The High court turrents lit by morning sun
The walk started at prompt 6.30 AM by which time, about 24 people turned up. Considering that it was V.Sriram who was leading the walk, he mentioned up-front that there will be few stops that have Carnatic heritage in them.
A newly restored heritage building
The first stop was just around the corner on Armenian Street, the Armenian Church. This was built somewhere in the early part of the 18th Century when there were many rich Armenian merchants in Chennai. The current population of Armenians is a grand total of 1. We could not enter the church as it opens only at 9.30 AM
The Armenian Church complex
The Church entrance
We walked past the St.Mary co-cathedral as it is called now, past the large white-washed Binny's building to get to Gokale's Hall in Young Men Indian Association. This hall was an outcome of the friendship between Annie Besant and Sir C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer. Actually, Sir CP and AB were bitter adversaries for many years and were on the opposite sides on a legal case involving J.Krishnamurty. After the case was won by Sir CP, both of them became very good friends since both of them felt that the youth of the country was becoming decadent. In order to stem the decadence, both of them started YMIA to teach oratory skills and body building. Here is a link to some history of Gokhale Hall
The blue dome inside Gokhale Hall
After visiting the YMIA, we walked back to the main road to get onto the mini bus and go to a street called Bunder street just past the YMCA building. This was a extra narrow lane filled with many small enterprises. Not too far into the street was the house of one of the 'dubash' (people who mediated between the locals and the Europeans) Kovvuru Sundara Mudaliar. One of the important visitors to this house was Saint-Composer Tyagaraja. He was here for few days in a room overlooking the street before he left for Kovvur and Tirupati. At Kovvur he composed the Kovvur Pancharatna kirtana in praise of Lord Sunderesa. This room was later purchased by historian of Carnatic music, Prof. Sambamoorthy.
Room where Saint ComposerTyagaraja stayed (with blue windows)
An interesting building along the road
After visiting the Flower market area, we then entered the Sowcarpet area and into Govindappan Naicken street. Both the stops in this area were related to carnatic music. First was the place where Manali mansion once stood. This was built by the dubash Muthukrishna Mudaliar who after listening to Ramaswamy Diskshitar request him and his three sons to come and live with him in Manali and Madras. One of the three sons was Muthuswamy Dikshitar. The son of Muthukrishna Mudaliar, Venkatakrishna had several opportunities to listen the western music played the English Band at the Fort. He then made arrangement for the three boys to learn these new instruments. These boys were also given permission to write Sanskrit texts to the English Tunes. I don't remember which songs but Sriram sang the Carnatic songs that were composed to the music of God save the Queen. An important outcome of this interaction was that of the brothers learnt the Violin and soon afterwards, it was introduced into the Carnatic music stream. It is sad that nothing remains of the Manali Mansion. The last part of it, that was surviving until few months ago was knocked down and is currently a parking lot.
The house where Veena Dhanammal lived on Tambu Chetty Street was the second last stop on the walk. This lady, one of the greatest veena player lived here for her last phase of life. Her style, which was later on popularised by Brinda-Mukta has come to be known as Dhanammal Bani, could be said to be the only Gharana kind of school in Carnatic music. She gave a concert (attendance by-invitation only) at her home every friday for which people like G.Kasturi of Hindu, T.T.Krishnamachari, etc. frequently attended. Like every other heritage structure, this house has been purchased by one Mr.Jain for Rs. 27 Lakhs. He intends to knock it over and construct a new house. Sriram was surprised that the house was still intact as it was scheduled to be knocked over few days earlier. Since it may be his chance to be at the house, he decided to sit on the steps of the building while he narrated many stories related to Danammal and the house.
Tambu Chetty street
The last stop on the walk was the Wall Tax road. British planned to construct a wall around the city of Madras so that octroi could be easily collected. However the project had to be stopped half way since the city was expanding too fast, it would have been futile to have a wall in the middle of the city. It was on this road that many theatres set up their shop. We tried to find if there were any remnants of these old theatres but we had no such luck.
We were taken back to the high court where we had a picture taken. I purchased a Namma Chennai T-shirt and headed back home. Both of us liked the walk very much and are looking forward to the Mylapore Festival in January where few more such walks will be conducted.
Madras Rediscovered by S.Muthiah
Great Masters of Carnatic Music, by Indira Menon
Website of V.Sriram and Sanjay Subramanyan: Sangeetham