Madras Week 2012: The Road Project: Day 5: Muthulakshmi Salai




Where is Muthulakshmi Reddy Road?

Muthulakshmi Reddy Road is also known as Lattice Bridge Road, and as Kalki Krishnamurthy Road. It is an arterial road, starting from Adyar Signal, curving through Indira Nagar and Thiruvanmiyur, and finally connecting up with Rajiv Gandhi Salai (or OMR) after the Thiruvanmiyur post office. Landmarks on this road include IMPCOPS (Indian Medical Practitioners Co-operative Pharmacy and Stores), Kurasani Peer Masjid and the BSNL Office.

Who was Muthulakshmi Reddy?

Muthulakshmi Reddy was born in Pudukkottai to Narayanaswami Iyer and Chandramma – who happened to be a devadasi. Their marriage created a sensation at the time.

Muthulakshmi went to a school in Pudukottai till the age of 13; later she studied at home tutored by teachers. She passed her matriculation in the year 1902. She started dreaming about becoming a graduate. Bur her father could not afford to send her out of Pudukottai and the only college in Pudukottai was for men only. The Maharaja of Pudukottai himself interceded on her behalf, and passed an order allowing her to join the Men’s College- the first ever girl to do so.

Muthulakshmi refused to marry but wanted to continue further studies. It was suggested to her father that medicine would be a suitable course for her to take up. Despite opposition from her mother, she was brought to Madras by her father in the year 1907 for admission into Madras Medical College.  As there was no hostel those days, Mr. PS Krishnaswami Iyer helped her to get a house next to his, and he and his wife took care of the young Muthulakshmi.

In college she was brilliant, stood first in the University and got the MB & Ch. M degree. In April 1914, she married Dr T Sundara Reddy, the first Indian to get FRCS. While in Chennai, she came into contact with freedom fighters Sarojini Naidu and Annie Besant.

Dr Reddy had several firsts to her credit: she was the one of the first woman doctors of the country (1912), the first woman member of the Madras Legislative Council, the first woman to be elected as its Deputy Chairperson, the first president of the Women’s India Association, and the first woman to be elected as alderman of the Madras Corporation.

Muthulakshmi Reddy was concerned about the plight of women and deeply interested in liberating them. She fought for their upliftment in several fields. When one of her cousins died of cancer, she took an interest in cancer studies and pursued it at the Royal Cancer Hospital in the United Kingdom. She was instrumental in starting the Cancer Institute in Adyar, Chennai, and founded the Avvai Home for the benefit of destitute women.

At the top of these achievements, she is known for her political activism in respect of social issues. First she rose in revolt against child marriage and the devadasi system. (Under this system, parents “married” off a daughter to a deity or a temple before she attained puberty. These girls became dancers and musicians and performed at temple festivals).

In 1930, Muthulakshmi Reddy introduced in the Madras Legislative Council a Bill on the “prevention of the dedication of women to Hindu temples in the Presidency of Madras”. The Bill, which later became the Devadasi Abolition Act, declared the “pottukattu ceremony” in the precincts of Hindu temples or any other place of worship unlawful, gave legal sanction to devadasis to contract marriage, and prescribed a minimum punishment of five years’ imprisonment for those found guilty of aiding and abetting the devadasi system.

Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy passed away in 1968.


Vishwanathan, S. . (June 6, 2008). The Pioneers: Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy. In Frontline. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from

Narayana, S.A. (November 5, 2007). Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy. In My Musings. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from


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