Updated: Aug 7
Sri Sankara Hall, Alwarpet, Chennai is one of the two venues for India International Quilt Festival 2021. Every art lover in Chennai knows about this venue and the very first edition of India Quilt Festival was also held at Sri Sankara Hall. Varsha had a conversation with AVM Saravanan and Usha Saravanan, to dig into the history of the place... read on...
Evolution and metamorphosis of spaces always offers interesting vignettes into how a city/ culture developed, evolved and morphed over time. Sri Sankara Hall has seen many historic moments in the life of Madras as it was called then, to now, Chennai. Prominently situated on TTK road, Sri Sankara Hall is well known to all arts and crafts connoisseurs in Chennai. Its origins and later emergence as an iconic exhibition venue for Arts &Crafts in Chennai makes for a fascinating read.
Ever so often, inspiration comes from close quarters. Once upon a time, in the 80s, CP Art centre was the only functional 'exhibitions & events' space available in Alwarpet area. AVM Saravanan wanted to create some more space for events and he purchased this iconic spot on the Erstwhile Mowbrays road, now TTK Road. An old thatched hut [which was later demolished] in a fenced space, the Kanchi Kamakoti Sankara Mutt of Kancheepuram owned this property which was bought by AVM Saravanan in 1986. Out of reverence to the original owners, the place was named Sri Sankara Hall. From then till now, the owners have ensured that the hall is always within reach for simple vendors and crafts people, by keeping the rental low. It has been an accessible space for simple folk as well as designers.
What has Sankara Hall seen over the years?
Sri Sankara Hall has seen Embroidery courses and classes. It has been a HAM Radio training course and exam venue, Photo shoots for Advertisements, Video recordings of Tele Serials…. There are just some of the activities this space has nurtured and supported over time.
HAM radio is only of historical relevance today what with mobile phones doing that job and even without learning Morse code ! However, Sri Sankara Hall was the go to place in those days to become a HAM Radio operator.
At one time. Sri Sankara hall did an advertorial to host a festival sale of audio cassettes. The response to the advertorial was overwhelming. The place was mobbed by Autorickshaw drivers who bought tamil movie audio cassettes to play in the autorickshaws. This led to AVM opening a permanent audio cassette shop. Proximity to Music Academy and Narada Gana Sabha ensured a steady stream of visitors during the music season. At one time, a concert would be recorded at Music Academy and it would be released as a double Album the very next day. And yes, the crowd would all be heading towards Sri Sankara Hall to relive that significant Bhriga or that brilliant scintillating Tani avarthanam in the cassette. The AVM Sound Zone was first established here. Even recently, my cousin who was visiting Chennai after many years asked if we could go to Sankara Hall to get some music CDs. 2014 was the last music season with Sri Sankara Hall participating in a big way. Due to the total transformation in technology they sadly closed down their Audio shop and absorbed the staff in other businesses.
Sri Sankara Hall was one of the key locations for the flood relief activity during early 2016 for distribution of food, clothing and emergency medicines. Animals were also attended to. One young volunteer even brought in 100 plus boiled eggs to be given to “Streeties” [stray dogs on the streets in 'Madras' lingo !]
For a brief period, the place functioned as a wedding Hall. Rooms for the bride and groom’s families were added. There were plenty of requests to convert the place into a permanent art gallery, serviced apartments and even a private hospital. Saravanan and his daughter Usha have been, and continue to be very firm that the space would need to be easy on the pocket and be accessible for multiple purposes and not just one type of event or activity. And thus continues the saga of this space. The facilities are excellent and Sri Sankara Hall has been used by Cricketer MS Dhoni, Actor Surya, Ghatam artist Vikku Vinayakram, Dancer Sreekala Bharath, Ace photographers G Venket Ram, Kunal Daswani and Muthukumar. And many more celebrities.
Even as recent as 5 years ago, occasionally one would see a caravan sitting in the parking area and actors and models ducking in and out to do their makeup. When the wedding option was phased out, The Brides and Grooms rooms were fitted out to become office/ make up rooms. Production houses for tele serials and advertisements use these make up rooms and sadly the caravans are not seen here anymore !
Sri Sankara Hall today
Today, Sri Sankara Hall has evolved into an event multiplex of sorts.
1 large exhibition hall and 2 smaller spaces with a common area comprise the ground floor. 2 large halls on the first floor with half a dozen offices/ multiple use rooms and a large dining area make up the exclusive spaces available simultaneously for various events.
Companies hold some of their Sales and Marketing meetings, Advertisment photo shoots happen simultaneously with exhibitions of apparels and hosiery too. Truly an event multiplex if there was ever a word like that !
Sri Sankara Hall
287, T.T.K.Road, Alwarpet
Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600018
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