History & Culture

A walk through some of the oldest parts of Coimbatore with city chronicler Rajesh Govindarajulu

Inside the home of CK Subramania Mudaliar

Inside the home of CK Subramania Mudaliar   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

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Deities and history with pickles on the side: Walking down Coimbatore’s Town Hall area

I hope to snatch a few moments with Rajesh Govindarajulu before he starts the curated walk of the Town Hall area, as part of the Coimbatore Vizha. Rajesh says we can take a quick look inside the Koniamman temple, where the walk begins; after all Koniamman is one of the presiding deities of the city (there are eight more devi temples, he says).

The Koniamman temple in 1963

The Koniamman temple in 1963   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The Koniamman Temple in 2019

The Koniamman Temple in 2019   | Photo Credit: S Siva Saravanan

While the temple has been built and rebuilt several times, the present idol is very, very old. Even older is the devi (just the head) who resides at a shrine at the rear. Almost all marriages in the old days began here (from matchmaking and girl-meeting-boy-sessions) and wedding photographs of the older Coimbatoreans will definitely include one with the temple in the background. Today there are flower shops and stalls with salt and pepper being sold in leaf cups to ward off the evil eye. What is today the Corporation parking lot was once the temple pond.

The grand old Laxmi Vilas, built by ATT Mudaliar

The grand old Laxmi Vilas, built by ATT Mudaliar   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

There is nothing really visually appealing in the area today, unless you shut out the the crowds, noisy buses and the garlands of electric wires overhead. You do that automatically when Rajesh begins speaking. The noise, grime and chaos disappear. In their place suddenly, are gracious old homes like Lakshmi Vilas (the city’s first double-decker house constructed in 1888) where philanthropists like the phenomenally rich Rao Bahadur AT Thiruvengadaswami Mudaliar and his family members dispensed charity and good will. They were also responsible for the development of the Government Hospital on Trichy Road. Hidden away somewhere there is the home of Rao Saheb Arokiaswamy Pillai that is today MG Eye Hospital, the first in Coimbatore, started in 1928; the Royal Theatre belonging to the RHR family in 1931; and others.

City Chronicler Rajesh Govindarajulu starting the Heritage Walk

City Chronicler Rajesh Govindarajulu starting the Heritage Walk   | Photo Credit: Pankaja Srinivasan

“Sivaji Ganesan films were all the rage here. But, more than the movies, it is the cycle stand that was more significant. The hall boasted a cycle stand that could accommodate 634 cycles. “The cycle ticket was very important and the theatre made a lot of money from those,” says Rajesh. As we wind our way down the road, we spot old neighbours Shri Balaaji & Co Bakers and Durghalal Pickles. Not too far is the Bangalore Biriyani Hotel (set up in the 1960s) where filmstars ate often. Then we cross the road that witnessed hundreds of fans thronging MGR as he greeted and spoke to them when his films released at the nearby Raja Theatre.

The history of this area goes way back to before films and restaurants came up. The Kongu region had a brisk trade with the Romans.

The name Kottai Medu comes from a Vijayanagara era fort, which was visited by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. Eventually it was pulled down in 1973, after the Third Mysore War. Before the Europeans took over, Coimbatore, says Rajesh, was ruled either directly or indirectly by all the major dynasties in this part of the world, including the Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas, Pallavas and the Gangas of Thalakkad in Karnataka who reported to the Rastrakutas .

We visit an akhara where wrestlers of the Jatti community trained and once provided security to the city. Their weights and barbells made of stone and wood still stand, garlanded. Curiously, the Maharaja of Mysore looks on from a photograph (he is significant to this community, says Rajesh). Next door is the Garadi Perumal temple where we admire the beautiful old bronzes, said to have been spirited away from Srirangam when there was the fear of Malik Kafur sacking the temple.

Rajesh packs the walk as much with historically documented information as he does with anecdotes. A visit to the historic residence of freedom fighter/advocate Sivakavimani CK Subramania Mudaliar (1878-1961), who wrote a treatise on Periapuranam, is a moving experience. The home, built around a small courtyard, is just as it must have been when he sat and worked on his labour of love, with its wooden beams and pillars now shiny with age. His puja room remains the way it was in his day and old photographs and Tanjore paintings add to the ambience...

That evening, we get a sense of what our city was and how it has remained deeply multicultural for centuries, tolerant (well, almost always), entrepreneurial and with a strong sense of nationalism. Mahatma Gandhi came here (his statue stands behind dusty bars) and he visited the home of one of the area’s oldest inhabitants — the Korangu Seth family, just round the corner.

We cross the revered Attar Jamath Mosque, old convents and churches like St Michaels, Presentation and Fatima. In this part of Coimbatore, the gods do not squabble. It is a happy walk. One all Coimbatoreans should take.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 6:29:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/walking-down-coimbatores-town-hall-area/article30502832.ece

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