When the Madras Christian College shifted to the Tambaram-Selaiyur area in 1930, it was recorded by Alice Barnes, wife of Professor Edward Barnes, that the 390 acres of the college campus had just a few Palmyra trees. Bird and wildlife however abounded thanks to numerous water bodies. It was all open space with very little development and what little there was, was thanks to the electrification of the Tambaram line of the South Indian Railway, which ensured availability of surplus power for local use.
But that does not mean that the area was devoid of heritage. The region was ruled by the Pallavas with Kanchipuram as their capital and Mamallapuram as their port city. The area was then known as Tondaimandalam and later was successively administered by the Cholas, Pandyas, Vijayanagar kings and their vassals.
Velacheri was clearly a historic settlement for there is continuous mention of the place from the 9th century AD. By the reign of Kulothunga I (1070 – 1120 AD), it was named after his wife as Dinachintamani-Chaturvedimangalam. It was a Brahmin village and evidence of that is attested to by several streets that still bear allied names. Velacheri appears to have had a strong local administration as evinced by inscriptions that detail the functioning of the village Sabha. Two ancient Chola temples still survive in Velacheri. The first is the Dandeeswarar Temple with Chola inscriptions dating from the reign of Gandaraditya (949-957AD). The other is the Selliyamman Temple. In addition, several Vishnu images have surfaced from this village and it is believed that there were at least four temples dedicated to Vishnu located in the vicinity. Some of these images have now been housed in new shrines built for them.
Thorapakkam must have been an ancient port given its name but there are no published details of any inscriptions in the area. An interesting and ancient shrine dedicated to Rama is in the village of Unamanjeri, which is close to Vandalur. Though the temple is tiny, it has a large tank abutting it, testifying to its past glory. It was built during the Vijayanagar period and a copper plate inscription from the time of King Achyuta Raya (1530-1542 AD) refers to his having granted this village of Uhinai (such being its ancient name) to Vedic scholars. The same inscription states that Uhinai was known thereafter as Achyutendra Maharaya Puram. The Srinivasa Perumal temple at Semmancheri is also of a very ancient period. It has however since been completely renovated and bears very little trace of its history.
Tiruporur is another village on OMR that has a large temple dedicated to Murugan. A vast tank that is always full of water fronts it. Legend has it that the shrine was developed by a holy personage around 450 years ago. It is now a thriving settlement, made busy by the real-estate developments in the area. The police station in Tiruporur is a genuine antique. Still bearing its foundation stone dating to 1902, it is splendidly preserved and worth a visit.
Of much greater vintage is the Vedapuriswarar temple at Tirukazhugukunram which is not very far from OMR. A vast shrine that spans the top of a hillock and much of the surrounding area, it is built on the lines of the Tiruvannamalai temple. A unique feature is that while Lord Shiva has his shrine on the hillock, the consort has hers at the base of the hill. The famous singing saints, Appar, Sundarar, Manikkavachakar and Tirugnanasambandar, dating from the 6th to 8th centuries have visited this shrine. A very interesting feature of this shrine and one from which it derived its name was that a pair of vultures/eagles would visit the hillock each morning and be fed by the priests. This was said to have continued for centuries and there is documentary evidence from at least the early 20th century. The birds (or their successors) do not come there anymore, the last sighting being sometime in 1998.
Yet another temple, small and exquisite though its exact age is uncertain, is the Pudupakkam Veera Anjaneyar temple, located just off OMR on the Kelambakkam side. It shot to fame because of a persistent legend that a superstar of Tamil cinema is a regular visitor.
This is of course not a comprehensive list. There are several more lesser-known temples along this route, all of which are just being discovered and renovated as the areas around them develop as residential colonies. This is a welcome development. But what is very important is that the restoration and renovation ought to be done keeping aesthetics and temple traditions in mind.
This article appeared in XS Real’s blog – http://www.xsreal.com/blog/?p=217