One of the pleasures about travelling in India, especially Tamil Nadu, is being exposed to the wide variety of street names. Names of streets in cities and towns often hold tales of the past, the vibrant urban history of those places. Some of these histories can be unlocked through land records but for many, we are at the mercy of street historians and their speculation.
On a casual visit to the Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple, what caught my fancy were the names of some of the streets around the architectural marvel. There were the ones named after a Naicker or a Pillai, names, which you can see in many other places in Tamil Nadu, but a few others were unique and interesting. These street names warrant a thorough research into history, but for now we are making do with theories of local residents and commonly known tales.
The Meenakshi temple has a compound wall, which is roughly square (Google Map link to help you understand). Running along the compound wall, in the immediate external periphery of the temple, are four streets â€“ North Chittirai Street, South Chittirai Street, East Chittirai Street and West Chittirai Street.
On the outer periphery are the North Avani Moola street, South Avani Moola street, East Avani Moola Street and West Avani Moola Street. Similarly, the next set of streets is the four Masi streets. There is also the Aadi Veedhi, technically a street surrounding the temple but within the temple campus.
Aadi, Chittirai, Avani and Masi are four auspicious months in the Tamil calendar during which special religious events are held every year. You can read the list of festivals here. The Chittirai Thiruvizha, Aadi festival, Avani Moolam and Masi Mandalam Utsavam are listed there.
Apart from this, there is the road called Amman Sannadhi Street, which runs straight to the Amman Sannadhi, or sanctum sanctorum. The North Tower Street and West Tower Street run towards the North and West Towers of the temple.
There are however streets and lanes between these streets named after months and directions, which have intriguing names.
Take for instance Elukadal Street. Running parallel to Amman Sannadhi Street, itâ€™s name means â€˜seven seasâ€™ and runs in front of the Chokkanathan shrine. There was a large tank in the street, which was believed to have waters from the seven seas, but the tank has since been covered up and a huge building has been built for traders.
According to legend, Kanchanamala, the mother of Meenakshi, wished to take a sacred bath in the seven seas. To impress his mother-in-law Lord Siva miraculously brought water from the seven seas to Madurai and formed a tank here to store the water. The mother-in-law was pleased and took a bath in the tank, and locals say that this water used to be taken from the tank for abhishekam inside the temple.
Another one that grabbed my attention was the Annakuli Mandapam Lane, hidden inside the West Chittirai Street. Locals say that several centuries ago when kings ruled the city, it was this lane where â€˜annadaanamâ€™ or the sacred tradition of offering food to the poor used to be held. It is also speculated that a â€˜mandapamâ€™ or a platform used to be present in this street where annadaanams were regularly conducted.
There is also the Madarkhan Dafedar Lane tucked inside Netaji Road, which is parallel to West Tower Street. Not much is known about Madarkhan Dafedar, but it is believed that he was a Dafedar - a cavalryman during the British rule who used to live here. It is during the British period that he got the street named after him, say locals.
Apparently, there is a â€˜mysteryâ€™ behind why South Kaaval Kuda Street is named so. But the name and the presence of the police serious crimes unit, superintendentâ€™s office and a CRPF battalion in and around the street pretty much solve the â€˜mysteryâ€™. â€˜Kavalâ€™ in Tamil means â€˜watchâ€™ or â€˜vigilanceâ€™, and the police department is called the â€˜kaaval thuraiâ€™. That the street, to the south of the temple, is named so should be because of the policing units there. True to the reputation of the street, a CRPF jawan asked me why I was clicking photos of name boards near the temple.
There is a lot more digging and exploration to be done. A Madurai based researcher, Deveraj, has apparently penned a book called A Study on Street Names of Madurai, which I am now looking for.