September 24, 2017

The Madras Temple which witnessed Communal Violence

If you are from George Town/Sowcarpet area of Madras, you would have definitely noticed this temple, if not entered inside. This temple of Ganesha called as Varasiddhi Vinayakar is a very small temple, located at the junction of NSC Bose Road and Devaraja Mudali Street. Except for Lord Ganesha and a small prakara around the shrine, the temple has no other idol. But, not many know that this temple has a 300 years old history.

(I am quoting few historical details based on the book "Vestiages of Old Madras" written by H.D.Love and another book called "Madras in the Old Time" by Talboys Wheeler).

Ever since the city of Madras was founded, there had been tensions between the left hand Chetti community and right hand Komati community. The Governor, Thomas Pitt settled the dispute through an agreement in 1708 CE. However, a fresh community dispute broke out in 1716 CE. According to Chettis, the Komatis upsurped several titles that belonged to Chettis and also they performed some ceremonies in front of the icon that belong to Chettis. It was complained by the representative of Chettis, Collaway Chetti on 18th October. The icon is Chindadry Pillary and the ceremony was Pennagundoo Naggarum (as per the British records - it's a kind of recital of prayers in Sanskrit language).

On 20th December 1716 CE, the matter escalated and the Left Hands Chettis called for the closure of shops. It was followed by full scale riot. The British summoned the heads of both the communities and tried for a pact between them. This meeting which was held on 24th December 1716 CE was not successful. On 7th January 1717 CE, just one day before embarking to Britain, the Governor Harrison ordered that the Komaties could cry out Pennagundoo Naggarum at their houses and on ceremonies, but not before the icon of Ganesh. The matters were still not settled properly. On 8th January 1717 CE, Governor Collet, who had succeeded Harrison, issued an order. As per that, neither community would have any right to recite prayers before shrines of the other caste. He also warned that the icon would be shifted into the Gentoo Pagoda, if the disputes would continue. He further added that no small Pagodas should be constructed without getting Governor's permission to avoid future disputes.

The Gentoo Pagoda mentioned above is Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple, which stood in the current site of High Court. The historian, Mr. Sriram V. has identified Varasiddhi Vinayakar Temple as the Chindadry Pillary Temple. Interestingly, the Ganesh icon never moved to Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple. But that temple was demolished and was rebuilt near this Ganesh temple.

Happy travelling.

September 19, 2017

The 19th century Stationery Store of Chennai

Rajaji Salai is one of the few roads in Chennai which has so many historic buildings. It was called as the First Line Beach and was one of the most important roads of the city in the early 1800s. In 1700s, it was perhaps a beach similar to Marina beach.

The 2nd Baron Clive, the Governor of Madras, decided that the customs department should have its own building outside the St. George Fort. From 1798 CE onwards, the Customs House and a lot of business establishments were started on the left side of the First Line Beach. Thus, the beach was replaced by commercial establishments and port.

A big stationery store was constructed in the early 1800s. Although many of the British period buildings on this road were lost, fortunately this building still survives. The Government Stationery Depot now runs in this lesser known heritage building. The building's entrance is located in Arbut Not Lane.

Arbut Not Lane - Many of the Chennai streets are not spelled correctly. It is Arbuthnot Lane. The lane was named after Arubuthnot & Co. One of the partners of the firm was Sir George Gough Arbuthnot. It was a financial establishment located near this lane. As the bank was hit by major financial crisis in 1906 CE, a lot of Madras citizens lost their hard earned money.

Happy travelling.

Access Card, Burger Prasad and the Air Conditioned Temple

Access card, burger prasad and the air conditioned temple - it's true and I am not kidding. A temple near Chennai offers everything mentioned above. This article focuses on that temple.

Jaya Durga Peetham is a private temple. There was a saint who was called as Jaya Durga Siddhar. His disciples run a trust and also this temple. It is located in Raghavendra Nagar in Padappai, a sub-urb of South Chennai.

You will be required to show your original ID card at the counter and provide your details for registration. Then, you will be given an access card. You could enter and exit the temple only with this. Once you enter into the temple, you would feel as if entering inside an IT company. The temple is very neatly maintained.

Before entering into the temple, you will be given a water bottle. And, before leaving the premises, you need to swipe your card to get Prasad. The temple authorities do not charge for this and there is no Hundi in the temple. However, they have a big laundry list for various sevas and services with the pricing details.

On some special occasions, the temple authorities give burgers and brownies as the prasad. They even send cakes to the nearby regular visitors during their birthdays.

The sanctum enshrines Jaya Durga, the presiding deity. She is found seated on a lion. She has twelve arms and holds discus and conch in her upper arms.

In another shrine, Ucchistha Vinayak is found along with his consort. Interestingly, he holds conch and discus in his upper arms.

Varahi is found in seated posture in a separate shrine. The stucco images of different forms of Varahis are found as the niche images on the walls of this shrine.

The sub-shrine of Hanuman is very interesting. He is found along with his parents. When Vayu is depicted with a traditional deep (light), Anjana is depicted in human form. She does not have vanara face.

Panchakshara Ganesh, Mahamayi and Bhuvaneswari (utsav idols), Dhanvantri, Subramanya-Valli-Devasena, Swarna Akarshana Bhairav with his consort and Raja Karuppar with his consort are some of the other deities who are found in separate sub-shrines.

The samadhi of Swamiji and a Mukha Linga installed on top of it are located in a shrine.

Happy travelling.