Thus spake Cooum

August 16, 2015 08:26 am | Updated April 02, 2016 07:29 pm IST

All great ancient civilisations, we know, rose on the banks of a river. The river was the lifeline, it would provide precious water for agriculture and for the people, and would act as a natural conduit for goods. If Mohenjodaro and Harappa had the Indus, by it’s own measure Chennai has the Cooum.

This Madras Week, we will let Cooum be the 'sutradhar'; she will tell the grand story of this city in her own words; of battles fought and love affairs, or politics and mythology, of governance and transporting goods. People of Chennai, as you celebrate this annual throwback event again, this Madras Week, we give you: the Cooum.

Madras Week: Thus Spake Cooum

>My waters nurtured centres of learning

The Directorate of Public Instruction on my bank laid the foundation for most of the schools and colleges in the city.

>The river never found its place in Tamil cinema

The Cooum has always been portrayed as filthy and as a garbage dump yard.

>Stirring expressions of patriotism

Cooum has witnessed some defining moments of the Indian freedom struggle.

>Tracing the sacred roots of a river

The 18 century philanthropist Pachaiyappa Mudaliyar would bathe in my waters and then proceed to worship Lord Komaleeswarar.

>Artists' walk documents the many facets of Cooum

A group of artists had captured these facets of the Cooum river as they set out on a journey along the waterway.

>Institutions pitch innovative solutions for cleaning Cooum

A city grew on the banks of the Cooum, but did you know that they have been sites of the clash of civilisations?

>Celebrating Madras Week

Over years, Chennai’s own river, the banks on which Madras arose, 376 years ago next week, has meandered on, stoic in the face of the assaults on it.

>Madras thrived on her banks

A group of history enthusiasts has brought a fresh perspective to the image of the river.

>The scene of great battles

A city grew on the banks of the Cooum, but did you know that they have been sites of the clash of civilisations?

>For them, Cooum is not synonymous with sewer

The Cooum, as strange as it might sound to some, still remains a lifeline to many villages in Tiruvallur district.

>Cooum snippets

In the first-person account that follows, one R. Premsingh writes, “I wish to draw the attention of the Corporation authorities to the stinking smell emitted by the Cooum river.”

>Cooum: Madras' engine of growth

Nearly everything that was and is notable in the city took root along my banks, from the houses of the powerful to the centres of commerce

>Staving off the sewage threat in Cooum

Chennai Metrowater seems to be trying to actualise the big dream of cleaning Cooum river through small steps.

>What's in a name?

A group of history enthusiasts has brought a fresh perspective to the image of the river.

>When crocodiles swam free in Cooum

If you walked by the Cooum about a 100 years ago, you may just have spotted the Cooum crocodile

>Cooum: High tide of artistic expression

From cinemas and bookstores to theatre performances and architectural marvels, I have witnessed this great city reaching new creative heights over many decades.

>Chennai Corporation to play a key role in Cooum makeover

Following a resolution by the Chennai Corporation Council this summer, the civic body is set to do a study on the restoration of heritage landscape along the Cooum river.

>On Islands Grounds and the Cooum

Do you know that Island Grounds owes its name to the Cooum?

>My waters nurtured centres of learning

The Directorate of Public Instruction on my bank laid the foundation for most of the schools and colleges in the city

>The river never found its place in Tamil cinema

The Cooum has always been portrayed as filthy and as a garbage dump yard.

>Crucial decision made: Between Andhra and Tamil Nadu

So valued was the free-flowing Cooum in those days that there was a demand to carve out an Andhra State from the Madras Presidency in the mid and late 1950s.


Read more stories

Here's an interactive map. Click on the green points to know the place and its significance. Source: The Cooum-A cultural mapping, Venkatesh Ramakrishnan

The Emden Bombing:

Madras was the only Indian place to come under attack by the forces of the Central Powers during the First World War. The bombardment was on the night of September 22, 1914 targeting oil tanks.

The Annadurai Funeral:

C. N. Annadurai was the first Non-Congress Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in independent India. Anna’s funeral attracted 15 million people and entered the Guinness Book of World Records.

The Port of Madras

It is the third oldest port of India with official port operations beginning in 1881. Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan was recognised as a genius when he worked as a clerk here.

The War Memorial

Victory War Memorial was constructed to commemorate the victory of the allied armies during World War I. It subsequently became the Victory War Memorial for later wars. It was nicknamed the ‘Cupid’s bow’ because courting couples from Fort St. George frequented this place.

Fort St. George

Fort. St George was the first British fortress in India, completed on April 23, 1644. The seat of power in Tamil Nadu today, many historians see the structure as the central point around which the city grew.

Mount Road starts here

Mount Road, now called Anna Salai, has a history of 400 years. Originally a cart track used by the European employees of the British East India Company to travel from factories in Fort St.George St Thomas Mount, the road that now exist was shaped during the time of Charles McCartney, Governor of Madras.

The plane in the island

The artificial Island Ground has a significant place in Asia’s aeronautical history for it was here that Giacomo D'Angelis, a Corsican-Indian aviation pioneer test flew the first self-engineered airplane in Asia.

The Armenians buried here

Buried in this exclusive cemetery are those who belonged to the Armenian community in Madras, one of its earliest settlers. They were master tradesmen in cotton and textiles.

The first architectural competition

The Senate House at the University of Madras was where the first elected members of the Madras Legislature met in 1937. The Senate House perhaps played a vital role in the current status of the Cooum. It was here that the decision to build a dam across the river was made, something that eventually choked the flow.

The first engineering college outside Europe

Michael Topping, a marine surveyor, tried to spread the subject with a survey school near Fort St. George in 1794. The school slowly evolved into one for Civil Engineering in 1858 and then the College of Engineering in 1859. This was the first engineering college built outside Europe and was eventually shifted to Guindy.

The Nawab’s palace

The Kalas Mahal, an Indo-Saracenic beauty, built in 1768, was put up for auction to pay off the Nawab’s debts after the Principality of Carnatic was abolished in 1855.

The first Ranji Trophy match

The Chepauk stadium has unique place in India’s cricket history. It was here on the banks of Cooum that the first Ranji Trophy was held in 1934.

The first Indian car

Where was the first steam car in India built? In 1903, Samuel John Green managed to successfully build the car as part of Simpson and Company, which stands on the banks of the Cooum.

Textile export processing zone

One of the oldest parts of Chennai, Chinthathripet became the first textile processing zone established in India, the construction of which began in 1734.

First English novel by a woman (zion church)

Born in Bombay and later moving to Madras, Krupabai Satthianadhan, a medical dropout, became the first women novelist of Indian in 1887 with Saguna.

Temples funded by the East India Company

As a connected development to the textile zone, the British thought a temple would help attract weavers to Chinthatripet. Built in the 1740s, the Adi Kesava Perumal and Adi Pureeshwarar temples were said to have been indirectly funded by the East Indian Company.

Victoria Public Hall

This historic hall saw the first adaptations of Shakespeare’s dramas in Tamil, staged by the famous Pammal Sambanda Mudaliyar in 1900.

Second oldest corporation

The Corporation of Chennai, situated near the Cooum, came into existence in September 1688 and was the first Corporation of Commonwealth outside United Kingdom.

Jail – INA fighters hanged here

One of the oldest prisons in India, the Madras Central Prison has had several important prisoners during the Independence era including Subash Chandra Bose. Two Indian National Army fighters were also hanged here.

Madras Medical College

The delay in shipping its plaque may have made it the second oldest medical college in India, but the Madras Medical College had a woman graduate in 1878 even before Britain allowed women into medical colleges.

Oldest book shop

Higginbotham’s, the oldest bookshop in the country was established on the banks of Cooum in 1844 by Abel Joshua Higginbotham. In 1875, they were made the official booksellers to the Royal Crown in India.

Iraqi saint buried here

This 17th century mosque has the Dargah of Hazrath Syed Moosa Sha Qadri, an Iraqi saint. This Dargah attracts huge number of Muslims every year as it is said to have healing powers.

First theatre in South India

One of the oldest in India, The Warwick Theatre on Anna Salai began screening movies in the early 1900s. Today the building houses the Philatelic Bureau.

Komaleshwaram Temple

The great philanthropist Pachaiyappa Mudaliar lived near this temple, which, according to some historians, may have given the Cooum river its name.

First club for Indians

The first club to allow Indians, the Cosmopolitan Club was established in 1873 and served the local elite. Mahatma Gandhi visited the club twice.

Connemara Hotel

Initially called Imperial Hotel and built in 1854 by Rathinavelu Mudaliyar, it became The Connemara in 1890. Today, it is a landmark hotel in the city with the name Taj Connemara.

Tipu’s sons exiled here

When Tipu Sultan's sons were taken hostage by Lord Cornwallis till reparations were paid after the Third Mysore War, they were, at their father's request, entrusted to the care of Doveton, who was a friend of Tipu's in 1792. Doveton is now a block in the Women’s Christian College in Chennai.

Meteorological Laboratory

Established in 1792 by the East India Company, The Madras Observatory was an astronomical observatory studying the stars. In College Road today, it houses the Regional Meteorological Centre.

Madras Literary Society

Established in 1817 as the Asiatic Society of Madras, the MLS is the oldest lending library in the south.

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