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The Colonial Temples of Madras

The history of Chennai is incomplete if the British era is ignored. Similarly, the travel itinerary for Chennai is incomplete if its Temples are missed out. I don’t want to ignore either of them in this article. The temples of Greater Chennai can be broadly classified into three categories, the ancient temples, the British era temples and the later ones. This article focuses on the temples of the city that were built during the British period with their direct or indirect contributions. It was the time when the temples were patronised not by the Kings but by the British agents.

The Twin Temples of Original Madras

There was a temple for Vishnu called as Chenna Keshava Perumal, located in the site where the High Court is located currently. It is believed that this temple was referred by Dr. Fryer, who mentioned that he had visited a Pagoda in 1673 CE. In 1710 CE, the Thomas Pitt map also indicates the existence of a great Pagoda in this region. It is beyond the scope of this article to analyse if this temple was built by Beri Thimanna, the Dubhashi of Francis Day and Andrew Cogan, or it was much older temple.

It appears that the Britishers gave much importance to this original temple. Some portion of toll collected in the city was spent for the maintenance of this temple. Moreover, the temple servants wore the badge of the East India Company. Even the coins called Pagoda had the stamp of Chenna Keshava imprinted on them.

In December 1758 CE, the French army entered into the unfortified Black town where the majority of native population lived. The army occupied the temple. The siege was lifted in 1759 CE. The Britishers realizing that it was not safe to have settlement near St. George Fort, moved it further north. The temple was also demolished.

Reportedly, there was a public outcry after the temple was demolished. In 1762 CE, the East India Company offered land in Petha Naickenpet.  A committee under the leadership of Manali Muthu Krishna Mudaliar was formed to construct the temple. Mudaliar was a chief merchant of the East India Company.

In Ganga Rama Street in Petha Naickentpet, Mudaliar started constructing the temple. The Company donated 1,173 pagodas. Mudaliar contributed 5,202 pagodas and collected the rest from the public. Totally, around 15,652 pagodas were spent in construction of the temple.

While constructing Chenna Keshava temple, Mudaliar constructed Chenna Malleeswarar temple also nearby. Thus, the twin temples of Shiva and Vishnu were constructed, which share the tank as well as Rath even today. The twin temples together are referred as Pattinam Temples. The spacious temples have simple layout and limited number of sculptures. It is very difficult to find such calm and serene place in the present day’s highly crowded and congested Black Town.

Kanda Kottam

Today, the city has many popular temples for Murugan, who is referred fondly as the God of Tamils. However, in the original Madras, which had shorter boundary around the fort, there was only one famous temple for Murugan. It was Kanda Kottam.

The presiding deity of the temple is very small image of Kanda Swami. Although the Murti is small, the Kirti (fame) is big. Ramalinga Adigal used to visit this temple every day. The famous devotees of Murugan such as Variyar, playback singers Sirkazhi Govindarajan and T.M.S. were regular visitors of this temple.

Vellore Mari Chettiar served as a merchant under the British East India Company. He was a staunch devotee of Lord Murugan. He and his friend Kandappa Achari used to visit Murugan temple located at Tirupporur on Kritikai day of every month. One day, when they were resting under a neem tree on their way to that temple, they accidentally discovered an idol of Murugan buried under a snake hole.
Mari Chettiar and Kandappa Achari took that idol along with them and installed it in a site where there was a Pillaiyar temple originally (Rasappa Chetty Street in Park Town area) in 1673 CE. Chettiar had to pawn the jewels of his wife to extend the temple. Fortunately, he did not have to spend to purchase the land, as it was gifted by Muthiyalu Naicken, the prosperous merchant.
The temple got extended and renovated for many years by the Chettiar community.

Alingal’s Pagoda

When a person Betha Venkatadri by name, became the Chief Merchant of the East India Company, two people were assigned to serve him. One among them was Alangatha Pillai. He became very popular later and the British considered him as the best Dubhashi that they ever had. He also became the Chief Merchant of the East India Company after Betha Venkatadri. He was referred as Alingal Pillai in the British records.

Alangatha Pillai made lot of money through his service to the British. He was probably too religious. He used his wealth to build a huge temple for Lord Shiva called as Ekambareswarar in Mint Street. He became Dubhashi in 1680s and died probably in 1689 CE. Hence, this temple must have been built sometime in 1680s CE.

The temple of Ekambareswarar was very popular in Madras those days. It was referred as Allingal's Pagoda in a map that belongs to the period of early 1700s.

Chintadaripet Twin Temples

The Pattinam temples were built probably due to public outcry. Kanda Kottam and Ekambareswarar temples were built out of devotion. But the twin temples of Chintadaripet were built probably due to commercial motives.

Sunku Rama Chetty, a powerful and wealthy Dubhashi, owned the locality called as Sunku Ram’s Garden. It was developed as Chintadaripet, after the weavers were settled here in 1734 CE. It seems, Audiappa Narayan, who served as a Dubhashi under the British, figured out that the temples would attract the people to settle down in this locality. He was instrumental in construction of the twin temples, one for Shiva and another for Vishnu in this area. In 1780s the temples were built at the cost of around 18,000 pagodas. Similar to the Pattinam temples, these two temples also share a common tank. Audiappa Narayan also constructed a mosque in this area.

Thus, a Dubhashi built the temples on the land that was owned by another Dubhashi.

Kaladipet Perumal Temple

Joseph Collet served as the Governor of Madras between 1717 and 1719 CE. Veeraraghava, a Brahmin, who was in a high post in the British Government, became very close to Collet, thanks to his sincere work and loyalty.

Veeraraghava was a staunch devotee of Vishnu. He often used to travel to Kanchipuram to visit the famous Varadaraja temple. Due to this, he even used to report late to office. Collet did not like this and he wanted to stop this habit of his beloved employee.

Collet gave some money to Veeraraghava and permitted him to collect funds from the public. Thus, Veeraraghava built a temple for Lord Varadaraja in his own locality. The area was also named after the Governor as Colletpet, and the name got transformed as Kaladipet later. It was the first weaver’s village outside the Black Town area.


These are not the only temples that had the British connections. There are few more temples which claim to have the British connections. But, most of them are not recorded in the history. They are either legendary or hearsay.

There are people who strongly argue that the Kalikambal Temple of Thambu Chetty Street was shifted to the current location from the Fort area by the British. It is believed that the Britishers shifted the Krishna temple of Tirvanchery village near Tambaram from the area which was occupied by RAF station (Air Force station). It is said that a temple of Ganesha was shifted to NSC Bose Road by the British due to a religious conflict in the site where the temple was originally located.

Few historians feel that the Bairagi Temple in Elephant Gate was built by Kitti Narayana, the son of the famous Dubhashi Beri Thimanna. As I do not agree with that opinion, I have not included that temple as part of the Colonial Temples.

Happy travelling.

This post first appeared on Indian Columbus, please read the originial post: here

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The Colonial Temples of Madras


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