Saturday, August 2, 2008

Chennai (Madras)

Chennai, or Madras, is where the British Raj started. The East India company set up shop here, and in Calcutta and Bombay, and from that beginning England began inexorably to colonize India. Yesterday we saw the beach front fort the East India company first built. I don't have much time to run through the day, but we started yesterday with a really stimulating presentation by a western-trained Indian scientist who has been studying Indian ways of thinking at the history of Indian science. He doesn't reject western science, but is doing really interesting work on the differences between western and Indian science, and on the differences between modern western medicine and traditional Indian medicine. His group also keeps an organic farm outside of the city. I found his assimilation of western practices and Indian ones quite attractive. He doesn't reject modernity and the modern nation state out of hand, but feels we have to draw on Gandhian principles but adapt them to our own situation, so he doesn't find Gandhi's critique of modernity in Hind Swaraj, about which I've written a lot, very practical.

In the afternoon we visited a museum full of amazing Hindu bronzes from the 9th - 14th centuries that were excavated in the south of Tamil Nadu from temples by the British. Fabulous. Then we visited a still thriving 500 year old Hindu temple in the city itself, and ended with a visit to the beach on the Bay of Bengal. This isn't like a beach in the states. No one in bathing suits and no swimming. It's more like a giant park with food vendors. It was twilight and grey and misty, quite beautiful. We all got our feet wet and nearly had our sandals swept out to sea when the tide rushed in.

A note on photos. I'm trying to upload some but the connection here at the hotel is maddeningly slow. Please check my web gallery for whatever Navadarshanam photos made it (the link to my gallery is in the menu to the right under "General Links"). I may try again tonight.

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