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The Grand Chola a fitting tribute to a great southern dynasty 13 Feb 2012

Deccan Chronicle

A couple of high-society weddings held before the formal inauguration saw the who’s who of the city assembling at the Grand Chola. The promoters say the seven-star hotel-cum-serviced apartments-cum-convention centre is a tribute to the spirit of the ancient Cholas of Tamil Nadu whose influence stretched across the seas.

Being the capital of a fast-developing state, Chennai deserved a caravanserai of the highest standards and the Grand Chola promises to be just that. Much like the Big Temple that has stood more than 1,000 years as the greatest pride of the Cholas, much of the hotel too is hewn in granite (and marble). As a hospitality structure, it is the biggest the city has seen in its 370-odd years.

Only a part of the hotel was thrown open to the weddings, one of which was that of Aniruddha, the IPL cricketing son of the chairman of selectors, Kris Srikkanth. What was seen in that portion itself was like a tribute to the Cholas who were a great maritime power in their time as they ruled for several centuries, from about the 9th to the 13th.

In keeping with the spirit of modern times, the hotel will have a helipad to match the specifications of the one at the White House in Washington.

The inauguration of the hotel may have been put off to March but those behind the massive project have been busy brushing up on the history of the Cholas, which revealed such gems as the coffee beans for the filter coffee - perfected in this part of the world whose most famous variant is the Kumbakkonam degree coffee - had originally been smuggled from Yemen.

Being intrepid seafarers, the Cholas were said to have also experimented the art of fermentation and steaming without which the likes of the Tamil origin idli - perhaps influenced in its preparation by the Indonesian kedli - may never have materialised as early as the third century, nor the dosas, appams and puttus, which are such a part of standard fare on the South Indian dining tables of today.

The booklet that ITC has produced on the ‘Imperial Cholas’ is well worth preserving as a fine work of non-fiction even if you are not a foodie and are least interested in the history and origins of what is a common dish on your plate almost every day of the week.

The one major point you could hold against the otherwise architectural splendor of the hotel is the many circular domes resembling a sombrero seem more out of temple architecture in Odhisa rather than copied from the majestic, towering vimanas that the Cholas built to announce their magnificent temples in Thanjavur and then Gangaikondacholapuram.

Wedding guests may have experienced that because the mandapam for any wedding has to face east, marriages are performed on the longitudinal arm of the long banquet hall thus limiting those who can sit facing the bride and groom.

But these are minor problems compared to the enormity of a project in which just the space for meetings, conventions, exhibitions and banquets is 60,000 square feet. Chennai gets an imposing international class hotel.

© ITC Limited