Chennai’s connect with the Odisha royals
The streets of Kilpauk hold the last threads of royalty that connect Madras’s history with the Gajapati dynasty, one of the most powerful dynasties of Odisha
CHENNAI: A five-minute walk from Kilpauk metro station will take you to Manikeshwari Street that is adorned with big trees on both sides and buildings woven into the tapestry of the green bushes. On the street, you will find a white one-storeyed bungalow, which will not catch your attention immediately, unless you see the name of the house, ‘Parlakimedi’ engraved in a reddish-brown nameplate. It was this name that caught my eye as it resembles closely to Paralakhemundi, a town in Odisha. Being a history enthusiast, I began searching for the origin of this house.
Sandwiched between the Barnaby Road and Ormes Road, Manikeshwari Street and Gajapathy Road have a connection with the Odisha royals. While Manikeshwari street is named after the family deity of the Gajapati dynasty, one of the most powerful kingdoms in Odisha, Gajapathy Road takes after the title which was given to the kings, shares Sarbajgan Jagnnatha Deo, a resident and descendant of the Gajapati dynasty. He adds that the house borrows its name from Paralakhemundi in Odisha.
“My grandfather (Krushnachandra Gajapati Narayan Deo) had bought a property in this area, which ranged from Barnaby Road to Ormes Road back in 1911, when he was studying in Newington College, which was located near Gemini Flyover on Mount Road. He had constructed a large house in that area called Hall’s Garden. Now, everything else is sold off except this house,” Deo says.
Krushnachandra Gajapati was the scion of the Gajapati dynasty and played a key role in the formation of Odisha. He was elected as the first Prime Minister of Odisha (then, Orissa) during the Indian provincial elections of 1937. Gajapati’s elder grandson Gopinath Gajapati, also used to live in a mansion on Manikeshwari Street.
Amateur historian and heritage enthusiast Krishnakumar TK says, “Prior to his foray into politics, Gopinath completed his pre-university education at Madras Christian College and pursued engineering at AC College of Technology in Chennai’s Guindy. He resided in a grand mansion in Kilpauk, before eventually selling off the property to a developer for conversion into flats and relocating to Odisha in the 1980s, embarking on a political career while also assuming the ceremonial role of the Odisha Gajapati dynasty’s head.”
Deo further adds that he completed his engineering degree from Guindy and started working abroad. He then came back to his city in 1980 (then known as Madras) and has been here ever since. Talking about the legacy of his grandfather, Deo says, “He used to come to Ooty regularly for horse races. He has won a lot of races. Apart from that, he also did a lot of charity work and funded many research institutions.”
Adding to this, historian V Sriram, says, “To commemorate the properties which were owned by kings, many places in Chennai are named after them — Padmavathi Road named after Queen Padmavati, Jeypore Colony named after the Jeypore royal family of Odisha, Maharaja Surya Rao Road in Alwarpet named after the king of Pithapuram, Andhra Pradesh, Panagal Park after the king of Panagal, which is now in Telangana. They were named so because the kings from these places purchased land in these areas in the late 19th and early 20th century.”
Deo visits Paralakhemundi in Odisha to settle the ongoing property dispute. The Rath Yatra in the Jagannath Temple at Kovalam Post near ECR Road is the only time he does his ‘royal duties’. He performs the Chhera Pahanra ritual, which involves him sweeping the chariot before the Rath Yatra begins. Unlike the three chariots in Puri, there is only one chariot here and Deo uses a broom with a silver handle instead of the gold-handle broom used by his cousin, the king of Puri.