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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Avvai Shanmugam Salai - Royapet / Gopalapuram (Name Reason)

Avvai TK Shanmugam - Source: The Hindu
:: Chennai Factoids ::

:: Name reasons behind famous roads in Chennai ::

:: Avvai Shanmugam Salai - Royapet / Gopalapuram ::

The landmark of Royapet.This is the road which connects Royapet with the Mount Road.. Am sure many of us know about this personality behind this road name, anyways sharing it for those who are unaware about Avvai Shanmugam.The erstwhile Lloyds Road is now renamed as Avvai Shanmugam Salai. It is named after Thiru Avvai TK ShanmugamHere goes the History: 

:: “Avvai” TK Shanmugam ::

“Avvai” TK Shanmugam was a legend in theatre. He and his three brothers, Sankaran, Muthuswami and Bhagavati were born to Seethai and TS Kannuswami Pillai, the father being a well known stage actor who specialised in women roles. At an early age, the brothers were apprenticed under Sankaradas Swamigal, the founding father of the concept of Boys Companies in which roles were essayed, as the name suggests, entirely by boys and young men. 

TK Shanmugam acting as Avviyar
Image source: Hindu
Having worked in his Madurai Tattuva Minalochani Bala Vidwat Sabha they also trained under Krishnaswami Pavalar (Bala Manohara Sabha) and Kandasami Mudaliar. In later years, they formed their own company, The Devi Bala Shanmukhananda Sabha.

The brothers, all fine actors, though Sankaran involved himself more with administration, were multifaceted and while Shanmugam and Bhagavati were better known for their acting and singing skills, Muthuswami also tried his hand at music direction when all four of them acted in one of the early talkies- Menaka (1935). 

The quartet was also known for its close associations with reformists such as Periyar, Anna and Jeevanandam. Inspired by this, they also added several reformist plays such as Kumastavin Penn, Kadarin Vetri and Desa Bhakti to their repertoire. The motto of their company, significantly was “Workers of the World, Unite!”

Shanmugam, best known for his portrayal of Avvaiyar, the legendary poetess in Tamil, was also the founder of perhaps the only Tamil tabloid exclusively meant for the theatre fraternity. 

Beginning as a handwritten paper on 9th Dec 1934,, Arivucchudar had stories, articles, politics, snippets, explanations for the Tirukkural and also letters to the editor. Circulated in Athur, Vriddhachalam and Panrutti, ten issues were brought out before it was stopped when Sankaran complained about it causing tensions among the theatre fraternity.

His autobiography
Source : Google
 It was revived in 1938 as a publication when Shanmugam, distressed at the high levels of ignorance in his fraternity founded Arivu Abhivrutti Sangam, a club based in Madurai where artistes could read magazines, be taught languages and also listen to speeches by several leaders.

Shanmugam became the head of the Actors Guild in 1950 and his services were utilised by organisations such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan and by state level associations as well. Having acted in films, he received the best actor award in 1953. He also received the Padma Sri in 1971.

Though they performed in the city in early years, Shanmugam and his brothers permanently settled in Madras in 1948, where they were first tenants of the Harikatha exponent C Saraswathi Bai in Big Street, Triplicane. Later Shanmugam moved to Gopalapuram.

In April 1972, he brought out the first part of his biography, titled Enadu Nadaga Vazhkai (Vanati Padippagam). This ends with the shift to Madras in 1948. He clearly intended to finish the work soon, but death intervened. The book is a must read for anyone interested in the Tamil theatre of the early and mid 20th century. 

Lloyds Road in Royapettah was renamed Avvai Shanmugam Road in his memory.

The following extracts from the Interview of Mr.TKS Kalaivanan (Son of Avvai Shanmugam) for The Hindu Newspaper is worth sharing here.

“He curved his lower lip inwardly to give a realistic image of an old woman without teeth. He even removed two of his teeth for the role,”

“He had pain in his jaws for the rest of his life and the curved posture, holding a walking stick gave him constant back pain.”

“My father also got many offers in films. But, he was not keen as he was interested only in theatre. He recommended suitable actors to directors and producers, who sought his advice. When late S.S. Vasan approached him to act in his movie Avvaiyar, he refused to accept, arguing that only a female could do justice to the role in film. Then he suggested K.B. Sundarambal,” 

“My father was impressed with the child prodigy and he wrote a special play, Appavin Aasi, for Kamal and it became a hit,”

Some lesser known facts about TK Shanmugam :

  • Shanmugam learnt music for sometime from Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai
  • The boy who played the role of Valli in ‘Valli Thriumanam’ was T.M. Thiagarajan, who went on to become a Sangita Kalanidhi!
  • Kamal Haasan and ‘Pakoda’ Khadar entered the theatre world as child artists in Shanmugam’s play, ‘Appaavin Aasai.’
  • In the 1970s a small but exquisite theatre was built in the LLA Compound (Near British Council) on Mount Road and named after Shanmugam. Today it is a storeroom for unwanted furniture.
  • "As a boy, I was greatly inspired by T K Shanmugam, the veteran stage actor. It was great training under him. He would bend over backwords about the make up. I was astounded by the change of personahe could effect, the way he spoke and the way he mimed the toothless Avvaiyar eating gooseberries given by the king, you could almost feel how sour the fruit was. Avvai Shunmukhi, is in a way, my own humble tribute to this great man." - Said by Actor Kamal Hassan in an interview to The Indian Express.

Reference : sriramv wordpress, The Hindu, The Indian Express.

Where does he reside in Avvai Shanmugam Salai ?

He lived in the house where AVVAI AGAM is located now. It is located very close to Easwari Lending LIbrary. Earlier he had his residence in the Big Street in Triplicane.

Landmarks in and around Avvai Shanmugam Salai :

  • Easwari Lending Library
  • DAV Schools
  • TCS Regional office
  • Indian Bank Head office
  • Triana Restaurant
  • Pidilite (Fevicol) Regional office
  • Khadhi Gramadhyog Bhavan
  • Geetha Bhavan
  • Cafe Coffee Day
  • Chhajer Bhavan Kalyana Mandapam
Locate Yourself :

Locate Yourself : Avvai Shanmugam Salai - Royapet / Gopalapuram (Image source : Google Maps)


  1. Nice to know about this road and the person who lent his name to it :)

  2. Chennai Sutrum Valiban :)
    Good blog...
    Keep going..

  3. Thanks Kaushik and Gayathree.Chennai suttrum valiban ah lol :) :) :)

  4. WoW.. What you are doing is amazing.

  5. It is very nice blog.I appreciate to the writer.thanks for sharing the useful information.

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  6. Hi Mr.Deepak Raghuraman,
    Thank you for your blog about Gopalapuram and royapettah. I have used the same in the Gopalapuram 86 page also. If you have more information please blog it on your page and alert us on that page also.
    Many Thanks

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  14. Feeling nostalgic while reading the information about Avvai Shanmugam. Up to my marriage I was staying near Lloyds road now Avvai Shanmugam salai. His daughter Manonmani and T.K.Bhagavati's daughter Kundavi studied in my school i.e. St.Ebba's girls high school. They were seniors to me. I don't know where are they now. This blog brought back my memories