Two public spaces in the city were named after famed Carnatic musicians last fortnight. The flyover that connects Radhakrishnan Salai to Cathedral Road was named after M Balamuralikrishna, the multifaceted singer who dominated the arts world for decades. Likewise, Kumaran Colony Road in Vadapalani was named Mandolin Shrinivas Road after that tragically short-lived genius who brought us a new instrument to delight in. The two lived close to the respective thoroughfares named after them. That led me to ponder over roads named after Carnatic musicians in the city.
Musiri Subramania Iyer Road
As befitting a locality that is most closely associated with the classical arts, it was Mylapore that began the trend. As per S Thyagarajan, it was in 1984 that Oliver Road in that area was renamed after his grandfather and top-ranking singer Musiri Subramania Iyer. He also recalls that it was the doyen Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, who was a close associate of Musiri’s, who petitioned the then Chief Minister MG Ramachandran and got it done. Musiri was a long-term resident of Oliver Road, having moved there in the 1930s. His descendants still maintain his old bungalow and conduct monthly chamber concerts in adjoining premises.
Papanasam Sivan Salai
At the same time as that change, Palace Road in San Thome, so named because it led to erstwhile Chamundeswari Gardens which was the Mysore Maharajah’s residence and later became the Russian Consulate, was renamed Papanasam Sivan Salai. The great composer had lived in Mylapore for much of his life but not anywhere near Palace Road. This decision of MGR’s, though in every way befitting Sivan’s stature was subject to some criticism. Two musical greats had been residents on Palace Road – GN Balasubramaniam and Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar. Their descendants felt that the change put paid to any chances the maestros had of being remembered with road names. Semmangudi was blamed for this. Sivan incidentally, was uncle to VN Janaki (MGR’s wife and later briefly CM of the state).
Tiger Varadachariar and Rukmini Devi
The development of the Kalakshetra area off Besant Nagar led to Tiger Varadachariar Avenue. ‘Tiger’ who was an acclaimed musician, composer and academic had served as head of four centres of learning – the Music Academy’s Teacher’s College, the Music Department of the University of Madras, the Music College of the Annamalai University and finally Kalakshetra. It was therefore appropriate that he was commemorated in that area. Close by is Rukmini Road, named after Rukmini Devi Arundale, acclaimed dancer and founder of Kalakshetra.
Maharajapuram Santhanam Salai
The death of the famed singer Maharajapuram Santhanam in the 1990s led to R Yagnaraman of the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha to request the Government to rename Griffith’s Road in T Nagar after him, which was acceded to. The Sabha stands on that road and Santhanam was its founder secretary, his father Viswanatha Iyer being the first president. Late in the 1990s the Government pondered over naming Kotturpuram after MS Subbulakshmi. The singer, living in that area, refused. She suggested that the honour ought to go to DK Pattammal, who had resided there much longer. The matter was dropped thereafter. In the last two decades we have had an auditorium built at Government expense and named after the nagaswaram legend Tiruvavaduturai N Rajarathinam Pillai.
More Roads named after Carnatic Musicians
And now we have the two latest additions to the list. I was impressed that the Corporation, not the most sensitive when it comes to spellings on signboards, had taken care to ensure the road was named after Mandolin ‘Shrinivas’ and not Srinivas. The late maestro was most particular about this spelling, and he will be delighted, whichever world he is enriching with his music at present.
After this article was published in The Hindu, I am informed that the road on which the centenarian mridangist TK Murthy lives is named after him.