And now, we jump across what was the Long Tank of Mylapore and return to civilization from the hurly burly of T Nagar. Chennai 18, defined by Alwarpet and Teynampet, is a small postal district. Bound by Mylapore on the east, Cathedral Post (now Chennai 86) on the north, the Long Tank (now T Nagar) on the west and RA Puram and Nandanam on the south, it has two POs – Accountant General’s Office and Teynampet. I know there is one at the intersection of Ambujammal Street and TTK Road, but I have no idea how that is designated.
Anyway, whatever it is, Alwarpet and Teynampet it would appear were mere hamlets between the town (ahem ahem) of Mylapore and the Long Tank. There are no inscriptional references to these places as per KV Raman in his Early History of the Madras Region. In her excellent series titled Vishnu Temples of South India, Dr Chithra Madhavan includes two temples – the Sri Andal Sametha Sri Rangamannar Temple and the Kothandarama Swami Temple, both located in Bheemanna Mudali Street. She does not indicate the age of the first temple and the second she says began as a bhajana mandapam in 1932. HD Love in his Vestiges of Old Madras records the presence of these villages only from the 1770s. That is not to say they developed only then but they were clearly too small when compared to Mylapore (ahem ahem) to be taken note of. Even in the 1920s, as per Ambujammal, Bheemanna Mudali street was Bheemannapettai, a rather rough and ready neighbourhood. Ironically, Mylapore comes under the Teynampet ward of the Corporation. Arise Mylaporeans! Revolt!
Mowbrays/TTK Road is the eastern bound of this area and is known, it is named after George Mowbray of the East India Company, who by the 1760s had built his garden bungalow by the Adyar – Mowbray’s Cupola, now the premises of the Madras Club. It was the road leading to his house and so you can imagine what an empty stretch it was between Royepettah and Chamiers Road. The story of what is now busy TTK Road (named after TT Krishnamachari – he lived on Cathedral Road but when that road was to be named after him the church registered a protest and so Mowbrays got the boot) can be told in terms of a few stately bungalows. At the Royapettah end, facing the church was Mowbrays Gardens, of various ownerships. It is roughly Amaravathi, the preview theatre next to it, a gated community called Mowbrays Gardens and then a couple buildings more. Next to this came the vast property of The Hindu family, which is today Kasturi Estate and its surroundings. Here were originally three houses – Farm House, Tilak Bhavan and Sabarmati. It was in Tilak Bhavan that Gandhi had his vision of Satyagraha as is commemorated in the plaque outside the Welcom Hotel. This enormous landholding was cut up and sold when the Urban Land Ceiling Act came into being. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar Road commemorates the patriarch.
After this was what was once the Sudder Dewani Adalat or the Sudder Court. The offices were located in Sadar Gardens, later the residence of Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed and recently demolished. The entrance was through a bungalow known as Sudder Gate, which also housed the gibbet! All of this was the property of Sriman Srinivasa Iyengar, top-ranking advocate of his time and sometime Advocate General of Madras. He lived in Amjad Baugh on Luz Church Road. His daughter, the patriot S Ambujammal, lived in Sudder Gate and her Srinivasa Gandhi Nilayam is just behind this. Both father and daughter are commemorated with street names here.
Facing this, on the eastern side of Mowbrays Road was Dare House, which was owned by members of the Moddaverapu Dera Venkataswami Naidu family. Century Court stands where that lovely house used to be. On the same side, divided by Luz Church Road, were properties of the Vembakkam clan – VC Desikachariar and his family holding much of it. Here was Champaka Vilas of K Bhashyam (now Prof PA Palaniswami Apartments) and behind it, Leela Nayan of VC Gopalarathnam. Much of that is now the Kaveri Hospital and the Mookambika Complex. Bhashyam along with Basheer is commemorated in Bhashyam Basheer Road.
Narada Gana Sabha is a major landmark of Chennai 600018. Though the Sabha itself began in the 1950s, it was only in the 1980s that it finally got an auditorium of its own, thanks in part to the assistance of Swami Haridoss Giri, Sivaji Ganesan and Hema Malini who all did fundraisers. R Krishnaswami was to many of us the human face of the NGS. The place is also popular for its Woodlands canteen though of late its season canteen is not what it was when Gnanambika Jayaraman ministered to the worshippers of food.
Murrays Gate Road commemorates the Hon Leveson Granville Keith Murray of the Dunmore family and his Dunmore House stood here. It later became the Shobhanachala Studio and still later (Mohan Raman can correct me – and he has. Please see note at end of post) the Venus Studios where Venus Colony now is. The road has had its share of celebrities, ranging from KB Sundarambal to actress Sukumari to idol thief Deendayal. As per Asokamitran, the area of Teynampet was once where many cine-hopefuls lived. Post this we have Eldams (actually Yeldhams) Road, with its own aristocracy – The Grove of the Sir CP Ramaswami Iyer family, Teynampet Gardens of Sir Mohammed Usman and facing these, Saundarya, which was once the home of the sons of PR Sundara Iyer, Judge and later the residence of M Sudarsanam Iyengar of the timber merchants MD Bros. The Grove is the sole survivor. Nearby is HD Rajah Street, commemorating that freedom fighter and insurance magnate. At its edge lived SS Rajendran, the actor. Off Eldams Road was once the residence of the Pithapuram Rajas – old Dunmore property. They are remembered in names such as Chinnamba and Surya Rao Roads. The UCAL family still have their residences there. A colourful resident of this locality was Vanaja, an old Gemini staffer.
What is Sir CP Ramaswami Iyer Road was once Southern Avenue, as it was a southern tail off Mylapore, leading nowhere. Here came up a series of art deco/modernist residences – the homes of SA Venkataraman, ICS (later home to Kannadasan, still later a Kalyana Mandapam and now a rising high rise). Next door is Vyjayanthimala Bali. Oppoiste was B Ananthaswami, who gave Hema Malini her break and then the residence of TS Narayanaswami of India Cements fame. The house of the former, always empty, is still standing, a vision in Art Deco. The latter has recently been razed and a new house is coming up. Madras ended here for all practical purposes in the 1960s. You accessed Chamiers Road only via Mowbrays Road and there you crossed the residences of Justice TL Venkatarama Iyer, TR Ramachandra Rao (whose Mithila still stands) and the vast property of Justice Sir KP Lakshman Rao – much of present day Sriram Nagar. Two event venues stand opposite to each other here. On the western side is Maharashtra Nivas, a symbol of the power that Maharastrians, in particular Brahmins had in Madras administration once. Opposite this is Ethiraj Kalyana Mandapam, owned by the Narayana Guruviah Charities. Further down is DeMonte Colony – not haunted, but commemorating the 18th century merchant prince. This was where Easun Engineering had single-storied bungalows for its executives.
That Alwarpet was a tiny village is still established by the tiny Vinayakar temple at its edge, complete with banyan tree. Opposite this is the village of what was once Vanniyar Teynampet, with Vellala Teynampet next to it. Off this hamlet is the residential Seethammal Colony, which was under water for much of last year. Now it is a vast dig. The place takes its name from Sir CP’s wife. The star of Teynampet however is the Balasubramania Swami temple. Of relatively recent origin, it owes much to the munificence of those living here. In his fantastic tribute to this city – Oru Parvayil Chennai Nagaram, Asokamitran records that both Alwarpet and Teynampet are unique in that there are no statues anywhere in them!
He also writes of Jayakanthan living just next to the Alwarpet Pillaiyar Koil and of Sujatha and Indira Parthasarathy living opposite each other for quite a while. Ee Paa still resides here.
Lots of people write to me asking what was Bharatidasan Road’s old name – it never had one. It is a creation of the 1960s. The properties at the eastern end accessed Mowbrays Road till KB Dasan Road was laid. At the western extremity is one of Basheer Ahmed Sayeed’s many creations – SIET College. Alongside this was where you had the stately mansions that once lined the Long Tank – Blackers Gardens (now Kamaraj Arangam and Teynampet Congress Grounds), Waterside (now the Rai Memorial Hospital), Newington (once the Maharajkumar’s College that made it to the news for the murder of its principal de la Haye), Abbotsbury (now Hyatt) and several others. None survives.
At the southern end of Teynampet where it meets Mount Road stood the Cenotaph, put up in the 1820s to commemorate Lord Cornwallis. It has since moved to First Line Beach but Cenotaph Road remains, a tony residential neighbourhood. Behind it is Austin Nagar, a teeming slum that remembers RF Austin, ICS. Close by are some quiet neighbourhoods – CoOperative Colony and Ganapathi Colony for instance.
How can I close my account of Alwarpet without mentioning Alwarpet Andavar, Ulaga Nayagan? Well he is there too. Asokamitran says the locality has produced plenty of celebrities but none made it to the pinnacle. AA UN is definitely the exception.
Mohan Raman adds that MR Radha and Srikanth were two other stars who were long term residents of the area. Radha’s presence here he says brought many theatre actors to congregate to Teynampet. He also adds that it was Vel Studios that operated at Dunmore House between 1934 and 1936. The film Sati Leelavathi directed by Ellis R Dungan and which featured NSK, MGR and TS Baliah was made here. Shobhanachala was in a neighbouring plot and was promoted by the Zamindar of Mirzapuram. That became Venus later.
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