It was a curious coincidence. A couple of weeks ago, K. Narayanan, the Readers’ Editor of The Hindu, wrote to me that he thought Kalaivanar Arangam had been built to house the Legislative Assembly and wondered whether his memory served him right. I had, at the time, replied that I knew a new Legislative Assembly building had been built in the Government Estate in the 1950s, but was not sure whether it was what became Kalaivanar Arangam.
I promised to check and get back to him. I got around to it on the weekend of July 18 — and, before I could get around to writing this response, last Monday’s papers carried the news that Kalaivanar Arangam was being demolished. Apparently, someone had got around to realising that the location of the new Assembly-Secretariat complex at the expense of the historic Government House was going to cause several logistic problems — and, so, to solve them, another piece of Madras history had to go. I hope the other sites where the Assembly met will not also vanish one of these days with no recourse to public opinion or transparency.
The Madras Legislative Council first met in 1921 in the Council Chamber in Fort St. George and continued there till 1937. The need to develop its venue into a proper Assembly Hall had led to the Council meeting in Senate House during the period July 14 to December 21, 1937, and from January 27, 1938 to October 26, 1939 in Banqueting Hall (now Rajaji Hall) in Government Estate. After the emergency of World War II, it returned to Fort St. George on May 24, 1946, to a well-developed Legislative Assembly Hall, and stayed there till March 27, 1952.
When the 1950s dawned, it was obvious that the Assembly Hall in Fort St. George would not be able to seat the 375 legislators expected to be elected in 1952, so a decision was taken to build a new Assembly Hall in Government Estate.
Built at a cost of Rs.10 lakh, it was declared open on May 2, 1952 by Governor Sri Prakasa and, on the next day, the Assembly met in its new home, with C. Rajagopalachari as Chief Minister, the Prime Minister title having been abandoned.
With the creation of Andhra Pradesh in October 1953, and reallocation of districts, the Madras Assembly membership fell to 205 and it was decided to move back to Fort St. George. The Assembly building in Government Estate (the accompanying pictures show the exterior and interior) was vacated on December 27, 1956.
It later became Children’s Theatre where children’s films, classics and documentaries were shown, but despite the low price of tickets, it never proved a popular venue. The theatre was then modernised in the 1970s and made one of the better auditoriums in the city, with a seating capacity of over 1,000. It was named Kalaivanar Arangam, deriving its name from the title bestowed on N.S. Krishnan.
Meanwhile, the Assembly moved to Fort St. George where it started functioning from April 29, 1957 and continues to do so till today, except for a curious break from April 20, 1959 till May 9, 1959 when both Houses used Aranmore, a mansion in Ooty. Why that short break took place I have not been able to discover.
Aranmore is now Tamizhagam and is the Tamil Nadu Government’s Guest House. Built as a garden house by an unknown British owner, the Madras State Government bought it in 1958 for Rs. 5.5 lakh from the Maharajah of Jodhpur.
Footnote: Readers’ Editor K. Narayanan also points out that Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer and Ananthakrishna Iyer (Miscellany, July 14), were juniors under P.R. (and not P.S.) Sundara Iyer. He also clarifies that the Sri Bagh agreement was signed when the building had become Nageswara Rao’s.