Friday, December 9, 2011


An unique advertisement from a 1915 book, advertising Convocation Gowns!!!


Before you read today's post further,take a look at the map below (click on it to see a bigger image)

This is a map of Madras in 1909. A closer look at the map would reveal a startling fact, the absence of an area without which Madras that is Chennai today cannot be imagined- T.Nagar.

This post is about the formation of T.Nagar.

The area where today T.Nagar stands was a vast expanse of water called the Long Tank. The earliest reference I could find of the existence of this water body was in the 1770s, though am quite sure it would have been in existence much earlier.The Long Tank was a big enough water body to form the western frontier of the city,also determining the limits of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Madras Judicature.

The "Sportsman's Book of India", on the subject of the Madras Boat Club has the following mention about the Long Tank:

"The club-house is permanently situated on the river Adyar, about five miles out of the city of Madras ; but during the cold weather, when the principal regatta is held,a large tank, called the " Long Tank," opposite the Cathedral of Madras, fills and gives a stretch of water 3 miles by 2 miles. A temporary boathouse is erected there while the water lasts, and the big regatta is generally held in this tank.The roads leading to the club are shaded by magnificent avenues, the drive being one of the best in Madras".

What a wonderful sight it must have been!!!

(The Cathedral in the above account refers to the St.George's Cathedral, which gives an idea about the expanse of the water body when seen in today's context).

Madras was undergoing a population explosion in the early 1900s and the Government was seriously thinking of expansion to facilitate the increasing housing needs.It hit upon an idea of going on a huge takeover drive, buying out several large parts of land and the huge garden bungalows. A proposal was also mooted to takeover 115 acres of land on Greenways Road,most of which was owned by the P.Venkatachellum family,a family famed for its pickles and condiments business.

An idea was then suggested by V.S.Ranganatham Pillai, the son of a former Dewan of Cochin and the owner of one of the garden bungalows on Greenways road, that the Long Tank could be taken up for development. The Government too thought of it as a good idea and this spelt the death knell for the huge water body.

In one of the earliest instances of draining out a water body for real estate purposes (Chennai was to see a lot more of it especially in the early/mid 2000s, when the real estate boom was at its peak), the Long Tank was drained in 1919 and filled up to create housing facilities.Thus came up Theyagaroya Nagar in 1925,or T.Nagar to call it by its more familiar name. It was named in honour of Sir Pitty Theyagaroya Chetty,one of the founders of the Justice Party and for long the President of the Corporation of Madras.



Wednesday, December 7, 2011


2011 marked the end of the year long celebrations commemorating 150 years of Income Tax India. I happened to go through a small pamphlet brought out by the IT department (available on the website), which traced the origins of Income Tax in India and proceeded to trace its progress over the 150 year period. Mentioned rather appropriately in the pamphlet was James Wilson, the man behind the levy of Income Tax.

This post is about a man who played an equally important and interesting part in the introduction of Income Tax in India,Sir Charles Trevelyan, Governor of Madras from 1858-1860, a man who is seldom mentioned in discussions regarding the origins of Income Tax in this country.

Sir Charles Trevelyan, born in 1807 joined the East India Company's Bengal Civil Service as a writer in 1826 and gradually moved up the ranks, becoming Deputy Secretary to the Government in the Political Department and later Secretary to the Sudder Board of Revenue, before returning to England in 1838. During his tenure, he earned a reputation for promoting the cause for education and it was thanks to him that the Government decided in favour of the promulgation of European Literature and Science amongst the Indians.

His experience in Indian conditions meant that he was seen as a perfect choice to replace Lord Harris, who had resigned as Governor of Madras in 1858. Thus, he returned to India in 1858, this time as Governor of Madras.It was around this time that the administration of India was undergoing a change. Soon after the Mutiny of 1857, the Government of India Act, 1858 was passed that placed India under the direct rule of the Queen, thus bringing to an end the East India Company rule.

The Mutiny had left in its wake a tremendous deficit that needed to be overcome. An increase in customs duty was proposed, which led to widespread protests, especially in Bengal and Madras. A need was felt for the presence of a person who would be the panacea for the financial mess the government was finding itself in. Thus came into picture James Wilson, a man known to be of great financial ability. Little would he have imagined then that his brainchild would go on one day to become the country's mainstay of revenue.

James Wilson, in the first ever Budget Speech in India, delivered on 18th of February 1860, proposed to bridge the gap between revenue and increase in public debt through an increase in import duties, a tax on home-grown tobacco, a small and uniform license duty upon traders of every class and the temporary imposition of an income-tax on all incomes above Rs 200 a year, but with a reduction for those not exceeding Rs 500 per annum. Needless to say, these proposals were to meet with considerable opposition.

Sir Charles Trevelyan was quick to raise in protest against the proposed taxes, and Income Tax in particular. He was of the view that it was not proper to impose the burden of the expenses caused due to the Mutiny on a Presidency that was least affected by it. A public meeting was held at the Pachaiyappa's Hall in George Town (then known as Black Town) to garner support against the imposition of Income Tax.Joining hands with Sir Charles Trevelyan in the protest was Sir Henry Nelson of Parry and Co, who was then the Chairman of the Madras Chamber of Commerce. Trevelyan also found fault with the imposition of the tax on people who had no representation in the Legislative Council. Needless to say, this did not go down well with the powers in England and led to the recall of Trevelyan.

The whole episode had an ironical ending. James Wilson did not live to see his efforts bear fruit as he died of dysentery in August 1860, thus leaving a sizable hole to fill in the Finance Department. In one of those ironies of life, the man chosen to replace him was Trevelyan himself, who returned to India in 1862 as the Finance Minister, thus being made in charge of implementing a levy he had so vehemently opposed. And thus came to stay Income Tax, in the face of ongoing protests led by Madras particularly. After an unsteady initial period in the 1870s(when it was abolished in 1873,only to return 5 years later), Income Tax became more or less a permanent feature.

Trevelyan and his tenure in Madras as Governor is remembered even today in the city. It was he who mooted the idea of developing a public space for the city, a green lung that would serve as a place for people to congregate and also provide a mode of recreation. Thus came into being the People's Park right next to where today the Central Station is, on an area of 117 acres. This park would later go on to house famous Madras institutions such as the Zoo (which functioned from there until the 1980s, when it moved to Vandalur)and the magnificent and historic Victoria Public Hall (built in 1887,currently undergoing renovation). Sadly, all today that remains of this huge green space is a garden called the My Ladys Garden, which is functional and can been accessed through Sydenhams Road. A fountain christened the "Trevelyan Fountain" was put up on the grounds of the Victoria Public Hall when it was built, thus commemorating the man who developed the space. This fountain, though dysfunctional can be seen even today, recently having been relocated inside the grounds to facilitate the Metro Rail work. Another place commemorating Trevelyan in the city is a road called the Trevelyan Basin road.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Recently, a report in the Hindu Property Plus spoke of the diminishing tree cover in Chennai and how amongst the metropolises it has the lowest tree cover (an unflattering 9.5% within city limits and 4.5% in the suburbs).

So when I came across this report on the number of trees planted on the various roads in Madras in 1878, I just could not believe how green the roads mentioned in the report would have been!!! A far cry from what we have today!!!

Snapshots of extracts from the Report:

Monday, December 5, 2011


My write up on a recent visit to Pulicat which has been published in the current issue of Madras Musings:

Heritage destination – Pulicat
(By Karthik A. Bhatt)
Will it ever happen?

One recent lazy Sunday afternoon, a couple of friends and I took off on a drive to Pulicat (Pazhaverkadu in Tamil), to explore the sights of a fishing hamlet that was once home to the Dutch East India Company.

At the end of a 2-hour, and a fairly comfortable, drive on NH-5, we reached Pulicat. We had established contact with a local there to take us around and he was on hand to receive us.

Our first stop was at an exquisite temple dating to the Vijayanagara period dedicated to Adinarayana Perumal. A locked wicket gate welcomed us. Awed by the sight of the main entrance to the temple, we were disappointed that we would be denied the opportunity to witness what lay beyond. We decided to ask around to see if someone could guide us to the person who would have the keys to the temple and so, off went one of my friends and the local contact. They returned 10 minutes later with the good tidings that the priest was on his way and, sure enough, he appeared not long after. The priest unlocked the main entrance and a huge temple greeted us.

Though a magnificent temple, it was in complete ruins. Huge roots had literally torn it apart at various places. After returning from the visit, a little research on the internet revealed that the entire construction was of laterite stone, a material seen used in Kerala palaces and commonly seen in Malabar and the Konkan coast, but not seen in Tamil Nadu. So it was the type of construction that made this temple unique.

The area leading to the sanctum sanctorum was surprisingly neat and well maintained. The priest explained to us that it had been spruced up when some basic work had been undertaken in 2009 and 2010. He also mentioned that there was talk of HR & CE aid forthcoming but that nothing had come out of it so far. We could gather from him that a feud between Pazhaverkadu and another village, the name of which we couldn’t catch, had led to this temple being neglected. We could not even complete the circumambulation as the path was full of thorns.

After leaving the temple, our next stop was the Dutch cemetery. Pulicat was the principal trading post of the Dutch East India Company, whose factory was established there in 1610. Legend has it that they first established contact with the local Muslim traders and that it was they who helped the Dutch get a trading grant from Queen Obayama, the wife of King Venkata II, the Vijayanagara ruler. It was from Pulicat that the Dutch successfully carried out much of their trading operations for the next 200 years, before surrendering the settlement to the British East India Company in 1825.

All that remains today signifying that it was once a Dutch enclave is the cemetery. Fort Geldria, the fort built by the Dutch around 1615 as a means of protection, had been demolished, first by Hyder Ali and later by the British when they took control of Pulicat.

Maintained by the ASI, the cemetery was open, but there was not a soul in sight. Once we entered, it was so quiet that it was hard to believe that we were just a minute away from the main market of Pazhaverkadu! Two beautifully sculpted skeletons greeted us at the entrance. Inside the cemetery were well maintained graves of various Dutch residents and officials of Pulicat. We could also see a couple of English tombstones in a far corner, obviously sited after 1825.

Coming out of the cemetery, we made brief stops at a couple of old churches. The older of them, called the Our Lady of Glory Church (said to date to the Portuguese period), had been demolished and was being reconstructed. The other church, a small, beautiful one called the St. Anthony’s Church, was closed and we could only get a glimpse of it from the outside. We then drove over the bridge across the lake connecting one side of this fishing hamlet to the other. This bridge, which has been recently opened, has improved connectivity with the mainland for the many villages on the other side of the lake. It was twilight and the lake presented a pretty sight in the fading light.

Our last stop for the evening before we drove back was to catch up with a bit of Muslim history. Pulicat has a long association with the Muslim community, with Arabian traders settling there nearly 800 years ago. Two prominent mosques, both nearly 300 years old, are the main places of worship. The smaller of the two mosques, the Chinna Pallivasal, has an interesting feature, a sundial that was installed in 1914 to show the time based on which the people would assemble for prayer. A Madrasa also functions in the vicinity, where the children receive Islamic instructions. The Arwi language, a blend of Tamil and Arabic, is another interesting feature of the place. Dating to the time the Arabs first settled in Pulicat, this language today has very few takers amongst the Muslims of Pulicat, with only a handful of people amongst the local population having a knowledge of it. Essentially Tamil written in Arabic, the script has certain special symbols as Tamil has more consonants and vowels than Arabic. Arwi was used during the freedom struggle as a means of secret communication, as the British translators could understand only the Arabic script.

It was soon time for us to make the two-hour drive back to the city. We were left ruing the fact that we had mistimed our trip, as the three hours we had in Pulicat offered only a glimpse of the local culture and nothing more. We had also missed out on visiting the Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary.

With so much of rich history in Pulicat, not to mention the placid waters of the lake and the beach beyond, it is a place that offers an opportunity to be developed as an exciting tourist destination. Though tourists do visit the place for joy rides on the lake and enjoy the bird sanctuary, its potential needs to be harnessed much more.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Hi Friends,

This article of mine on a brief history of North Madras was published in today's issue of Times Property Supplement brought out by the Times of India, Chennai.

North Madras is every historian’s delight. KARTHIK A BHATT takes us back in time, as he traces the birth of the oldest part of Chennai, from where the rest of the city, as we know it today, expanded ...

The seeds for the formation of what we today know as North Madras were sown with the founding of Fort St George by the East India Company in 1639. A native town cropped up just outside the Fort and it came to be known as the Black Town, as the former being a European preserve was referred to as White Town. Black Town comprised people of various backgrounds, with Telugu being the predominant language.

Large parts of Black Town were demolished by the French during their stay between 1746 and 1749 and later, after the Siege of Madras in 1759, the British razed what was left, and created an open space to provide a clear line of fire when needed. Thus came into being the Esplanade as we know it today. Boundary pillars were marked for the purpose and one such pillar exists even today at Parry's Corner. Parry's Corner is a landmark as the oldest business establishment in South India; Parrys has been here since 1798. Black Town was renamed George Town in 1911 to commemorate an earlier visit of King George V as Prince of Wales to the city.

George Town is a thriving business district, thanks to a variety of business establishments, many of which are more than a century old. It is a confluence of various communities, including Marwaris and Gujaratis, and hence, it is a cultural delight. Many historic temples, churches and mosques dot the place as do eateries representing regional cuisines.

Broadway, one of George Town's main roads was created by Stephen Popham, who in the 1780s, levelled the drain lying between the two main parts of Town - Peddanaickenpet and Muthialpet. What was Attapallam, the ditch, became a thoroughfare known as Popham's Broadway.

In time, the Company took over more villages and those acquired further north included Tiruvottiyur in 1708, Tondiarpet in 1720 and Perambur in 1742. Close to the sea is Royapuram, at first a fishing hamlet owing its name to its guardian saint, St Peter, who is known as Rayappar in Tamil. Once the hub of the Parsi community in Madras, it is home to the famous Parsi Fire Temple which recently completed its centenary. Royapuram also has the distinction of possessing the oldest Railway Station in South India, declared open in 1856.

In short, North Madras can lay claim to being the womb from which the city we know today as Chennai, has developed.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Hi Friends,

This article on Gazulu Lakshminarasu Chetty was published in the current issue of Madras Musings. He was an early Madras activist and one of the earliest Indians to own a newspaper, the Madras Crescent.

Gazulu Lakshminarasu Chetty was born in 1806 at Periamet in an affluent family. His father, Sidhulu Chetty, was into the trade in Madras handkerchiefs, indigo and dyes, and was carrying on business under the name Sidhulu Chetty & Co. The business was a prominent one of the times and Sidhulu Chetty was one of the two Indians to become founder-members of the Madras Chamber of Commerce in 1836. A street in the Choolai area of the city commemorates him even now.

Lakshminarasu had his elementary education at the Native Association Society’s School. Even at a young age, he joined Debating Societies taking a keen interest in the various political matters of the time. After his schooling, he joined his father’s firm as an apprentice and was soon made an active member of the firm. He later took over as the sole proprietor after the death of his father. The cotton export trade was booming at that time and Lakshminarasu, investing in it, amassed a tremendous fortune. He also succeeded his father as a member of the Madras Chamber of Commerce.

With the business flourishing, Lakshminarasu Chetty had time and resources to devote to political activities. He was an exception in the midst of the ignorant public who believed that the issues of public interest were wholly at the mercy of the Governor and the Council at Fort St George, unaware of the existence of a Court of Directors of the East India Company (EIC) in England to whom grievances could be addressed when necessary. Lakshminarasu set up the Madras Native Association in 1852 as a branch of the British Indian Association, Calcutta, to serve as a forum for expressing Indian opinion. He later split with the BIA and made the MNA an independent body.

Lakshminarasu was completely against proselytising missionaries who, he felt, were functioning in Madras with the active connivance of the Government. The Government was contemplating a legislation whereby Hindu youth could convert without prejudice to their right to hereditary property. Lakshminarasu convened a public meeting, and a memorandum signed by those present was sent to the EIC in England. The Government had to give in and drop the legislation.

To fight the missionaries, Lakshminarasu bought the Native Circulator, a newspaper founded by one Narayanaswamy Naidu and renamed it The Crescent. This paper took on The Record, which was the missionary media vehicle. The first editor of The Crescent was one Mr. Harley, an ex-army man. The first copy of the journal was brought out on October 2, 1844. The paper was to face difficulties from its inception as the Government denied it privileges granted to other newspapers. On one occasion, an advertisement for insertion in the Fort St.George Gazette was returned as inadmissible as it was “of a character not usually inserted.”

The Crescent was published from Lakshminarasu’s Hindu Press on Armenian Street. Initially, it was a bi-weekly published on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to a special half-sheet edition every Monday evening. Leading people of the time such as Madhava Rao, Sadasiva Pillai, Seshayya Sastri and Rama Iyengar were regular contributors. It enjoyed a circulation of more than 10,000 in its heyday.

The paper was one of the earliest in the Presidency to adopt investigative journalism. Lakshminarasu Chetty succeeded in getting employees of the government to supply him with news from the Government files. One of the agents to be employed by him was a Vencataroyulu Naidu, a translator in the government’s petition department, who was later transferred to the Chingleput Collectorate in the same capacity. His modus operandi was to bring the public papers in his pockets in a secret manner, make copies and return them the next morning. Lakshminarasu also appointed agents in other departments who supplied him with papers. The whole process worked efficiently for quite some time until confidential remarks made by the Governor, the Marquis of Tweeddale, found their way into the journal. Serious cognisance was taken of the issue and an inquiry was ordered.

Samuel Bowie, an employee of The Crescent turned approver and the complicity of Vencataroyulu Naidu and others stood revealed. Enquiries showed that Vencataroyulu used to publish letters containing information from public records under the columns “Vindex” and “Plain Speaking Man”. The public was divided over the issue and many anonymous letters both in support of and against the accused were addressed to the Government. The Chief Secretary of the time I.J.Thomas summarily dismissed all people connected with the affair. Vencataroyulu Naidu was disqualified from holding any public office for a further period of 7 years. Soon after, he began practising law in the Sadr court. But the bug of journalism had bitten him hard and he established a press called the Rising Sun, bringing out a magazine under the same name focussing on social problems of the Hindu community. This venture did not last long and came to a close with his death in 1863.

In 1852, Lakshminarasu played host to Danby Seymour, MP, when he visited India. Seymour had heard of Lakshminarasu thanks to the frequent memos raised by him on various matters. Lakshminarasu accompanied Seymour on a tour of Southern India visiting places such as Cuddalore, Kumbakonam, etc. The plight of the land owners who were assessed at prohibitive rates and the defaulters who were physically tortured disturbed the duo. Seymour made notes of what he saw and presented them in the House of Commons in July 1854. The matter was debated upon and a Torture Commission was set up in September that year to conduct an inquiry. The Madras Native Association played no small role in making this happen, thanks to the frequent complaints and memos in the matter.

In 1854, Lakshminarasu Chetty was appointed one of the Trustees of the Pachaiyappas Trust at the behest of his good friend, J.B.Norton. In 1855, Lakshminarasu sent a petition signed by about 14,000 persons praying that the administration of the British Territories be handed over by the East India Company to the Crown. This was one of a series of agitations led by Lakshminarasu in Madras and by others in Bombay and Bengal which led to radical changes such as throwing open appointments in the Civil Services to competitions and reducing the strength of the Court of Directors to eighteen from thirty, six of whom were to be nominated by the Crown. This was one of the key factors, along with the Mutiny of 1857, that led to the placing of India under the direct control of the Queen. These activities were, however, not viewed in favourable light by the Government and Lakshminarasu was labelled a seditious person whose activities needed watching.

The appointment of a new set of Executive Officers’ posts in 1857 brought about a change in the attitude of the Madras Government towards Lakshminarasu and he was awarded the Companion of the Order of the Star of India in 1861. He was also made a member of the Madras Legislative Council in 1863 on the death of the Hon. V. Sadagopa Charlu. By 1864, Lakshminarasu was in poor financial state, his active espousal of social causes having no doubt made him neglect his business. His newspaper, The Crescent, had also ceased to do well and was wound up in 1863. The family trade, however, seems to have been later revived by a person named G. Narasimooloo, who became an agent of the Madras and Mysore Silk Company set up by the De Vecchi Brothers of Italy.

Lakshminarasu Chetty passed away in 1868.


1. Representative Men of Southern India by G. Parameswaram Pillai published in 1896.

2. Origins and Growth of Political Consciousness in Andhra during the Nineteenth Century – A Thesis Paper for doctorate degree submitted to the University of Hyderabad by K.H.S.S. Sundar, 1994.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


The next Congress Session held in Madras was in 1914. This was held in a pavilion erected in the grounds of the Doveton House in Nungambakkam.

Some information on the Doveton House: The Doveton House is one of Madras's historic buildings thanks to its origins that can be traced to the 1790s, when it was built by a Benjamin Roebuck. The home got its name when it became the residence of a John Doveton, who had purchased it on becoming a Lieutenant General,from a Linghi Chetty in 1837. John Doveton had served as the guardian of Tippu Sultan's two sons who were taken into custody by Lord Cornwallis until Tippu had paid his reparations soon after the Third Mysore War. After his time, the property changed hands with the Government acquiring it.The Women's Christian College moved into this campus in 1916 and this house survives as part of the campus even today.

The session was well attended with 866 delegates participating. The platform was crowded with all the nobilities of Madras when the President elect, Bhupendranath Basu came in, in procession, escorted to the Pavilion door by a guard of Congress Volunteers on cycles. The session was a historic one as it was visited by H.E, the Governor of Madras, Lord Pentland, the first visit ever paid by a Representative of the Crown to the Congress.

The Congress did not return to Madras until a good 13 years later, when the 42nd Session was held in 1927. The venue for the Session was the grounds of the Spur tank in Chetpet. This Session was a significant one for two reasons. The first one was that it was the first time that the Congress called for Purna Swaraj, or complete freedom with Jawaharlal Nehru moving the Independence Resolution. The second reason was that it was this session paved the way for the formation of the Music Academy, as an offshoot of an All India Music Conference that was held in conjunction with this Session of the Congress.

The last Session of the Congress held in Madras was in 1955. This session,held in Avadi saw the adoption of a resolution moved by Jawaharlal Nehru on the Socialistic Pattern of Society.

(Rajaji addressing the Subjects Committee:Photo from an old issue of Frontline Magazine)

The Congress did however meet again at Madras, at Maraimalai Nagar in 1988 for a meeting of the All India Congress Committee, an event that was presided over by Rajiv Gandhi.

1. HOW INDIA WROUGHT FOR FREEDOM:BY ANNIE BESANT, The Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, 1915


Saturday, January 15, 2011


Madras played host to the 19th Session of the Congress in 1903. The venue this time was Spring Gardens, Teynampet where a Pandal accomodating nearly 6000 persons was put up.An Industrial Exhibition was also inaugurated with it(the Industrial Exhibition being in its 3rd edition) by the Maharajah of Mysore. Interestingly, Burma was represented for the first time in this session. Lal Mohan Ghose was elected President of this session.

Two notable matters discussed in this session were the Coronation Durbar held in Delhi earlier that year and the Madras Municipal Bill which was to be introduced. On the subject of the Coronation Durbar, the Congress took strong exception to the treatment accorded to the Indian Princes-"Subject to a humiliation they had never known before under the British Government" and the Indian visitors, who returned with "bitter memories of the different treatment received by Indians and Europeans". The Madras Municipal Bill was called "retrograde and reactionary" by the President and a resolution was passed condemning its introduction. The Bill evoked strong criticism as it proposed to reduce the number of popular representatives to 16 (from the 24 that was existing) and gave 8 to associations wholly or mainly composed of Europeans.
Strong exception was also taken to the Bill due to the fact that it was not in consonance with the principles of Local Self Government laid down in the time of Lord Ripon.

I have not been able to place the exact location of Spring Gardens. This seems to have been the residence of the Rajah of Pithapuram, Rajah Ram Venkata Kumara Mahipati, Surya Rao Bahadur Garu as is seen from a book published in 1915. It is interesting to note that a Maharajah Surya Road exists even today in the Alwarpet-Teynampet area.

The 23rd Session of the Congress was held in Madras in 1908. This session was held in exceptional circumstances, having been adjourned from Surat where it was originally held in 1907. The move to Madras was caused due to a split in the party over the election of the President. Dr.Rash Bihari Ghose had been elected President for the session but it was suggested that Lala Lajpat Rai be elected President. Matters came to a head when Bala Ganagadhara Tilak made an attempt to move a motion, either for adjournment or for the Presidential election. Chaotic scenes followed as he attempted to address the delegates who had refused to listen to him. A riot broke out and in perhaps one of the early instances of its kind, a shoe was flung at the dais and the unfortunate recipient was Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, the famous Parsi lawyer and political figure!!. The meeting was declared adjourned and police had to clear the hall.

Following the drama, the Convention Committee met at Allahabad in April 1908 where a Constitution was drawn up for the Indian National Congress. Thus, Madras had the distinction of playing host to the first session held under a Constitution, in December 1908.

The session was held at Elphinstone Grounds, Mount Road and was held in far more pleasant circumstances than the earlier one.

More in the next post...

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Amidst all the scams,political drama and turmoil that India was witness to particularly in the last quarter of the year occurred an event that did not quite get the coverage an event of such significance ought to have.

The Indian National Congress, leader of the UPA Government turned 125 years of age on 28th of December 2010.

This post traces the close association the Congress has had with Madras right from its inception in 1885.

The seeds for the formation of a National Congress were sown in late December 1884 when seventeen men met at the house of Dewan Bahadur Raghunatha Rao in Mylapore to chart out the plan for the formation of a political National Movement. (The historic residence where the meeting was held does not exist any longer and in its place today stands an apartment complex-Vishwakamal. In fact one of the residents of the complex says that there existed a plaque commemorating this event for a long time before it was sadly demolished during the construction of this apartment). Most of these seventeen men were delegates in the Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society that had just concluded at Adyar. Though what exactly was discussed at the meeting is not known, it is generally accepted that this Convention of seventeen men had sown the seeds for the formation of the Congress.

Madras has so far played host to 8 Annual Congress Sessions. The following paragraphs take a brief look at the sessions and interesting trivia that surround it.

The first Congress session to be held in Madras was in December 1887. This was the 3rd Congress Session, the first two having been held at Poona and Calcutta respectively. The chairman of the reception committee was another man with Mylapore connections, Sir T.Madhava Rao. It was held in a huge pandal erected specially for the purpose at Mackay's Gardens (This is an area that exists by the same name even today and lies just off Graeme's Road) and was attended by 607 delegates, Madras leading the numbers with 362 delegates participating. Another interesting bit of information, though not verified is that today's Thousand Lights area takes its name thanks to the thousand lights that were lit on the occasion of this Congress Session. It was in this session that Congress got its first Muslim President with the election of Badruddin Tyabji to the post.
Entertainments were hosted by Lord Connemara, the Governor of Madras, Sir Savalai Ramaswamy Mudaliar, the great philanthropist and the then Sheriff of Madras and Mr.Eardley Norton, the famous lawyer.

The next Congress Session Madras played host to was in 1894, the 10th Session of the Congress. This session was held in Hyde Park Gardens on Poonamallee High Road, a place that exists even today as part of the Kilpauk Medical College campus. It was a property of the Rajah of Panagal, Parthasarathy Ramarayaningar who had given it to the college for its functioning. I found a wonderful photograph of the pandal put up on the occasion which I share here: (The photo is courtesy an old edition of the ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS but is not of great quality, though the wordings are visible)

Sir Alfred Webb, an Irishman was elected the Chairman of this Session.
I have been able to gather little else about this Session.

The Congress returned to Madras for its 14th Session, held in December 1898. This session was held at Patters Gardens, Royapettah. which was the residence of one of the wealthy Gujarati families of Madras, Lodd Krishnadas Balamukundas and his son Lodd Govindoss. The family was known for its philanthropy and was involved in a lot of social activities in the city. (I have covered this family in some detail in my article for the Madras Musings on Gujaratis of Madras).

Ananda Mohan Bose was the Chairman of this session.

Rest of the sessions are covered in my next blog post...


Hi Friends,

Its been quite a while since I last posted on this blog...7 months to be precise!!!

I tend to get into a "writer's block" quite easily...or in this case, a "blogger's block" (not a very desirable quality a wannabe serious writer like me should have!!!).

But this year is a new beginning and I hope to blog more often and do better than I did last year.