The bustling sea ports of the ancient kings of Tamil Nadu finds prominent mention in the 1st century AD travel documents of the Greco-Roman Periplus and the Greco-Egyptian Ptolemy. An 8th century Tamil text describes Mahabalipuram – 60 kilometers down the coast from Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s capital – as a bustling port where ‘ships rode at anchor bent to the point of breaking laden as they were with wealth, big trunked elephants and gems of nine varieties in heaps.’
Tamil Nadu’s history stretches back to the great Sangam Age between the 3rd century BC and the 3rd century AD when literature, art, music and painting flourished as nowhere else in the world. It was the time of the great Tamil dynasties of the Cholas, the Cheras and the Pandyas whose domain included almost all of South India and extended beyond to include Ceylon (Sri Lanka). They were not only great conquerors but also able administrators and builders and keen patrons of the arts. Their rich legacy lives on to this day in the grand temples and architecture of Thanjavur (Tanjore), Gangaikondacholapuram and Darasuram; and in Madurai, Trichy, Kanyakumari, Rameswaram and Chidambaram, among others; in the rock cut cave sanctuaries, sculptures and giant open air reliefs of rock of the Pallavas at Mahabalipuram, in the museums, palaces and other monuments across the state.
The capture of the historic Rock Fort in Trichy by the British in the 16th century helped them gain a firm foothold on the Indian subcontinent for the first time. Soon they built their own fortress, the first in India, in Chennaiin 1644 AD – Fort St. George today houses the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly and other historic buildings. Chennai houses the largest number of heritage buildings in any Indian Metropolitan area – 2, 467 in all – most of them 200 years or older, including the San Thome Cathedral (not very far from Fort St. George) where the remains of the one of the apostles, St. Thomas, is supposed to be interred. Rightly is Chennai called the ‘Gateway to South India’.Tamil Nadu leads you to its still beating heart.