Recognising their spiritual link with Adyar, Theosophists have chosen February 17 as Adyar Day. Joining in the celebration, Aparna Karthikeyan and Prince Frederick present some facts about the neighbourhood — some, perhaps, common knowledge, and others, little-known, beyond niche groups, anyway …

Well-known

For millions of people, mention of Adyar instantly brings to mind a banyan tree, frighteningly old and incredibly spread-out. Having sprouted roots around 450 years ago, this banyan, found inside the Theosophical Society, is among the world’s oldest trees. According to adyarbanyantree.blogspot.in, its sprawl makes it the largest surviving banyan — yes, the largest — on the planet. “Its branches spread across 40,000 sq.ft.,” says the blog site.

Less-known

Within the Theosophical Society are found baobab trees, remarkably unique in look and feature. “Native to Africa, the baobab tree possesses a built-in capacity for withstanding drought-like conditions. It stores water in its huge trunk. It has a large base, which is offset by its small branches. The colour and texture of its bark bear a resemblance to the skin of an elephant,” says naturalist and sea turtle conservationist V. Arun.

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Well-known

In the 1950s, when Gandhi Nagar was being developed, the residents wanted a neighbourhood temple, and the last maharajah of Travancore (Chitra Tirunal Bala Rama Varma) helped in purchasing the land on which the Padmanabhaswamy temple was built. “In the 1990s — when the Travancore Maharaja Park (near Esplanade) became a bus terminus, and the statue reduced to a public convenience — Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and others, mooted the idea and moved the statue to its present location in the temple,” says Sriram.V, historian and Chennai chronicler.

Less-known

Chitra Tirunal Bala Rama Varma’s statue, that is currently at the Padmanabhaswamy temple, Gandhi Nagar, was originally opposite the Raja Annamalai Manram, says Sriram. “The statue was installed to commemorate his Temple Entry Proclaomation, which allowed all Hindus, irrespective of caste, to enter any temple in Travancore, and the pedestal stone was inscribed with the full text of the proclamation. In the movie En Manaivi, a car goes around George Town, and the statue can be seen in all its glory, in the old location,” he adds.

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Well-known

The conflux of sea and river water at the Adyar Estuary fosters bio-diversity. “The estuarine eco-system holds is an attraction for migratory birds, including godwits, redshanks, greenshanks, common sandpipers, golden plovers and little-ringed plovers,” says T. Murugavel, founder, the Trust for Environment Monitoring and Action Initiating (TEMAI).

Less-known

“The Adyar Estuary has small islands or land masses that are overrun with Prosopis juliflora (velikaathan). These islands of green serve as nesting grounds for stone curlews, red-wattled lapwings and paddy field pipits. Often, small packs of jackals are also found there,” says Murugavel of TEMAI. “From the Broken Bridge, a clear view of these land masses is possible.”

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Well-known

Dr. Arundale founded the Besant Memorial School in 1934, naming it after Annie Besant, the third president of Theosophical Society. The School, KFI, was started in 1973, in ‘a spacious campus in Adyar made available by The Theosophical Society’ (source: school website).

Less-known

The school KFI and the Besant School buildings are very fine examples of 19th century garden houses, says Pradeep Chakravarthy, historian and author. Rabindranath Tagore stayed at the Theosophical Society for ten days, in 1934, and Maria Montessori also visited in 1939.

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Well-known

Anyone with a penchant for history will know that the Battle of Adyar was fought on the banks of the Adyar river, in 1746, between the French (led by Captain Paradis) and Mahfuz Khan, son of the Nawab of Arcot. The French won, and thereby consolidated their occupation of Fort. St. George. (source: Madras Miscellany: The Battle of the Adyar, The Hindu, Nov 26, 2012)

Less-known

“The incidence of Olive Ridley nesting is highest near the section of the Adyar river proximate to the sea,” says V. Arun of the Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network. “For one kilometre on either side of this section of the river, nesting is high. During every season, thousands of hatchlings are released from here. For some reason, all over the world, Olive Ridleys nest in areas close to river mouths.”