Hidden within this rabbit warren of lanes named after prominent personalities from the Tamil Mudaliar community who once dominated this area are crumbling homes, libraries and halls
If you prefer the charms of the gullies to that of the high street, then turn right from Commercial Street onto Jewellers’ Street, where jewellery enthusiasts go for silver nose studs, anklets, earrings and the traditional wire piercing.
But there are other jewels hidden within this rabbit warren of lanes named after prominent personalities from the Tamil Mudaliar community who once dominated this area.
Quaint little Tamil row houses painted in faded jewel tones are wedged closely on Narain Pillai Street, Veerapillai Street and stretch all the way down to Thoppa Mudaliar, Lubbay Masjid and Dharmaraja Koil Streets on the fringe of Shivajinagar. “These buildings are over a hundred years old,” says Govind Pillai Narayanan, sitting in his shop on Jewellers’ Street.
The houses are built in an endearing mix of both south Indian vernacular and European architecture that caught the fancy of local merchants. Traditional Tamil kattai (verandahs that are open to the street), delicate European grills, curling Victorian metal lamps, fluted Ionian columns and pilasters, stucco borders with Greek motifs, colonial monkey top slats under traditional outward opening double windows and carved doorways with religious Dravidian motifs were all thrown together confidently to create a dazzling new hybrid vocabulary.
Other gems include the beautiful but forgotten Mohammed Ali building and the disintegrating Kannun Hall on Veerapillai Street. While Kannun Hall remains a mystery, Mohammed Ali building was built in 1824 by a wealthy army contractor Yejaman Mohammed Ali as a space for both residential and socio-political gatherings.
Its stables now house small shops.
Veerapillai Street also houses the famous Muslim library with a trove of Urdu and Persian books and manuscripts that wait quietly for non-existent readers.
Elsewhere on Narain Pillai and Jewellers’ Street are traditional bone setters, an old fashioned flour mill and vintage watch repair shops, vegetable and flower street markets, the crumbling Bhoopalam Subba Chetty choultry and the Dharmaraja Koil, a temple dedicated to the Pandava, Yudhishtra where a smaller Karaga procession takes place each year.
Much of the area was also owned by Rai Bahadur Sir Arcot Narayanswamy Mudaliar (1827-1910), a wealthy businessman and noted philanthropist who is said to have resided at 6/57 Veerapillai Street.
His initial venture, the Bangalore Agency, at no.19, South Parade, dealt with real estate, livestock, auctioneering as well as excise contracts and banking. In 1936, his grandsons went on to build the long gone Plaza theatre on M.G. Road.
Feeding the Cantonment
In the early 19th century, these streets were occupied by merchants and contractors who supplied provisions, supplies and materials to the British army stationed in the Cantonment. The Army and Military stores in the area are remnants of this military legacy that built not just the Bangalore Cantonment but also the fortunes of its inhabitants.