Saturday, March 11, 2017

Madras and the rise of the Indian National Congress Part I: The Mylapore Seventeen

True, the roots of the Indian National Congress are shrouded in mystery, because while  I doubt if any of the pioneers lived to taste freedom (not improbable, though, as many of the delegates of the inaugural 1885 session were in the thirties and a few, even in their twenties and had any, unbeknownst lived upto 1947, he would have been in his nineties), there is actually very little chance that a delegate or two had continued to remain in active participation  after Mahatma Gandhi took over the leadership of the movement and turned the Congress into an agitating body in the early 1920s. The last known survivor of the 1885 session was Gooty Kesava Pillai (1860-1933) who died on March 28, 1933.

The first session of the Indian National Congress was held at Bombay all right but its not known to many that the city of Madras played a significant role in its formation. In the last week of December 1884, seventeen prominent Indians from all parts of the country met at the house of Raghunatha Rao in Mylapore and resolved to form "a national movement for political ends". The seventeen were S. Subramania Iyer, P. Rangaiah Naidu and P. Anandacharlu from Madras, Norendranath Sen, Surendranath Banerjee and M. Ghosh from Calcutta, V. N. Mandlik, K. T. Telang and Dadabhai Naoroji from Bombay, C. Vijayaranga Mudaliar and Panduranga Gopal from Poona, Sardar Dyal Singh from Benares, Harishchandra from Allahabad, Kashi Prasad and Pandit Lakshmkinarayan from North-Western Provinces (present-day UP), Charuchandra Mitter from rural Bengal and Shri Ram from Oudh.  The list of names have come down to us through one of the delegates Norendranath Sen of Calcutta who handed it over for publication in the newspaper The Indian Mirror and these individuals have since acquired fame as the "Mylapore 17" but at that time the meeting was barely a sideshow to the more popular annual convention of the Theosophical Society in Adyar which the delegates had come to attend. Exactly a year later, a congregation of 72 notables that included the "Mylapore 17" met at the Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College in Bombay in a meeting hurriedly organized after elaborate arrangements made at Poona were given up due to a devastating plague in the city, and formed the Indian National Congress. There were twenty two delegates from the Madras Presidency at the Bombay session and seven of them - G. Subramania Iyer, A. Sabapathy Mudaliar, Peter Paul Pillai, P. Anandacharlu, S. Subramania Iyer, S. A. Saminatha Iyer and P. Rangaiah Naidu spoke.

Their efforts bore fruit the following year when the Indian National Congress was formed with the seventeen participants of the Mylapore meeting, by now famous as the Mylapore 17 playing an active part in its early stages. The first session had a total of 72 delegatesof whom 22 were from the Madras Presidency, including eight from Madras city itself. Another significant event in the freedom movement had taken place just seven months earlier. It was the founding of the Madras Mahajana Sabha,from whose ranks the Congress not just in Madras but all of India drew much of its early leadership from.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Men who wrote Hobson-Jobson

Portrait of Henry Yule from the 1903 edition of The Book of Ser Marco Polo, edited by Henri Cordier

The Hobson-Jobson was a dictionary of Indoisms compiled at the end of the 19th century. It probably anticipated the curry invasion and the social acceptance of strange, foreign accented creoles in the United Kingdom by about a century. Back then, however, scarcely any Indian who wasn’t of the well-bred princely sort or couldn’t speak impeccable English made it to the United Kingdom and the prime carriers of such Indian-infused creole were either  Eurasian  (Anglo-Indian) or Britons who had spent their careers and possibly their lifetimes in the subcontinent  and now sought out a quiet retirement  in a blighty they had not seen for decades.    

The authors of the Hobson-Jobson were two very interesting gentlemen – Sir Henry Yule and Arthur Coke Burnell. Yule is well known for his translation of Marco Polo’s travels that became a bestseller. He came to India as an officer in Bengal Engineers and travelled extensively in Central Asia and North-East India apart from playing an active part in the Sikh Wars.  In 1855, Yule was part of an Indian diplomatic mission to the Burmese Empire and wrote an account of it. Retiring from service after the 1857 mutiny, Yule spent the rest of his life in Italy and United Kingdom, visiting libraries and writing travel and history books.   In 1871, he translated Marco Polo’s travelogue into English and published it in two volumes with the title The Book of Ser Marco Polo the Venetian Concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East. He dedicated  the work which many consider his magnum opus to his royal patron Margherita, the princess of Piedmont and included a huge list of credits thanking among others, Sir Alexander Cunningham, Rev Robert Caldwell, Sir Bartle Frere and Hugh Cleghorn.  When Yule died in 1889 at the age of sixty-nine, he left  behind a chequered career and a mountain of travelogues, geography and history books.

"Doorway of Marco Polo's house". Frontispiece  of The Book of Ser Marco Polo the Venetian (1871)

While Yule’s life was certainly colourful,  his inquiries were rarely accompanied by the depth of research that was the prime feature of the works of the ICS officer from down south . Burnell was a polyglot (he knew a dozen languages) and a polymath who authored a seminal work on South Indian epigraphy, in which he traces the evolution of South Indian scripts from its earliest forms known back then  - the grantha copper plates of the Pallavas from the 4th century AD to those that survived into the 17th century AD.    Serving for over two decades in the Madras Presidency, he was one of a coterie of British civil servants such as Fleet, Pargiter , Sewell and Cammiade who dabbled in Indian archaeology. In 1873, he wrote On Some Pahlavi inscriptions in South India in which he published translations of the Pahlavi inscriptions found in the St. Thomas crosses of South India.  Though Burnell betrays an anti-Hindu bias in his work, his opinions on the antiquity of the Pahlavi inscriptions are quite honest and reliable. He dated the Pahlavi inscriptions to the 8th century AD and expressed doubts over the possibility of the Apostle St. Thomas (who, according to tradition, lived in the 1st century AD) having arrived in India or preached here.   Burnell also took a keen interest in manuscriptology and prepared a catalog of manuscripts found in the Saraswathi Mahal Library in Tanjore.  His career was cut short by an early death at the age of 42; in fact, Burnell had never been in tolerable health during his twenty-two-year stay in India and a promising career thus came to a abrupt premature end.

Table depicting origin of South Indian scripts, Elements of South-Indian Palaeography, "South Indian Alphabets and their Development", pp 14.

The first edition of Hobson-Jobson was published in 1886; Burnell having died in 1882 was posthumously credited as co-author of the work.  In fact, Yule, probably teary-eyed, recounts in the preface how Burnell had written to him in 1872 suggesting such an idea though the two had met only once before. Yule says that it triggered a ten-year  long association that lasted until Burnell’s death. The list of credits is much smaller compared to the Travels of Marco Polo and the personages not so well-known as Cunningham or Frere.    The 870-page work that includes a supplement which had been left out in the main body is dedicated by Henry Yule to his older brother, Sir George Udny Yule who had passed away earlier that same year.   

Cover of the first edition of Hobson-Jobson (1886)

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Pallavas and the Pahlavas

In an article titled “India’s Parthian Colony” published in The Iranian on May 14, 2003, Dr. Samar Abbas wrote that the Pallavas of South India are descended from  the Pahlavas of Iran  and attributed  their persistent conflicts with their neighbours the  Chalukyas to an obscure, far-fetched theory that the Chalukyas  were descendants of the Seleucids, whom the Pahlavas overthrew to capture power in Iran. Though Abbas’  unscientific  paper deserves little more than cursory mention, the theory itself cannot be brushed aside as a farce simply because it had also been suggested by the famous South Indian epigraphist and Pallava expert V. Venkayya  who had worked with Hultzsch in deciphering the Mamallapuram inscriptions.  

Who were the Pahlavas! According to sources that date from the time of the Achaemenids, like the Turks and Mongols who came later, the Pahlavas or Parthians were a tribe of horsemen who inhabited the wild country called Chorasmia (now  forming  a part of the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan and portion of north-eastern Iran) situated on the north-eastern frontiers of the Persian Empire. They became very powerful in the middle of the 3rd century BC under their chief Arsaces (Arshaka) who founded an independent Parthian kingdom just as the Seleucid Empire ruled by the descendants of Alexander the Great’s general Selucus Nikator started to decline.  In 150 BC, the Parthian king Mithridates I (Mithra-datha)  captured Seleucia, the capital of the Persian Empire putting an end to the Greek dynasty and  instituting almost three centuries of Parthian hegemony over Iran, a period characterized by incessant wars with the Roman Empire. In  224 AD, the last Parthian ruler Artabanus V (Ardavan) was defeated and slain in battle by his son-in-law Ardeshir who  founded the Sassanian dynasty. With it ended the Parthian Empire of Iran.  The lives of the powerful Parthian aristocratic families at the court, however, continued unhindered and many of them held onto their fiefs long after the Islamic invasions. An Indo-Parthian kingdom which ruled over the Indus river valley and surrounding areas outlived Persia’s Parthian kingdom by a few years.

Eight centuries later when Ferdowsi wrote the famous Persian epic Shah-nameh, the word Pehliva  had acquired the meaning  “captain” or “commander” (Just like the Tamil Thalapathi or Senapathi) – Ferdowsi frequently uses the word as an epithet of Rustam or Rostam, the hero of the epic, a semi-legendary character based, incidentally, on the general Surena who led the Parthian forces in the famous victory over the Roman army in the Battle of Carrhae (53 BC). A Pahlavi dynasty ruled Iran between 1925 and 1979, its founder Reza Khan adopting the surname “Pahlavi” as a measure to claim legitimacy through the Pahlava name.

 The Pallavas of South India, meanwhile, were a dynasty of kings who claimed to be Brahma-kshatriyas. Their first records date from the middle of the 3rd century AD and till the 6th century AD, all that we know about the Pallavas are from copper plate grants which barring the earliest (which is in Prakrit) , are all in Sanskrit. They used the florid Pallava or Vengi character, a derivative of Brahmi, which they introduced in the islands of Java and Borneo. In later years, however,  we find a marked increase in rock inscriptions mostly from the vast number of temples they built. There was also a perceptible shift in favour of Tamil as the medium of communication.  Thus, at the time of Nandivarman II who ruled at the end of the 8th century AD, the stage was already set for a cultural renaissance which witnessed its full bloom under the Cholas.

The origins of the South Indian Pallavas have always been a mystery. We know nothing of them prior to 275  AD  when the first copper plates were inscribed. These plates trace their ancestry back to a legendary hero called Bappa Bhatta.  Later regnal lists claimed a descent from Drona’s son Aswatthama.  But legend and mythology aside, the earliest known antecedents of the Pallavas ruled as petty kings in the territory between the Godavari and Palar rivers, probably as vassals of the last Satavahanas.  Over the centuries, the Pallavas gradually moved southwards championing Hinduism and hastening the pace of Aryanization in the Tamil country and  in exchange,  adopting the Tamil language and culture. (Their advent in Tamil Nadu could simply be the continuation of a southward migratory trend. In fact, K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, among all  historians, attributes a North Indian origin to the Pallavas) The importance of Pallavas to Tamil history, I feel, has frequently been understated. Both Saivism and Vaishnavism owe their early rise to Pallava patronage as much as that of the Pandyas and the Tamil script acquired its present form during the Later Pallavas.    

From the statues and sculptures of Mahabalipuram, we understand that the Pallavas kings had impressive physiques. Many were acclaimed wrestlers. Narasimhavarman I, for example, held the title Maha-malla  or great wrestler, Mahendravarman I Shatru-malla “opponent wrestler” and Paramesvaravarman I, Eka-malla or sole wrestler. Here the similarities with the Pahlavas of Iran are more telling. Wrestling is the national sport of Iran and  zur-khanehs or gymnasiums are found all over the country.  Many of their traditional heroes such as Rostam were fabled wrestlers. In fact, the Persian word for wrestler Pehelwan derives from Pahlava, hinting at the possibility of the Pahlavas having introduced wrestling as a traditional sporting routine in the country.

Like the Pallavas of South India, the Pahlavas of Iran were also fine builders. A noted feature of Pallava monuments is the  widespread use of lion motifs. The lion, it must be mentioned here, was an essential feature of Achaemenid architecture though it wasn’t as popular in Parthian times. Nevertheless, “the Lion and Sun” remained  Iran's national symbol until quite recently.  In India, the lion is  conspicuous in Pallava monuments to an extent found nowhere apart from the lion capitals of Ashoka the Great. However, another speciality of Parthian architecture the iwan is not found in any of the Pallava works.

The Parthians were a tribe of nomadic horsemen who adopted a settled life and the finer aspects of Persian civilization. Similarly, many theories claim that the Pallavas were of Naga descent. Who these Nagas were no one knows, for the appellation Naga was used at different periods of time to denote people of diverse ethnicities such as the well-known Nagas of Nagaland, the Nayars of Malabar, the Veddas of Sri Lanka and even certain hill tribes that live in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakthunwa. It could also be the Kurumbars of Tondaimandalam who held Tondai Naidu before the rise of the Pallavas. And then, why not the Parthians themselves! These are questions that demand answer!Another puzzle that needs a satisfactory reply is the fate of the Pallavas after the death of Aparajitha. Though there are many caste groups that claim descent from the Pallavas, none of their claims are convincing enough.


1) Rawlinson, George. The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Near-East: Vol VI: The Parthian Empire (1873) and Vol VII: The Sassanian or The New Persian Empire (1876). Longmans, Green and Co.

 2) Sastri, K. A. Nilakanta (1955) [1975]. A History of South India: From Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar. Oxford University Press.

3) Zimmern, Helen (1883). The Epic of Kings - Stories Retold From Firdusi. T. Fisher Unwin.

3) Epigraphia Indica for copper-plate inscriptions of the Early Pallavas.

4) Pillay, K. K. (1963). South India and Ceylon. University of Madras.


Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Madras links of an aircraft pioneer and an actress

Olivia de Havilland, the only surviving cast member of the classic "Gone With the Wind" turns 100 on the 1st of July this year. Olivia was a great actress, an ageless and  charismatic Anglo-Norman beauty whose appearance can still raise an eyebrow or two. But do you know that she has a Madras connection that goes back to the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Olivia and her cousin Sir Geoffrey de Havilland (1882-1965) the aircraft pioneer are both great-grandchildren of Major Charles de Havilland (1787-1844), whose older brother Colonel Thomas Fiott de Havilland (1775-1866) is the architect of St. Andrew's Church in Egmore and St. George's Cathedral of the Church of South India. Major Charles de Havilland is the father of Rev. Charles Richard de Havilland (1823-1901) whose older son Rev. Charles de Havilland (1854-1920) is father of Sir Geoffrey while Olivia and her sister Joan Fontaine are the daughters of Rev. Charles Richard's younger son Walter Augustus (1872-1968). While the India connection is not as intimate as in the case of the lead actress Vivien Leigh who was born and brought up in Darjeeling when the British held sway over this country, Olivia's connection with the architect - her great-great-uncle who has made a considerable contribution to the architectural heritage of Madras is definitely worthy of note. In the movie, Olivia also plays cousin to a character named India Wilkes, whose name writer Margaret Mitchell stumbled upon from God-knows-where.

Olivia has never been to Madras but Gone With the Wind was as much a hit here as it was  anywhere else in the world. The film released in mid-1944 at the Casino which showed only English movies back then and was soon running to packed houses.  Her younger sister Joan Fontaine who died aged 96 on December 15, 2013 was as much a star in Hollywood as Olivia and the first of the sisters to win an Academy Award (a Best Actress for Hitchcock's Suspicion in 1941). The two sisters were famous for the sibling rivalry they had more than anything else.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Steadfast Record-keeper

Among War tales from Madras, few appear as fascinating as that of Bantwal Surendranath Baliga, the Curator of the Madras Record Office. Born in a nondescript moffusil town, a taluk place located in in the South Canara district - that prized litle appendage which projected almost vertically nothwards to form a junction with Bombay making up Madras' only land border with the western presidency on the 11th of November 1908, Baliga had his early education in South Canara and Madras, before obtaining a masters' degree from the University of London and a doctorate from the same university.

Baliga was appointed Probationary Assistant Curator in August 1934 with P. Macqueen,ICS, as his boss and after brief training in London, replaced him in 1935 to become the first Indian curator of the Record Office. Baliga's years were by far the best for Record Office. When the Madras government decided to shift the Record Office to Chittoor fearing Japanese bombardment during the Second World War, Baliga was tasked with the responsibility of moving each and every record - be it a book, a document, or file, to its temporary home at Chittoor and eventually back to Madras at the end of the war. Baliga peformed his duties beyond satisfaction and duly conveyed to the government that his office was in a state of "combat readiness". The government promptly made him a "Rao Bahadur" for his work.

Come independence in 1947 and the new-born nation  resolved to update its district gazetteers. Baliga waas again chosen to head the project and the extent of his success can be gleamed from the fact that any Google Search for a Madras district gazetteer invariably returns results with the principal editor being "B. S. Baliga".

Baliga's premature death in 1958 at the age of 49 when he had more than a decade of service left signalled  the end of the district gazetteers as well leaving behind a void that appeared almost impossible to fill.  Though gazetters will continue to be printed, the archives department lacked the staff with the expertise or competence to revise and edit them. As a result the gazetteers are caught in a time warp, the ones printed during their heyday in the late 1800s-early 1900s being still the only reliable source of information. Some were revised and reprinted after decades in the wilderness, but these recent ones are no match for the ones written by dedicated officials in the last two centuries.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Reading "The Cochin State Manual"

In May 2015, when India and Bangladesh exchanged their enclaves on both sides of the border, newspapers took the cue and flashed the happenings all over. The idea of small bits of territory of a particular country existing within the frontiers of another country was something novel to many of us. But few among us know that prior to India's independence, many of our princely states were but assortments of enclaves surrounded by British Indian territory. The largest and most famous of these "enclave federations" was Baroda. Baroda was sub-divided into four districts each of which comprised a bunch of enclaves.

Likewise many of the princely states thought to be contiguous pieces of land, either comprised a bunch of enclaves or held a few enclave villages within British India far removed from the seat of government. A particularly interesting case was that of Cochin. Though still named after the port-town, the Raja of Cochin  had ceded it in perpetuity to the British. Or to put it in simpler words, though the state was named Cochin, the town, its namesake was not a part of it, but that of British India.  The administrative headquarters was instead located in the inland town of Ernakulam, which many consider twin-city to Cochin.   Along the rough indented coast that comprises the present-day district of Ernakulam,  control was haphazard - a few strips of land controlled by the Raja of Cochin, a few by the British and the some by the southerly neighbour, Travancore. Chelnat Achyuta Menon writes that there were four enclaves of Cochin situated completely within Travancore - Vadavacode, Vellarapalli, Malayattoor and Chennamangalam. To the east, the northern arm of Travancore extended  20 miles north of Ernakulam upto the town of Aluva or Alwaye where they interspersed the great Travancore Lines and followed its course eastward. As a result, the distance between the northern and southern frontiers of the state in these areas was reduced to a few miles giving the state on a map the rough appearance of a parallelogram. More importantly, Ernakulam and the coastal taluks that formed the heart of the original Cochin state were cut off from the rest of it by Travancore territory but for one lean stretch. And the easternmost taluk of Chittur barely consisted of two disjointed enclaves in the Anaimalai Hills of the Western Ghats bordering Coimbatore and Malabar districts of British India. And yet with all these deficiencies, Cochin was still the second-largest princely state subordinate to the Madras government. And though divorced from its flourishing port, the Kingdom of Cochin could still claim jurisdiction over an area larger than that of Pudukkottai which itself was as large as any district of the Madras Presidency.

The practice of compiling district manuals and gazetteers commenced sometime in the days of the East India Company. An East Indian gazetteer covering the whole of the territory of Hindostan was compiled as early as 1828.A vastly updated edition made its appearance in 1858. To supplement the All-India gazetteer, the government started commissioning district manuals in the 1860s. A series of district manuals for the Madras Presidency were brought out between 1868 and 1887. These were extensively rewritten and revised between 1906 and 1918. The revised editions were titled "gazetteers" instead of "manuals". Following the example of the British districts, princely states brought out their own manuals. The first to do so was Travancore and the 3-volume Travancore State Manual published in 1906 is considered a classic and bagged its principal editor V. Nagam Aiya the title of "Diwan Bahadur". (A revised 4-volume set was brought out in 1940. It was edited by T. K. Velu Pillai) Following the lead set by Travancore, Cochin brought out its  Cochin State Manual in 1911. The timing of compilation seems inexplicably intertwined with the size of the corresponding princely state as Pudukkottai, the third in size in Madras Presidency was the next to bring out its manual, the 3-volume A Manual of the Pudukkottai State edited by K. R. Venkatarama Ayyar appearing in stages between 1938 and 1944.(As I write this piece, I learn from the net that there was an earlier single-volume"manual" of Pudukkottai state edited by Venkat Rao and published in 1921)  Banganapalle and Sandur, the smaller of the five princely states did not commission any such manuals - I wonder whether there was anything about them that would fill the pages of a whole book and even if there was, did they have the resources to fund such a project. Banganapalle to me is synonymous with mangoes but Sandur, the smallest, did have something to boast about - it was the first princely state in India to outlaw untouchability. Its last ruler, Yeshwantrao Ghorpade, a wildlife lover was a friend of the great writer and wildlife conservationist M. Krishnan who worked in the Sandur State Service for many years. Among Yeshwantrao's many socio-political reforms was the setting up of a legislative assembly making Sandur the smallest state to have one. The state probably had all except a gazetteer or state manual.

Coming back to the topic, now having read quite a bit of the Pudukkottai manual, I wanted to lay my hands upon the Cochin manual as well. And by chance, I found it on the web. The Cochin State Manual published by the Cochin Government Press in 1911 was edited by C. Achyuta Menon, Superintendent of Census Operations for Cochin State and former Secretary to the Diwan of Cochin. The book details the history, flora, fauna and the physical aspects of Cochin along with an account of the state's administrative machinery, religious and charitable institutions and winds it up with a well-compiled gazetteer. The history of the state makes interesting reading. Though Cochin failed to approach the benchmark set by neighbouring Travancore, the levels of progress it reached were nevertheless astonishing. The state owed much of its growth to Sankara Warrier of the Thottakattu family and his two sons T. Sankunni Menon and T. Govindan Menon whose dewanships extended for more than a half a century.  Another name that is almost ubiquitous in Kerala is that of the Scottish adventurer and soldier-turned-administrator John Munro. During the long period of reconstruction after the the Mysore Wars, Munro headed an interim administration that oversaw the transition of the two Kerala kingdoms from traditional oligarchies to devolved welfare-states. Other famous administrators who had served as diwans of Cochin include P. Rajagopalachari and G. T. Boag -  civil servants of the first order who made their mark elsewhere. In the end, independence did what years of war and diplomacy couldn't - Cochin was appended to the neighbouring Travancore to form the state of Travancore-Cochin with the Maharaja of Travancore as "Rajpramukh" or administrator thus bringing centuries of autonomy to an end. The whole of the erstwhile Cochin kingdom was now made to fit into a district of the new state. The state of Cochin disappeared  into history to be followed a little later by Travancore. At the time of independence, Cochin had schools, colleges, hospitals, an efficient postal system and railways. Though it did not have airports or a considerable standing army as the few bigger ones like Hyderabad, J&K, Mysore and Travancore, for its size Cochin was certainly well off.

With the arrival of independence, the tradition of compiling elaborate gazetteers and well-researched manuals was also consigned to history. District manuals of considerable quality were continued to be made in the Madras State till the late 1950s thanks to the resilience of old-timers like Rao Bahadur B. S. Baliga after which the rot set in.The gazetteers of today are no match for the expertly-written manuals of yesteryears. It's being aeons since some of them have even been revised.  And few amongst us, the public, are aware that such gazetteers are printed.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Heritage walk at the Madras High Court conducted by Mr N. L. Rajah, advocate on July 16, 2015

Took part in heritage walk at the Madras High Court organized by INTACH and lead by advocate N. L. Rajah. It was the first heritage walk that I've ever participated in and it exceeded all my expectations. Now hours after the walk is over, I would say that if you are a heritage buff you are surely missing something if you haven't participated in the walk. I feel glad to have done so and I wish to participate in one or two more future editions as well. Thanks, INTACH for providing it free-of-cost but even if they hadn't, I would've still attended it.

The walk was officially flagged off at the old lighthouse. Rajah explained that the lighthouse was constructed between 1835 and 1842 on what was then the Esplanade, a vast patch of flat, empty land overlooking Blacktown. The walk leader then explained how the the area was bombed twice - in the first as well as the Second World War and made a passing reference to the revolutionary Champakaraman Pillai. Then, he dropped an interesting piece of trivia - that the Madras High Court was the second largest court complex in the whole world.

The leader proceeded to give a short history of the High Court - Of how it had its origins in the the Madras Supreme Court that was started in 1801 with the redoubtable Thomas Strange as the first Chief Justice. And how it moved to its present building that was constructed in 1892 after functioning from Bentick's Building which later became the Singaravelar Maaligai for close to a hundred years, of how it replaced the Diwani Adalut which functioned from a building in Alwarpet which later became the house of Basheer Ahmed Saeed. It was one of the most extraordinary stories about an unique monument. The early history of the High Court also included the tale of the Arcot Nawab's downfall and how Mohammed Ali Khan Wallajah overburdened with debt ceded all his dominions to the British and his narration spanned the late 18th century and the whole of the 19th. But two individuals more intimately connected with the history of the building would be Henry Irwin, the architect and the contractor T. Namberumal Chetty, of Chetpet and Ramanujan fame. The freedom which Chetty gave to his workers resulted in the occurrence of contrasting architectural styles that we find today. (In this regard, I wish to recount an interesting piece of trivia - just as an Indian was largely credited with the construction of the Madras High Court, it was another Indian who had constructed Karnataka's - Arcot Narayanaswami Mudaliar - two similar personalities who left behind lasting legacies of their own). But despite the variation in architectural styles, the essence of the building remained Indo-Saracenic like most others from the latter half of the
19th century.

The leader then took us to what he described as the Sheriff's gate. It was this gate, he said, through which the Sheriff of Madras entered, impressively clad in elaborate regalia and armed with a sword in hand and headed a procession to call upon the Chief Justice and invite him to preside over the opening of the court in company with the Commissioner of Police. While we visited the spot, we found it stacked with bundles and bundles of papers - minutes of court proceedings perhaps.

We, then, walked upto the entrance to the museum building where stood a statue of Sir Vembakkam Bhashyam Aiyangar (1844-1908), a legal luminary of the late 19th century who created history by becoming the first Indian Advocate General of Madras in 1897 and later, a judge of the High Court. The story of Bhashyam Aiyangar, whose article in Wikipedia I created some five years back, reads like a fable. He wished to die with his boots on - ahem, or rather, with his lawyer's gown on, and actually met up with such a death. He was father-in-law to the Swarajya Party's legendary leader, that famous compatriot of Satyamurti and Rajaji, S. Srinivasa Iyengar. Bhashyam was probably not related to his townsman, V. Ramiengar who made a fortune through his Travancore dealings, though.

Next on our itinerary was the museum and it was the museum building which took most of our time. The most valuable artifact in their possession was a framed photograph taken on the occasion of the opening of the Madras High Court on 12 July 1892 by the 3rd Baron Wenlock, the then Governor. Next to him stood Sir Arthur Collins, the Chief Justice and the puisne judges, Sir. T. Muthuswamy Iyer, Parker, Wilkinson and Best. On the wall, were portraits of some of the Chief Justices of British extraction - Sir Gentle, the last of his tribe and his famous predecessor, Lionel Leach who was involved in the Lakshmikanthan Murder Trial. Covering its walls were lists of chief justices and puisne judges of the Supreme Court days. The museum also has in its posesssion an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of India signed by P.  V. Rajamannar the first Chief Justice of the High Court after independence, on the 17th of January 1948 and the documents related to the indictment of "Kappalottiya Tamizhan" V. O. Chidambaram Pillai preserved in a special glass case. The museum also had papers related to some famous judgements made in the 153 years of its history. We also found a prototype of the Sheriff's grandiose costume that Mr. Rajah had earlier alluded to.

But perhaps, the best preserved of the lot were two charters by King George III of the United Kingdom dated 1798 and 1800 which led to establishment of the Supreme Court of Madras, the first European-style court of judicature set up in the Presidency. A lifesize portrait of its first Chief Justice Sir Thomas Strange hung opposite to the Chief Justice's chair in the Chief Justice's court situated in another part of the same building. The Chief Justice's court is probably one of its kind in the whole world - nowhere else would you find a library located in the backdoor of a trial room that too behind the presiding judge's chair and nowhere do you find, a trial room with a stained glass ceiling. (I feel compelled to remark on the fact that the stained glass ceiling was a thing of stunning beauty - the High Court complex might deserve an UNESCO World Heritage site recognition for its stupendous domes alone). Mr. Rajah also made us aware of certain interesting facets of Sir Strange's life. I never knew before that Mr. Strange was the first to attempt the codification of Hindu law and Rajah rightly remarked that it was a widely held misconception that John D. Mayne was the first to codify Hindu and Muslim laws.

A few rooms away lay the Madras Bar Association (MBA) library with volumes of MLJ stacked all over. Here we sat down in a semicircle before our leader who discoursed on the colourful history of the Madras Bar Association. Mr. Rajah gave some interesting anecdotes from the lives of some of MBA's members. He recounted how at the height of the "Simon Go Back" agitations in Madras in 1928, K. Krishnan Pandalai, the then magistrate, refused to order fire on non-violent agitationists and stood his ground despite intense official pressure. Despite confronting the government, Pandalai was given a promotion two years later. This, Mr. Rajah said, stood testimony to the fairness of British justice. Another colourful life from MBA's history would be that of V. O. Chidambaram Pillai who started his life as a respectable barrister and ended up a prisoner of the King Emperor. Mr Rajah paid glowing tributes to the munificence of some of MBA's presidents - V. L. Ethiraj (1945) for example bequeathed a fortune towards the founding of the Ethiraj College for Women which functions from what was previously, his residence.

Next in our path lay the statue of T. Muthuswamy Iyer (as one spelling of his name goes) whose story I know only too well. But Mr. Rajah has very little known things to say even about very well-known people. He kept us on the tenterhooks by choosing to speak not on T. Muthuswamy Iyer the person but his statue. Mr. Rajah described how V. Krishnaswami Iyer, the well-known advocate and and Kaiser-i-Hind medallist, opposed a statue to Muthuswamy Iyer on the strange premise that Hinduism did not allow deification of humans and ended up having his own statue a few years after his demise. And when Krishnaswami Iyer's statue was unveiled, the legendary Sir S. Subramania Iyer who once wrote an SOS to the US president Woodrow Wilson, took up the gauntlet and opposed it tooth and neck. But Mani Iyer too was helpless, having given up his flesh and body, to forestall the setting up of a memorial commemorating his life. But aside these interesting anomalies, it appeared to be a prevailing practice for posthumous remembrances and not many lawyers were opposed to them. But one interesting cause that Krishnaswami Iyer appears to have espoused was the protection of the Marina. To this end, along with 3,000 others (or is it 5,000) he appears to have protested British plans to set up a railroad cutting right across Marina beach. Mr. Rajah opines that Krishnaswami's effort helped save the beach as a tourish destination. But I differ with him on the issue. The setting up a railway line along the beach might have considerably reduced traffic in Mylapore's roads and may have helped us avoid these grotesque monstrosities dangling dangerously above our heads. More importantly, the far-sightedness of the British might have led to the construction of more railroads that would have reduced traffic on the roads so that the need might not have arised for today's politicians to dig right through important throughfares or pull down heritage buildings.

Sensing that the walk was coming to an end, Mr. Rajah took us on a painstaking ritual up the narrow spiral staircase that led to the terrace. Cramped for space, we tried to sneak in one by one holding tightly onto the railings. As we did so black dust settled down on our hands as a thick layer of grime enveloped those iron clutches. As we explored the High Court's fabled terrace, we got fabulous views of the light house and the harbour. The terraces were a photographer's delight for the building peaked into a series of porticoes, domes, corridors, Moorish arches and minarets. Finally, we reached the highest point on the building to assume kinship with the tall lighthouse nearby. A few minutes and few pictures later, we retraced those steps back to the ground floor. The walk concluded at court room number 8 with a speech by Mr. Rajah. A solemn rant by Mr. Rajah underneath the stupendous silvery dome bemoaning the disregard and neglect shown by our authorities towards heritage monuments provided a befitting conclusion to what was an awesome Sunday morning.

There are many things that I've left out for my memory is rather too poor. But I hope to compensate for it by attending one or two more sessions.