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...

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