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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 19, january 16-31, 2010

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The peregrinating cenotaph

Madras U.’s first woman Ph.D.

A guide, madness & Palaverkadu

Kucheri watching

The peregrinating cenotaph

The rare photograph featured above shows what was the memorial to Lord Cornwallis, the Governor General, who thought he had won the Third Mysore War (1790-92) when he brought two of Tippoo Sultan’s sons to Madras as hostage till their father paid the reparations Cornwallis claimed. That hostage-taking was commemorated around the base of the statue (see second picture, right) that was placed in the multi-pillared rotunda raised in 1799 at the junction of Mount Road (above) and what thereafter became Cenotaph Road.

The cenotaph was, to all intents and purposes, sited at what was then considered the end of urban Mount Road. Its location and the surroundings developed around it made it a favourite meeting place of the gentry of early 19th Century Madras, who would ride out or be driven in their carriages and turn back after spending some time at the rotunda enjoying the breeze and shooting it.

In 1810, the evening outing to the Cenotaph, ‘four miles’ from the Fort, was thus described: “...and on the sweep round this monument they slowly circle as in the gay ring in Hyde Park at home.” A few years later, writers speak of “an oval form; and ...enclosed space... laid out with paths and planted with a few evergreens” where “it is the fashion for all the gentlemen and ladies of Madras to repair, in their gayest equipages...(and) later round and round the cenotaph for an hour, partly for exercise, and partly for opportunity of flirting and displaying their fine cloths...”

The 1806 statue was moved in 1906 from this site, and located on the Parade Grounds in the Fort (also known as ‘Barracks Square’ pinpointing the barracks around it), with its back to the Secretariat (see first picture, right) and facing the Square, which became known as Cornwallis Square. It was next moved in 1925 to North Beach Road, opposite Bentinck’s Building, now the Collector’s office (see third picture, right), and into the huge cupola still there. From there, where it was being affected by the sea air, and under threat for its sculpted pedestal showing the triumphant but tasteless acceptance of Tippoo’s sons as hostages, it was moved in 1928 to the reading hall of the Connemara Public Library and eventually, to the Fort Museum in 1950, where it stands beneath the main staircase. Outside the Fort Museum is the Ionic cupola that once housed it in Cornwallis Square (last picture, right).


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Madras U.’s first woman Ph.D.
(By K.R.A. Narasiah)

Chennai seems to be notorious for forgetting or not properly remembering some of its pioneering men and women. One such person was Cadambi Minakshi, the first woman Ph.D. of the University of Madras. The second was Eliza V. Paranjothi.

Current Science, in its issue dated June 1936, announced the conferment of Ph.D. on C. Minakshi for her thesis ‘Administrative and Social Life under the Pallavas, the Kailasanatha temple etc’.

We again see in the Current Science of April 1940 an obituary notice saying, “We regret to bring to the notice of our readers the sad and premature death of Dr. C. Minakshi, M.A., Ph. D., Assistant Professor of History, Maharani’s College, Mysore University, on the 3rd March 1940, at the early age of 33.”

Dr. Minakshi was born to Cadambi and Mangalamma in a Tamil Brahmin family in Conjeevaram in 1905. She had three siblings, Lakshminarayanan, Ramasubban and Viswanathan.

She took to study on Western lines, a course which in those days did not find favour with the community, but which led her to distinction. After completing her undergraduate studies in Women’s Christian College, then headed by Eleanor MacDowgall, she did her Master’s in History at Madras Christian College, working with Prof. Ferrand Edward Corley. She was the first woman postgraduate in History from Madras Christian College. She then joined the Department of Indian History and Archaeology in the University of Madras, then headed by the renowned Prof. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri. In recognition of her Distinctions in her earlier studies, Madras University granted her a scholarship in 1931 for advanced studies in History.

The scholarship was for two years but was further extended by another year, considering the nature of her study.

The subjects selected for her investigation for her Ph.D. were: 1) The historical sculptures of the Vaikuntaperumal Temple, 2) The Kailasanathar Temple, and 3) The Administration and Social Life under the Pallavas. One of the examiners, A.N. Dixit, remarked that any one of the three subjects alone would have earned the coveted degree for her! Sir Mirza Ismail, the then Dewan of Mysore, after perusing her record, offered her a post in Bangalore’s prestigious Maharani’s College.

A large part of her findings was published by the Madras University and became valuable reference material for many scholars of Pallava history around the world. In 1937, the Madras University granted her a fellowship for a year during which time she looked into the history of Buddhism in South India. The archaeological tours she conducted in connection with this study, and the discoveries she made, attracted the attention of the Archaeological Department, which entrusted to her the work of preparing archaeological memoirs of the sculptures in the Vaikuntaperumal and Kailasanathar Temples. Unfortunately, before the results of her works could be published, she passed away.

She often visited Mamallapuram to compare the architecture and sculpture there with those of the Kailasanathar Temple. Her study regarding the 18 Murti aspects of Lord Siva against both puranic and mythological backgrounds was unique. She made several attempts, though not with particular success, to excavate the Pallavamedu in Kanchi, where she found huge bricks approximately the size of the Mohenjadaro bricks.

She had the fortune to work with outstanding men like T.N. Ramachandran, Dr. F. H. Gravely and Jouveau Dubreill, besides Nilakanta Sastry.

Dr. Minakshi was also a good musician. In fact, to pursue her interest in the field of music, she made frequent visits to Kudimiyanmalai in Pudukkottai District to study the musical inscriptions there. She was snatched away so young.

Note by the author: I am indebted to S. Swaminathan for his article in South Indian Studies Vol. II (1979) and to Current Science Vol. 4 for information on Dr. C. Minakshi.


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A guide, madness & Palaverkadu
(LITERATURE ON MADRAS: an annotated bibliography from the Web,
compiled by Dr. A. Raman)

General history

Eastwick E (1859) A Handbook for India Part 1 – Madras. John Murray, London, UK.

Antique volume. Popularly referred as the Murray’s Guide to Madras and Bombay Presidencies it is in many ways the first modern guide book to India. However, it describes a different India from what was seen in the last quarter of the 19th Century. It also has numerous features which distinguish it from later travel guides, such as advice on arriving in Madras where it says the best thing to do is “to get into a palankeen and be carried to the club, if a bachelor; or, if travelling with ladies, to some friend’s house. There are, indeed, hotels which may be repaired to as a dernier ressort.” The forerunners for this guidebook were Captain Williamson’s East India Vade Mecum (1810) and a revised edition of that work by John Gilchrist (1825). Today, the chief scholarly value of the book lies in its construction of Indian history, politics and culture from a 19th Century European frame of reference.

Medical history

Ernst W (1997) ‘Idioms of madness and colonial boundaries: the case of the European and ‘native’ mentally ill in early nineteenth-century British India.’ Comparative Studies in Society and History 39: 153-181.

Lunatic asylums began to emerge in India towards the end of the 18th Century. Although some critics expressed concern as to the propriety of an institutional response to mental illness, they formed a small minority. During a period when the asylum took on “a status as panacea equivalent to the steam engine, the rights of man, or the spread of universal knowledge”, medical and pubic opinion had come to believe that madness could be cured and that confinement in an institution could not fail to be beneficial both for Europeans and Indians. Furthermore, Europeans in India could not usually rely on any family or parochial networks, so the East India Company had to assume responsibility and increasingly make institutional provision for these employees until they could be sent back home to Britain. The steady growth in institutional provision was also applied to lower-class Indians.

By the early decades of the 19th Century, the three small institutions in the provincial capitals of Madras, Mumbai (Bombay), and Calcutta (originally intended for the European insane and for only a small number of Indians of the better classes) were no longer considered adequate in view of the considerable expansion of British territory during that period.

Hausman G.J. (2002). Making medicine indigenous: Homeopathy in South India. Social History of Medicine 15: 303 322.

Studies of homeopathy in India have focussed on a process of Indianisation. This paper situates homeopathy in South India within the context of shifting relations between ‘scientific’ and indigenous systems of medicine. Three time periods have been considered. From 1924 to 1934, homeopathy was singled out by Government of Madras officials as ‘scientific’, as contrasted with the indigenous Ayurvedic, Siddha, and Unani systems of medicine. From 1947 through 1960, both ‘indigenous and ‘scientific’ interpretations of homeopathy were put forward by different factions. An honorary director of homeopathy proposed the Indianisation of homeopathy, and its reconciliation with Ayurveda; this view conflicted with the Madras Government’s policy of expanding the ‘scientific’ medical curriculum of the Government College of Indigenous Medicine. It was not until the early 1970s that homeopathy was officially recognised in Tamil Nadu State. By then, both homeopathy and Ayurveda had become conceptualised as non-Tamil, in contrast with promotion of the Tamil Siddha system of ‘indigenousmedicine. Thus, constructs of ‘indigenousand ‘scientific’ systems of medicine are quite malleable with respect to homeopathy in South India.

Medieval history

Rajavelu S (no date) Maritime contacts on the Coromandel Coast. www.asiaoceania. org/pdf/BG/57-OBG-M220.pdf

Includes a reference to the sea port of Palaverkadu (now Pulicat, on the eastern coast, north of Madras), besides many other ports on the Coromandel Coast. Palaverkardu port served as a centre for the sea-faring activities during the Vijayanagara period. While mentioning the various ports of the Vijayanagara period, this port is referred to in an inscription of Krishnadevaraya that Palaverkadu was Anantarayan Pattinam. Besides the mention of goods exported from this port, a specific mention of silk sarees exists. In the inscription a reference to tongu kappal (possibly a Chinese vessel) exists, which was anchored in Palaverkadu port.


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Kucheri watching
(By C.S. Ananth)

I have been attending kucheris in Madras since my childhood. In fact, I was an usher at the Music Academy when the concerts were held in P.S. High School and I continued without promotion even after it moved to its present location.

Chennai is the only city in the world to have a ‘Music Season’. In the past, the concerts during the Season used to be patronised mainly by the Carnatic music-lovers of Madras. Over the years, the number of NRIs and foreigners has considerably increased at these kucheris, where, today, you find many types of people in the audience.

First, there are the mothers dressed in rich Kanjeevarams who come with their daughters as handsomely dressed for the occasion. Obviously, the daughter of marriageable age needs to be showcased. Can you find a better place than a kucheri for this? The mother’s mission is to flaunt her daughter so that the Maama-s and Maami-s take cognisance of the girl. If many Maama-s and Maami-s ask the mother, “Is that your daughter, what is she doing, have you started seeing varan-s,” then, for Amma, it is mission accomplished.

Other Maami-s are there to take notes – that have nothing to do with music, but everything to do with the sarees and jewellery arousing interest on that day. They end up rating Pothy’s, Sundari’s, Radha Silks, Prince Jewellery, etc. Discussions also include databases of eligible boys and girls in the matrimony market. Whenever there is a kucheri by a woman musician, some Maami-s wait until the curtain is opened – to discover the prediction they had been making about the colour of the Kanjeevaram and the jewellery worn by the artiste was correct. The list of items that she will sing is not among the predictions.

There are also those Maami-s who leave after a concert saying that it has been good this year thanks to the raasi of the person who inaugurated the series. No credit given to the many hours of rigorous practice and experience of the artiste. It is only raasi!

Then there are the hard-core rasika-s. They take down notes, research on the raga-s and alapana-s. It was my misfortune once to sit next to such an enthusiastic Maama. He asked me a major technical question, as he found me indulging in thalam. The only thalam I knew was Adi and that day, fortunately, the artiste was singing a number set to Adi Thalam. So the Maama thought that I was an expert, which was not entirely my fault. He asked me a technical point and I gave him an honest reply: “Theriyathu saar.” The Maama gave me such a withering look as though to say, “Why then are you here?” I have never forgotten his expression. I have also become wiser. If I have no option but to be seated next to an expert, I pretend to doze and keep my eyes closed. That way, the person next to me does not disturb me.

The eternal eaters enjoy themselves at the sabha-s during the Season. Every few minutes they get up and go to the canteen. One such Maama had just returned to his seat after his fill. A few seconds later he loudly said “Sabaash!” His Maami seated next to him said, “Ennanga, the rendering of the ragam is very good.” Maama being an honest Tam-Bram immediately retorted, “Illai dee, I am not referring to the ragam but was thinking about the keeraivadai which was really sabaash!” Obviously sabaash sometimes can be attributed to things other than music at sabha-s. Fortunately in this instance the converstation ended with that.

Not so with the chatterboxes to whom a kucheri is a place to touch base with friends. They start with a whisper which sooner or later competes with the decibel of the kucheri itself. These Maami-s even try to invite the attention of their friends seated two or three rows away by asking the person seated in front to act as their courier. Once, I was at a violin concert in which the father, son and grandsons were playing. One Maami wanted to know why one grandson looked so different from the rest. I thought that I was being pulled into something that could be controversial. I immediately moved out to have my tiffin and thus escaped!

The NRIs clearly stand out in a different fashion. They land at Chennai International Airport in Levis and Nike shorts. They then switch to veshti-s and their wives to cotton salwar-s. The more East-meets-West types wear salwar-s with Reeboks. They want to be identified with their Madras Maama-s and Maami-s lest anyone should think they are “Not Required Indians”. These NRIs are also easily noticed by the water bottles they carry and the big haversack containing the souvenirs of most sabha-s. There are also the gadget gurus equipped with handy cams, good resolution mobile phone cameras, and cordless headphones. After an excellent kucheri, the often-heard NRI remark is, “Oh, that was awesome!”

Then there are the NRI parents. It is not difficult to recognise the NRI Maama. While his son adorns a veshti, the father would be wearing a NYC/LA tee shirt, Wranglers, and a waist pouch that has his canteen coupons. His Nike shoes, gifted by his son would have been detergent-washed and would be whiter than Nike ever made them. They are at the kucheri to say hello to some NRIs whom they had met at one of the temples in the US. Between the NRI Moms and Dads, the common discussion is about their next trip to the US and about where their sons and daughters live in that country. The discussion also relates to the colour of their cards: green or otherwise. Such discussions are invariably over dosa and badushah in the canteen.

My heading for tiffin is one thing but quite another is the strange connection between Thani Avarthanam and the urge to go to the canteen that I have noticed. Once the Thani Avarthanam starts, hordes of rasika-s leave the hall to taste the upama and bonda. Until then, they are in an appreciation mode. As the singers add new melodies to their repertoire, the canteen too adds to the menu some exotic items. The driving force for this is perhaps the Thani Avarthanam. A Ragam Tanam Pallavi set to ragam hindolam may pass unnoticed, but not the rice uppama at the canteen. I would think that the crowd at the canteen is inversely proportional to the quality of the concert, but that is not really the case.

Besides all this, they also come to listen to music. Sometimes. But that is just by the way.


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In this issue

Will bigger be better?
Road-widening no answer for increasing traffic
When the RK Math put down Madras roots
A collection well past its prime
Historic Residences of Chennai - 34
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
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