Tiruchi is dotted with relics of a bygone colonial era, but there’s no official initiative to preserve them for posterity
History and modernity share an uneven relationship in Tiruchi. While the most visible landmarks, the temples and monuments promoted in and around the city continue to pull in the tourists, there are many, smaller markers of history that are languishing unsung.
The Ramar Madam in Uraiyur’s Mettu Theru is a case in point. Past a park that has seen better days and numerous houses strung together and spilling on to the road, this small temple, thought to be at least 120 years old, is situated on a compound that is in need of a clean-up.
A memorial wall plaque dedicating a water pipe (titled ‘Sreerama Theertham’) in commemoration of King George V’s coronation in 1911 shows the structure’s antiquity.
The pipe has long gone, and the temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna as a child, has survived thanks to the efforts of around 25 members of the community who have pitched in to support the weekly upayams (services) and special ceremonies during Krishna Jayanthi and Margazhi.
“Every evening we light the lamps, and the temple is cleaned during Saturdays, when prayers are held from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” says R. Venugopal, caretaker of the temple.
“I decided to become caretaker after I retired from the Ordnance Factory Tiruchirappalli (OFT) in 2002,” he says. “Our committee members are all from families who live in this area – some of them are no longer staying in Uraiyur, but they continue to support our cause,” he adds.
“The temple is for everyone, which is why we want it to be well-maintained for the next generation,” says Venugopal, pointing out to the repairs that are needed to the ancient building. The walls, made of red soil, are broad and heat-resistant, but the roof leaks on rainy days, says the caretaker.
“We are planning to repair the temple – and want to remove the clay tiles and build up the area around it for use as a community hall,” says Venugopal.
Two representations of Lord Krishna are worshipped here, one as ‘Kulandai Deivam’ and the other showing his Pattabhishekam. Both are in the Thanjavur style of painting using gold foil, with the latter nearly a century-old, reckons Venugopal.
In the suburb of Allithurai stands a forlorn well from a bygone era. “In Loving Memory of Victoria, Queen Empress of India, … died Jan. 22, 1901 … this well is sunk 1902,” reads the notice etched out on black stone on one of the pillars.
Built on the campus of the C.S.I. Elementary School in Allithurai, the well was one of the social welfare initiatives of the Wesleyan Mission, which came to southern India in the 1800s. It was meant to stave off the drinking water shortage in the area in 1902, according to church literature of the period.
Reverend Y.A. Daniel oversaw the digging of the well and the building of a water storage tank in 1902.
The well got filled up later due to fears of contamination from the nearby ditches, says Mrs. Clara Sunlock, former headmistress of the C.S.I. Elementary School. Now 80, she retired in 2000 after working for 40 years at the school. “There was a move to convert the well area into a memorial a few years back,” says Mrs. Sunlock, who stays close by, “but that has not happened so far. I now whitewash the pillars and well at my own expense.”
Back in Uraiyur, in a lane opposite the Panchavarna Kovil, bang next to a construction site, stands a wall plaque. “This tap is laid in commemoration of the recovery of His Majesty The King George V from his serious illness, March 1929. Opened by Mr. T.E.C.K. Chidambaram Pillay, Village Munsiff, Algiri-Mangalam Village, Trichy Taluk,” it announces to no one in particular.
The three plaques are indicative of the high regard in which Indian principalities accorded to the British royal family. A grandson of Queen Victoria, King George V was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from May 6, 1910 until his death on January 20, 1936.
It was during his reign as the first monarch of the House of Windsor that the Indian independence movement gathered pace, with the Statute of Westminster eventually recognising the dominions of the empire as separate and independent entities within the Commonwealth of Nations.
The “serious illness” mentioned on the plaque could probably refer to the septicaemia, that King George V, a heavy smoker, was suffering from in November 1928. He spent three months at Craigweil House, Aldwick, in the seaside resort of Bognor, Sussex, but never fully recovered from the chronic blood infection.
While the travel guides continue to highlight the money-spinner monuments of the city, will there be a more concerted effort by the authorities to save these forgotten relics?