Madras Week 2019: Know your Chennai

From a Paleolithic site to a bustling locality

A photograph from 1975 shows residents ferrying water to Pallavaram. The locality faced a water crisis well into the 90s. At right, construction work under way to build a bridge on the bustling GST Road.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives/ M. Karunakaran

In the past four decades, Pallavaram, one of the oldest Paleolithic sites in Asia, has shed the tag of a quiet little locality, predominantly comprising farmland. It is now a bustling neighbourhood with many restaurants and shops. Originally known as Pallava Puram, the locality comprised Isa Pallavaram, Cantonment, Zamin Pallavaram and Old Pallavaram. According to residents, even four decades ago, the locality was more developed than Tambaram, thanks to the Cantonment area.

Old-timers recall an era when the locality was known for its greenery. “Both sides of the GST Road were dotted with trees. People used to sell mangoes, tamarind and buttermilk, set up cycle repair shops under the shade. It was a pleasant experience to walk on the road. It was very easy to cross the road as there were very few vehicles and no median,” reminiscences V. Santhanam, a social activist.

The Friday Market or the Sandhai, a feature since the 1800s, is still famous in the locality. “It was initially Maatu Sandhai and lot of people used to come here. Over 3,000 vendors set up shop. It is held in the Cantonment limits,” explains an official from the Pallavaram Muncipality.Pallavaram was also known for its large Anglo-Indian population, with many members working in the Railways.

Walton Narcis, an 85-year-old Anglo-Indian who came to Tambaram in 1940, says that he used to visit his friends in Veteran Lines, an Anglo-Indian colony in Pallavaram.“There used to be bungalows and it used to be lively with music and parties. Now many from the community have moved away. Pallavaram mostly comprised empty land. I remember seeing the Pammal-Pozhichalur route,” he recalls.

Better connectivity

The locality began witnessing development, especially in the real estate sector, with the improvement in connectivity in the mid-70s. “There were a lot of farmlands till the 1970s,  even along GST Road. Now a majority of them have disappeared. The pace of development picked up after 1980s when GST Road was made four-lane,” adds Mr. Santhanam.Residents also recall how there were over half a dozen waterbodies in the locality. “The water from the Pallavaram Eri used to touch the tracks. Now most of them have been wiped out due to encroachments.

The Pallavaram Eri has been cut across by the  Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam Road,” says Mr. Santhanam.Glenn Daniels of Mariamman Koil Street, whose family has been living in Pallavaram for more than a century, says there has been a boom in residential colonies in the last two decades. “This is mainly due to the improvement in water supply. In the late 90s it was difficult to get water,” he says.

Long struggle

However, basic amenities did not come to Pallavaram easily. Till 1968, there were no residents' welfare associations in the locality. After many petitions and struggle they managed to get underground drainage, MIT Bridge, Palar drinking water and educational institutions.“In 1986, local body elections were held to Pallavaram Muncipality. After this amenities started improving. We now have a foot overbridge with escalators, schools, colleges and hospitals that were not present earlier.

However, we have lost the greenery and waterbodies,” adds Mr. Santhanam.

Civic officials claim that a lot more development is in store for Pallavaram. “Shopping complexes are coming up. We are also desilting the lakes and will introduce boating in a few of them,” says an official.

On their part, residents remain hopeful of a merger with Chennai Corporation and extension of the Metro to the locality.  

‘The locality holds a special place in my heart’

First Person- R. Budree Iyer, Pallavaram

R. Budree Iyer at Pallavaram near GST Road. Photo:

R. Budree Iyer at Pallavaram near GST Road. Photo:   | Photo Credit: M. Karunakaran


I have been living in Pallavaram since 1931. The place holds a special place in my heart. As a the retired railway employee, I have seen the locality change from an area full of fields to a bustling commercial area like T. Nagar, especially in the last five years.As far as my memory goes, Pallavaram was the only place that had some form of development after one left Saidapet in the city.

Chromepet grew after Chrome Leather Factory was set up. Beyond this there was nothing in the early days.The pace of development increased from the 60s after connectivity improved. Initially, we had one private bus operating till Broadway. The first Pallavan transport bus, present day MTC, to be introduced was route 52A. In the early 80s, the number of buses increased and there was rapid development.

Earlier, there used to be a waterbody called Neteri, near the Pallavaram hill.  It was 6-ft. deep. While returning from work, I used to walk past the waterbody until a few decades ago. It has now disappeared.The locality was peaceful. Crime was not common here. The village munsif was everything. People used to respect him a lot. There were also very few schools in the area. I went to Saidapet for my schooling during those days. Now there are many schools.I guess more changes will come in the future.

Today's Picks

Chennai Heritage: Madras Musings Lecture - Vikram Doctor on Ten Iconic Food Books from Madras, Radisson Blu, 6.30 p.m.

British Council Chennai Library: Human Library, Anna Salai, 11.30 a.m.

INTACH: Heritage Walk of Dhenupurishwarar Temple, Madambakkam, 6.45 a.m.

Madrasafactinam: XQuizit Madras quiz programme, Foundzone, Kasi Arcade, T. Nagar, 2 p.m.

Chennai Storytelling Association: 10th Annual Living Statues of Marina Beach, Kannagi Statue, Kamarajar Salai, 7.30 a.m

A Madras retrospective

From a Paleolithic site to a bustling locality

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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 1:39:44 PM |

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