MADRAS MISCELLANY Columns

The Madras-Penang connection

In town recently was Dr. Gwynn Jenkins, a consultant in architectural heritage and cultural anthropology who is looking at the Madras-Penang connection for George Town World Heritage Inc., Penang. And I envy her the fact that George Town was pouring money into its much younger heritage, whereas our Fort St. George and Georgetown, leave alone the rest of the city's splendid heritage, languish because of lack of Government will. There is in this city even a lack of will on officialdom's part to answer any letter if it has anything to do with heritage!

Among the things Jenkins was searching for was the St. George's Cathedral, Madras, connection with St. George's Church in Penang which has been listed in 2007 as one of Malaysia's fifty National Treasures. Our Fort St. George should be listed as Modern India's First National Treasure, but we can't even get it protected, leave alone restored! Be that as it may, I was able to lead her to the Trust that is restoring St. George's Cathedral and she was able to gather much information from IIT-M Prof. Mathew's team on the construction of the Cathedral and note the similarities with the Penang church. St. George's , Penang, was built by Capt. Robert N. Smith of the Madras Engineers, had its drawings done by the same military engineer as our cathedral, Col. James Lillyman Caldwell, and had its original furniture organised and flat-packed to Penang by Major Thomas de Havilland who built the Madras church (1814-1816). In 1816, the church which was to become a cathedral was consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Thomas Middleton, Bishop of Calcutta. And it was the same Bishop who consecrated the Penang church in 1819 after work was started on it in 1816 and completed in 1818.

Gwynn Jenkins was also searching for information about a Superintendent of Survey, F.W. Kelly, who was sent to Penang by the Survey of India to map the island. All that she knew was that he had served in Madras and then in the Nilgiris, where he had lived in Forest View, Coonoor , a house that is still there according to D. Venugopal, that recorder of the Nilgiris and heritage enthusiast, to whom I guided her.

While they talked of following Kelly's trail, they discovered something else of mutual interest. Venugopal works with the Indian Overseas Bank and the Bank, founded in November 1936 to help Indians settled overseas, opened in Penang in July 1937 its first branch overseas. Venugopal showed her a picture of the Branch in Penang not long after it was opened and she showed him a picture of the building today — virtually unchanged and listed as a Category II building (with its Art Deco styling) in a World Heritage Site. With the IOB planning to return to Malaysia in the not too distant future, she hopes that when its Chairman visits there she will be able to get a memorial plaque placed in that first overseas branch of the Bank.

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The Nagapattinam pagoda

My recent references to the Nagapattinam vihara has K.R.A. Narasiah adding more information citing Noboru Karashima, Y. Subbarayulu, Dr. D. Dayalan of the Archaeological Survey of India and, long before all of them, Walter Elliot writing in the Indian Antiquary. Elliot wrote that a strange shaped masonry tower called the Chinese Pagoda was demolished in 1867. In 1846 he had had a sketch of this tower prepared and this sketch later found a place in Dayalan's Archaeological Sites and Evidences of Maritime Buddhism in South India (my illustrations today).

Karashima, that well-known Tamil scholar, wrote in a paper in 1992 that in an exhibition in Tokyo of Rockefeller-owned artefacts he had found a bronze standing Buddha similar to ones found in Nagapattinam which are now in the Government Museum in Madras. The Nagapattinam bronzes have been dated to the 11th Century. The bronze exhibited in Japan was on a lotus-shaped pedestal and it had a Tamil inscription that Karashima read:

1. Irajendra perumpalli akkasaip perumpalli alvar-koyilukutiruvavutsavam elundarula alvar ivvalvarai elundaralavittar cirutavur nalan kunakara udaiyar.

2. Svasti sri padinen-vishayattukum akkasaikal nayakar

and translated as follows:

1. (This is) the Alvar for a festival procession of the temple of Akkasalai-Perumpalli in Rajendra Chola-Perumpalli. This Alvar was set up by Nalan-gunakara-Udaiyar of Chiruthavur.

2. Let it be auspicious! (This Alvar called) Akkasaikal-nayakar is for all the Padienvishayam.

Narasiah says that ‘Padinen vishayam' is a merchant guild and linked as it is with Akkasalai (a mint or goldsmithy) was probably a guild of jewellers. They probably raised the palli (a Buddhist temple) in Rajendra Chola's time and installed this bronze, or one similar to it, as a deity in it.

Given what Chithra Madhavan contributed to this column on February 13, are we talking of two Buddhist Viharas in Nagapattinam?

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When the postman knocked…

*My Australian correspondent Dr. Ananthanarayanan Raman has, he tells me, been corresponding with Dr. M. Amirthalingam (CPRF, Madras) on the etymology of Mambalam and is intent on drawing me into the discussion. Dr. Amirthalingam holds it derives from the Tamil word for the mango fruit, which possibly indicates that it once was a village with several mango groves. Dr. Raman, on the other hand, citing several references, thinks it might derive from the village of Marmelon in Jerez de la Frontera in Spain or Mourmelon, near Rheims in the French province of Champagne-Ardennes. I doubt Raman's explanation, but have no alternative to offer expect to say that the British called it Marmalong and the first bridge across the Adyar River, built by Coja Petrus Uscan, was called the Marmalong Bridge. Any further inputs from anyone? Incidentally, Dr. Raman, the inscription on the commemorative Uscan plaque on the bridge — which I can't find now (Miscellany, February 13) — is in Latin, Armenian and what could be Persian or Urdu.

*Who were the seven Shakespeares according to Slater (Miscellany, February 19), wonders Gladys Thyagarajan. They are, I'm told, in chronological order, Francis Bacon; Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford; Sir Walter Raleigh; William Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby (forebear of Sir George Stanley, Governor of Madras (1929-34); Christopher Marlowe; Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke; and Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland. Bacon and Marlowe I've heard of as writers — and they certainly had talent enough to be a possible Shakespeare, but I know nothing of the literary abilities of the others.

*Have you got it right about Edwin Lutyens connections with Madras through his sister, asks Ranee Ganesan, referring to my statement last Monday that Lutyens' sister was a Theosophist who had close connections with Madras. I must admit I was wrong about that; it was his wife Emily who was an admirer of Annie Besant and visited Madras in 1910. The next year, she received the young Jiddu Krishnamurthy and his brother Nithyananthan in England and, after looking after them, became a staunch disciple of Krishnamurthy and followed him round the world. Her daughter Mary, one of the five children the Lutyens' had, trailed her mother everywhere and, in later life, became a well-known author. One of her best-known works was a three-volume biography of Krishnamurthy. There was a time when it was thought that she would marry Nithyananthan, but that never happened and she had two later marriages, one unsuccessful and the other successful, the latter in particular helping her literary career to blossom. Emily certainly visited Madras and so did the child Mary. As for the sister, it was my memory playing tricks; mea culpa.


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