Historic Residences of Chennai
By V. Sriram
We have quite a few books on the history of Madras diligently brought out by chroniclers who have made the city their home but the present one is perhaps the first of its kind where the writer covers a random sample of 50 heritage houses and their interesting features with illustrations (though not all the residences exist in the form illustrated in the book and again the residents of Chennai may not be familiar with all the names of these residences or their illustrious owners mentioned by the author). It is heartening to find some roads and streets named after a few of these luminaries.
The book opens with “Ajmer” , situated in Kilpauk which was built in 1931 for Dewan Bahadur V Shanmuga Mudaliar’s daughter .Shanmuga Mudaliar (1874-1953) was the dubash of The South Indian Export Company (SIEC) and this position entitled him to a share of the company’s earnings. The north Indian name of the house is attributed to the Dubash probably having had to interact with Muslim families dealing with hides and skins , considering the nature of his job. Ambujammal’s House, “Amjad Bagh “ in Alwarpet is described as a veritable palace with its garden spanning 150 grounds. Mahatma Gandhi came to stay in the family guest house in Madras and in1920, after a meeting with him she became a nationalist and set up Srinivasa Gandhi Nilayam, an institution for imparting education to destitute women. “Annai Illam “, on Sivaji Ganesan Road was acquired by Sivaji’s father in 1959. This beautifully maintained sprawling residence though has an Art Deco frontage, parts of it date back to early 20th.Century.
“Bharati Illam” of Subramania Bharati (1882-1921) in Triplicane passed through many hands and suffered many changes before the State Government acquired it and rebuilt the façade the way it looked when Bharati lived in it. Sri ram concludes by writing: ….It is also testimony to what the Government can do to preserve our heritage if it has the will to do so.
One of the garden houses which has remained largely unchanged but not in good shape is “Brodie Castle” now called “Thenral ’’on Greenways Road. Built between 1796 and 1798 by James Brodie, a civil servant in East India Company, it was rented out to the Government when he fell on bad times.
‘Mithila” on Mowbray’s Road, now TTK Road, is one of the few surviving stately homes on this road and it is the residence of Mr. and Mrs. T.RNagoji Rao, descendents of one of the oldest Maharastrian families of Madras. Built in 1931, the house features high ceilings, deep verandahs and projecting eaves and gables.
Not far away from here is the “ The Grove” on Eldams Road , once part of a much larger property called “The Baobab.” The property was purchased by Canjeevaram Venkata Subbiah and his son-in law C.R Pattabhirama Iyer and, the house was built in 1885-1886 and named “The Grove” in view of the large number of trees in the grounds. A brilliant lawyer, Sir C.P Ramaswami Iyer was the best known occupant of the house. Today, “The Grove” is part of the C P Ramaswami Iyer Foundation.
(On a personal note I would like to add the 13 acre property on Eldams Road was originally purchased by Rajatantra Pravina The Hon’ble Palle Chentsal Rao Pantulu, CIE. for rs. 26ooo/. It extended from Mowbrays Road to the present HD Raja Nagar. He sold the land adjoining Mowbrays Road to Pattabhirama Iyer, civil court judge and father of Sir C.P.R. Palle Cenntsal Rao was appointed as Deputy Collector, in the Inams Commision in july 1859 at the age of 27. His family was perhaps the earliest residents on Eldams Road and his descendents continue to live here)
Sriram should be congratulated for letting the reader have a peep into the background of the 50 historical residences (of which a mention of a few have been made in this review), their occupants in the past and the present state of these properties. Equal credit should go to the artist, young V.Vijaykumar for his beautiful pencil sketches of the residences. This bilingual volume is published by Kalamkriya Limited, part of Sanmar Group which has been actively supporting City’s heritage for years.
n.meera raghavendra rao