Famous Tamil poet Subramanya Bharathi and Kappalottiya Tamilan V.O. Chidambaram Pillai are two big names in the large canvas of Tamil Nadu freedom struggle. Both found Good Samaritans in Telugus when they were at a critical juncture in their lives after being virtually abandoned by Tamils.
Bharathi, under grinding poverty during the final phase of his life, was provided financial assistance by Vavilla Samasthanam and VOC’s (who launched the first indigenous Indian shipping service) commentary on Tolkappiyam (Tamil grammar), which Tamil publishers declined to publish, was printed by Vavilla Publications, the 156-year-old publishing house started by Vavilla Ramaswamy Sastrulu, a Telugu.
These are not isolated instances. For, over three-and-a-half centuries and more the Telugus’ indomitable spirit has contributed to the overall growth of Chennai. Name any field from education, entertainment, politics, philanthropy, medicine to hospitality, the Telugus have always been in the forefront.
“Telugu is flourishing here, no doubt, in spite of the apathy of the government,” says Mr B.S.R. Krishna (85), former cultural affairs specialist of USIS. Telugus are responsible for the birth and growth of the city, he says, and adds that originally Madras was a Telugu city, then known as Chennapatnam.
Mr Krishna, who was secretary general of World Telugu Federation and a senior journalist, says the Victoria Public Hall was raised with funds provided by the Vijayanagara emperors from Andhra Pradesh. The Chennapuri Andhra Maha Sabha was established by stalwarts like Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishan, former President, and Chennai’s first mayor Sir Pitti Thiyagaraja Chetty.
Call it Chennai or Madras or Chennapatnam, the city accounts for over 43.43 lakh population and Telugus are the predominant linguistic community after Tamils. Savera hotel and Taj Coromandel, landmarks of the city, are owned by Telugus. So are Apollo hospitals, Vijaya hospitals, Prasad studios and Vijaya studios.
The city was founded on a patch of land gifted to the British by Damarla Venkatapathy Nayak, a chieftain under the Vijayanagara rulers, between the Cooum river and Egmore river in 1639. It was named after Chennappa Nayak, father of Venkatapathy.