Poonamallee, Guindy, Thiruvanmiyur, Mylapore… How a few of the places in the city got their names is a fascinating mix of history, legend and myth
Looking for stories? You only need to look at the names of areas and streets of Chennai. Different names, different times and different beliefs have all led to happy neighbourhood names. On the online forum Quora, on Wikipedia and several blogs on the Internet, mythology and temple historians offer several theories on how certain places possibly got their names.
Proof’s in the temple
What a newbie Chennaiite knows only as EVR Periyar Salai, an old-time Madras-vasi refers to as Poonamallee High Road. But what does Poonamallee even mean? The name, it is believed is a corruption of the Tamil Poovirundavalli. Legend has it that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, “rose from a jasmine flower and gave darshan to Thirukatchi Nambi Alwar” (source: Thiruvallur district official website). Here, like many other places in the city, history meets mythology, for, there is a temple at the said location dedicated to the myth. At the Varadaraja Perumal Temple, there is also a statue of the Alwar as well as inscriptions from 13th, 14th and 17th Centuries.
Another such area is St. Thomas Mount that carries with it legends from two different religions. It is believed that Saint Thomas, one of the apostles, lived and preached on the eponymously named mountain. But the area has another name with a parallel story. Parangi Malai, it is believed gets its name from the sage Bringi who lived and meditated on the hillock in his quest to see Lord Siva. Bringi is an important link. The myth surrounding the sage connects several other areas with the origin of their names in the city. It is believed, for instance, that the place where he laid his kindi or pitcher while performing a puja, was called Kindi. Over time, Kindi became Guindy!
From Guindy, on to Nandambakkam. While on his way to Lanka, it is believed that Lord Rama stopped and paid his respects to sage Bringi, who then invited Rama to stay with him. A garden or nanadavanam was set up where Rama once lived. Hence, the name Nandambakkam. There’s a temple dedicated to Rama in Nandambakkam — the Kothandaramaswamy Temple constructed by the Vijayanagara kings. It is also believed that Ramapuram, located next to Nandambakkam gets its name from this legend.
It is interesting how integral The Ramayana is to the history of names in the city. Next in this list is Koyambedu. Did you know that Koyambedu was once called Kusa-Lava-puri? The place finds mention in Thiruppugazh as Kosai Nagar (source: T.A. Srinivasan, The Hindu, article titled Twin Temples Of Koyambedu). Legend has it that Lava and Kusa, who were raised by Valmiki, worshipped Kurungaleeswarar, a form of Shiva in this area. The place is also home to a Rama temple, in which the main deity is not dressed as a prince or a king but is dressed in a bark as it represents his exile.
At the Marundeeswarar Temple in the city, Valmiki was blessed by the presiding deity and the place was called Thiruvalmikiyur and eventually became Thiruvanmiyur. There is also a Valmiki Nagar in this area, where, it is believed, Valmiki descended to rest, upon completing The Ramayana. On ECR is a temple dedicated to the sage / poet.
While Mylapore is said to have got its name from the fact that goddess Karpagambal took the form of a peacock (mayil) to worship Kapaleeswarar, Ayanavaram, it is believed, comes from Ayan Puram, where Brahma (Ayan) is supposed to have prayed to Siva to regain his power to create.
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