January 3, 2011

Chenna Malleeswarar Temple, Sowcarpet, Chennai, India

Site Name: Chenna Malleswarar temple 
Site Type: Hindu Temple
Location: Sowcarpet, Chennai city, Tamil Nadu state, India 
Highlights: One of the twin temples of Chennai; The original temple was demolished by the British and the current temple was constructed with the funds provided by the British
Nearest Railway Station: Chennai - well connected from the cities/towns all over India
Nearest Airport: Chennai has both national and international airports
How to reach: Easily reachable by road, train, and flight
Hotel: Many star hotels, luxury hotels/resorts, and budget hotels are available in Chennai
Restaurants: All options - vegetarian, non-vegetarian, Chinese, South Indian, Gujarati, North Indian, Punjabi,....- you can find everything in Chennai city

Chennai city, which was also called as Madras, has been expanding fast. The boundaries of the city keeps changing. The migrated population, industrial development and various other developments have changed the landscape of the city to a great extent. If the citizens of the current Chennai are quizzed to name few important temples located in the city, they might list down the temples that are located in Mylapore and Triplicane. Hardly few of them would know about Chenna Malleeswarar and Chenna Keshava Temples, the twin temples of the original Chennai or Black Town. There is a theory that the city was named after these temples. These temples were originally demolished by the British and were later rebuilt in the current site with the aid of the British. There are many interesting historical incidents related to this temple that are connected with the prominent people who founded the city or helped the tiny hamlet to develop into a bigger city in the initial days. Let me talk about all those details along with the temple layout in this article.

This article focuses only about Malleeswarar temple. The other temple, Chenna Keshava temple is covered in another article in this blog.


Formation of Madras

Armagon, which was located at a distance of around 57 kms north of Pulicat, was one of the earliest settlements of East India Company. In February 1626 CE, the factory was set up here.

As per the instructions from Thomas Ivie of Bantam, Francis Day, the Chief of the Armagon Factory, undertook a voyage of exploration of new site for setting up factory. He traveled till Pondichery in his ship. Then, he reached a small village named Madrasapattinam, which was located at about 5 kms north of Santhome. In Madrasapattinam, Day met Damarla Venkatappa Nayak, who was ruling that region.

Venkatappa was the representative of Vijaya Nagara Kings of Chandragiri, who ruled the coastal region between Pulicat and Santhome. His capital was Vandavasi. His father was Chennappa Nayak a.k.a. Damarla Kumara Chinnappa Naidu. His dynasty was called as Kalahasthi Rajas. They were originally from Damal village, located north of Kanchipuram. (There is a theory that the city was named as Chennai after a hamlet called Chennapattinam, which was again named after Chennappa Nayak.)

On 22nd August 1639 CE, an agreement was signed between Day and Venkatappa, in which the Madrasapattinam village was offered to the British for a period of two years. It enabled the British to build a fort in this village and conduct their trade related activities. Day translated the agreement, which was drafted in Telugu, to English, and sent the same to his higher officials for their approval.

The higher official in Surat did not know about the exploration conducted by Day. They had assigned a group under the leadership of Andrew Cogan to find out a suitable site for setting up the factory. Cogan became the company agent of Masulipattinam on 3rd September 1639 CE

At the same time, Day had reached Masulipattinum along with the copy of his agreement with Venkatappa. After getting the approval from Surat higher officials, Day and Cogan reached Madrasapattinam on 20th February 1640 CE by two ships called "Eagle" and "Unity". Along with them, an Indian too traveled to Madrasapattinam. His name was Nagappan. He used to produce gun powder for the British. Day and Cogan started constructing the Fort (which was named as St. George Fort later) on 1st March 1640 CE

Beri Thimanna served as the Dubashi for Day and Cogan. It is said that he was instrumental in the purchase of Madrasapattinam village by the British from Nayak.

Francis Day, Beri Thimanna and Andrew Cogan can be considered as the founders of Madras/Chennai city.

The Original Temple

There was a temple for Vishnu called as Chenna Keshava Perumal, located in the site where the High Court is located now. 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. 

In addition, in a document dated 26th April 1648, it is mentioned that Beri Thimanna presented the Chenna Keshava Perumal temple, which was built by him to a Brahmin named Narayanappa Iyer. There is another document dated 13th August 1646 CE, which talks about the temple and the adjoining land given as the gift to the same Narayanappa Iyer by Nagappan.

Based on the 1648 dated document, few historians believe that the temple was built by Thimanna in 1640s. However, based on 1646 dated document, I personally believe that the temple was not built by Thimanna. He could have probably renovated the temple but boasted as if it was built by him. If what I believe is true, then this temple is much older. This should have been built even before the British landed in Madrasapattinam. Now, this raises two different theories. The first probability is that Chennappa Nayak might have built this temple and hence it was named as Chenna Keshava. Else, Nayak was named after this deity of much older temple. In either case, the name of the temple has some connection with the name of the city (Chennai), which cannot be denied.

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

Demolition of the Temple

In December 1758 CE, the French army entered into the unfortified Black town where the majority of native population lived. The French army occupied Chenna Keshava Temple. The siege was lifted in 1759 CE. Now, the Britishers realized that it was not safe to have settlement near St. George Fort. Hence, they moved the settlement further north, which resulted in the formation of Esplanade in-between. The temple was also demolished as part of that move. (As per few historians, the temple was demolished in 1757 CE).

Twin Temples

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

In Ganga Rama Street in Petha Naickentpet, Mudaliar started constructing the temple. The Company compensated the owners of 38 houses which were removed to accommodate the space of around 24,000 sq. feet for 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.  

The four Mada Streets around these two temples were renamed later. The East Mada Street became Devraja Mudali Street, North Mada Street became Netaji Bose Road, West Mada Street became Nainiyappa Naicket Street and the South Mada Street was renamed as Rasappa Chetty Street.

The twin temples together are referred as Pattinam Temples.

Temple Layout


The east facing temple has a big front side mandap. There are many shops, mostly flower vendors, are located in this mandap. It should be noted that this temple is located in Flower Bazaar locality.

There is no tower for this temple. Instead, a lintel with many stucco images are found at the entrance.


The east facing sanctum enshrines a big Shiv Linga called as Malleeswarar. At the entrance of the sanctum, two Ganeshas called as Dwara Ganapatis are found.

Nandi is found in the Maha Mandap. Another Nandi idol is found along with the flagstaff and bali peetha in the outer courtyard.


The Goddess, Brahmarambika, is found in a separate east facing shrine, located in the outer prakara. The vimana has few interesting stucco images.

Inner Prakara

In the inner prakara around the sanctum, the sub-shrines of Maha Ganapati, Tatpurusha Linga, Agora Linga, Vamadeva Linga, Kasi Linga, Bala Murugan, Nataraja-Sivakami (Utsava), Bhikshatanar (Utsava) and Somaskanda (Utsava). Few other bronze idols are also found in some of the above mentioned sub-shrines.

The idols such as Nalvar, two Ganeshas, 63 Nayanmars, Ishana Linga and Sekkizhar are also located in this prakara.

Navagraha is also found in the same prakara.

Outer Prakara

In the outer prakara, the sub-shrines of Siva Surya, Prasanna Vinayak, Subramanya-Valli-Devasena (Utsava), Bhairav, Adi Shankara and Ramalinga are located.

There is a small mandap located in the north-east corner of the outer prakara. The pillars in this mandap are full of beautiful sculptures. Ganesh idol is located within this mandap.

Koshta Murtis

Ganesh, Dakshinamurti, Vishnu, Brahma and Durga are found as Koshta Murtis. Chandikeshwara is found in his usual location.

There is a passage in the outer prakara that connects the temple with the adjacent Chenna Keshava Temple. 

The temple tank is located between both the temples. Both the temples share the temple tank as well as the car (Ratha).

Happy travelling.

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