And so, another year ends. The city and the areas in its vicinity have changed in so many little ways, preparing to enter the New Year with the promise of new resolutions and a better future. But what happens to those parts of the city that have consciously stood still, to remind the world of another time? Anusha Parthasarathy captures Chennai’s heritage scene, in a nutshell.
Central Press on fire
Fire broke out twice in the Government Central Press, on Mint Street, this year, once in June and the second time in November, the blaze destroying the structure. After the most recent fire, the building was deemed unsafe and whatever was left of it pulled down by the PWD. This is the same building that was listed as a Grade 1 Heritage Structure by the Justice Padmanabhan Committee report in 2006. The press stood on a built area of 4,000 sq ft. Started in the early 1800s to mint coins and manufacture gunpowder for the British East India Company, the building was later handed over to function as the Government Central Press after Independence. It is said to have been the first mint built by the British in Madras.
400-year-old fort to be excavated
A historic fort turned 400 years old this year, except that if you went looking for it in the heart of Pulicat, you would only find a large area almost obscured by a thick canopy of trees and bushes. This is Fort Geldria, established in 1613 by the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch had initially come to trade, but as Pulicat flourished, it became the headquarters of the Dutch Government in 1616 A.D., and the chief of Pulicat was called the Governor of the Coromandel Coast. Now, only a signboard points to the existence of the fort. But this story does have a good ending. In October, this year, the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) announced that it would excavate the fort and not just unravel the history of the Dutch here, but also find Roman trade links dating back to the first century. The ASI plans to clear the fort and moat of bushes and dig trial trenches to find out the chronological sequence of the site.
Another historic site that was in the news recently is the Adi Narayana Perumal Temple in Pulicat. The entrance and the vimana of the main shrine were brought down and a part of the outer walls of the main shrine covered with cement plaster. This led to a lot of anxiety among the locals, conservationists and heritage lovers. Built in the Vijaynagar period, (between the 14 and 17 centuries), the temple is considered an architectural marvel because it was built entirely out of laterite. And the ardha mandapa has the whole Ramayana sculpted on the beams that run across the top. Work has been put on hold and the authorities are looking at kick-starting the process soon with lime plaster.
Choultry to be claimed by CMRL
The Sir S Ramasami Mudaliar Choultry (which functions as the TTDC hotel) opposite Central Station will soon be taken over by the CMRL. The land was given to Sir S. Ramasami Mudaliar, a merchant, philanthropist and dubash in the 1880s. The Madras Government granted it him so he could create a choultry for those who travelled to Chennai and arrived at Central Station. It could also serve as a free place of rest for the poor. The catch here was that the land could be taken back by the Government if it wasn’t used for a public purpose. And since the metro is for the greater good of the public, the High Court passed the order for its takeover this month. CMRL has promised to preserve the heritage structure.
Ripon Building turns 100
It is heartening that after a year of intense renovation efforts, the clock on top of Ripon Building’s tower will start ticking very soon. Also, the Ripon Building, which was constructed in 1913, celebrated its 100 year in 2013. Designed by the famous G.S.T. Harris, the neo-Classical structure was built with brick and lime mortar and took four years to complete. The clock would ring the Westminster chimes, much like London’s Big Ben. More than 40 traditional artisans worked day and night to restore the artwork in lime and mortar and the clock as well.