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Exploring the Arts & Artisans of South India

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Key Information:
Tour Duration: 15 day(s)
Group Size: 15 - 20 people
Destination(s): India  
Specialty Categories: Cultural Journey   Crafts Tours  
Season: February - March
Airfare Included: No
Tour Customizable: No
Minimum Per Person Price: 4450 US Dollar (USD)
Maximum Per Person Price: 4450 US Dollar (USD)

The art and artisan study tour to South India is not only a unique travel opportunity to an exotic destination rich in culture, history, tradition, religion and art, it is a rare opportunity to explore in depth one of the richest ancient civilizations of the world under the leadership of Dr. Stephen Inglis, a recognized authority on bronze casters and potter-priests of Tamil Nadu. Daily lectures on art and architecture of the ancient temples and their rituals, generations old traditional practices of bronze sculptors, potters and weavers, meeting and interacting with local artisans, friends and colleagues of Dr. Inglis are some of the exclusive highlights of this tour. Dr. Inglis invites you to join him on this exceptional study tour of Art and Artisans of South India.

Dr. Stephen Inglis studied anthropology and museology at the University of British Columbia, at Madurai Kamaraj University in Tamilnadu and at Calcutta University, concluding with a PhD from the University of British Columbia in 1984. His field research was undertaken over several years in the late seventies and early eighties with potter-priests in Tamilnadu, South India! After graduation Stephen undertook several assignments at the then Canadian Museum of Civilization (Canada’s national ethnology and history museum) in Canada’s capital region. He worked there as a researcher and curator in ethnology, fine craft and folk art before assuming the role of Director General. In this position he was responsible for leading Canada’s largest research and collections department with holdings of 3 million artifacts and a professional staff of 130. During his 25-year tenure at the museum he led the expansion of the international reputation of the institution, its scholars and exhibitions. He curated ten major exhibitions, notably the first major survey of Indian art since India’s independence in 1947, “India: the Living Arts” (2000) at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, “Maharaja” (2010) at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the permanent “South Asia Collections” (2011) at the UBC Museum of Anthropology. Stephen has led tours to India for the Shastri-Indo Canadian Institute and has created customized tours for groups of senior scholars and curators. For four years 2010-2014 he worked for the Cree of James Bay as founding Executive Director of the Cree Cultural Institute, an indigenous cultural centre and museum where he was responsible for the final phase of construction, staffing, the exhibitions, programmes and collections for this new institution. He is an Adjunct Research Professor of Art History at Carleton University where he teaches Asian art. He is extensively published and is invited to speaking engagements around the world. He has been honored for his innovation in museology, art history and community engagement with awards from the Canadian Museums Association, the Hans Mannerby Foundation of Sweden, the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, and the President of India.

Day 01: Arrive Chennai

Arrival at Chennai International Airport: Namaste! We are warmly welcomed the traditional Indian way with hands clasped together at the airport and transferred to our hotel. Balance of the day is free.
Overnight: Taj Coromandel (3 nights)

Day 02: Chennai

After breakfast, we meet the other participants on our tour and also get to know our host, Stephen Inglis. Afternoon, is an excursion to Kanchipuram roughly 70 kms away, to visit the famous silk weavers. The town today has over 60,000 silk looms and 22 weaver cooperative societies. According to Hindu mythology, Kanchi silk weavers are the descendants of Sage Markanda, the master weaver of Gods who is supposed to have woven tissues from lotus fiber. Kanchipuram holds great treasures in terms of art and architecture and it is believed that a pilgrimage there takes one closer to salvation. It has one of the country’s oldest continuously inhabited cities and has been called the city of a thousand temples. It would take forever to explore all of Kanchi’s temples, but we will make sure you don’t miss the most important ones. (B, D)

Day 03: Chennai

Our first stop is the Kapaleeshwarar Temple: the original Kapaleeshwarar Temple was built in the 7th Century CE by the Pallavas (the site where Santhome Church is currently located). The original temple was demolished by the Portuguese and rebuilt in the 16th century by the Vijayanagar Kings. The temple's name is derived from the words Kapalam (head) and Eeshwarar an alias of lord Shiva. According to the Puranas, during the meeting of Brahma and Shiva on top of Mount Kailash, Brahma failed to pay due respect to Shiva as a result Shiva plucked one of Brahma's heads (kapalams). In an act of penance, Brahma came down to the site of Mylapore and installed a Lingam to please Shiva. Here we experience the continuing role of an important temple in a great city. Next, we explore the historical Fort St. George which was the first establishment of the British in India. The Fort Museum showcases a host of artefacts such as coins, medals, paintings and letters belonging to the colonial period. St. Mary’s church is the oldest Anglican church in India. Finally, we visit the Tamil Nadu State Museum which was founded in 1850 and includes six buildings and 46 galleries. The museum houses one of the finest bronze collections in the world ranging from the Christian era to current times. The main feature of the bronze section is the sculptures representing Hindu gods and goddesses. Another well-known collection contains sculptures, Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu sculptures of medieval and later periods. This section includes 600 inscriptions on copper plates and 100 stone inscriptions. A variety of rare coins, Stone Age and Iron Age artifacts, antiques and musical instruments of South India, arms, jewelry, and vintage stamps make this museum interesting for every visitor! In the evening, we are treated to a welcome dinner at the famous South Indian specialty restaurant Karaikudi serving authentic cuisine from southern India. Dinner at the Madras Club founded by the British in 1830. This unusual experience would give us a glimpse of the colonial history of the city, now a refuge of the wealthy of Chennai. (B, D)

Day 04: Chennai/Dakshinachitra/Mahabalipuram (Drive)

After breakfast, we drive south and visit the Dakshinachitra Heritage Museum - a living museum of art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts and performing arts of South India. En route it may be possible to stop at Cholamandel, an artist colony essential to the history of contemporary art in India. Dakshinachitra has a collection of 18 authentic historical houses with contextual exhibitions in each house. The authentic homes in a regional vernacular style were purchased, taken down, transported and reconstructed by artisans of the regions from where the houses came. Here guests can walk through a bazaar of artisans from various parts of India. Lunch will be at the lcentre’s restaurant followed by a traditional performance. Afternoon we have free time for an optional fortune reading by the local fortune tellers.
Overnight: Vivanta By Taj Fisherman’s Cove (1 night) (B, L, D)

Day 05: Mahabalipuram/Pondicherry (Drive)

An incredible day today as we visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mamallapuram: this group of sanctuaries, founded by the Pallava kings, was carved out of rock along the Coromandel Coast in the 7th and 8th centuries. It is known especially for its rathas (boulders carved into temples), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air reliefs such as the famous 'Descent of the Ganges' and the Shore temple, with sculptures to the glory of Shiva. During the visit we will meet and interact with the stone carvers who work at this ancient site. Drive to Pondicherry and check into hotel for overnight.
Overnight: DeL’ Orient (2 nights) (B, D)

Day 06: Pondicherry

Our day in Pondicherry starts with a visit to Sri Aurobindo Ashram- a spiritual community (ashram) located in Pondicherry, a former French colony. The ashram grew out of a small community of disciples who had gathered around Sri Aurobindo after he retired from politics and settled in Pondicherry in 1910 and has become one of the largest in India. The day starts with a meditation around the Samadhi, the memorial to Aurobindo that forms the heart of the community. Today the group spends the day in the quiet spiritual surroundings. Auroville, a short drive outside of Pondicherry, is a universal township in the making for a population of up to 50,000 people from around the world. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity – in diversity. Today Auroville is recognized as the first and only internationally endorsed ongoing experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness, also concerned with - and practically researching into - sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind. At the very centre of Auroville one finds the 'soul of the city', the Matrimandir, situated in a large open area called 'Peace', from where the settlements radiate outwards. The atmosphere is quiet and charged, and the area beautiful. The Matrimandir is a large golden sphere which seems to be emerging out of the earth, symbolizing the birth of a new consciousness. (B, D)

Day 07: Pondicherry/Chidambaram/Tanquebar (Drive)

Drive through rural India to Chidambaram to see the wonderful temples in Chidambaram. Of the numerous temples the Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram is the most significant one. In terms of its antiquity, richness in terms of worship & festival traditions, in architectural & sculptural splendour, in its association with music and dance. Several rich legends are associated with Chidambaram. The best known, are those describing the Cosmic Dance of Shiva, the dance duel between Shiva and Kaali and the more recent one describing the re-discovery of the Tevaram hymns. Time permitting, we visit Pichavaram - a well-developed mangrove forest consisting of a number of islands interspersing a vast expanse of water covered with green trees. The Pichavaram mangrove biotope, consisting of rare species like Avicennia and Rhizophora presents a special attraction, with its peculiar topography and environmental condition. It supports the existence of many rare varieties of economically important shell and finfishes. We continue to Tanquebar-off the beaten track, not found on any tourist itinerary, Tanquebar was originally known as Tarangambadi meaning place of the singing waves. In 1620 by means of a treaty signed with the local ruler Raghunath Nayakas the town was colonized and renamed Tranquebar by the Danish colonists who made it one of their major trading posts in the early 17th century. By mid-19th century all Danish settlements were transferred to the British East India Company. We visit the Dansborg Fort, the New Jerusalem Church and the remaining Danish homes of Kings. At the entrance of the town is an old gateway with wooden doors built by the Danes in 1792. The main street of the town is called King Street and here there is a memorial dedicated to the original Danish settlers. Near the beach the Danish Governor Bungalow built in 1784 is still the largest building in Tranquebar. Located opposite the bungalow is the Danish fort, built in 1620. It is a stunning piece of Viking architecture, with enclosing stonewalls and cannons facing the sea. The fort has now been converted into an archaeological museum. Enjoy a walk along the restored Goldsmith Street.
Overnight: Neemrana Hotel (1 night) (B, D)

Day 08: Tanquebar/Swamimalai (Drive)

After breakfast, we drive to Swamimalai one of the six abodes of the God Murugan, we visit bronze casters, working in a street they have inhabited for centuries. The region’s wealth of artistic traditions includes the creation of exquisite bronze images through the process known as Cire Perdue or the “Lost Wax” technique. A model of the image is first made in wax and then coated with layers of clay to create a mold, which is heated to allow the melting wax to flow out through a hole at the base. A molten alloy of five metals (Pancha Loha) is poured into the hollow. When it cools the mold is broken and image is finished and polished. Finally, the image’s eyes are sealed with a mixture of Honey and Ghee, and then ritually “opened” by a priest, using a golden needle. Even today, traditional artisans, known as Sthapathis, create these images according to a fixed set of rules and guidelines laid down in the Shilpa Shastra, an ancient treatise on art.
Overnight: Hotel INDeco (2 nights) (B, D)

Day 09: Swamimalai

Today we visit the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram which stands out for its intricate beautiful sculptures. The temple in the form of a chariot being pulled by an elephant and horse. At the very entrance to the temple two Dwarapalakas, Sankhanidhi and Padmanidhi, are imposing figures, giving vivid anatomical expressions of the exuberance of youth. Balance of the day is free. (B, D)

Day 10: Swamimalai/Tanjore (Drive)

After breakfast we drive to Tanjore. We visit the “Big Temple” and the Palace. Brihadeeswara Temple – an architectural masterpiece that has been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site. This temple which was built in 1010 by Rajaraja Chola, was the center of the vast Chola Empire. The Siva Lingam here is gigantic, more than 12 feet tall. The Nandi facing the sanctum is also 12 feet in height. At the entrance of sanctum sanctorum, one can see the two idols of Ganesha in the corridor. The main hall of the temple was used by the dancers and musicians performing in service of Shiva. Next is the Tanjore Palace Museum; The Thanjavur palace was originally constructed by the rulers of Thanjavur Nayak kingdom and then served as the official residence of the Maratha kings. When most of the Maratha kingdom was annexed to the British Empire in 1799, the Thanjavur Marathas continued to hold sway over the palace and the surrounding fort. The bronze sculpture collection here is one of the finest in India.
Overnight: Hotel Svatma Tanjore (1 night) (B, D)

Day 11: Tanjore/Karaikudi (Drive)

After breakfast we drive to Karaikudi. It is part of the area commonly referred to as "Chettinad" and has been declared a heritage town by the Government. Karaikudi is rich in cultural heritage, art and architecture, and is well known for its enormous mansions, embellished with marble, Burma teak, mirrors from Belgium and Japanese wall tiles. The mansions built in the 18th century feature wide courtyards, spacious rooms, deep verandas and brightly painted facades. In the afternoon we visit the Chettinad Palace located in Kanadukathan village, outside Karaikudi city. It is a classic example of the traditional Chettinad architecture. At the entrance is a pillared veranda or thinnai, used for receiving visitors. Heavy ornate wooden doors lead to the main hall decorated with elephant tusks, antique furniture and portraits of family members. Typically, the Palace extends further in a series of three courtyards with the doors aligned in such a way that from the entrance, you can see straight through to the end of the house. Italian marble, Burma teak, stained glass and a fusion of colour, ornate wrought iron and handmade tiles and woodwork light up this home. Later we drive to Athangudi village and visit the units which make the famous handmade Athangudi tiles. Made one-at-a-time by trained craftsman these colourful tiles not only adorn the opulent homes in the region but are exported to other parts of the world.
Overnight: The Bangala (1 night) (B, D)

Day 12: Karaikudi/Madurai (Drive)

After breakfast we drive to Madurai. On arrival we check in our hotel. In the evening we enjoy the night closing ceremony of the Meenakshi Temple.
Overnight: Heritage Madurai (2 nights) (B, L, D)

Day 13: Madurai

In the morning, we take an excursion through the villages north of Madurai to a set of hills. At a certain point, we abandon our vehicle to walk on pathways to an isolated temple where the deities are worshipped with clay images…an unforgettable experience. After that we return to hotel. In the afternoon, we visit the Meenakshi Temple- The abode of the triple-breasted warrior goddess Meenakshi (‘fish-eyed’ – an epithet for ever-watchful eyes in classical Tamil poetry) is considered by many to be the height of South Indian temple architecture, as vital to the aesthetic heritage of this region as the Taj Mahal to North India. The great temple is the centre of one of India’s oldest cities, still organized on a concentric plan with streets devoted to different communities and occupations. Here we’ll see the legacy of the Nayak kings and the activity of one of India’s greatest pilgrimage places. Later we enjoy a rickshaw ride and walk in the market. (B, D)

Day 14: Madurai/Chennai (Flight)

After breakfast, we will visit a rural temple served by potters/priests just outside of Madurai. Where a mound of clay becomes sacred…this is amongst the oldest and most widespread form of traditional art and there are also many religious and ritual uses for this art form. The guests will have an opportunity to interact with the potters with detailed explanations from Dr. Inglis and his personal connections with the artisans. In the afternoon, we are transferred to the airport for our flight to Chennai. On arrival in Chennai we are transferred to our hotel. In the evening, we enjoy farewell dinner at Southern spice restaurant.
Overnight: Taj Coromandel (1 night) (B, D)

Day 15: Depart Chenai

Our unique tour of the Arts and Artisans of south India comes to an end as we are transferred to the airport for our departure flight. (B)

Contact us for departure dates.

Supplemental Tour Information:
Price Includes:
- Domestic airfares
- Accommodation as mentioned or similar, including hotel taxes
- 29 Meals as mentioned (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
- All sightseeing and transfers by private transportation
- Services of local English Speaking tour guides
- Entrance fees to museums and sites included in the itinerary
- Rickshaw ride in Madurai
- Private home visit at Chennai
- Accompanying tour host Dr. Stephen Inglis

Price Excludes:
- International airfares (please call for assistance)
- Insurance/visas
- Tips/gratuities

Airfare is not included in the tour price.