On the banks of a little known tank
Chances are you have never heard of Krishnappa Naicken Tank. To access this place you need to travel deep into Mint Street and turn left into Kuppayyar Street. And then you come face to face with one of the largest man-made tanks of Chennai. It has water in it for most of the year and is an important aquifer for congested George Town area. The tank witnessed bad days in the 1980s when it became more of a rubbish dump. It was subsequently renovated by the hereditary trustees of the temple and the HR&CE Board and today has a protective wall surrounding it to prevent garbage and encroachments.
The tank is attached to the neighbouring Kasi Viswanatha Swami shrine but it obviously had a powerful association with Krishnappa Naick, who though he has passed out of collective memory must have been a local chieftain, an East India Company dubash or a businessman. He must have endowed the temple with lands and the tank. There is a Krishnappa Naicken Agraharam close by, which going by the name, must have been a residential area for Brahmins attached to the temple.
In the 1880s, Krishnappa Naicken Agraharam became home to Tiruvayyaru Subramania Iyer (1845-1902), a great Carnatic musician and composer who came to Madras city to teach music to Pappa and Radha, the daughters of a famed Devadasi of the city, Salem Meenakshi. Subramania Iyer stayed on here for 12 years and as the city was referred to as Patnam, he became ‘Patnam’ Subramania Iyer. Another famous fine arts-related personality of Krishnappa Naicken Agraharam was C Banni Bai (1912-1999), the Harikatha exponent. She was known for her wonderful style of story telling accompanied by the most delectable music.
Krishnappa Naicken Agraharam also had its heyday in business. The George Town Co-Operative Bank Ltd functions from here. In the 1960s it had the distinction of being the biggest co-operative urban bank in India with a membership of over 8000 and specialised in house mortgage finance.
The area is known for some fine examples of street houses. These have carved doors, sloping Mangalore tile roofs, dormers and slender wooden posts supporting projecting balconies. Some have Madras-style flat roofs supported by wooden rafters and all the buildings are made of chunam, using Madras-plaster. All these are examples of long forgotten technology and in any other country they would be preserved as heritage houses. Unfortunately, they are fast vanishing today, making way for modern humdrum buildings.