Triplicane home to intriguing diversities

Triplicane was of the four old towns in the city, the first villages obtained by the English from the Sultan of Golconda on rent in 1676 to expand the new city of Madras beyond its Fort and Black Town
 Buckingham Canal
Buckingham Canal

Thiruvallikeni, meaning the holy pond of lily flowers, anglicised by the British as Triplicane, was one of the ancient seaside villages of Madras city. Some of the earliest descriptions of the town are in the Vaishnava pasurams (paeans). The inland is described as a densely canopied forest where the rays of the sun could not infiltrate and whose verdant forests are habited by peacocks and koels. The beach of Triplicane is described in another pasuram as a coastline on which the wavy sea washes ashore corals and pearls. Triplicane was of the four old towns in the city, the first villages obtained by the English from the Sultan of Golconda on rent in 1676 to expand the new city of Madras beyond its Fort and Black Town


The temple of Parthasarathy is one of the holiest 108 Divya Desams sung by the Alwars-Vaishnavite poet saints. The presiding deity is Vishnu as a chariot driver (sarathy) for Arjuna and is perhaps the only Vishnu form with a moustache. The Utsav Murthy of Parthasarathy suffers the corrosive bronze disease which is an irreversible corrosion process that occurs when chlorides come into contact with copper-bearing alloys. However, legend says they are wounds inflicted accidentally when the lord was the charioteer of Arjuna in the Kurukshetra war of the Mahabharata. The fishermen of Triplicane were always associated with temple duties, including bearing the idol during festivals and pulling the chariot. But when they demanded more rights in the temple in lieu of their duties, they were totally cut off from the temple.


Triplicane is the oldest Islamic settlement in Madras. Even today, Islamic culture is very visible in day-to-day life. The muezzin’s call to prayer is still a regular sound in the skies above Triplicane and the wafting smells of biriyani cooking is a constant treat to one’s olfactory senses. Triplicane has many Islamic buildings, mosques, tombs and even the consulate of the Ottoman Empire to Madras, perhaps the first exclusive diplomatic building in the country. Twenty thousand Muslims from Wallajah and Arcot moved into the city when the Nawab made the transition and most of them settled in Triplicane.


The poet Bharathi lived only his last two years in Triplicane but the town has become synonymous with him. The incident of the Parthasarathy Temple elephant throwing him down, just a few months before his death, is well remembered. Though misconceptions arise that Bharathi died immediately as a result of the pachyderm assault, he actually recovered and even made outstation trips after this incident. Bharathi would die of a stomach ailment three months later. The house in which he lived in a small portion was about to be nationalised when the owner in panic demolished it. The government still took over the old space and rebuilt the structure with the help of an old photograph.


The Hindu High School is housed in an Indo-Saracenic building built by a leading contractor of Madras, Namberumal Chetty, to whom Madras owes much of its colonial architectural heritage. The school, which celebrated its centenary year as early as 1952, had a very humble beginning as two small boys’ schools — The Dravida Patasala (Tamil) and The Andhra Balura Patasala (Telugu) — which were amalgamated later to form the nucleus for the Hindu High School. Gandhi visited the school in 1927 and extolled the study of the Bhagavad Gita. The school has been a pioneer in organised education with star teachers and is also the only school in Madras in which a Nobel laureate — Subramanyam Chandra Sekar — studied.


In history, the greatest civilizations develop on the banks of rivers which spur culture and heritage on its shores. A rare occasion for anthropologists to study this in action was when a new waterway — the Buckingham Canal — was introduced within the already established habitation of Triplicane. From 1880, the Buckingham Canal moved goods and passengers through Triplicane just like a highway. Rice, salt, firewood fodder and vegetables moved in through the erstwhile village of Triplicane, which made instant use of the canal to grow economically. There were product-specific markets on every bridge on the canal which bisected Triplicane. Triplicane was now the entry point of goods rather than the consumer’s end. The accrued prosperity attracted migrants from all over the presidency and that set in motion many social and political changes.


Known for his mastery of English, Gandhi would request him to edit his autobiography. Silver- tongued Srinivasa Shastri would be a teacher for half a century. He would rise to be a vice chancellor of a university later. A liberal in politics, he served as a diplomat in South Africa where he helped form a South African School in Durban that still exists as ‘Shastri College’. He served the servants of India Society admirably and on Gokhale’s death, Shastri became the president, a position Gokhale had earlier groomed Gandhi.


The pride in being a Tamil is surely fortified by the rich tradition of its ancient literature. One man can be credited with delivering to the Tamils their extensive historical literature – U Ve Swaminatha Iyer (U Ve Sa), who lived his later half in Triplicane. Tamil was a richer language following Iyer’s intervention. Iyer took it upon himself to go to the nooks and corners of the Tamil-speaking regions, scanning through lofts and locked almirahs to look for palm leaves with the ancient Tamil texts, including epics we take for granted today. In a search that lasted until his death, Iyer managed to create a huge accumulation of antiquated texts in printed form.


Around the year 1900, to see a ‘Brahmins Only’ board in hotels of Triplicane was very common. In some ‘Brahmanaal’ hotels, everyone had to show their sacred thread to enter. To counter that, in 1914, a doctor, Natesa Mudaliar ran a Dravidian hostel for non-Brahmin students. Not stopping with lodging, Natesan conducted debates and discussions and soon the hostel became a nerve centre of anti-Brahmin political activity. Soon, spurred on by Natesan, other leaders met to form a new party — The South Indian Liberal Federation (popularly called the Justice Party). This meeting reset the history of the state for the next century, leading to Dravidian politics which still rule the State.


With the decline of the patrons, the zamindars and the kings, many performing arts were left astray. The Sabha concept revived the arts offering sustenance to the traditional artists and encouraging new people to take this up as well. Started in 1898 by Manni Tirumalchariar, a Triplicane resident, Parthasarathy Swami Sabha was the pioneer in the renaissance of Carnatic Music and Bharatasastra in south India. Some like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar have performed more than 100 times. Five generations of leading singers, musicians, dancers and dramatic troupes have been patronised by the Sabha. Even during the 1939 World War, when the city was busy emptying itself, programmes were still conducted.


Gangai Kondan Mandapam, situated on the northern end of TP Koil Street, is used for some rituals during the annual Brahmotsavam of Parthasarathy temple. It looks ancient but is only a replica of an older mandapam and the replacement was done in 1843. The original mandapam must have been named after Rajendra Chola.


The result of the pioneering cooperative movement in the Madras Presidency, the TUCS was founded in the year 1904 by 14 eminent men of Triplicane with Srinivasa Sastri as its first president. The society introduced the departmental store concept for groceries through its Kamadhenu supermarkets. It soon had branches in the most important areas of the city of Madras. During World War 2, TUCS was chosen to implement the ration system along with the ARP (air raid patrol) organisation in 1952. The Art Deco headquarters of TUCS in Big Street was opened by the Governor of Madras Sri Prakasa.


With its world headquarters along the beach just a few miles to the south, Theosophical Society members found a need to build another meeting place on Triplicane Hanumantha Road. Theosophical Society building in Triplicane was founded in 1898 and called the Mani Ayyar Hall, named after Sir Subramania Aiyer, vice-president of the Theosophical Society under Dr Annie Besant. The Triplicane Theosophical Lodge had a well-stocked library, guest rooms, and an ‘industrial school’ for the poor. The hall was rented out to other institutions and the second Conference of The Music Academy was held here.

Triplicane police station, inaugurated in 1890, is considered the oldest police station in Madras. The station was declared a heritage structure by the Archaeological Survey of India. A building possible of Arcot Nawab antiquity as langar to feed the poor, it was redesigned in Indo-Saracenic style by Henry Irwin and opened by Governor Connemara himself. It is one of those rare pieces of old Madras architecture still in original use that has not been pulled down.

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