With Madras Day celebrations round the corner, VIPs recall their association with the city

A series of events to be held for a week from Sunday next will mark the official transaction of a piece of land, in 1639, where Fort St. George stands today. This deal led to the founding of our city on August 22.

Slowly but steadily it grew around the fort annexing the villages around the Adyar and Cooum rivers, finally to form Chennaipattinam. The day the city evolved needs to be celebrated and that is what journalists, historians and entrepreneurs are planning to do.

The primary motive is to bring to light the city’s past and make Chennites understand its rich heritage and culture. The history relating to some of the places is simply fascinating and transports people to the bygone era. Downtown spoke to a few celebrities who shared their memories while recalling their association with the city.

History of Nawabs

Tracing his lineage Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali, Prince of Arcot, says, Madarasapattinam.“My ancestors have ruled this part of Tamil Nadu before the emergence of the British Rule.” A vivid account of his narration: The Nawabs of the Carnatic ruled over a large area, Carnatic region of South India, including the present Chennai between 1690 and 1800. It comprised parts of Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu up to the southern most tip. They initially had their capital at Arcot and ruled for more than a century before the British took over.

The most celebrated Nawab was Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah. His rule (1749-1795) was peaceful and he donated liberally to churches, temples and mosques.

In Tiruchi, education institutions such as St. Joseph College and St. Bishop Heber College, Sri Rangam Temple (which received a big chunk of land still known as Nawab Thottam) all benefited. On a request by the Hindu brethren, he handed over the land for the Kapaleeswarar Temple tank.

Even today, the Prince of Arcot receives the temple honours on the first day of the Kapaleeswarar float festival.

The Nawab Wallajah also built 13 palaces in Chennai some of which are the Chepauk palace, Shaadi Mahal (the present Muslim High School, Triplicane), one in the place of the present Express Avenue, one behind IOB on Anna Salai and another inside the Government Madrasa-E-Azam Higher Secondary School for boys. He had a mosque built for Shia Muslims at Thousand Lights. The Nawab was so popular that several places were named after him _ Wallajah Gate inside Fort St. George, Wallajah Road, Wallajahpet in Arcot and Wallajahbad in Kancheepuram.

The Prince of Arcot continues to play a significant role in preserving communal harmony. His residence, Amir Mahal, has been visited by Arch Bishop of Canterbury, London and the Chief priest of the Golden Temple and Chief Imam of Holy Kaba, Mecca. The family continues to retain its privileges and titles and Mohammed Abdul Ali is the eighth Prince of Arcot (22 Nawab).

Beach and ice-creams

While the Prince of Arcot shared information about his family’s connection with the city, cine actor Sacchu shared her love for the city. “Mylapore is my favourite spot,” said Sacchu.

“The temple tank which used to be filled with lotus leaves and flowers always fascinated me. I found temple festivities exciting. As the population and the number of vehicles on the Mada streets were less, we could have a clear view of the vahanams and all the festive rituals from the terrace. The ambience was hygienic and I used to gorge on the kamarkatt and sakkaramittai (shaped like a swan, cup and saucer) during the festivals.”

The image that conjures up in her mind about old Madras is the Marina. She loved walking down the number of steps that led to the beach near the Santhome Church.

“There was no road near the sands those days. We used to love to dig our feet deep into the beach sand as we moved near the waters (which was relatively nearer then),” added Ms. Sacchu. Of course, the flavour of the ice-cream which she used to have at the parlour at Santhome still lingers in her mouth.

Here is another celebrity who reminisces about Madarasapattinam. Revathy Shankaran, feels sorry that she cannot climb the light house anymore.

“The rain trees that used to line many a streets in T. Nagar are conspicuous by their absence. When the Moore Market was burnt to cinders, it tore my heart. Buying old gramophone records from there was my favourite pastime. The market had a touch of antiquity about it which the posh malls of modern Chennai lack. Upanyasams, dance and music turned the city livelier,” she said.

Artistic

One temple for which she still holds a fascination is the Agasthiyar Temple at Pondy Bazzar. “The idols in the temple are beautifully sculpted and they are so realistic,” she added.

As a child she also loved to see the statue of Thomas Munro. “The absence of stirrups is a peculiarity of the statue.” Some facts about the city which fascinate her are how we still preserve the spot (present Parry’s Corner) where a bullet fired from the ship ‘Emden’ landed; that Kapaleeswarar Temple was much nearer the sea 300 years ago and that Chennapattinam got its name after the ‘Dubash Chennappanaikens’.

It is not only the celebrities but there are many who have hundreds of memories about the old city.

With walks, talks, quiz and exhibitions let us enjoy a week-long celebrations from August 19.

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