Big in history
If you walk down Triplicane and asked for Veeraraghava Mudali Street, chances are that you will draw a blank. But ask for Big Street and everyone in the area will tell you. Today even the Chennai Corporation signboard refers to it as Big Street. The thoroughfare, contrary to its name is a narrow and long one that stretches north south in the heart of crowded Triplicane. It is better known today for its numerous mansion houses all of which offer cheap accommodation for single men who come to the city in search of livelihood.
Triplicane has always had a healthy mix of various religions and communities and Big Street is no exception. Its Nawabi associations are still evident in some of the old households that exist in various stages of decay. At one end of it, the street branches off into the Khana Bagh area, once the Nawab of Arcot’s gardens and now a crowded area. The end of the street has a mosque to which the Nawab of Arcot still pays a visit on Ramzan day. The wealthy Dare House Naidus, dubashes (agents) of Parry and Company owned several properties here and the patriarch of the family, Moddaverapu Dera Venkataswami Naidu has a street named after him as also his grandson the famed cricketer Bucchi Babu Naidu.
Dominating Big Street is Hindu High School (now the Hindu Higher Secondary School), founded in 1852 as the Dravida Patashala. In 1897 the school became the Hindu High School and moved into a present premises which is a red coloured three storeyed building in what can best be described as the Indo Gothic style. The uppermost floor has the Madabusi Hall which apart from serving as the assembly room also became home to one of the earliest music Sabhas of the city, the Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha, founded in 1900. Among the musical alumni of the school were GN Balasubramaniam the vocalist and Papa KS Venkataramiah, the violinist. The ‘silver tongued orator’ of Madras, the Rt. Hon. VS Srinivasa Sastry whose English was praised even by Winston Churchill was once headmaster of this school. Yet another illustrious alumnus was S Chandrashekhar, the Nobel laureate.
The Triplicane Urban Cooperative Society, one of the first cooperatives of the country, was founded in Big Street in 1904 by VS Srinivasa Sastry, M Singaravelar and others. The Society began one of the earliest examples of retail in the city and flourished for several years. Dotted around Big Street are several properties belonging to the TUCS including its headquarters which was constructed in 1949.
Big Street was home to several musicians as well. Most famous among these was C Saraswathi Bai, the first Brahmin woman to give public Harikatha performances and who was hence called the First Lady Bhagavatar. Later the famed drama artistes, the TKS Brothers lived in one section of the same house. Bai’s evening coffee sessions were famous and many of her friends and admirers would flock to her house for a musical evening. MS Subbulakshmi too lived in Big Street in 1940 when she and T Sadasivam made the film Sakuntalai.
Big Street has a famous Ganesha temple to which everyone with a wish to be fulfilled comes to pray. The temple’s real name is Arasadi Selva Vinayagar Koil, but like the street name everyone has forgotten it and calls it the Big Street Pillaiyar Temple.