With increasing innovation in the way we transport ourselves, the need to walk to get to places has reduced. We prefer reaching places quicker, faster, often glued to our mobile devices while doing so. Although travelling on your two-wheeler with the wind blasting on your face is one way to experience Chennai, walking around definitely has its own charms.
‘Windows of Madras’ is a visual encyclopedia of the city’s beauty, spirit and hidden marvels. In an attempt to capture the essence of Chennai’s myriad structural styles by slowing the experience down, I have characterised a facet of a particular area through what one would see in a typical window from there. So, come walk with me and fall in love with Chennai as I did.
Muthialpet or Parry's corner
was renamed as George Town by the British in 1911, in honour of King George V when he was crowned as the Emperor of India.The first settlement of the city of Madras began here, near the fort. The township of native people that began to grow around it was called the Black Town by the British. The neighbourhood is known for several classic styles of buildings, each representing uniqueness in architectural character.
Formerly known as Mount Road, Anna Salai is an arterial road in Madras. The settlements are older than the road itself. Mount road is the epicenter of Madras's architectural and mainstream history. The government building which houses the Mercedes-Benz showroom, Higginbotham's, LIC, SBI, Buhari, Addison's and Musee Musical are some of the iconic establishments dotting the Mount road.
This was earlier known as White Town, as the Europeans stayed there. The name Park Town became famous because of the People's Park situated near the Ripon building. Park town was designed by the British for 'health and pleasure' of the people. It was referred to as the largest green, lung space in the city at that time. Now, it has been reduced to congested streets and crowded footpaths. Today, Park town is the major transit hub in Chennai with all the 3 suburban and MRTS lines converging here.
Chinna - Thari - Pettai (Town of Small Weaving Machine)
Chintadripet was planned and developed as an area for weavers by the East India Company in 1734. It was one of the few localities in those days where streets were not demarcated on the basis of caste. Chintadripet used to have many row houses back then, walls of every house connected to each other.
Many houses used to have (and some still have) the Gajalakshmi symbol on top that signifies wealth, and are considered an epitome of traditional houses.
Periyamedu (Large Protrusion)
Periamet is a central transport and commercial hub. High ceilings and teakwood panels are one of the common characteristics of the buildings in this locality. Few of the iconic buildings in this area are Chennai Central railway station, Ripon Building and Victoria public hall.
Named after a Rayar king, Royapettah thrives on its rich architectural and cultural diversity - from the garden houses of the close knit Anglo-Indian community to the Agraharams and the Islamic style houses.
Santhome or San Thome
Derived from Saint Thomas. The history of Santhome is woven with its Cathedral. Santhome has old, classical buildings, some in white, faded green, grey and yellow evoking an ethereal charm and a homely warmth. The houses and street names have a Portuguese hangover.
Mayil arparikkum oor (Land of the Screaming Peacock)
Mylapore is one of Chennai's historic enclaves with its eclectic architecture and tactile heritage. The area doesn't just have the Agraharam houses wafting with filter coffee and masala vadai. It also consists of heritage houses with wrought iron balustrades with distinct geometry.
It is believed to get its name from the Urdu word "Che Bagh" meaning "six gardens". Chepauk is home to the Chepauk Palace, The University of Madras campus and the much-loved M.A.Chidambaram cricket stadium.
Nungam-bakkam (Garden Township)
was named so because of the presence of vast empty spaces and parks in the area. Most of Nungambakkam's principal lanes, such as College Road, Haddows Road and Sterling Road, are over 100 years old.
Egmore (Ezhumbur - Seven Villages)
Egmore is an important residential area as well as a commercial and transportation hub. The Government Museum, Egmore railway station, Government Women and Children's Hospital, the Tamil Nadu State Archives and the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department are a few heritage sites in this area. Most of the old institution buildings have been constructed with grand arches, timber staircases and deep rosewood doors and windows.
Perambur (Home to the pirambu forest)
In the earlier days, Perambur was divided into two – one side consisting of Anglo-Indians and the other side consisting of Brahmins. Perambur is home to grand old churches and a number of institutions that have been there for more than a century.
Known as "Little Korea" due to the Korean population that was once residing in this area. Kilpauk was a cantonment area for British troops before India's independence.
There are two significant landmarks in this area, the Integral Coach Factory and the English style red building, housing the Kilpauk Water Works. Several structures which came up in later years in the area were all carefully planned to resemble the heritage red building.
Thiru-Alli-Keni (Sacred Lily Pond)
The streets of Triplicane take one through historic Pallava settlements that have transformed through the ages while still rooted firmly in their rich and varied culture.
Commonly known as T. Nagar, this area was named after Sir Pitti Tyagaraya chetty. T. Nagar is believed to be the first planned urban neighbourhood in Chennai. The Panagal Park resembles the Arc De Triomphe, and the Pondy Bazaar resembles the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
was named after the rammer which Bringi Maharishi planted in this place to begin a great sacrifice against Goddess Parvati. Guindy is one of the important neighborhoods of Chennai and possibly even the country. The Kathipara junction is where Anna Salai, Poonamallee Road, Inner Ring Road, 100 Feet Road or Jawaharlal Nehru Road, and GST Road meet. It is one of the important nodal points of road traffic in the metropolitan area. This junction serves as the entry point to the city limits from the suburbs.
Vadapalani (Southern Palani)
This area is to the south of the actual town of Palani and hence named Vadapalani. It is one of the busiest and densely populated areas in Chennai. The famous Vadapalani Murugan temple in this area was built about 125 years back. The entrance of this temple is crowned with a rajagopuram adorned with several stucco images depicting legends from the Skanda- puranam. The eastern tower of the temple rises to a height of 40.8 meters.
Velachery (Farmer Community)
Velachery was a planned town a thousand years ago when the Cholas started laying out villages methodically. Velachery used to be a settlement for brahmins who were skilled in all four Vedas. The Saptamatrika temple, Dhandeeswaram temple and the Narasimha temple hold unusual features proving the prominence of Velachery in the past.
Thousand lights (Aayiram Vilakku)
Formerly known as Makkis Garden got its name when the third session of Indian National Congress was held here in 1887. The commemoration of the assembly was inaugurated with thousand lamps and henceforth ‘Thousand Lights’ became the name of the area. The famous Mosque and the assembly hall are located here. The mosque is one of the largest multi-domed mosques in the country.
It was mentioned as Kosai Nagar in Thiruppugazh (15th century anthology of Tamil religious songs). The history of Koyambedu is woven with the Chennai mofussil bus stand and Koyambedu wholesale market. CMBT is Asia's largest bus terminus and the Koyambedu wholesale market is one of Asia's largest perishable goods market complexes.
Officially known as Prakasam Salai, after the freedom fighter T. Prakasam. Even before Mount road, Broadway was laid out. Until the late 18th century, the area on which the present day's road lies remained as an unwanted drainage channel, known then as Atta Pallam.