Panagal Park, Pondy Bazaar, Thanikachalam Road, Nair Road, Natesan Park, G.N. Chetty Road and Usman Road. Today, these may just be roads and places located in T. Nagar, one of the Chennai's busiest commercial hubs.
These names may merely remind most residents and visitors of textile showrooms, jewellery outlets and forbidding levels of congestion.
Over hundred years ago, however, these names evoked respect, and were associated with a nascent social movement that became a harbinger of reforms.
As the Dravidian Movement celebrates its centenary this year, names of these leaders of the Justice Party, a strand of the Dravidian Movement, resurface to unfold historical moments that shaped the socio-political history of Tamil Nadu.
T. Nagar is named after Sir Pitty Theyagaraya Chetty, one of the founders of the South Indian Liberal Federation (SILF), popularly known as Justice Party. A very rich man, Sir Theyagaraya Chetty was a municipal councillor between 1882 and 1923.
“SILF has its roots in the Madras United League, which was later renamed as Dravidian Association of Madras, seeking to represent the interests of the non-Brahmins in 1912. When the Justice Party government decided to develop a new area, the then Prime Minister of the Madras Presidency Sir Panaganti Ramarayaningar, the Raja of Panagal, named it after Theyagarayar,” explained K. Thirunavukarasu, a historian of the Dravidian movement.
According to V. Sriram, a chronicler of Chennai, Theyagaraya Nagar was developed when the government faced a severe housing shortage in the city. “It decided to take up for development the Long Tank, a vast water body that lay to the west of Mount Road, and beyond which lay the village of Mambalam. The Long Tank was drained in 1919 and on it came up the colony of Theyagaraya Nagar in 1925,” said Mr. Sriram.
Subsequently, most of the roads and streets were given the names of the leaders of Justice Party.
Thus the park at the heart of Thyagaraya Nagar became Panagal Park and another one on Venkatanarayana Road became Natesan Park, bearing the name of C. Natesa Mudaliar, the secretary of the Dravidian Association of Madras and one of the founders of the Justice Party.
G.N. Chetty road was named after Gopathi Narayanaswami Chetty, who was the treasurer of the Justice Party, and T.M. Nair, after whom Dr Nair Road is named, was a famous ENT doctor and one of the founders of the Justice Party. Sir Mohammed Usman was another party leader whose name has been commemorated by Usman Road.
O. Thanikachalam Chetty was a legislator representing the Justice Party. Thanikachalam Road was named after him. Pondy Bazaar owes its name to another leader of the Justice Party, Wuthampatti Punnavanadar Ayyanadar Soundrapandianadar from southern Tamil Nadu. “The name of Theyagaraya slipped into oblivion as people started referring to the area as T.Nagar. We wrote to the then Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi requesting the government to restore the full name in buses, government offices, shops and commercial complexes. He responded immediately,” said Kavignar Kali Poonguntran, general secretary of Dravidar Kazhagam.
This story has been corrected for a factual error.