The move to Tambaram

It was 75 years ago last January that Madras Christian College began to move from George Town to the Selaiyur Forest in Tambaram. The Principal at the time was the Rev. Dr. Alfred George Hogg who had headed the Department of Philosophy. Hogg, who called himself a ‘world citizen’, having been born in Scotland, brought up in Egypt, educated in Halle in Germany, and made his career in India, arrived in Madras in 1903. The next year, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan joined the College. His son, Dr. Gopal, wrote in his father’s biography, “Radhakrishnan always acknowledged the permanent mark on his own mind of Hogg’s influence in both response and reaction.”

Explaining the intention to move to Tambaram, Hogg, in 1930, the year he became Principal, wrote Tambaram Venture. In it he said the move was first mooted by Dr. William Miller who had made a failing institution such a success that it demanded more space. They had reasoned at that time that George Town was becoming increasingly noisy and a disturbance to classes, that the growing congestion of George Town was making the area unhealthy, that there was inadequate playing space for a growing student body, and that greater space was needed for the teaching of more complex subjects like the sciences. The Senate was later told that another need was space for residential accommodation for the staff.

Several sites were looked at, but in the end Dr. William Meston and Dr. Alexander Moffat, charged with the responsibility of finding a site, zeroed in on Tambaram. The deciding factors were that the South Indian Railway was proposing an electrified suburban train service and that the Forest Department was planning to consider the Selaiyur Forest as no longer Reserve Forest. The Tambaram Scheme was approved by the Governing Board in Britain in January 1927. Then began the campaign to get the Government of Madras to grant the college 400 acres of the forest and funds for the first buildings.

Eventually, it was October 1930 when the College took possession of the land. The first sod was cut on January 5, 1932, eighty years ago. Hogg had seen the entire process through from conception to moving into a new campus in the middle of a forest.

Remembered and forgotten

As Madras Week approaches (August 19-26) and a flurry of quizzes get scheduled for the celebration, here’s a question for the quizmasters: “Sadly, it is now known as a “loafers’ village” but once it was perhaps the only village in Madraspatnam to be named after a Governor. What was the original name and what is it called today?” If you answer Colletpetta and Kaladipet, you’ve got it right.

Joseph Collet, a former Deputy Governor of Bencoolen (Fort Marlborough) in Sumatra, arrived in Madras in August 1716 to serve as Second in Council while marking time to take over as Governor when Harrison stepped down as President of Council. Collet took over as Governor in January 1717 and served till October 1719, when ill-health made him return to England. One of his first actions as Governor was to reclaim the five ‘New Villages’ that had been granted to the Company in 1708 and taken back by the Great Mughal’s representative. These villages were Tiruvottriyur, Nungambakkam, Vyasarpady, Ennore and Sathangadu, recorded at the time as “Trivatore, Lingumbauca, Vezallawarrow, Catavaucka (Kathivakkam) and Satan Godu.” There were several clashes between Collet’s militia and the Nawab’s men but eventually terms were agreed on and Collet took possession of the villages on December 15, 1718. He then established a ‘weavers’ and ‘painters’ village south of Tiruvottriyur and the settlers named it Collet Petta (which by the 19th Century became Kulatipetta and in the 20th Century Kaladipetta). It is recorded that when the settlement was completed “it consisted of 104 houses, ten shops, a temple and 489 adult inhabitants.” That’s a village unrecognisable in the area today, given the congestion.

The temple Collet built here was called the Kalyana Varadaraja Perumal Temple. Legend has it that he built it for an assistant (dubash?) of his called Viraraghavan, a devotee of the Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram. Viraghavan, it is related, used to go to the temple in Kanchi every morning, as a result of which he daily reported late for duty. While being taken to task by Collet one day, he was challenged by the Governor who asked, “If your relationship with your God is so close, what is he doing at this moment?” Viraraghavan promptly replied, “He is in a chariot that has been stopped by an accident” and went on to describe the scene in his vision. On verification, Collet found that Viraraghavan’s vision had indeed been correct, whereupon he built the temple to save Viraraghavan the long journey to Kanchipuram. Collet also lavishly endowed the temple from his personal funds and made Viraraghavan its first trustee.

I wonder whether Kaladipet remembers Joseph Collet today?

A lost continent?

Did Kumarikantam (in the Tamil), also known as Lemuria (in English), really exist? I was provoked into thinking about it again, on recently reading a lecture that Dr. S. Gopalakrishnan had delivered at a Tamil Nadu History Congress.

I’ve always thought this lost continent existed, stretching from Australia to Madagascar, and that it fragmented, much of it lost to the sea, due to at least one huge tsunami (there are those who believe there were three). My belief is based on what I see as linkages between the Aborigines of Australia, the tribals of Papua-New Guinea and parts of Indonesia, the Veddahs of Sri Lanka, some of the tribals of South India, and the people of Madagascar. But I’m no social scientist, anthropologist, linguist or geologist, so my theory is just an article of faith. Dr. Gopalakrishnan’s paper however cites several scientists who hold passionate views on the subject.

A British view expressed by a Philip Sclater in the 19th Century felt the lost continent stretched from India to Madagascar where are found the largest number of species of lemurs, an animal that, it is claimed, lent its name to Lemuria. The Tamil Dravidianists latched on to this theory in 1903 and hold that Lemuria was Kumarikantam, the ancient home of the Tamil people. Kumarikantam, as some of these theorists see it, was shaped like an India turned on its head, with both peninsular portions merging. The southern land stretched nearly 2,800 km further south from today’s Kanniyakumari, some claim.

These theorists, led by Dr. E. Mathivannan, date Kumarikantam to 50,000 years ago and hold that Lemuria was submerged 16,000 years ago. In what became the ‘new’ South India, the Second Tamil Sangam flourished 6000 years ago and the Third about 3,800 years ago, established by a Pandya king. Maraimalai Adigal was one of the first Tamil scholars to proclaim the existence of Kumarikantam and was supported by others like Thiru V. Kalyanasundram, but those like J. Nallaswami Pillai had their reservations. Ancient Sangam poetry, however, refers to threats by the ocean and consequent loss of land and lives.

Several ocean studies in more recent times have shown that beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean there exist ridges and valleys, high mountain peaks and low hills, a landscape very like a land formation. Is this subterranean geography evidence of Lemuria that is claimed by many as Kumarikantam? Prof. Gopalakrishnan refuses to take sides, but concludes, “Nothing should be rejected out of hand just because concrete evidence is not available. Traditions are not meaningless. They are part of civilisation’s institutional memory. They should be given due attention and weightage. The efforts to validate the data on lost civilisations need a multidisciplinary approach…”

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