A pincode, a mere number with six digits, is capable of evoking many emotions and memories in people who have lived in the area.

Central Railway Station is reflected in the rainwater collected on a road, in ChennaiPTI
Features History Thursday, August 27, 2020 - 19:16

In 2007, Venkat Prabhu's Chennai 600028 made Mandaveli come alive, with its gullies and street cricket. A pincode, a mere number with six digits, is capable of evoking many emotions and memories in people who have lived in the area. This time, the celebrations for Madras Day, which falls on August 22 every year, were muted on account of the coronavirus pandemic. However, TNM spoke to historians to paint a brief history of some of the city's oldest neighbourhoods which fall within the five pincodes.

To facilitate the functioning of the Postal Service Department, PIN codes (Postal Index Number) were introduced in India in 1972. Numbers were assigned to different regions of the country for easy identification of addresses. As per the international standard, postal codes were fixed for every post office in that area and as cities expanded, new neighbourhoods were added to its serial number.

The pincodes for the northern states in India, for instance, begin with 1 and 2 and in Tamil Nadu, the pincodes start with the number 6.  With Madras being the epicentre of development in the state, the first PIN number was assigned to Parry's Corner.

Parry’s Corner - Chennai 600001

Film historian and writer Theodore Baskaran, who retired as the Chief Postmaster General of Tamil Nadu, explains how Chennai 600001, Parry's Corner, got its pincode. “The general post office (GPO) in Parry's Corner, the biggest post office of the city in terms of traffic, became number one. The other areas followed. The purpose of pincode is only to sort the letters,” he says. 

To trace the history of the oldest neighbourhood of Madras, one has to get acquainted with a Welsh Merchant who went by the name Thomas Parry. Aboard the ‘Manship', a ship carrying troops, 20-year-old Thomas Parry set sail from England and arrived on the shores of Madras in India’s southern peninsula on July 14, 1788.

An aerial view of N.S.C. Bose road, leading to 'Parry' Corner, Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Source: Wikimedia Commons | Photo Division, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India

It was an arduous yet quick journey, for its time, around the Cape of Good Hope. Here in Madras, closer to the coast, he would go on to establish the second oldest business houses in India. Parry’s Corner gets its name from the Parry’s establishment and it was here that Chennai’s modern corporate history began, says Sriram, a reputed historian from Chennai and the Editor of Madras Musings. “In 1799, all the establishments were ordered to leave the Fort (St George) and they also shifted the place where the ships came to land, which was in front of the Fort. It was Parry who led the move,” he explains.

By the 1800s, all establishments had moved out from Fort St George and the city began forming in present day Parry's Corner. “The Company (East India Company) dictated terms and they wanted all amenities close together. That is why the first railway station (Royapuram) is at the northern end, the general post office was here, the Bank of Madras which would go on to become the State Bank of India was here, the city’s biggest newspaper, The Madras Mail, was located here. This was the corporate headquarters of the city,” he adds.

Chintadripet - Chennai 600002

Chinna-thari-pettai as it was then known, was actually a weavers' village, and according to Sriram, one of the oldest planned localities of Chennai. “Here housing along caste lines was forbidden. Even around 1730, people were not allowed to segregate living quarters based on one’s caste and it was mandated for communities to mingle and live together,” he says, and adds, “It was here that the Dalit movement took birth.”

“C Iyothee Thass pandithar, who is considered to be the father of the modern Dalit movement, lived here and the awareness to fight for equality took birth here,” he says.

Mount Road, 1885. Source: Wikimedia Commons

On Chintadripet's distinctive features, Sriram goes on to talk about the twin temples of Adi Pureeswarar and Adi Kesava Perumal around which the neighbourhood was formed. “Also, the area itself was a model of town planning in the 18th century. The main street called Arunachala Naicken Street ran from one corner to the other like that of a spine, and several streets branched off from it, resembling a fish bone. Moreover, Chintadripet was surrounded by the Cooum on three sides. The Arunachala Naicken Street was the peninsula’s high point and any water that collected would drain down from here into the river. It formed an excellent drainage system,” he shares.

Unfortunately, this is not the case any longer. Unplanned development has all but destroyed this system.

Park Town - Chennai 600003

Sir Charles Trevelyan, Governor of Madras, designed a huge park, sprawling across 116 acres between 1859 and 1861. It was called the People’s Park and at some point had band stands, swimming baths and a picturesque lily pond. The country’s first zoo too came up here.

Sriram recalls, “When I was about six or seven years old, my mother used to take me on a boat journey in the lily pond. We would go to the other side, under the bridge, and go over to visit the zoo.”

“But then in the late 19th century, the Victoria Public Hall was built and then in 1913, the Ripon Building came up. In the 1900s, the Moore Market came up. Soon the railways began taking up portions of the park and they kept expanding. Now all that’s remaining of this park is the My Lady's Garden, that is still quite beautiful,” says Sriram.

Victoria Public Hall. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Williamsatish25

Also called the Mayor’s Garden, it was customary for the Mayors even during the 1960s, to host tea parties at this park. Around January - February every year, the park would host the annual flower show.

Santhome/Mylapore - Chennai 600004

This ancient settlement finds references in Hindu saint Thirugnana Sambandar’s poetry written in praise of the Kapaleeswarar Temple during the 8th century. Arab geographers, who saw it as an important trade port, have also referred to it. It's also one among the three sites in the world that have a shrine built over a tomb of an apostle of Jesus. In that sense, Mylapore can be called the confluence of the three main faiths. The Arcot Nawabs who later moved to Triplicane and built the palace at Chepauk were originally settled in Mylapore.

“The most common misconception is that Mylapore was a Brahmin settlement. It is a very 20th century phenomenon. It predominantly had a Muslim population. The Big Mosque, Jumma Mosque, on Kutchery Street, was built in 1693 and there are many mosques in the area,” points out historian and documentary filmmaker Kombai S Anwar. “There are inscriptions to prove that Tamil Muslims were settled here during the 13th century,” he adds.

Church at Santhome. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Thamizhpparithi Maari

Santhome, where the St Thomas Church stands, has remnants of Portugese history. These Europeans came to the port in search of the saint’s body. History meanders across every street in this locality with interesting revelations waiting just around the corner. In The Hindu, Sriram writes about an interesting Muslim connection to Devadi Street and the Appu Mudali Street in Mylapore. “Deodi or Deorhi is the Persian/Urdu term for a doorway,” he writes in reference to Devadi street.

The Kapaleeswarar Temple too has ancient links way back to the Pallavas. “Samanthar has written a poem in the 8th century that has 10 verses, each depicting a festival in this temple, all of which are being celebrated even today,” Sriram adds.

Triplicane - Chennai 600005

Thiru-alli keni means 'land of the sacred lilies'. “The oldest verse about this place predates Thirugnana Sambandar's Mylapore verses. The exact date is not certain but Pey Azhwar’s (a Vaishnavite saint) verse describes it beautifully as the place where he found pearls and corals washed up on the shore from the sea," Sriram says. The Parthasarathy Temple here is one of the oldest landmarks of the city, finding mention in ancient literary works.

Triplicane is also the place where the Arcot Nawabs settled and built the Chepauk Palace. It later developed into a larger township. Both Mylapore/Santhome and Triplicane were acquired by the Britishers to become a part of Madras.

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