Chinthadripet, an area woven into the city
Some of the earliest schools, police stations, churches, civic amenities and reading rooms in the city began here.
CHENNAI: Chinthadripet was formed to settle weavers, washers and painters in one location as sub-contractors to the East India company. It was an early version of an export-oriented unit. But all this history takes our minds off the other factors that Chinthadripet boasts of. Some of the earliest schools, police stations, churches, civic amenities and reading rooms in the city began here.
It’s a heaven for the seeker of antiquity. In 1742, Governor Richard Benyon obtained authorisation from the local powers to mint Arcot rupees and pagodas in Chinthadripet. A land 840/500 yards was developed that came to be known as Chinna Thari Pettai (town of small looms), now known as Chinthadripet. Roads were laid in an iron-grid pattern with straight lines, intersecting each other at right angles. This was to facilitate weavers to put down their looms which were lengthy
To tackle an acute shortage of Calico cloth, the company decided to bring weavers closer to Madras. The chief merchant of the East India company, Sunku Rama Chetty (one of the few Indians permitted by the company to own a house in Fort St George) fell out of favour with the powers-that-be, who thought he was too arrogant for a native and thus, dismissed. Governor Morton Pitt took over a garden that Chetty owned on the Cooum. Another company dubash, Audiappa Narayana Chetty, was entrusted with developing an exclusive weavers’ village. The company was generous with cash and advances for moving and infrastructure expenses. He attracted sufficient weavers (200-plus families) to the land. Many were from Vellore and Salem. Having faced a lot of challenges due to caste conflicts in Black town, the company had decided on the demography of the town much ahead. The streets were laid without caste distinction.
To convince people to settle in a new area, and that too outside the range of the fort’s protective guns, needed much skill. As a part of the goodies that were mentioned accompanying the invite was the proposal to build 2 Hindu temples. The British had learnt that temples were one of the best ways to appease the natives. The twin temples were structurally sound, built with stones brought from outstation-quarries and decorated with traditional iconography. A part of its huge cost of 16,000 pagodas was shared by the company (like in the company pagoda in the black town). Audiappa Narayana Chetty built the Adikesava Perumal Temple and Adipureeswarar temple to satisfy both important sects of Hinduism. Both Shiva and Vishnu shrines were built separately but shared a common wall, a temple pond and also the chariot for the annual festival. Incidentally, he also built a mosque in the area.
UMBRELLAS FOR THE GODS
Huge and ornate umbrellas for the gods, especially those for Tirupati, have been made in Ayyasamy street of Chinthadripet. The ultra-big parasols were traditionally made by 20 Saurastrian families. Though partially stitched with machines these days, it’s still essentially an elaborate handcrafted process. Frames of bamboo or cane, and handles of teak, cloth and lace are the raw materials used to fashion a parasol, which would shield the idol during the procession. The parasols are of different sizes, but height varies from 4.5 feet to 18 feet. Each one is designed keeping in mind the deity it will be used for, especially the motifs. The busiest time is usually prior to the bramhotsavam at Tirupati. The dispatch of the umbrellas to Tirupati is a day-long function in Black town. And now, since these parasols are exported to a plethora of Hindu temples across the world, the artisans have work throughout the year.
It is probable that most people from Madras would have bought their first computer assembled in Ritchie street. This road, is now often associated with Mount Road to which it runs parallel rather than Chinthadripet of which it’s the easternmost road. In several old maps, Ritchie street was often marked as a ditch thus classifying Chinthadripet as an island. But the rushing waters of Cooum may have over-flowed into Ritchie street to avoid the bend in the river it takes. Ritchie street was the primary market for electronics in Madras especially when the era of computers came by. But it was once called the Radio Market. Gramophone records, music cassettes, and tape recorders were the main goods here. There are around 2,000 registered shops in the street and the road is perpetually crowded.
In 1869, what was previously a horse stable was created as a park named after the then Governor Lord Napier. Courtesy of the sewage pumping station nearby, the sludge of large habitations of Madras ended up enriching the nutrients of the park. It soon became a lush verdant island in an otherwise brick-and-mortar jungle. The Simpsons nearby were one of Madras’s biggest employers. Workers often met here to discuss their union-related issues. Hence post-Independence, Napier’s name was removed and the park renamed after May Day, which was incidentally celebrated a mile away for the first time in India. It was the gathering ground for 50,000 college students with the intention of marching to meet the Chief Minister in the fort in 1965 to demand that the Hindi imposition be recalled. Bakthavatsalam, the CM, had been advised to come out of the fort and receive the students. But last minute political and bureaucratic tangles ended the agitation in a police shoot-out, changing the political history of Tamil Nadu.
Florence Nightingale was very concerned about the health of Madras city being disturbed by the absence of a drainage system. Madras was a city whose population constantly rose due to migration. Topographically, it was a flat city with no natural slope and disposing of the waste was a major civic issue. In early 1890, surface drains in the city were connected to pumping stations and the wastewater was conveyed for disposal away from the populace. Between 1910 and 1914, a comprehensive drainage scheme was made that catered to the needs of a rapidly growing city. The system originally consisted of a network of brick-gravity sewers served by 3 pumping stations, and one of them was in Chinthadripet. The wastewater was discharged into the sea at Kasimedu on the northeastern boundary of the city. The road on which the pumping station is located is named after it. The sludge was deposited in the park nearby.
The river Cooum was the reason Chinthadripet became a textile town. The river made it cool enough for outdoor weaving work and supported vegetation in an otherwise desolate landscape. Cartographers were struggling to name the Cooum but some of them just called it the Chinthadripet river. Justifiable since the Cooum taking a bend gives the area a higher waterfront than any other part of the city. A view of the bridge over the Chinthadripet River near the Government Gardens was drawn in 1805. Sometimes, the Cooum would flood. When it wasn’t too much of a deluge, Ritchie Street would become a river and make Chinthadripet an island. But in some years like 1943, the entire Chinthadripet went under a sheet of water when the Cooum swelled. The Laws bridge connecting the peninsula was originally a suspension bridge which collapsed due to the corrosive nature of the Cooum’s dirt. It was replaced by an arched bridge.
Maniam lived most of his life in Chinthadripet. Born as Subramaniam, he was a student of the Govt College of Arts, Egmore being trained under Principal Roy Choudhury. It was then that writer Kalki Krishnamurthy spotted him. While Maniam was searching for part-time work to shore up his finances, Kalki offered him a magnificent assignment. “Quit college and work on this project full time. It would make you famous.” When the student hesitated to drop out of college without finishing, Kalki famously quipped “Are you going to draw or your diploma?” Eight years as a junior artist, and Maniam was ready. And so was his mentor. When Ponniyin Selvan was published, it was Maniam’s drawings of the characters that took the public’s imagination by storm. The writer-artist duo re-imagined the historical past of the Thamizh kingdom and changed common man’s literature forever.
ACSI church was constructed in gothic style in 1847 by American missionaries – Dr John Scudder and Rev Miron Winslow from Jaffna in Ceylon. It’s the only American-built church in Madras. Rev WT Sathianathan, a convert from Palayamkottai, was the first Tamil Presbyter of the church, and served for nearly 30 years from 1860. Five generations of his family continued to serve the church. After his passing in 1892, his son-in-law Rev WD Clarke took over. Within a couple of years, he had constructed a multi-purpose hall next to the church and named it after his Sathianathan. Two daughtersin-law of the pastor Krupabai and Kamala were great literary figures.
TRANSPORT TECH PIONEER
It was from Chinthadripet that India’s transport industry was ushered into a new era. Simpson, the first building in the north east of Chinthadripet peninsula, was a great trigger for technology in Madras. Originally building horse-driven coaches and carriages, Simpson & Co became a pioneer in motor vehicles. The first bus and the first car in India were manufactured within the Simpson premises. Also, the engine for the first plane in Asia to be flown in 1911 on the Island Grounds by the Corsican baker D’Angelis was constructed in the Simpsons. When Madras’s first railway line opened in 1856, the two first-class coaches and the eight other coaches of the first train were built by Simpson’s. Long before the railway came to India, the railroad method was demonstrated with bullocks-pulled-cars moving on rails. The location chosen was the slope in Chinthadripet near the bridge joining it to Mount Road. These were the first track-supported transport systems in the country.
VATICAN AND THE COOUM
The Vatican had decided on geographical rearrangements of its dioceses. What happened throughout the world also had some action in Madras, which had an early catholic community. The Cooum river was chosen as the demarcation line. The transfer of the spiritual jurisdiction happened in 1929 and by division of Madras by the Cooum river, Madras and Mylapore became two dioceses. The churches on the eastern bank of the river were to be taken over by the Mylapore Diocese and those on the western side went to the Archdiocese of Madras. While therefore Mylapore handed over one of its best city churches, Sacred Heart of Egmore, it got in return St Antony’s Church of Narasingapuram, located on Ritchie’s Street.