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Historian unravels the less popular saints of Madras

If someone asks you to name a few saints who lived or visited Madras, the first few names that come to mind would be Thiruvalluvar, St Thomas or Thirugnana Sambandar.

Historian unravels the less popular saints of Madras
Hazrath Syed Badrudeen Saheb; Gangadhara Navalar; Padmapriya


These are common names for people to come up with. But not many are aware of the saints who lived centuries ago in Madras. To bring their lives and history to the spotlight, citybased historian Padmapriya Baskaran has come up with short video series about the saints of Madras. “The fabric of madras was not readymade. If you take cities like Madurai, Tiruchy, or Coimbatore, they existed the way they are and developed over time. Madras is an amalgam of several ancient villages that date back before the city was born. Many unpopular saints lived in these villages. I have used a neighbourhood-based approach for the video series the first video to be launched this week is on the saints of Mylapore. This will be followed by Thiruvotriyur, Velachery, Thiruvanmiyur, and the rest of Madras,” says Padmapriya. There are interesting stories associated with the Mylapore Tank and one legend is that the place belonged to Fakirs.

 “There is a Dargah in Kutchery Road which probably a lot of people wouldn’t have noticed. Not many know the story of Gangadhara Navalar, a saint who attained jeeva samadhi in 1929. He is one of the very few saints who took proper permission from the British overnment to enter into samadhi. Through my series, I will be exploring more such stories of saints lived in these ancient villages that have now become part of Madras. Stories of such saints are not in focus because people tend to give attention to big temples, churches and dargahs. The series will be in English because there is a lot of literature already in Tamil about some saints,” she explains.

 For two and a half years, she researched heritage sites along the Cooum river to bring respect and visibility to it with the objective that if people knew the river better, they would treat it better. This study resulted in a publication titled God’s of the Holy Koovam in 2017. “While researching about the river, I also got to learn about the saints who lived in the banks of the river. I also conduct curated walks. I have put all my research work together to make this video series.” 

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