Chennai

A timeless edifice serving justice celebrates 125 years today

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Architecture should speak of time and place but yearn for timelessness, said acclaimed architect Frank Gehry. The 125-year-old heritage building of the 155-year-old Madras High Court is one such edifice that continues to stand tall with all its glory intact. On Saturday, a host of dignitaries including Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, three Supreme Court judges and Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami would congregate on the High Court campus for the 125th year celebrations of the heritage building inaugurated on July 12, 1892.

There could not be a better time than now to revisit the history behind the monument and there could be no better person than 82-year-old Tekur Krishnamoorthi to recall it. The octogenarian, now the curator of High Court museum, was an employee of the court between 1954 and 1993 and his father had served the institution between 1918 and 1954.

“Courts are figuratively known as temples of justice. Such a reference would suit the Madras High Court aptly since its magnificent building was constructed after shifting out two temples that were in existence here in the 19th century,” he says, pointing to an old photograph of the barren land before the construction of the court building. Displaying copies of articles published in a law journal in 1915, he says the heritage building now used exclusively by the Madras High Court was actually built to house not only the High Court but also the Courts of Small Causes and the City Civil Court, which were subsequently shifted out to other new buildings on the campus.

“What is very special about the heritage building, constructed in Hindu Saracenic style, is that it was built in a record time of four years. The construction began in October 1888 and got completed in 1892 despite additions to the original plan of construction.

“J.W. Brassington, the then consulting architect to the government, had initially prepared a plan to construct a building with 11 court halls at an estimate of ₹9.45 lakh. Of the 11 court halls, six were meant for the High Court, four for the Small Causes court and one for the City Civil Court. Subsequently, it was decided to construct an additional building to house the lawyers’ chambers and connect it to the main building with a walkway on the first floor. This increased the total expenditure to ₹12,98,163,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi explains.

Locally sourced

The location of the High Court was close to the harbour, and a 125-feet-tall, standalone light house was already in existence on the court campus. Nevertheless, the architects decided to fix one more dioptric light on the 142-feet-high main tower of the court building and that raised the total height of the tower to 175 feet.

“We can take pride in the fact that almost all the materials, except the heavy steel girders and some ornamental tiles used for the construction, were procured locally. The government brick fields supplied the bricks, as well as the terracotta articles. Atisans, trained at the School of Arts in Chennai executed most of the construction work.

“For the last 125 years, this beautiful building has stood the test of times quietly, chiming the rhyme, ‘men may come and men may go but I go on forever’,” concludes Mr. Krishnamoorthi.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 11:59:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/a-timeless-edifice-serving-justice-celebrates-125-years-today/article19696895.ece

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