There are stirring myths and stories associated with our city. Nithya Sivashankar hears some as she visits heritage sites across Coimbatore
Seventeen year-old Robert Stanes came down to Coimbatore in 1858 to aid in the development of the Aanamalais. He felt the pressing need to open an English medium school for the children of the Britishers. And, he set up one in Kumaran market, near Periyakadai veedhi. The school was then shifted near the Clock Tower and subsequently to the area near the Railway Station Post Office. In 1927, the school was moved to its current location on Avanashi Road. And this school (Stanes Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School) was the point, from where we began our trail to celebrate the heritage of Coimbatore.
The Vanavarayar Foundation had organised this trail, under the captaincy of Jagadeesan, an epigraphist, in order to spread awareness about the rich heritage of our city, on the occasion of Coimbatore Vizha. The first destination on this trail was CSI All Souls Church. This tranquil 139-year-old church that stands tall in Race Course is one of the oldest heritage buildings in Coimbatore.
In 1867, Lady Grimes and Colonel Hessey collected funds from the public to help John Sullivan, then Collector of Coimbatore, to build a church in the city. Since 1872, this very English looking church, has been open for public worship.
Town Hall was next. To celebrate Queen Victoria's 50th reigning year, British colonies across the country set up Town Halls in all cities, in 1892. Narasimhalu Naidu and Ponnurangan set up this hall, which bears a lot of resemblance to the Town Halls in Germany. Post 1953, Town Hall suffered considerable damage and it was proposed to bring it down. Fortunately, it wasn't and Niranjan Martin, Commissioner of Coimbatore in 1992, reconstructed the hall and resurrected it to its old grandeur. The trail then continued down the streets of Town Hall and down Oppanakara Street to Athar Jamath Majeed. Abdul Rasheed, Secretary of the Majeed took us to the hall that was once a museum, adorned with photographs of the mosque over the years. He spoke of the oldest mosque in the city.
A fragrant past
"In 1880, cholera and plague forced 52 Athar (perfume) merchant families of Tirunelveli district to migrate to Coimbatore. After building a small settlement in Kadai veedhi for trading, they realised the need for a place of worship for Muslims in and around their area and constructed this mosque in 1904," he said. Athar is still sold in the small shop, set up at the entrance of the mosque. After the visit to the oldest church and mosque in the city, it was time to visit the grand old temple of Coimbatore. With the sun scorching on our backs, we went around the Perur kovil, as Jagadeesan passionately expounded its history, that included the contributions of Hoysalas, Pandyas and Cheras. The earliest sculpture in this temple can be dated to 10th century.
From the Puranas
According to the Puranas, Kamadhenu's calf, while grazing in Perur, got its leg stuck in an anthill. Petrified, Kamadhenu drove her horns into the anthill and while raising her head, noticed that one horn was covered in blood. She realised that it was no ordinary anthill and that there was a Shiva Lingam inside it. This Lingam finds its place in the sanctum sanctorum of the Perur temple. On our way out, Rajesh Kumar, a biochemistry student, with a passion for his city's history, mentioned about the Pirava Puli and Irava Panai maram. Tamarind seeds from the former, when planted elsewhere, never takes root, while the two-century-old palm tree still bears fruit.
Fragments from the past
TNAU and Gass Forest Museum, Forest College was next on the itinerary. Henry Handerson Gass, Conservator of Forests, was the man solely responsible for collecting fossils, hunting weapons, geological models and more, and setting up this museum. Chandrashekharan, the curator of this museum, spelt out details about the most important exhibits – the Rs. 1.75 crore-worth-sandalwood tree that decided the architectural measurements of this building, the 450 year old cross section of a teak tree from Parambikulam, the bison presented by Mysore's Rajpramukh and the coat-hanger made from deformed deer horns.
As the trial concludes, Jagadeesan leaves us with another gem about Coimbatore – "In 1926, Rabindranath Tagore sang ‘Jana Gana Mana' for the first time in PSG Sarvajana School".
Keywords: Coimbatore heritage