Vilakkuthoon gets facelift, but Blackburne blacked out

Reverence for a Collector: The Vilakkuthoon (lamp) erected at the intersection of South-East Masi streets in memory of Collector John Blackburne’s contribution to the expansion of Madurai.

Reverence for a Collector: The Vilakkuthoon (lamp) erected at the intersection of South-East Masi streets in memory of Collector John Blackburne’s contribution to the expansion of Madurai.  

Callousness leads to disappearance of an epitaph put up by residents in fond remembrance of a Collector in the 1840s

Those who thronged South Masi Street for Deepavali shopping would have noticed metal sheets covering the iconic Vilakkuthoon (lamppost) and the nearby statue of former Chief Minister Kamaraj. The Vilakkuthoon, one of the oldest lampposts which illuminated the town in the British era, is getting a facelift under the Central government’s Smart Cities Mission.

The lamppost was erected in the 1840s in memory of the then Collector Blackburne who expanded the town. Madurai Corporation is laying a Heritage Walkway under the Smart Cities Mission programme by connecting 12 historic places through a charted route, and Vilakkuthoon is one among them.

The design

Architect K. Anand Kumar, who is in charge of the project, says a pathway with cut stone blocks would be laid between Kamaraj statue and Vilakkuthoon. The pathway will have eight wooden chairs and covered by a tensile roof canopy. A row of saplings will be planted along the railings.

A Corporation official says that once the project is completed, the place would resemble a traffic island and enable easy access to the monument. “Earlier, two-wheelers and cars were parked between Kamaraj statue and Villakkuthoon, and people used to dump waste near it. Once the project is completed, people can sit under the shade and enjoy the view of the monument,” says the official.

Mr. Kumar says a 20-foot-high watchtower will be erected along the pathway . The watchtower will be used by the police to keep vigil.

A sum of ₹35 lakh has been earmarked for the renovation of Vilakkuthoon and Patthu Thoon, (Ten Pillars), a set of structures located 200 metres away from Vilakkuthoon, and the project is slated for completion by January-end.

Inscription gone

Though art historians and archaeologists welcome the renovation work, they say it must be executed with utmost caution. They say a plaque with an inscription, explaining how the residents collected money to erect Vilakkuthoon in memory of Blackburne in the 1840s, is missing ever since the Corporation started work in 2008.

A mention of the inscription is made in the Madurai District Gazetteer - “ with the same intent a Blackburne’s lamp was erected near the site of the old east gate of the fort. An inscription on this says that it was put up by a grateful people.”

K.P. Bharathi, Programme Leader, DHAN Foundation, says it is callousness, a disregard for the significance of the monument, had led to the disappearance of the inscription. “The officials should have carried out the work with diligence,” he says.

The monument, which is located at the heart of the city, must be illuminated with colourful lighting, says P. Rajesh Kanna of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. “It must be remembered that even in the pre-electricity days, the lamppost illuminated the area. To lay emphasis on this factor, it must be colourfully illuminated, which will attract tourists too,” he says.

₹5.7 crore project

A Corporation engineer says a separate project with an estimate of ₹5.7 crore has been planned to illuminate heritage sites.

Stressing the need to preserve the monument, Mr. Bharathi says a board has to be erected with details of the historical importance of Vilakkuthoon. “Only when people realise it will they preserve the monument,” he says.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 6:03:24 AM |

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