THE SITE OFF a great Pallava port in the 7th and 8th centuries, Mylapore is today one of the busiest parts of the city. This traditional quarter, with its religious organizations, tiny houses and lively bazaars, is dominated by the Kapaleshvara Temple, the largest in Chennai. The main deity, Shiva, is symbolized as a peacock (mail), thus giving the area its original name, Mayilapura, the “Town of the Peacocks”. According to legend, Shiva’s consort, Parvati, assumed the form of a peahen to worship Shiva, represented here by his linga. A sculptural panel in a small shrine in the courtyard depicts the legend. The present temple was built after the original was destroyed by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Mylapore’s links with Christianity date to the 1st century AD, to the time of St Thomas. In the 10th century, a group of Nestorian Christians from Persia (Iran) discovered the saint’s burial site and built a church and tomb. The Portuguese, following the trail of the saint, established the settlement of San Thomé in the early 16th century.
The present Basilica of San Thome , over the tomb of the saint, is an impressive Gothic-style structure built in 1898. It has an ornate interior with magnificent stained-glass windows and a towering steeple. The crypt is said to contain a small bone from the saint’s hand and the weapon that killed him. Nearby is the Luz Church. which was built by a Franciscan monk in 1516, making it the oldest Catholic church in Chennai.