital city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The festival is held at a number of venues around the city by various 'sabhas' or organizations. Besides the auditoriums, well-known temple premises and heritage bungalows are being used as venues. The month long dance and music extravaganza will have performances of eminent artistes from various parts of India. The 'Margazhi festival of Dance and Music' started early back in 1927, to commemorate the anniversary of Madras Music Academy every December, was later adopted by various organizations which held art festivals in different parts of the city. The Tamil month of 'Margazhi' (December) is a sacred month of the Hindus. South Indian classical music (Carnatic Music) which has its roots in devotion to the gods, has been a traditional form of worship from time immemorial. The city comes alive with the festival which has now developed into a cultural extravaganza with more than 2,000 artists participating in over 300 concerts. The festival also known as 'December Season' attracts expatriate Indians and scholars from around the world as well. Performances include Vocal and Instrumental music, Dance - solo and group, both by junior and senior artistes. Even upcoming artists get a chance to perform along with well-established artists. The music include classical vocal renditions in various South Indian languages like Tamil, Telugu and Kannada and instruments like Flute, Veena (a large string instrument), Goottuvadyam (similar to Veena but without frets), 'Nagaswaram' (pipe), 'Thavil' (percussion instrument), 'Mridangam' (drum), and even 'Ghatam' (a mud pot). The season goes on till mid January when the scene shifts to Tiruvaiyaru, near Tanjore, where 'Thyagaraja Aradhana' a week long music festival is held to celebrate the birth of one of the greatest Carnatic composers and one among the trinity of music - Thyagaraja. Information about the tickets and the venues can be had from the tourist office, Chennai. The weather is cool and pleasant at this time of the year. November- December is the best season to visit the city. Now the music in the motion picture industry has emerged as an important entertainment platform in Chennai, over the years portraying the cultural changes, trends, aspirations and developments experienced by its people.
  • Dance - Chennai is home to the distinct dance form- the Bharat Natyam.Bharatanatyam is the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the body. This is done through its tenets of having a perfectly erect posture, a straight and pout curving stomach, a well rounded and proportionate body mass- to the body structure, very long hair and curvaceous hips. These tenets bring to life the philosophy of Natyashastra, ‘Angikam bhuvanam yasya’ (The body is your world). This is elaborated in the araimandi posture, wherein the performer assumes a half sitting position with the knees turned sideways, with a very erect posture. In this fundamental posture of the Bharatanatyam dance, the distance between the head and the navel becomes equal to that between the earth and the navel. In a similar way the distance between the outstretched right arm to the outstretched left arm becomes equal to the distance between the head and the feet, thus representing the "Natyapurusha", the embodiment of life and creation.

ATMs

  • ABN Amro, Harrington Road, Opp Residency Hotel on GN Chetty Road, Adyar - Sardar Patel Road, TTK Road, next to Citibank branch
  • ANDHRA BANK, All over Chennai
  • HSBC, Adyar, Mylapore, Pondy Bazzar, Tidel Park, Kadar Nawaz Khan Road, Annanagar, Rajaji Salai, Kathipara Junction
  • American Express, Near Anand Theatre, Anna Salai (Mount Road)
  • Citibank, Opp Spencers Plaza, Anna Salai (Mount Road); Opp Hotel Parthan, GN Chetty Road, Opposite Citi Centre, Velachery Highway, near Vijaya Nagar Bus terminus, Nanganallur.
  • HDFC Bank, ITC Centre, Anna Salai (Mount Road),Anna Nagar(West); All over Chennai
  • ICICI Bank, All over Chennai
  • Axis Bank, All over Chennai
  • Standard Chartered Bank, Haddows Road
  • State Bank of India, All over Chennai. They have an ATM locator online.
  • Indian Overseas Bank, All over Chennai,they have InstaCash ATMs.
  • Indian bank, All over chennai
  • Oriental Bank of Commerce, Adyar LB Road, Mylapore, G N Chetty Road T nagar.

ATM cards issued by any bank will work with ATM of any other bank, but they may impose restrictions on number of transactions, amount per transaction and may also charge a small transaction fee of ₹20.


Money changers

Many hotels will change money for you at the front desk. However, they may not have the best rates.

It is best to change money at the city based money changers than the ones located at the airports. The ones at the airport offer much less for exchanging forex into Indian Rupees (₹) and sell forex for a much higher rate than the market rate.

  • American Express, Spencers Plaza, Anna salai
  • Thomas Cook, Spencers Plaza, Anna salai

Post & telegraphs

The telegraph office on Anna Salai (Mount Rd), near Higgin Bothoms accepts letters and parcels up to 8PM with a small late fee. Snail Mail in India is by a Post Card (25Ps), Inland Letter ₹5, or envelope ₹5. Speed Post facility allows you to send mail more conveniently than a courier service. They have a pan India coverage and also provide international service. International delivery is considerably slower than private competitors like FedEX or UPS but it is also much cheaper. Telegraph services have been discontinued from July 2013 citing very poor response.

Due to proliferation of mobile phones and VOIP, the public telephones are fast disappearing. Telephone Booths or public telephones in India can still be found near travel hotspots like the airport, railway station or CMBT and usually painted with the letters PCO (Public Call office,local calls), STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) and ISD (International Subscriber Dialling). All booths have electronic metering and you pay what's displayed on the meter (included in the metering is a nominal ₹2 as service charges). You'll also get a receipt if you insist on one. Coin operated phones ₹1 are located in many busy junctions (easily identified by bright yellow or red colour) but support only local calls.


Libraries & Cultural Centres

  • American Information Resource Center Library (located within the American Consulate)

FLIGHTS & HOTELS

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