Tuesday, November 24, 2009


My post today is about Dr.M.C.Nanjunda Rao, a person who was one of the city’s most influential figures in the early 20th century. When I started out researching his life for an article for Madras Musings, what little I knew about this person was about his association with the Ramakrishna Math at Madras. But further study into his life revealed an amazing personality, a patriot who came to be known as much for his philanthropy as his medical practice.

An edited version of this article appeared in Madras Musings, April(1-15), 2008.

Dr.M.C.Nanjunda Rao was born in1862 in Nanjangund, near Mysore. His father, Neelakanta Rao was working in the Royal household of the Maharajah of Mysore. Dr.Nanjunda Rao was the eighth child of his father. His early education was at Mysore where he was helped by the Maharajah financially. In 1880, he passed his Matriculation exams with distinction. He moved to Madras with his parents in the mid 1880s.

He then passed his medical examinations (M.B & C.M, as it was known then), and was appointed as Assistant Professor in the Madras Medical College. He was also the first to be appointed to the post of Chemical Examiner to the Government of Madras. An interesting incident that happened here highlighted his courage and lofty principles that he was famous for. He was refused permission to read a paper on Ayurveda at a seminar, by the then Director of Medical Sciences, an European who termed Ayurveda as a barbaric science. This did not augur well with Dr.Nanjunda Rao, who quit his post. That he had a large family to maintain and was not above want did not sit heavily on him. He believed in standing up for what he thought was right.

It was after quitting the post that he took to private practice. Soon, he became popular with many Zamindars and Rajahs. Some among them were the Maharajah of Mysore, his old benefactor, The Rajah of Venkatagiri, Zamindar of Kattuputhur. He was affectionately known as “ Dadha” of Triplicane and Mylapore,. He also made a lot of Theosophist friends in Madame Blavatsky, Col.Olcott, Mr.Leadbeater and Mr.Goodwin. He was also a good friend of Annie Besant with whom he soon fell out over the famous case of custody of J.Krishnamurthy and his brother. He treated Madame Blavatsky during her last days and she presented him with a Syrian painting of Jesus Christ, on a gold plate.

Dr.Nanjunda Rao was a nationalist at heart and was an ardent supporter of the freedom struggle. The story of the poet Bharathi and his meeting with Dr.Nanjunda Rao is an interesting one. Subramania Bharati planned to get away to Pondichery for safety as he was being tailed by the British Police. He used to move about only at night in various disguises. Subramania Bharati sought asylum in one of the cottages in Dr.Nanjunda Rao’s spacious garden for about a week. One night, the police woke up Dr.Nanjunda Rao and after apologizing to him for causing inconvenience at that hour, told him that they thought that Subramania Bharati was hiding there. Dr.Nanjunda Rao sent them away telling them that Subramania Bharati was not hiding there. The police had to move away as they could not but respect his word, as he was treating many of their families. As soon as they moved away, Dr.Nanjunda Rao planned to make Bharati escape to Pondicherry. The Buckingham canal, which was just a stone’s throw from their house had boats carrying merchandise upto Pondicherry. Dr.Nanjunda Rao bargained with a boat man to take with him Subramania Bharati, who was dressed as a fakir. Dr.Nanjunda Rao also sent his trusted servant, one Raman Nair along with Bharati to make sure that he reached Pondicherry safely. The servant returned the next evening, communicating Bharati’s safe arrival at Pondicherry.

Dr.Nanjunda Rao also developed a good friendship with Dr.Bipin Chandra Pal when he visited Madras. Dr.Pal gave a series of lectures on the Gita at Dr.Nanjunda Rao’s house on Brodies Road, Sasi Vilas. It was this friendship that got him in the bad books of the Government, who considered Pal a revolutionary.

His house on Brodies Road, “Sasi Vilas” and the nearby bungalow “Grace Lodge” (now no longer standing) had seen many luminaries in the past. Swami Vivekananda, before his tour to America in 1893, visited Sasi Vilas and met him. Another important event that took place in this house was the marriage of Dr.Sarojini Naidu to Dr. Muthyala Govindarajulu Naidu. This marriage caused quite a furore in those days as Muthyala Govindarajulu Naidu was from a different caste.

Dr. Nanjunda Rao was a great philanthropist. His association with the Ramakrishna Math at Chennai was a remarkable one. He gave one of his houses at Keshavaperumal Street to start the Ramakrishna Mission Students Home in the year 1905. Later, the Home moved to one of his residences in Kutcheri Road, “ Chamundi Vihar”. Letters by Swami Vivekananda to him show the spiritual bonding between the two. Along with Mr.Alasinga Perumal, Dr.Nanjunda Rao was instrumental in publishing “ Prabudhha Bharata “(Awakened India) from Chennai, in the year 1896 where it functioned till 1898.It is the oldest English journal of its kind in India and is currently being published from Mayawati, in the Himalayas. In his letter from England to Dr.Nanjunda Rao, Swami Vivekananda is shown to portray great support and help to this journal by getting subscribers from there.

Dr.Nanjunda Rao was greatly loved by the public. They took him into confidence whenever they were faced with problems. Dr.Nanjunda Rao opened a clinic for the poor in Triplicane and named it M.C.N. Eclectic Dispensary. Here, medicines were sold at very reasonable prices compared to other places selling foreign medicines. A broad minded soul, he went to the Harijan quarters near his place to treat his sick coachman Kandan for his typhoid. He even brought him home and accommodated him in one of the cottages in his garden. Needless to say, the Brahmin community was much chagrined. However, Dr.Nanjunda Rao believed that each soul was equal and did not mind what others talked about it. Another incident highlights the confidence people had in him. The Clergy of the Santhome Church wanted to close the narrow public passage between the Church and the Bishop’s Bungalow as according to them, the movement of the people in this passage disturbed the peace of the Church and the Bishop’s Bungalow. They enlisted the help of the police and unlawfully barricaded the passage. The people were not allowed movement and hence they took up this matter with Dr.Nanjunda Rao. After consulting his good friends Kasturiranga Iyengar of “THE HINDU”, Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer and C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer, he decided to organize a protest by peaceful means. The residents of Mylapore collected in large numbers for a peaceful protest march led by Dr.Nanjunda Rao, Kasturiranga Iyengar, Rangaswamy Iyengar of the Swadesamitran and several other prominent persons. The police and the Clergy had to yield in the face of such strong moral pressure and the barricade was completely removed, much to the joy of the citizens.

A deeply religious person, he found his spiritual Guru in a simple Brahmin lady, Sakkarai Ammal. He even built a temple for her at Thiruvanmiyur and endowed huge lands for her benefit. The temple was recently renovated. He studied Tamil at an advanced age to study the glory of Thevaram and Thirupugazh. He also contributed in a big way towards the renovation of the Saint Thiruvalluvar temple in Mylapore. He also built a temple for Vasuki Ammal, wife of Saint Thiruvalluvar in the same compound.

He wanted to visit the sacred shrines of Badrinath and Kedharnath before he passed away. He undertook the trip along with his wife and his trusted servant, Raman. The Maharaja of Mysore along with his wife and a royal entourage joined him at Rishikesh. Before the arrival of the Maharaja, Dr.Nanjunda Rao led a peaceful protest against a sudden order by the Government of Gharwal to ban entry of pilgrims to the shrines. He even petitioned the Commissioner of Gharwal to remove this ban, for which no reasons had been disclosed. Dr.Nanjunda Rao had enlisted the support of the pilgrims and also the Gharwali porters whose livelihood depended upon the inflow of pilgrims. The Commissioner of Gharwal had to hastily withdraw the ban in the face of this sudden upsurge. He walked the distance to the shrines, not heeding the advice of a few doctor friends at Madras who had warned him against it as it would further damage his dilated heart. This left him very weak and returned to Madras an emaciated figure. After his return, he went about organizing a trip to Rameshwaram, said to be necessary to reap full benefits of a trip to Badrinath. His doctor friends were against this too. However, he insisted on making the journey. Before he left for Rameshwaram, he addressed a public meeting at the Gokhale Hall, presided over by Sir Murray Coutts Trotter, the then Chief Justice of Madras describing his pilgrimage to Northern India.

Soon after his return from Rameshwaram, he passed away. It was the year 1921. The high esteem that he was held in by the public was evidenced by the crowd of thousands of sorrowing people at his funeral.


(1)GLORIOUS YEARS- A Brief life sketch by Shri Damodar Rao, Grandson of Dr.Nanjunda Rao
(2)Shri ASHOK- Great Grandson of Dr.Nanjunda Rao, and a resident of Sasi Vilas

Friday, November 20, 2009


An historic event is going to take place tomorrow in the city. For probably the first time in its history (at least definitely for the first time in India), a freemasons meeting is going to be witnessed by non-masons also. On this momentous occasion, Dr.B.Biswakumar, the eminent neurosurgeon from our city is going to take charge as the Grand Master of India. And making the occasion even more historic is the participation of our Governor, Dr.Surjit Singh Barnala in the function.

This post is a collection of some pieces of information about Freemasonry in Madras that I have been able to gather over the past week.

1.Freemasonry came to the Coromandel Coast in 1752, with the formation of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Madras. This was the second place in India where a freemasons lodge was formed. Freemasonry had arrived in India in 1729 with the formation of a lodge at Fort William, Calcutta.
Edmund Pascal, an officer in the army was appointed as the first Provincial Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Madras.

2.The first lodge in Madras city was formed in 1767 at Fort St.George. This lodge ceased to exist in 1791.

3.The oldest lodge in Madras which is still surviving is Lodge Perfect Unanimity. This lodge was consecrated on the 9th of October 1786

4.The first Indian to be initiated into Freemasonry was the Nawab of Carnatic, Omdal-Ul-Omrah Bahadur, who was initiated in 1775 in a lodge in Trichinopoly, then part of the Madras Presidency.

5.The first lodge exclusively for the natives was the Carnatic Lodge, consecrated in 1883. This lodge still exists.

6. The first Hindu to be initiated into freemasonry was Ranaganatha Shastry in 1857. He was initiated in Lodge Perfect Unanimity.

7.Lord Elphinstone,in 1840, Lord Connemara in 1888 and Lord Ampthill in 1901 were appointed as District Grand Masters of Madras. They were also Governors of Madras at the time of their appointment as District Grand Masters.

8. Some places in Madras where Masonic Meetings have taken place:

(A) The present day DGP building on the Beach Road- Was constructed by Lodge Perfect Unanimity in 1840 at a then princely sum of Rs.25000. The Police occupied it some time in the 1860s.
(B) The Pantheon- A public hall used for a variety of programmes, mostly entertainment which stood where the Government Museum stands today
(C) The College Hall in Nungambakkam- part of the DPI campus today.
(D) The Banqueting Hall (now known as Rajaji Hall) inside the Government Estate- This was where Lord Connemara was appointed District Grand Master.
(E) Masonic Hall, Vepery-Am unable to locate where this place is located. Another place is a hotel named Cotsgrave hotel in Vepery-have not heard of this place.
(F) Biden Home in Royapuram- A place for retired seamen- I think some part of it at least still exists
(G) St.Thomas Mount- Am unable to locate the exact place.
(H) Some places in Mount Road, including private residences.

The current premises on Ethiraj Salai or Commander-in-Chief Road as it was earlier known were inaugurated in 1925 by the then Governor of Madras, George Goschen.

Hope to learn about this movement in Madras.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


The book currently on my bed-side is William Dalrymple's Nine Lives:In search of the sacred in modern India. This is the first book of Willam Dalrymple that I am reading.

William Dalrymple was in the city last week to promote this book.His visit was well covered by both the leading dailies of the city, The Hindu and The Times of India.While Times of India ran a small interview with him early last week, The Hindu ran a front page story featuring him in the Thursday edition of its supplement Metro Plus.

This feature was accompanied by a wonderful photograph of him at the cenotaph of one of his ancestors, Sam Dalrymple which has a cupola over it and is situate near St.Thomas Mount,not far from the airport. Lieutenant Colonel Sam Dalrymple of the Madras Artillery died in May 1821 aged 49 years and a cenotaph was erected in his honour by his brother officers.

William Dalrymple had mentioned in the interview with the Times of India that several generations of his family had grown up in the city. Intrigued by this piece of information and the subsequent feature in The Hindu,the heritage buff in me had me probing further Dalrymple connections with the city.

I came across an earlier Dalrymple in the city prior to Sam Dalrymple. Alexander Dalrymple arrived in May 1753 aged just 15 years.He was appointed to the post of the Writer to the East India Company.During his early years at Madras, he came under the influence of Robert Orme, the famous historian(who was then member of the Council and Accountant of Madras) who chose him as the Sub-Accountant, notwithstanding his inexperience in the subject.His appointment was however not approved by the Governor.

Robert Orme gave Dalrymple use of his valuable library which helped him a lot in developing his knowledge.Being employed at the Secretary's Office, Dalrymple came across old records which gave him an opportunity to study the development of commerce in the East.

Combined with a keen interest in navigation(which he studied), this knowledge helped him undertake successful journeys to places such as the Sultanate of Sulu and Balambangan which enabled the Company to establish commercial arrangements with them.

Thanks to his successful expeditions and profound knowledge of navigations and geography, he was appointed in 1779 as the first Hydrographer of the East India Company.He was later appointed as the first Hydrographer to the Admiralty in 1795 when the King's Government first created the post.He held this post till 1808,when he was summarily dismissed.Heart broken by this incident,he died 3 weeks later,aged 71 years.

He left Madras in 1765 and returned for a brief two year period in 1775 during the time one of his early benefactors,Lord Pigot was serving his ill fated second term as Governor of Madras(Lord Pigot was overthrown by his own council unceremoniously and died in captivity in 1777).

Whether Alexander Dalrymple was related to the Sam Dalrymple mentioned above is a question that needs an answer though.But given the fact that William Dalrymple mentions that several generations of his family have had Madras connections, it does seem quite likely that Alexander Dalrymple was in some way related to Sam Dalrymple.

I intend to email William Dalrymple for further information!!!

Monday, November 9, 2009


Hi Friends,

I had ended my previous post giving a list of places Swami Vivekananda was associated with in Madras.

This post is about place no.3 in the above list.

The Hindu Theological High School on Mint Street was founded by R.Sivasankara Pandya, a prominent member of our community, The Gujarati Khedawals. This school is one of the old schools in the North Madras area, having been founded as early as 1889. The school was founded to provide the society good education based on the lofty ideals of Hinduism.

I had compiled an article on the life of R.Sivasankara Pandya and the founding of the Hindu Theological High School. An edited version of this long article given below was published in the September(16th-30th),2008 issue of Madras Musings,the fortnightly dedicated to Madras Heritage.

Bramhasree R.Sivasankara Pandya was born on the 6th of August 1853, in the village of Puliyur (present day Kodambakkam region) in Madras. Born to devout parents, he imbibed the lofty Hindu ideals even at a very young age. His father, Ramanatha Pandya was the Dharmakartha of an ancient Siva Temple in Puliyur.

Sivasankara Pandya was quite proficient academically and he finished his Matriculation in 1868, securing the 13th Rank in the Presidency. Three years later, he passed the First in Arts examination with flying colours, securing the second rank. In the year 1873, He sought admission into the Presidency College to the Bachelor of Arts degree with Mathematics as his specialization. Initially a bit deficient in Mathematics, he soon acquired a flair for the subject through his hard work and remarkable diligence. He passed the degree examination with flying colours in 1875, securing the First rank in the college and the second rank overall in the Presidency. Though a Gujrathi, he was well versed in Telugu as well as Sanskrit.

After his graduation, he worked as a tutor in the same college for about 6 months. He subsequently acquired a law degree in Civil and Criminal Law and went to Tanjore, the land of his forefathers, to practice in the Tanjore District Court. He soon lost the fascination for the legal profession and genuinely felt that his true calling lay elsewhere. He returned to Madras and taught at the Pachaiyappa’s High School and later, at the Pachaiyappa’s College.

Sivasankara Pandya was deeply distressed at the callous attitude the youth of the time showed towards our hoary and distinguished heritage and culture. He felt the need to take immediate steps to bring about a change in the mindset of the youth, whom he felt were foolishly aping the West and teach them about the lofty ideals our culture propagated. In the year 1882, he established weekly classes to teach the youth the tenets of Hinduism. These classes were held at his own house, which he had named “The Castle of Diligence”, at the Pachaiyappas High School and also at the premises of the Hindu Excelsior Reading room. The Hindu Excelsior was a magazine which he founded and edited. A bound volume of the 1884 series is available at the Madras Archives. The classes attracted a lot of young eager students. A charismatic speaker, he also gave religious discourses in various places in English, Tamil, Telugu and Gujarati. Dr.Nanjunda Rao, the famous doctor philanthropist of that time, wrote : “ I also came to know of Sivasankara Pandyaji lecturing in English on the Bhagavad Gita on Sundays and I began to attend his lecture, where even from listening to various Upanishadic quotations in explanation of the Gita my faith in Hinduism in its new light began to increase.” He also founded the “Arya Dharma Vidhyashala” in the year 1886 where Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and English were taught to the students. The school started every day with an hour dedicated to prayer and religious instruction. He started the Hindu Tract Society in the year 1887 with a threefold aim : The defending of Hinduism, the advocacy of Hindu Social reform and furtherance of the cause of morality and learning.

It was around this time that a provocative incident occurred in the Madras Christian College, which deeply hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus. One of the professors of the College, Rev.Laidlaw while condemning idol worship made a statement that even his shoes might as well be worshipped. Also, there was a rumor of the conversion of a Hindu student, the only son of his parents while they were away from Madras. Sivasankara Pandya, on learning of these felt deeply hurt and wanted to start an institution that would teach Hindu values as also impart quality education and started to work towards realizing his goal. His activities were not looked upon favourably by his employers, the Pachaiyappas college and Mr.John Adam, the then principal demanded his suspension. Sivasankara Pandya quit his job in order to work full fledged for the formation of his dream institution. Thus, the seeds were sown for the formation of what would come to be known as the Hindu Theological High School.

Sivasankara Pandya soon started raising funds for the school and the first major step he took towards funds was selling his own house. He went door to door collecting funds and did not always meet with success. A very rich person once invited him to his home and insulted him by giving just a “naya paisa” as donation. Unperturbed, Sivasankara Pandya magnanimously acknowledged the donation by issuing a receipt. However, help was forthcoming from other places and his dream slowly took shape. The most munificent contribution came from H.H.Baskara Vijaya Sethupathi, the Raja of Ramnad, who donated Rs.15000. Other significant contributions in the early years came from one Mr.Ramakishnaiah Panthulu, who donated Rs.9044 and Ambarambedu Munuswamy Mudaliar who donated Rs.10000 and also gifted a house situated at 31, Muthaiah Mudali Street. The school showed its gratitude to this noble gentleman by later starting a Primary Section in his name.

The school was inaugurated on the 14th of January, 1889. He took charge as the first principal of the school and with a devoted band of teachers, went about the task of imparting quality education in an efficient manner. The first managing committee, in the year 1889 consisted of, besides Sivasankara Pandya, Sowcar Lodd Krishna Doss Balmukunda Doss and Sowcar Chaturbhuja Doss Kushal Doss of the famous Doss family and T.Gopinatha Tawker of “Tawker and Sons”, the famed diamond merchants. The management committee of the school has seen many prominent members such as Dr.S.Radhakrishnan, Dr.C.P.Ramaswamy Aiyer, Lodd Govindoss, Rao Sahib Prof Srinivasachariar.

Sivasankara Pandya dedicated himself fully to the task of strengthening and stabilizing the institution. He even declined an offer by the Maharajah of Vijayanagar to translate the Mahabharatha into English for a lavish sum of Rs.20000 as the Maharajah wanted him to give up his school work. Thanks to his able guidance and leadership, the school made steady progress and earned the praise of many distinguished educationists, ruling princes, Dewans and even the Directorate of Public Instruction whose inspecting officers gave the school favourable reports. “The Hindu” was an active supporter of the cause of the school and gave publicity to many school anniversary functions.

The school was visited by many luminaries of that time. Prominent among them were Mahatma Gandhi in 1896 and Swami Vivekananda in 1897. The Hindu dated 28th October 1896 reported Mahatma Gandhi’s visit as under:
M.K.Gandhi, Esq., Barrister-at-Law, Durham, South Africa, paid a visit to the Hindu Theological Institution on Monday, the 26th instant, and was shown over the different Forms. He remarked thus in the Visitors' book:
"I had the honour to visit this excellent institution. I was highly delighted with it. Being a Gujarati Hindu myself I feel proud to know that this institution was started by a Gujarati gentleman. wish the institutions will crop up all over India ,and be the means of preserving a Aryan Religion in its purity."

(Extracted from "The Hindu",28th October,1896)

Swami Vivekananda visited the school in 1897 and commended the wonderful work done b Sivasankara Pandya. He remarked that Sivasankara Pandya’s work in the cause of Hinduism deserved all credit as they were undertaken at a very difficult time when all such attempts were considered by the Europeans as superstitious.

The Hindu Theological High School has produced many distinguished alumni over the years. Notable among them include Dr.Kesari (of Kesari Kuteeram) and the founder of the Indian Express B.D.Goenka.

Sivasankara Pandya was a very good writer and wrote a book called “Modern British Wisdom” which was dedicated to Queen Victoria and in whose praise he composed a poem called “Victorian Rule”. Some other books written by him include Dravida Bala Nithi Bodhini (Moral maxims in Tamil, with English translation),”The empress of India and other poems.” His Hindu Excelsior series which consisted of small books containing various religious themes based on Hinduism was well received. An ardent Theosophist, some of his books received good publicity in Lucifer, the Theosophical Magazine. The Madras Christian College even commended his literary activities thus : “He labours with indefatigable patience and simplicity of purpose which are refreshing. Mr.Sivasankara Pandyji has entered a field in which much good work may be done, work valuable from a purely literary point of view as well as from that of moral instruction.”

Sivasankara Pandya shed his mortal coil on the 14th of February 1899 at a relatively young age of 45 yrs.

Friday, November 6, 2009


My association with the Ramakrishna Math,Madras is now 2 decades old.I was part of the first batch of Bala Mandir,an initiative by the Math to help children grow into better individuals by inculcating values in them through personality development classes, a venture that is still running. The program helps children learn more about our glorious past and history. Excerpts from various religious texts like the Gita and Upanishads are taught and their meaning and the lessons to be learnt from them explained. The classes also draw a lot from the life and teachings of the Holy Trinity-Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda.This venture, started in 1989 was initially held only during the summer vacations but later developed into an all round the year program being held every Sunday.

I was fascinated by the life of Swami Vivekananda,a personality whom I first learnt about through these classes and from whose life and teachings I still draw inspiration from.

Swami Vivekananda had a special place in his heart for the city of Madras and its people who played a active part in him making the trip to America to participate in the Parliament of World Religions in 1893.He made 2 visits to the city of Madras, one in 1893 as a wandering monk and the other in 1897 as a celebrity which marked his triumphant return from the West.

Mention Swami Vivekananda in Madras and the first thing that comes to everyone's mind is the Ice House where he lived for 9 days(6th February to 14th of February 1897).But quite a few other places in Madras were blessed by his presence.An example is the Victoria Public Hall near the Central Railway Station from where he delivered about 3-4 lectures.

My good friend Mr.V.Sriram (the brain behind several theme based heritage walks in the city) suggested way back in January that we could present a walk which covered some, if not all places connected with Swami Vivekananda's two visits to Madras. A good amount of research work followed as places that people had not heard about or knew had a Vivekananda connection had to be identified.For example,the site on Santhome High Road(No.22,Santhome High Road) where a house stood in which Swami Vivekananda stayed as a guest of a Bengali gentleman during his 1893 visit.The culmination of the research work was the heritage walk titled "Swami Vivekananda's Madras" which was jointly led by me and Mr.Sriram on August 23rd 2009, as a part of the Madras Week Celebrations.

Joining us on the walk was Swami Athmashraddhananda, Editor of Vedanta Kesari(an English monthly spiritual magazine of the Ramakrishna Math,Madras in circulation from 1914)and the person behind a wonderful book which was released in July 2009 covering in detail Swami Vivekananda's 9 stay in Madras in 1897.The walk was covered by him the November Issue of the Vedanta Kesari.The link is:

November Issue of Vedanta Kesari

(Please see page 413)

The places connected with Swami Vivekananda in Madras are as follows:
1.Rahmat Bagh-A house in Santhome High Road (No.22,Santhome High Road)where he stayed in 1893 as a guest of Manmathanath Bhattacharya,the first Indian Accountant General of Madras.

2.Patters Gardens-Residence of Lodd Govindoss, a wealthy Gujarati gentleman whose house he visited in 1897.

3.The Hindu Theological High School on Mint Street(where he presided over a function)

4.Sashi Vilas,the residence of Dr.M.C.Nanjunda Rao-the famous doctor philanthropist of Mylapore whom he visited before his American visit.

5.Victoria Public Hall from where he delivered 3-4 lectures in 1897.

6.The Pachaiyappa's Hall from where he delivered a lecture.

7.The Egmore Railway Station where he was accorded a rousing welcome on his arrival in 1897.

8.The Ice House where he stayed as a guest of Biligiri Iyengar,a lawyer from Mysore whose residence it was in 1897.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


My first post is about a Madras landmark near my home...A bridge behind the Citi Center on Radhakrishnan Salai(or Edward Elliots Road as it was called).
I once hired an auto from Royapettah to my place and by way of direction,I told the auto wallah he had to go straight after crossing Hamilton Bridge.He gave me a puzzled "What-on-earth-are-you-talking-about"look,obviously having never heard of such a place.Then it struck me to try the name "Ambattan Varavathy" as the bridge is now called in local parlance..I did and he readily understood where I wanted to go.

The popular theory of the corruption of the name Hamilton into Ambattan is that the native population was finding it tough to pronounce the word Hamilton and in due course the name changed from Hamilton to Ummutton to Ambattan.But first,how old is the bridge?

Well,no one seems to be sure as to how old it is actually.But a record of this can be found in H.D.Love's Vestiges of Old Madras(1913) where he speaks of a mention during the French occupation of Santhome (in the 1670s)of a bridge that was probably built by the Portugese.

The corruption from Hamilton to Ummutton seems to have occurred as early as the mid 1800s.While browsing some old records of the London Gazette on the web, I happened to stumble upon a 1867 record of a poor soul living at No.12,Ummutton Varavathy Street,Mylapore who was declared insolvent.From Ummutton Varavathy,it seems to have changed to Barber's Bridge as a bunch of records dealing with reports of administration of Madras Municipality from the 1870s show.In fact,a 1893 map of Madras shows this place marked as Barber's Bridge.

Whatever be the stories behind its name, one needs to be extremely careful while traversing this stretch on walk, especially in the mornings when one is never a yard too far away from a pile of freshly laid manure( courtesy both the two legged and four legged species!!!).

P.S:I am quite sure Shakespeare wouldn't be too happy if he knew I have used his famous words to title a post which talks of bridge notorious for its stench...he used the words in a far more sweet smelling context!!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Hi Friends..
In the hustle and bustle of the modern world, few people have time for history. Yet, it is essential that one remembers and respects the past as that is what has led us to where we are today. It is equally essential to remember that what we are today plays a huge role in determining how the future is going to pan out.
The city of Madras is steeped in history.It can lay claim credit to being the place from where modern Indian history began. One can still come across numerous vignettes of the past in the course of their day to day living in this city without actually realizing their significance.These vignettes are manifest in the form of memorials,road names,statues etc.
This blog,which marks quite a late entry of mine into the world of blogging is an attempt to share what little I have come across and learnt about this wonderful city.
Do share the information with others and let us revere and celebrate this city, a fine balance of tradition and modernity.

I take this opportunity to thank two people who have greatly inspired me to learn more about the city- Mr.S.Muthiah-I have been a long time reader of his Madras Miscellany columns in The Hindu and Mr.V.Sriram,historian,a prolific writer and a good friend.