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Heritage in the by-lanes of Ayanavaram

My past two heritage mapping excursions have made me realise that places I would pass by without a second thought might be heritage sites with a rich past but with a neglected present and with little scope for survival in the future. Mapping them therefore becomes a tedious task as no one knows the place you are asking about. And so, with just a list of the heritage sites in Ayanavaram and Pursavalkam in hand, we set out on this almost-impossible task, I would say.

What really surprised me was the “inaccuracy” of the details given to us. The sites were almost never on the streets that they were mentioned it to be on and the names of the places were sometimes misspelled. A certain Mopli Amman temple in the list was known as Mulakaali Amman temple to the local residents. It made me wonder if this was the list that the Padmanbhan Committee made, how those who were tasked with conservation would identify these heritage structures. It’s then little wonder that the heritage structures listed are fast disappearing!

The amazing thing was that even though we got lost on our way to a certain building, we ended up finding another site on our list. It was little coincidences like that, which made the day worthwhile. This trip also helped me get rid of pre-conceived notions like ‘Heritage sites usually have something to do with art, architecture or places of worship’.  I learnt that unlikely places like a cinema theatre or a maternity hospital could be considered heritage sites simply because they held un-told stories of life in an era long gone. The Perumalpet Maternity Hospital was known for its beautiful stained glass windows with fan lights, which just goes to show that there is beauty and culture everywhere, if we look close enough.

Written by Dhivya Jothi, intern at Transparent Chennai and student at IIT Madras

Heritage Mapping

The areas of Vepery, Poonamalee and Periamet, close to Chennai Central station, are a heady mix of old world charm and the bustle of people and their trade. Considering the frantic pace that life moves at here, it is no surprise that monuments of history, some at least a century old, are overlooked and forgotten. As part of the heritage mapping exercise here at Transparent Chennai, we sought out these buildings last Saturday. Right opposite Ripon Building on Sydenham Road, where we started our exercise, is the Periamet Government Post Office. It is difficult to spot at first – the name board is nestled between loud and colourful signs breathlessly listing the services of their respective enterprises. But the red sign sits there stoically amidst this chaos with the proud yellow letters that spell “India Post”.The beautiful yellow building suddenly manifests itself in all its imperial glory.

From here we walked to the Madras Veterinary College, where we were initially denied entry by an especially grumpy security guard. Fortunately, the college has multiple entries, so we confidently strode in through the next gate. The imposing, brick red central block – almost a 110 years old – now stands behind its horn-shaped successor, built in 2003, named the Centenary Pillar. An interesting feature of the archways on the main building is the wrought iron murals of different animals. Behind the main building are the newer, less imposing blocks. Here, we did not find architectural marvels, but a sprightly little pug that quite effortlessly owned the area while being treated for glaucoma.

The CSI Harwood Raw Memorial Church is another long walk from the College, and is quite easy to identify with its brick facade capped by a cross. The Sri Veera Subbiya Gnana Thesikendra Swamigal Madam is supposed to be quite near the Church, but despite persistently walking around the area in dizzying circles, we could not find it! Finally, after asking one of the passersby, we were crushed to find that the Madam was demolished in favor of a swanky multi-storied building to serve the same purpose.

These areas, we noticed, have a large Muslim presence that flourishes alongside other faiths and cultures. Our next stop was Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal temple. To get here, we had to wind our way through narrow by-lanes and twisting paths, led by a friendly Telugu Muslim woman for our guide. The streets are lined with tanneries, butcher shops, bakeries and homes that speak of long histories. The profusion of Perumal temples in the area led to some confusion, but we eventually found the temple on our list. Close to the Perumal temple is what remains of the Gothanda Ramasamy Bhajani Math. We stood undecided in front of the dilapidated stone structure – unsure of whether we were at the right place – until two curious men walked over to confirm that this indeed was the Math. One of the men told us that the Math was around even during his great grandfather’s time, but because of consistent looting and plundering by bandits, the temple was forced to close down. The idol of Lord Rama alone was moved to the nearby Perumal temple.

By this time, our legs had turned to lead and the sun beat down on our backs quite unrelentingly. We dragged ourselves to the other side of the Chennai Central station to reach the Chennai Sorting Office on Walltax Road. Again, it displays the characteristic red brick exterior with printed arches and glass windows. However, it looks badly in need of repair and touch-ups. The Madras Medical College is not far from here, and despite the weekend, it was quite crowded. Here, the administration block is crowned by a dome that serves as a clock tower. The campus is dotted with greenery, so we sat under a tree quite pensively until we were able to convince ourselves to get up again. We wrapped it up for the day with what we thought was a well-deserved soda break, under the watchful gaze of the sturdy Chennai Central station.

Written by Pranathi Diwakar, Intern at Transparent Chennai and student at IIT Madras

Namba Chennai: A city of valued Heritage

On the eve of World Heritage Day, let’s remember and commemorate the architectural and cultural spaces in Chennai. The city of Chennai is actually a cluster of several old settlements, with each one having distinct histories and important landmarks.

In places like Fort St. George and in Egmore, the British built several administrative and institutional buildings in the Indo-Saracenic style using a variety of materials like exposed red bricks, pillars made of rough granite, and inlays of marble and ivory. The city also has beautiful traditional south Indian temple architecture with large gopurams, intricately carved shikhars, and temple tanks which serve as a recharged pool of surface water for the entire community. These temples can be seen in the older settlements like Mylapore, surrounded by the homes of Brahmins during earlier eras. Unlike North India the mosques in Chennai are smaller and are very different. For example, the Thousand Lights mosque is a cream coloured, multi-domed mosque unlike the traditional single domes in the north. The Dutch settlement in Pulicat, and Portuguese constructions like the Santhome Basilica display completely different elements of Western architecture. From traditional to Indo-saracenic, Colonial, Classical, Gothic, Romanesque and other architechtural styles, Chennai has a diverse range to offer.

A walk down the memory lane: revisiting the past

Cities like Ahmedabad, Surat, and Lucknow have begun heritage walks for residents and tourists.  Can Chennai also similarly replicate and restore its own pieces of history and showcase them to the world?  After the restoration of Senate House by INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), Rippon building and the Victoria Public Hall are now being restored. But is this enough? One problem is that Chennai’s heritage is spread all over the city, making it less amenable to a walking tour than the clusters of buildings in the other cities.

But the main problem is that the CMDA (Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority) is still in the long process of identifying heritage buildings to compile a list of the city’s protected structures while the conservationists are fighting legal battles to protect them from being demolished, sometimes by the government itself. A mass protest by the students and activists saved the Queen Mary’s college, where the then chief minister J.Jayalalitha wanted to build the new Secretariat. Today, the Bharat Insurance building on Mount Road owned by LIC (Life Insurance Corporation) and Gokhale Hall on Armenian Street are saved only because of heritage enthusiasts who have been waging a battle in court.

Though the government made an announcement in October 2010 about finalising a heritage bill, it is feared that it may not see the light. Meanwhile, the CMDA can take a decision to demolish old buildings which are not covered by the Archaeological Monument Act.

Following are some of the heritage buildings in the city:

Areas Buildings
Old Madras Chennai Central building, Moore Market, Victoria Public Hall, Rippon building, Vetinary Hospital.
Egmore Egmore Railway Station, Museum theater complex
Mount Road Thousand Lights mosque, Cuddons complex, Victoria Technical Institute, Higgin Bothams,  Botanical Garden,  Thousand Light Mosque, Anna Salai Mosque, Bharat Insurance Building
Mylapore Kapaleeshwar Temple,
Beach Front and surrounding Santhome Basilica, Police Headquarters, Presidency and Queen Marys college, Madras University complex, Napier’s bridge, War Memorial, Fort St. George, PWD Complex, Parthasarthy Temple,
Parrys GPO building, SBI building, High Court,  Parrys building, Gokhale Hall
Adayar and Surrounding Theosophical society,   Anna University,

We need to protect, promote and create awareness amongst us about our glorious heritage which showcases the city’s inherent charms. Please help us create a list of heritage buildings which can be seen as the public face of this city.

Roshan Toshniwal

Madras Nalla Madras!

After four months of living in Chennai, I have begun to see just how beautiful the city is. Maybe it has to do with the arrival of the monsoons and the weather being so much kinder than it usually is; or maybe it’s because I have been frequenting the beach more often and taking long walks at the IIT campus. I find that the city has a lot of natural beauty as well as several heritage buildings and vintage houses that make me want to stop and take a second look.

Speaking of vintage, I found this map of erstwhile Madras from 1893 while surfing the net one day. Being a history buff and a lover of all things old, I spent about 20 minutes studying this map. The first thing that struck me was the size of Mylapore tank. Also, notice the amount of greenery around Fort St. George.

Source: www.indiawaterportal.org

Source: www.indiawaterportal.org

I have heard my great grandmother use the phrase ‘Madras Nalla Madras!’ all my life, and I now understand why. I surfed around a bit more and found some beautiful pictures of early 20th century Madras (Courtesy: The Times of India Group).

The elegant and bustling Mount Road in 1900.

The elegant and bustling Mount Road in 1900.

The pristine and serene Buckingham Canal in 1920 (Built in 1878).

The pristine and serene Buckingham Canal in 1920 (Built in 1878).

And the awesome and regal Spencer’s Building in 1920.

And the awesome and regal Spencer’s Building in 1920.

Can you imagine living in a city like this – with wide roads flanked by trees and ample room for pedestrians, and clean water ways, ponds and lakes? All of us at Transparent Chennai simply love the city and dream of restoring its original charm and preserving its existing beauty. We believe that we can accomplish this with your help, and that’s what keeps us going!

What do you love about Chennai? What are your favorite places in the city? Please feel free to utilize our user driven layer to mark places that you find interesting, noteworthy or beautiful and write your comments about them. Do you have any interesting pictures or trivia to share about the city? Is there something interesting that you remember about old Madras and would like to share? Please comment on this post or email us – we might even put it up as a guest blog post!

Posted by :Vaishnavi Narasimhan