CHENNAI: Bringing a city, its people, culture and heritage alive through a screen can be an arduous task, impossible even. However, over the last several months, with events taking the virtual route, curators have become more efficient in presenting engaging content to its audience. Madras Inherited, an organisation working in the field of heritage management, has adapted well to this new normal — taking their heritage walks, workshops and other outreach programmes to the enthusiasts in the comfort of their living rooms.
“This has not just given us the space to raise awareness among the locals about the necessity of being sensitive towards heritage but to also take it to those beyond the borders. It’s exciting,” said Asmitha Athreya of Madras Inherited, as a prelude to a virtual heritage walk through the quaint lanes of Chintadripet, on Saturday.
Along with a dozen other participants, we meandered through the erstwhile ‘Chinna Tari Pettai,’ (a village of small looms) — from the twin temples (Aadhipureeswarar and Aadhi Kesava Perumal) to the Chintadripet Kalyanam Girls’ Higher Secondary School, pausing at multiple stops, soaking in the different facets of the neighbourhood’s fascinating history. “Originally, a village developed for weavers, it was the backbone for the East India Company’s (EIC) cloth trade. In the early 1700s, the EIC sought the help of the Dubashes (interpreters for the EIC) to revive their plummeting cloth trade. With their assistance, the company laid a few rules, provided incentives to the artisans and built the infrastructure to help the trade flourish,” explained Asmitha.
After 50 glorious years, the trade soon began dwindling due to the introduction of power looms in England. “Faster and cheaper means to spin looms pulled down exports and running the handlooms ceased to be feasible for the government. This marked the beginning of the end for the weavers of Chintadripet,” she noted.
“The planning of Chintadripet was way ahead of its time. The streets were laid out without any caste-social distinction. The way the lanes were demarcated were strikingly contrasting to the streets of George Town,” shared Ashmitha, peppering the walk with visuals and tidbits about the Art Deco, Neo-classic architecture-influenced houses that dot the Mangapathy Street. “Verandas, dwarf walls, thinnais, three/four-shuttered doors and houses that were built wall-to-wall were a ubiquitous presence in the locality, traces of which can be found till today. Many houses still have the Gajalaksmi symbol as the crowning element in the façade of their house as a symbol of wealth. The houses used to have courtyards and were almost always connected through the back entrance as the neighbours were often related to each other,” she explained.
Through the 120-minute walk, we were also introduced to the lives of the generational temple umbrella makers and garland makers of Iyya Mudali Street; the century-odd-old Chintadripet fish market; the 19th century Zion Church, the first and only shrine to be established by American missionaries in Madras, and personalities like WT Satthianadhan, who served the historic CSI Zion Church as a pastor; Kalyanasundaram Chettiar, businessman, philanthropist and a pioneer in women’s education, and Krupabai Satthianadhan, who is credited for being the first Indian woman to write an autobiographical novel (in English), among others.
“Chintadripet offers us an experience and a peek into the ever-evolving faces and phases of its community and history. The temple umbrella makers, who supply these magnificent umbrellas to places locally and across the globe are now finding it difficult to sustain their business. The old structures in the locality, remnants of the area’s past give us an idea about sustainable architecture that was used back then. Every nook and cranny has a lot to offer about its legacy, vision and perseverance of people. We must become aware of its heritage while we still have access to them,” she concluded.
Today, Chintadripet is more popularly known for its fish market and as a hub of electrical goods, with its unique history lost in the past.