May 25, 2017
Udhagamandalam: “What’s in a name?” muses the Bard, but, it appears that he couldn’t have been more wrong, for in truth,names are a part of every culture, and are of enormous importance both to the people who receive them and to the societies that give them.
Considered to be the lifeline of West Mambalam in Chennai ‘Arya Gowda Road,’ runs through one of the busiest parts of the metropolis, and is renowned for it’s marriage halls and a popular temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
To the mind of the average Chennaiite, tackling the traffic of this busy thoroughfare, the name means nothing. Enquiries made by The Covai Post reveal that many, misled by the word ‘Arya’ , tend to associate the name with religion and social strata. Some,obviously misled by the word ‘Gowda’, even opine that it might have an ‘Udupi’ connection.
Few even associate it with the distant ‘Gowdiya Mutt’ of Royapettah.
It is just a mere handful who are aware, that the present day name for this road, is a corruption of Ari Gowder, community leader, reformer, social activist, visionary and politician, who hailed from the small village of Hubbathalai situated near Coonoor in the Nilgiris, and it is quite an irony that this fact is unknown to most Nilgirians as well.
Hubbathalai Bellie Ari Gowder (December 4, 1893 – June 28, 1971) was born to Rao Bahadur H. J. Bellie
Gowder belonging to the Badaga community, the largest indigenous social group in the Nilgiris.
H. J. Bellie Gowder was a well known engineering contractor, renowned for his effort in mobilising the massive labour force required to build the present day World Heritage Site, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR).
It was for his efforts that he was conferred the title ‘Rao Bahadur’ abbreviated R. B., a title of honour bestowed by the British of Colonial India, to individuals for their service to the Empire.This title was later bestowed upon his son in 1943.
An alumnus of the Madras Christian College, Ari Gowder, although basically a contractor and a planter,made his mark in politics and social uplift.
He was the first Badaga to be elected to the Madras Legislative Council, in which he served as a member from 1923 to 1926 and again from 1930 to 1934.
At a time when the sympathies of most of his community lay with the Congress, Ari Gowder, leaned more towards the Justice Party, and this connection probably explains the road in Mambalam being named after him, and it is as well believed that it was done so, for he had donated a large chunk of land adjoining the
Mambalam Railway Station for developmental work.
He was later a member of the Legislative Assembly of Madras State in the 1940s and 1950s, and though he was defeated in 1946, he successfully campaigned as an independent in 1952, and remained so for the rest of his political career and his demise in 1971.
Ari Gowder was actively involved in promoting temperance issues during the prohibition, and is also remembered for promoting the Scouts Movement.
His crowning glory lay in the establishment of the Nilgiris Cooperative Marketing Society, to eliminate the scourge of middlemen and their stranglehold over the simple cultivators of these hills.
Researchers including P.J.Vasanthan lamented that it was a pity that a road named after such an illustrious personality should be allowed to be changed and remain changed. Apprehending that in course of time,the Nilgiri and Badaga link could be totally forgotten,they felt that every Nilgirian should take an initiative to restore the name of the road to its original form.