It's been another of those weeks that has kept the postman busy and readers contributing generously to this column.
* First off the mark was archaeology historian Chithra Madhavan correcting the perception that Rajaraja Chola I built the Buddhist vihara in Nagapattinam (Miscellany, February 6). He did not build it, she writes, but he did give permission for it to be built by Chulamani Varman, the ruler of the Buddhist kingdom of Sri Vijaya (Palembang in Sumatra today) and Kadaram (Kedah in the Malay peninsula today), Chulamani started the work in the 21st year of Rajaraja I's reign, but it was completed by his son Maraviayaottunga Varman.
Dr. Madhavan, citing the bi-lingual (Sanskrit and Tamil) Larger Leiden copper-plate grant dated 1005 C.E., states Rajaraja I went even further than merely granting permission. He donated the village of Anaimangalam to the Chulamani Vihara in Nagapattinam to ensure that it would never want.
That authority on the Cholas, the late Professor K.A. Nilakanta Sastri had in his writings pointed out that, according to the 7th Century C.E. Chinese monk I-Tsing's diaries, Nagapattinam was the first port that Eastern merchant vessels trading with South India touched and it was, therefore, understandable that sailors from a Buddhist kingdom would welcome a vihara where they first made landfall after a long journey.
* N. Dharmeshwaran and P.S. Shanmugam offer additional material on the judges of the Madras High Court. Coutts-Trotter, whom I referred to last week, was on the Bench one day, according to the former, when a telegram was delivered to him. It was addressed to the ‘Insolvency Judge', no doubt a reference to the numerous insolvency cases the judge heard. Coutts-Trotter received it, laughed aloud and, addressing the Court, said, “So I'm now the Insolvency Judge according to the address on this. I wonder how the sender and the messenger came to know of my financial condition!” Shanmugam adds that Murray & Co, the well-known firm of auctioneers, much of whose business in the early days was auctioning goods on the Court's orders, took its name from Murray Coutts-Trotter. Many Indian-owned firms at the time took names that helped them to create a British image. Murray was chosen by the proprietor of the auctioneering firm as much for the numerous orders Murray Coutts-Trotter issued for auctioning of property after hearing insolvency cases as to reflect integrity (for which Coutts-Trotter was renowned) and high quality (which was a characteristic of his judgments).
Shanmugam, however, feels that there were in those first hundred years judges as outstanding as Coutts-Trotter. He quotes that eminent advocate Eardley Norton who once said, “Were it in my power to select for a difficult case, in which I was interested either as party or as counsel, the constitution of the Court, I would unhesitatingly apply for Muthusami Iyer (1878-1895) or Kernan (1870-1887) on the Original side and Muthusami Iyer and Kernan on the Appellate side.” On a later occasion, Muthusami Iyer, knighted by then, referred to the ‘Kernan Maze' that a leading lawyer of the late 19th Century, S. Billigiri Iyengar, had constructed in the garden of his house, Kernan Castle (now Vivekananda Illam but still called Ice House), and named after his friend, Kernan. Muthusami Iyer explained the maze as being “designed to represent the meshes of the law through which Mr. Justice Kernan so successfully found his way to uphold the cause of truth and justice.”
* With the Madras High Court celebrating its 150th anniversary, P.N. Srinivasan and J.V. Swami, have sent me copies of requests they have addressed to the Chief Justice asking for some remembrance of bits of heritage. Swami wants the High Court authorities to protect the plaque recording the shelling of Madras by the German light cruiser S.M.S.Emden on September 22, 1914. He seeks a covered shelter for it to protect it against the elements and proper lighting that it may be seen at night too. Srinivasan's letter, on the other hand, is a request to the High Court to remember Gandhiji's visit to the Court and the address he delivered there on April 24, 1915, by raising a plaque with excerpts from the address of one who was a lawyer himself.
I am all for commemorative plaques, but often wonder what happens to them. The ‘Emden Plaque' is more often plastered with posters than not. And the ‘Coja Petrus Uscan Plaque' at the head of the Marmalong/Maraimalai Adigalar Bridge seems to have vanished under the weight of all the Metrorail work going on all around it. When I passed by its site the other day I couldn't spot it and can only hope that it has not been destroyed but has been removed for subsequent restoration on the bridge after the railway work is finished. The Armenian merchant Uscan is certainly a significant figure in early Madras history and one to be remembered.
* Grace Stephens, who was responsible for Lechmenon Appaduray becoming a Christian called Samuel (Miscellany, January 30), was Superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal Mission, writes Karthik Bhat, and hit the headlines in the 1890s in a cause celebre. Subbunagam Ammal, a 16-year-old Telugu Brahmin girl and the daughter of A.L.Venkataramana Pantulu, the first double graduate of the University of Madras, became a Christian and Grace Stephens was held responsible for the conversion. Subbunagam, a child bride who had lost her father when she was only 10 but continued to live in his home under the guardianship of her uncle, had wanted to learn Tamil and was sent to Ms. Stephens' zenana mission for this purpose. There, her textbook appears to have been The Bible in Tamil! On Christmas Day 1895 she went to the mission and declared to Stephens that she was her “Christmas gift”! She was baptised on February 3, 1896. By then the furore had intensified, with Subbunagam's family, the Brahmin community, the Mission, the Police and the Press all having their say, much of it acrimonious. The family even went to the extent of staging a funeral and, after performing all rituals, cremating an effigy of Subbunagam!
Subbunagam, meanwhile, had started working with the mission. Then, in April 1900 she and her mentor left for a year's cross-country lecture tour of the United States where the Press had a field day portraying her as a fugitive from Hinduism who had been saved by the Church. As a saved soul, she worked for the Church till August 1905 when she again grabbed the headlines.
This time they screamed that she had been ‘kidnapped', ‘murdered' or ‘become a martyr to the cause of Christianity'. But by the end of the year the frenzy toned down when the Bishop of Madras, W.F. Oldham, announced that Subbunagam had not been kidnapped, had “reverted to the religion of her fathers,” and requested his congregation to pray for Grace Stephens “who is in all kinds of trouble.” He himself was transferred to the Straits Settlements.
With both leading players maintaining their silence for the rest of their lives, there has never been a satisfactory answer to what really happened between 1895 and 1905 in the lives of these two women.
* It's Khalsa Mahal and not Kalas Mahal, says former PWD Chief Engineer C.S. Kuppuraj, in a letter addressed to me by A. Veerappan, State Secretary of the Tamil Nadu PWD Senior Engineers' Association, whose Founding President was Kuppuraj. Khalsa, the writer states, means “appointment/udyog” in Urdu. Kuppuraj's father had studied in what was then called the Civil Engineering School (later College of Engineering, Guindy) when it was housed in Khalsa Mahal. And this is also the name I've found in all the early records as well as those of the College of Engineering.
Keywords: Madras Miscellany