Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy has penned this report of the Adyar Heritage Tour which was held on 17th August. It appeared in the Madras Musings issue dated 1st September.
Traditionally it always rains when Sriram V. conducts a heritage walk and August 17th was no different,when he got Madras Week to a trekking start through Adyar. Notwithstanding the weather, 43 people had gathered at Gandhi Nagar at the crack of dawn.Sriram began with the story of Gandhi Nagar – the place that was once Bishop Gardens, belonging as it did to the diocese of Mylapore-Madras. The purchase was negotiated by C.Narasimham, Commissioner of the Corporation, and J.C. Ryan, Registrar of Societies, with the blessings of Daniel Thomas, Minister for Local Administration. The two officials agreed to the Bishop’s price of Rs. 17 lakh for 136 acres, although their allocation was only Rs. 15 lakh, an instance of the freedom officials enjoyed in those days. The cost of land and construction came to Rs. 60,000 per house for the larger plots, which were a third of an acre! The roaring success of Gandhi Nagar as a housing colony saw the acquisition of 140 grounds from the Benegal brothers to create Kasturba Nagar in 1949. Other colonies came up thereafter.
The next stop was the Sri Ananthapadmanabha Swamy Temple, where Sriram provided many interesting anecdotes, chiefly involving the construction of the shrine thanks to A. Narayana Rao and other early residents of Gandhi Nagar with the help of the last ruler of Travancore, Chitra Tirunal Balarama Varma. His statue, which once stood at the Travancore Maharaja’s Park in the Esplanade, was shifted here in the 1990s by his admirers, the park having long gone and the statue having become a spot of public convenience and nuisance. Its pedestal carries the famed Temple Entry Proclamation of 1936, an act for which the Maharaja received Gandhi’s appreciation.
We next came to the Madras Institute of Development Studies, the brainchild of Malcolm Adiseshiah, who also donated his residence for it and which is where it functions from. Sriram dwelt at length on Dr. Adiseshiah’s illustrious career at UNESCO and as Vice-Chancellor, Madras University. The many facets of Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy came to life at our next stop, the Cancer Institute. A woman of many firsts, she started the Cancer Institute, which is now a world-renowned institution, in 1954. Her dream was taken to great heights by her successors – her son Dr. Krishnamoorthy and the disciple, Dr. Shanta. We then moved on to a school that started functioning in the 19th Century. In 1875, three Patrician brothers, Bro. Ignatius Price, Bro. Paul Hughes and Bro. Fintan Parkinson, started St. Patrick’s School here. St. Michael’s Academy, another popular school, is an “offshoot of St. Patrick’s,” explained Sriram V. This school began functioning from 1953.
Elphinstone Bridge, connecting Mylapore and Adyar, was constructed in 1840 but fell into disuse after the Thiru Vi Ka bridge came up in 1973. At its northern end, we remembered Durgabai Deshmukh, founder of the Andhra Mahila Sabha. Sathya Studio opposite, another well-known landmark, was once Meenakshi Cinetone, later Neptune Studios and, finally, property of MGR, the matinee idol and three-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Now, a women’s college functions in these premises.
The largest island on the Adyar was Quibble Island, which later merged with the mainland. A cemetery here is the last resting place for many Roman Catholics as well as Protestants. Quibble Island also witnessed the Battle of Adyar on October 10, 1746, in which a small but disciplined French force defeated the 10,000-strong army of the Nawab of Carnatic commanded by Mahfuz Khan. It decisively demonstrated the superior training of the European forces, paving the way for an Empire.
The present-day Greenway’s Road was once lined with beautiful garden houses, each built with a different architectural style. Thanks to well-known musician E. Gayatri, who is now Director, Tamil Nadu Government Colleges for Music, we were allowed into Brodie’s Castle, one of the few to survive, which is where the Government Music College is situated. Even as Sriram told us the story of the several occupants of this palatial residence since 1796, we explored it with him.
From the verandah, we had a great view of the Theosophical Society, and, standing there, Sriram told us of the history of that verdant campus from its Huddlestone Garden days. The great personalities who lived there – Col. Olcott, Mme Blavatsky, Annie Besant – and the famed Adyar Alamaram, which still survives in part, were brought to life. The Theosophical Society was also the birthplace of Kalakshetra. The green cover prompted Sriram to also tell us of how activists successfully fought and saved the Adyar Creek, making it the Adyar Poonga now.
Our final stop was outside Ramalayam, the Travancore Maharajah’s palace in the city. The Sishya School and several eastern colonies of this area came up on its land. Diagonally opposite stands the Avvai Home started by Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy for destitute women. We wound up with breakfast at (where else?) Adyar Ananda Bhavan.