A look into the culture and history of the Adyar river

After a year long research by historian-cum-novelist, Venkatesh and a few other enthusiasts, here are some of hitherto unknown facts and historical nuggets of the Adyar River.

Published: 05th November 2016 03:52 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th November 2016 03:52 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: A river that’s 42 km long and dry for most of its course, the famous Adyar River has a lot of history attached to it. Comparing the history of the river to a multi-layered cake, historian-cum-novelist Venkatesh Ramakrishnan says, “There are so many layers to it and this makes the river a cauldron for different cultures.”

However, until the river overflows its banks, it rarely gets noticed and Venkatesh states that if you dig further, it can unearth fascinating tales about battles, temples, castles, churches, apostles, studios, superstars and novels. City Express chats with the bilingual author and historian about mapping the river for over a year, and also about its heritage and the history of men and women living on its banks.

“Mapping a river itself is interesting and we (Venkatesh and other heritage enthusiasts) have previously mapped the Cooum River which is much longer than the Adyar. Though Adyar is smaller, it has turned out to be significant for many people,” says the author of Kaviri Maithan, the Tamizh sequel to Kalki R Krishnamurthi’s block buster classic, Ponniyin Selvan.

Banks of Adyar is all about the aspirations of the Indians and expatriates who have settled here. From the Pallavas to the Portuguese and from the Dutch to the Armenians, the river has seen and housed them all. “Mapping the river gives a taste of how the city developed,” says Venkatesh. 

As we ponder over some forgotten history of the river, he enthusiastically asks, “Do you know the two Bharath Ratna awardees who lived in Adyar?” Before we could think of an answer, he says, “M S Subbulakshmi and MGR! And this is the only instant where two Bharat Ratnas acted together in a movie. And both were residents of Adyar. Such interesting anecdotes keep coming up as we dig up history,” he grins.

The group of enthusiasts who are involved in mapping the Adyar River have a Facebook page: ‘The Adayar – a cultural Mapping’, where short accounts of history constantly get published for discussion. “We have had heritage walks around the river to places like Theosophical Society, Santhome and so on and we have found a lot of interesting things in one year,” he says.

Stating that Europeans have had a greater interest in recording history and documenting life, Venkatesh says that they also recorded the number of gun and gun powder used in Santhome Fort. The road where the gun powder mill existed back then is none other than the famous Powder Mill Road today, just off Bazaar Road.

Talking about two key events that happened in the banks of Adyar river— the battle of Manimangalam between the Pallavas and Chalukyas and the battle of Adyar between the French East India Company men and Nawab of Arcot forces in 1746, Venkatesh explains, “Both are significant; especially the battle of Adyar where the French troop was lesser than that of the opposite force! Yet, the French forces won and regained control over the Fort St George.” 

The exact spot of the battle can be found even today, and Venkatesh says that there are detailed accounts of the battle which makes it easier to map what exactly could have happened, how the troops crossed the river and so on.

With landmarks like the Theosophical Society, Kalakshetra and Santhome built on its banks, Adyar has a rich history. “It’s very tough to condense the history that’s available around the Adyar River. It’s about different people, cultures and ambitions and it has to be given its due respect,” he adds.
(Catch Venkatesh Ramakrishna talking about his Adyar Mapping experience at Arkay Convention Center, Mylapore today at 5.30 pm)

What you need to know about Adyar!

Venkatesh Ramakrishnan

The hit of movie Pavalakodi (1934) marked the debut of M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, the first superstar of South India. Sathya Studio is five-acre premises and 40 grounds leasehold property adjoining the campus right on the north bank of the Adyar.

A 1700’s Santhome inscription in Armenian says: “In memory of the Armenian nation”. Armenia had just been partitioned by the Ottoman Empire and Persia and ceased being an Independent nation.

The first meeting of Indian National Congress was held under the 450-year-old Banyan tree at Theosophical society during 1914. 


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