200th anniversary of launch of Great Trigonometrical Survey

CHENNAI AUG. 26. The importance of geography will be a major theme in a weeklong celebration to mark the 200th anniversary of the launch of the Great Trigonometrical Survey in the subcontinent.

Apart from map quizzes and exhibitions, lectures and discussion on topics such as geographical information systems, and teaching of geography in schools, colleges and universities, will be organised. The British Deputy High Commissioner in South India, Stuart Innes, will inaugurate the celebration on August 30. The Surveyor-General of India, Prithvish Nag, will take part in the valedictory on September 6. However, the exhibitions will close on September 7. There will be a presentation on the Survey of India on September 4 by R. Sivakumar of the Science and Technology department of the Union Government.

The Survey of India, INTACH, the Association of Geography Teachers of India, the Association of British Scholars, the Lalit Kala Akademi and the British Council are part of the organising committee with the historian, S. Muthiah, as chairman. All the events will take place on the Akademi's premises on Greams Road.

Giving details of the celebration, T. Vasantha Kumaran, president, Geography Teachers in India, said the map quiz programme would be for school students of two levels, one for students of standard VI to IX) and the other for those from standard X to XII. Chennai, Tamil Nadu and India would be the themes of the quizzes to be held between September 2 and 4.

The highlight of the event would be a talk by the historian, John Keay, author of The Great Arc, on September 1 on the pioneering work of mapping of the Indian subcontinent by the British surveyor, William Lambton.

Lambton began his endeavour at St. Thomas Mount, near here, in April 1802. He laid the baseline, stretching across a distance of 12 km from the Mount to a hillock near Pallavaram for the ``measurement of the length of a degree of latitude'' along a longitude in the middle of peninsular India. This 12-km-long horizontal, at about sea level, grew into what was later called the ``Great Indian Arc of the Meridian'', a geometric web of triangulations roughly along the 78 degree longitude across the entire length of the subcontinent covering a distance of around 2,400 km in the north-south direction.

The Great Arc, considered the longest measurement of the earth's surface to have been attempted, made possible the mapping of the subcontinent and the development of its roads, railways and telegraphs. It took over five decades to complete and the survey teams, including 12 persons to carry the Great Theodolite (the size of a tractor), braved typhoid, malaria, tigers, snakes and floods.

Two surveyors — William Lambton and George Everest — devoted their lives to the Great Arc. Lambton died during the survey in Hinganghat, near Nagpur. His assistant, Everest, took it from there to the Himalayas. Hence the naming of the world's highest peak — `Everest'.

Recommended for you