CHENNAI: The drizzle was incessant. But that didn’t stop an enthusiastic crowd of 30 to be part of the ‘Refreshing Royapuram Ride’, headed by city-based historian Nivedita Louis. Maa Ula, a biking service run by the differently-abled, helped participants commute.
We began the walk at the oldest existing substation of the continent — the Royapuram railway station — which is also the second largest in the country, sprawling across 2,46,000 sq mt. On July 8, 1845, The Madras Railway Company formed in London had an objective to connect Madras with military town Arcot- Wallajah, which was adjacent to cavalry town Ranipet.
The construction work commenced on June 9, 1853 and was completed after three years, on July 16. Two trains with Simpson & Co coaches arrived from London by ship. This led to the formation of the first station in south India with arches in its building inspired from the renaissance era. It was renovated and opened on October 2, 2005 by R Velu. Our next halt was at St Peters Church, which is built on the ground donated by Saint Rayappa.
The construction started in 1825 and was completed in 1829. Yes, the suburb is named after Saint Rayappa. In the early days, a group of Hindu Gurukula vamsa varnakula mudaliyars from Durgarayapatnam and Armagaon shifted to Madras. The men who specialised in (masula) boat-making were offered land to settle in Chepauk in 1731. They were converted to Christianity. In 1799, they were forced to settle 300 yards from St Peters Church, which was then headed by the first priest Jean Baptiste. The headmen were separate.
They had the power to appoint priests on suggestions from diocese. Due to conflicts, the church remained locked from 1925 to 1934. Eventually, the successful practice of headmen was abolished by the court and official trustees were chosen through elections. Meanwhile, the community split into two congregations — Goanese and Irish. St Antony’s church was built between 1885-1890 for the Goanese community. It has been under the control of Missionaries of Charity from 1965. Mother Teresa had stayed there during her visit to India.
We then headed to one of the oldest locations, the Parsi fire temple, and Anjuman Bhag. The first Parsi, Hirijibhai Maneckji Kharas, came to then Madras in 1809 from Coorg. In the 1900s, the Parsi community flourished in the automobile and perfume business. Their arrival was followed by the first Iranians from Iran. They popularised Irani cafes and set up theatres. A few other landmarks are Kunangudi Masthan Dargah, CSI Rainy hospital, Srinivasa Ramanujam museum, Angala Parameswari temple, and Kunniraman store.
- Kalmandapam market: One of the oldest markets in the city is said to be built, or renovated by Subbu Achari in 1818. The 17,000-sq ft area has British style arches and iron gates, and roofs made of Basil Mission tile works of the 1865 period sourced from Mangaluru.
- Monegar choultry: It is said to be the first organised charity of India. It was established as a gruel centre in Royapuram. After the Mysore war, it became a choultry for the sick and poor. Sifted to nearby premises of Raja Venkatagiri Choultry, it is now an asylum for the elderly.
- Robinson park: English word Dravidian was first employed by Robert Caldwell in his book, Comparative Dravidian Grammar or South Indian Family of Languages. It is said that CN Annadurai addressed public on September 18, 1949 here explaining DMK’s ideology.