Tales from Mambalam

A heritage trail that chronicled history and life in this bustling Chennai neighbourhood

August 14, 2017 10:45 am | Updated April 24, 2020 11:20 am IST

A view of Doraiswamy sub-way road under construction and nearing completion at the railway level crossing in T. Nagar. The railway's part of the work on the sub-way, which connects Thyagaraya Nagar (T.Nagar) with Old Mambalam, Madras on June 09, 1971.
(Published in The Hindu on June 12, 1971)
PHOTO: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

A view of Doraiswamy sub-way road under construction and nearing completion at the railway level crossing in T. Nagar. The railway's part of the work on the sub-way, which connects Thyagaraya Nagar (T.Nagar) with Old Mambalam, Madras on June 09, 1971. (Published in The Hindu on June 12, 1971) PHOTO: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Mambalam’s connection with mosquitoes is well known; there’s even a cricket team by that name. The story goes thus: this locality was originally like a peninsula of the Long Tank and Adyar River, and when the former was closed (upon which came up the area that we call T Nagar today), the slush spilled over, breeding many mosquitoes.

This was a decade after the railway line between Madras and Kanchipuram had been laid (in 1911), prompting many people to move to the locality. Today, West Mambalam is a bustling neighbourhood, with an apt mix of tradition and modernity, as heritage blogger and researcher Padmapriya Baskaran pointed out during a Heritage Walk, as part of the Madras Week celebrations. A few interesting nuggets from the Walk:

 

Temple trail

The Kothandaramar temple comes alive at 6 am, when flower sellers start setting up shop and the priests get ready for the day. This picturesque temple was built by Adi Narayana Dasa, who was a direct descendant of Bhakta Ramadasu, the man instrumental in building the famous Rama temple at Bhadrachalam. Even today, this quaint temple at Mambalam, which shares its walls with the Ahobila Mutt School, is known as ‘Dakshina Bhadrachalam’. Not far from here is the Kasi Viswanathar temple, which has two mutts — the Sankara Mutt and the Kasi Mutt — closeby.

 

Ticket to fame

We head from temple town to tinseltown. West Mambalam traditionally had two theatres; one of them was the Kothanda Rama Theatre (or National Theatre) that eventually shut down. But what still stands till today is the majestic Srinivasa Theatre, where you can still catch a recent film for less than half the price you’d shell out at a multiplex. This theatre, which has also been featured in some films, including the Ajith-Shalini-starrer Amarkalam, was set up in 1963, by Devanathan, who also established the Prarthana Drive-in at ECR.

On track

Thanks to its ever-crowded railway station, Mambalam has a couple of bustling subways that aid commuters crossing over to other parts of the city. Duraiswamy Subway was originally named after Dheeran Sivalingam, who immolated himself when he was just 21, protesting against Hindi imposition in the State. Madley Subway was named after JW Madley, the man who revolutionised water supply to the city. The crowded Arya Gowda Road is named after Ari Gowder, a Baduga leader who owned a lot of land in the area.

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