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A palace echoing a renowned Tamil scholar’s glory is now left in shambles

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Whither gone glory?: The house that Tamil scholar Marai Malai Adigal built and lived in Pallavaram.
Whither gone glory?: The house that Tamil scholar Marai Malai Adigal built and lived in Pallavaram.

K. Manikandan

Karunanidhi urged to help in restoring the elegance of the building

TAMBARAM: Sandwiched between the suburban railway lines and Grand Southern Trunk Road in Pallavaram lies a pocket with narrow lanes, old and traditional houses. On Chavadi Street, even a casual visitor cannot miss the imposing, yet elegant building.

Now housing the Pallavaram branch library of Local Library Authority, it is a century-old building – a house that Tamil scholar Marai Malai Adigal built and lived till his death. Easily the most elegant building in this part of Chennai, the ‘Marai Malai Adigal Palace’ today presents a picture of neglect.

Last month, the bust of the scholar inside the premises fell when the pedestal collapsed following incessant rain. To many it is just a house, but his relatives prefer to call it a palace. “Grandfather was running the Tirumurugan Press from his palace to print his books and journals,” recalled T. Alangadan, eldest grandchild of the scholar.

Having made innumerable visits to the palace till his grandfather’s death in 1950, Mr. Alangadan, a retired bank employee, said that the palace also served as a centre for many spiritual and literary discourses by not only Marai Malai Adigal but also other scholars. “When land was needed for laying an addition railway line, he gave a portion of the land on which the palace was built. He gave it free, though the government offered compensation,” Mr. Alangadan recalled.

T. Thayumanavan, his younger brother, who runs the Marai Malai Adigal Educational Trust from his house in Poompozhil Nagar, Avadi, has appealed to Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi to help in renovating the palace and restore its original status. “He wanted to build his ‘palace’ in a peaceful, secluded spot. He purchased the land measuring about 15 cents in Pallavaram while he was teaching Tamil at Madras Christian College, then located in Parry’s Corner, and moved into the palace on its completion in 1911,” Mr. Thayumanavan recalled.

Today, plants have grown from cracks in different places in the palace’s exteriors. Of late, it has been leaking inside the public library on the ground floor whenever it rained, visitors said. The Pallavaram Municipality took over about four feet of land from one end of the house to the other for road widening about a decade ago, while land near neighbouring houses was spared, residents of Chavadi Street said.

They want the street to be named after the scholar.

Marai Malai Adigal had a good collection of record players and nearly all of them have been damaged in the rain and more importantly, neglect. Other equipment and daily-use articles used by the scholar are no better. Mr. Thayumanavan said that two years after the scholar’s death, a private Trust purchased the palace with financial assistance from the Central and State governments.

Marai Malai Adigal’s rich personal collection of about 5,000 books he had bought, most of them in English and the rest in Tamil and other Indian languages in addition to works written by him, were kept in a library in Mannady, before being shifted to Connemara Library some years ago.

The palace should be renovated and be of some use to the people, which his grandfather always wanted, Mr. Thayumanavan said.

A spokesman of Saiva Siddhantha Nool Pathippu Kazhagam, which is in charge of the palace, said that lack of funds was the most important reason for their inability to carry out renovation works at the building.

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