A street that hosted Tyagaraja



Bunder Street is a narrow thoroughfare in George Town, full of fruits and vegetable shops and wholesale stationery outlets. In its time it was the home to the Dubashes, wealthy merchants who acted as middlemen between the East India Company officials and the traders of Madras. Then Bunder Street was lined with stately mansions, all of them with warehouses in the ground floor and residences on the first floor.


Why the name Bunder? Ships anchored a short distance away in the years before the port came up and this street was the Bandar (warehouse) which became Bunder. The Hindi word for port Bandargah, could also have been corrupted to Bunder. This was where sarees brought from Bandar Srikakulam, a town in Andhra, were sold and that could also be the reason.


Tyagaraja (1767-1847) is one of the greatest composers in Carnatic Music. He came to Madras in 1839 and stayed at what is today no 41, Bunder Street. Incredibly, the building has survived intact till date. This was the town-house of Kovur Sundaresa Mudaliar, a a dubash of the East India Company. It was Mudaliar’s earnest desire that Tyagaraja ought to visit Madras and stay with him and this was fulfilled when Tyagaraja was on a pilgrimage in 1839. Acceding to Mudaliar’s request, Tyagaraja also travelled to Kovur, his native place in the outskirts of Madras and composed five songs on the presiding deity of the temple there. These are today referred to as the Kovur Pancharatnams.


Sundaresa Mudaliar’s son was Ekambara Mudaliar who was a trustee of the Pachayappa’s Trust which even today runs several educational institutions in the state. The first school of the Trust, Pachayappa’s School moved into its own Greek styled building in 1850 in nearby Esplanade and the inaugural procession for it left from No 41, Bunder Street.


No 41 was to have one last burst of glory in the 1950s when it became home to the Indian Music Publishing House, run by Professor P Sambamurthy, the eminent musicologist. It was from here that most of the text books he wrote, which still remain University music syllabi were published.


Today, the mansion of the Mudaliars is a warren of shops and is totally decrepit, crying for maintenance. But then, so is most of Bunder Street.