A whirlwind of maritime routes, the strong waft of gunpowder and clinking of freshly-minted coins flash before your eyes once you delve into the archives of Pazhaverkadu, which literally translates as ‘mangrove forest’.
Every nook and corner of the biodiversity hotspot, more popularly known as Pulicat, has a story to tell. A heritage walk jointly hosted by Art and architecture, Research, Development and Education (AARDE), a non-profit organisation that works to create awareness among the locals about the rich cultural heritage of the fishing village, along with Kalakshetra Foundation and the Ministry of Culture, on January 26, gave us glimpses of the remnants of the 10th century Chola Empire, and how the Dutch spread their influence, closely following the footprints of the Portuguese, the first Europeans to land in the coastal settlement, later setting the stage for the British.
Our first stop is Kottai Kuppam, where the intricate architecture of historic structures spread across the picturesque setting were unraveled. While the 2000-year-old urns treasured by a history-buff tell us the story of how the artifacts, used to store food in the early ages, have morphed into rain-water harvesting repositories, the yesteryear stone-wells in the sleepy town opens up the discoveries. Time-travelling through the postal records, architectural marvels, and centuries-old artifacts became a reality in the course of the stroll.
Our first heritage landmark, the St Anthony Church, now with sparrow nests, shows signs of Renaissance style architecture and Portuguese-inspired buttresses. The Tuscan columns tell the tale of how the church managed to retain its originality, despite renovations.
Intricately carved on the tombstones in the New Dutch Cemetery, maps stand as testimony to the skills of the Dutch. The invaluable inscriptions give clues to the unique style of the artisans. A rendezvous with the ghastly time-keeper, a skeleton-sculpture, at the entry is just not for the faint-hearted.
Pulicat is also home to the Periya Jamia Pallivasal mosque built in the 17th century that does not have a dome, atypical of the Islamic mosques. On the other hand, the China Pallivasal mosque gets its uniqueness from two striking features — a sundial and a marker that was used before the sundial was procured.
Reminiscent of the South Indian style of temple architecture, the Adi Narayana Perumal temple, one of the five ancient temples, was also part of our treasure hunt. While an inscription on one of its shrines hints at the possibility of the ancient temple belonging to the Vijayanagar Empire, the precise date of construction remains a matter of contention. The laterite blocks that form its core, though found in abundance in Malabar and Konkan coast, are not available on the Coromandel Coast. The intricate artworks depicting fishes captured in stone linger in your mind, long after you soak in the musty smell and creeper-riddled ancestry of the cultural hub.
A Dutch priest house that later metamorphosed into a post office in the British period brings to fore the influence of Europeans. The postal records of the region, that has a tinted history of a mint and gunpowder factory, have been usurped by the Madras Archives.
Pulicat has a few traditional games played by the fisher-women. These games are played with colourful beads and rocks. They gather outside their homes to indulge in this afternoon routine.
Folk-songs sung in Tamil are quite a rage in the hamlet. Most songs reflect on the surroundings. The mesmerising tunes are sung when the villagers set out for catching prawns, a part of their cuisine, or when they are busy erecting poles by the lake to stop soil erosion, colloquially known as the Paadu system.
As the trail unwinds with our final stop, the Pulicat Interpretation Centre a troupe in splendorous costumes welcome us with their vibrant moves. Capturing the essence of the grand setting, the theatre artists entertain the young audience, school students from Chennai and Tiruvalluvar districts with the celebrated art form of northern Tamil Nadu, Kattaikutthu. A scene from the epic Mahabharatha comes alive, laughter and applause fills the air.