The ‘Town Temple' resurrected

Many who follow this column will, no doubt, remember the ‘Town Temple', the first temple to be built in the town of Chennapatnam, just across from the northern walls of Madraspatnam, or Fort St. George as the wall-protected East India Company White settlement was called from 1640. This temple, also called the Patnam Perumal Temple, was consecrated as the Chennakesava Perumal Temple in the 1640s and finds mention in the records of 1648.

Chennapatnam, in the heart of which was the ‘Great Town Pagoda' towering over all the buildings around, was sited, as readers of this column are also likely to be aware of, on what is now the High Court campus, stretching almost up to where Law College is. Also no doubt remembered is the fact that the town as well as the temple were razed by the British in 1759 to create an esplanade that would better help to protect the Fort. Chennapatnam was then re-developed north of the esplanade as the New Black Town that eventually was re-named George Town.

What is not likely to be remembered in this story is that it was 250 years ago, in February, that the Council in Madras helped to resurrect the Chennakesava Perumal Temple. The Council at Fort St. George on February 15, 1762 confirmed a recommendation of the Committee of Works “that a Spot of Ground might be granted (to the Cast People) whereon they might rebuild their Pagoda…. (and) have fixed a Spot in Gunga Ramah Street, Peddanaigues Pettah…. But that, as it will be necessary to remove thirty-eight small Malabar Houses to gain room sufficient for the Pagoda and the Streets around it, their value has been estimated… amounting to five hundred and sixty five Pagodas and a Quarter, which the heads of the Cast are willing to pay for…”

The Council then ordered that “the houses in the Peddanaigues Pettah… be demolished for rebuilding a Pagoda, and that equal Quantity of Ground be allotted to the respective owners in such part of the Black Town as the Committee may recommend for that purpose.”

For one reason or another, the building of the temple was thereafter delayed and by the time work started on it, the Town Pagoda servants decided to build twin temples — the Chennakesava Perumal and Chenna Mallikeswarar Temples — on the site granted to them. A notification dated November 22, 1766 and signed by the Council and Committee of Works stated: “…. The Town Pagoda servants, being lately possessed of a spot of ground in the Black Town containing 23,944 square feet, were dispossessed of the said ground by order of the Honourable President and Council to form an Esplanade before the North front of Fort St. George. Now this is to certify that we, the Committee appointed to distribute ground to the inhabitants who have been dispossessed of their property for the purpose… assign unto the Town Pagoda servants (and) their successors… a piece of ground situate in Verda Raja Perumal Pagoda Street (S.M.: It's no longer in existence) containing in all 24,000 square feet and measuring in length from North to South on the East side 179 feet and on the West side 162 feet, in breath from East to West on the North end 137 feet and on the South 142 feet. To have and to hold the same in as full and ample manner as the ground they were formerly possessed of ….”

Besides granting the land, the Council, in 1777, paid 1,173 pagodas as compensation for the old temple site. Manali Muthukrishna Mudali had meanwhile contributed 5,202 pagodas, and subscriptions from the congregation amounted to 15,652 pagodas. With this the work on the Chennakesava Perumal temple began in 1767, with the Chenna Mallikeswarar Temple thereafter being built adjoining it. The complex was completed in 1780, but when the temples were consecrated is not very clear.

What is significant is that there was nary a fuss over any of this and all negotiations between the Council, and the ‘Cast People' went smoothly to the extent that the twin temples for years were called the ‘Company Pagoda'.


A printers' remembrance

Yesterday, the printers of Madras began a year-long celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of the country's first printers' association, the Madras Printers' and Lithographers' Association, which was inaugurated on July 28, 1952. Appropriately, the first President of the organisation was the Manager of the oldest surviving printing press in the country, V.M. Phillip of what was then the Diocesan Press and is now the CLS Press but which had its roots in a printing press started in 1761 as the Vepery Press by the Rev. Johann P. Fabricius and which became the SPCK Press in 1798.

The founding office bearers and Committee Members of the MPLA, beside V.M. Phillip, were: N. Ramarathnam, Madras Law Journal Press and M.R. Appadurai, Premier Art Press (Vice Presidents), S. Viswanathan, Central Art Press (Secretary), and F.T. Pithavadian, Fenn Thompson & Co, (Treasurer). The other Committee members were: S. Shanmugham, Artisan Press; S.P. Naidu, Modern Printers; B. Madhava Rao, Ananda Press; S. Sriraman, Commercial Printing & Publishing House; G. Umapathy, Uma Printers; A.F. Byramshaw, Aspy Litho Works; K. Sambamurthy, Jupiter Press Ltd.; R. Venkateswaran, United Printers & Syndicate; K. Krishnamurthy, Photo Litho Press; and M.E. Subramanian, Amra Press. I wonder how many of these presses remain.

If these founders are little remembered by the industry today, even less remembered is that this year should more importantly be celebrated as the 300th anniversary of the birth, or, rather, the re-birth, of printing in India. True, printing had its beginnings in Goa in 1556, when the Portuguese Jesuits established a printing press there and that by 1577 the first language types — Malabar as it was called, but in fact Tamil — had been cast and used for printing. But by the late 17th Century, printing in India died out completely and all printed material was imported from abroad.

It was Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plutschau, the first Protestants to establish a mission in India, who brought about that revival. The two Germans who came out to Danish Tranquebar to establish the Tranquebar Mission in 1706 had been strongly influenced by the Rev. August Hermann Francke, one of the founders of the Pietist movement which valued highly knowledge and scholarly enlightenment. And dissemination of knowledge collected required a printing press. Which duly arrived in Madras in June 1712 together with some English type and a quantity of paper and was transported to Tranquebar. Using a soldier who had once worked in a printing press in England, Ziegenbalg got printed in Portuguese a few religious pamphlets before the end of the year. Printing had got a new lease of life in India — and has flourished in the country ever since.

If Tranquebar gave new life to printing in India 300 years ago, its spread was due to another Danish colony, Serampore in Bengal. Ziegenbalg's only son, Gottlieb Ernst Ziegenbalg, was Governor of Serampore when William Carey and two other Baptist missionaries expelled from Calcutta sought refuge there. It was from there that Carey and his colleagues spread the gospel of printing throughout India. But that the seed for Carey's work was sown in Tranquebar by Ziegenbalg 300 years ago this year should not be forgotten.


When the postman knocked…

*My reference to the Assembly Rooms in Old Madras had Dr. S.S. Kumar recalling an Assembly Room in Ooty that is “still functioning, screening films” and being used for other entertainments. The Governor of Tamil Nadu is still the Patron of the institution that was founded for the same purposes as its Madras namesake. His Excellency nominates seven Trustees every three years to run it. But I don't think, as suggested by Dr. Kumar, that it was ever used for sessions of the Legislative Assembly. The Governor's Council met in a specially constructed hall next to Sullivan's Stonehouse, which served as the Secretariat and is now the home of the Government Arts College. The practice of the Government of Madras Presidency formally moving up to Ooty for the summer started in the 1870s and went on till Independence.

*Several readers say that Mambalam (Miscellany, February 27) does indeed derive its name from the mango groves that were numerous in the area. N. Dharmeshwaran goes even further and says that the Sanskrit words ma bilam mean mango grove. Knowing no Sanskrit I can't vouch for that.

*This column continues in its character as a ‘Lost and Found' helpline. This time it is Mohan V. Raman who seeks help. He wonders whether I had heard of a Madras publication called The Broadway Times that was published in the 1950s and wonders whether anyone can offer him any old copies. Apparently his father, the well-known advocate V.P. Raman, wrote a regular column for it under the pen-name ‘Kashyapa', featuring profiles of notable personalities like Justice Rajamannar, Rajaji and Rajendra Prasad. If my memory serves me right, I caught up with the journal in the early 1970s and it was being published from a printing press on Popham's Broadway called the Thompson Press. Perhaps readers will not only add to this information but will also meet Mohan Raman's request.

*Also in search of information is Bharath Yeshwanth M. He refers to Maharashtrian migrations to the Tamil country, particularly to the Thanjavur delta, during the reign of Shahjee (father of Sivaji). A less known migration, he says, was to Arani and surrounding villages. The Jagir of Arani was under Venkoji Pant and his successors till zamindaris were abolished after Independence. The Arani zamindari's palace in Madras was called Arani House. My correspondent wants to know where the house was and whether it still stands. I'm afraid I'm at a loss, but perhaps a reader can help. Yeshwanth also wants to know “the surnames of the Brahmin community that settled in and around Arani and their respective natives (nativities?) in the Deccan” in order “to trace my ancestry and nativity.” Now, that's a tall order, but I hope he's lucky enough to get a response from someone out there.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 6:02:38 PM |

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