Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The main devotee?

One of the occupational hazards of being a 'dubash' (from 'dvi' = 'two' and 'basha' = 'language') with the East India Company was having your name twisted around and being anglicized beyond local recognition. Resilient people they were, the dubashes took it all in their stride, comfortably straddling two worlds separated not just by language, but also by customs and cultures.

One such dubash was Alangatha Pillai, who was prominent enough to be one of the first 12 aldermen of the Corporation of Madras - he was named in the Charter itself. Apart from being a dubash, Alangatha Pillai, or Allingall as he was referred to by the British, was also the chief merchant of the British East India Company in Madras, coming to that position in 1680. Even in the days before he became the chief merchant, Alangatha Pillai had built up a good deal of coin with his dubash skills. Like many good folk, Alangatha Pillai deployed some of his earnings to religion. While he was likely generous in his donations to several temples, it is believed that Alangatha Pillai was specially fond of Ekambareswarar, the deity at Kanchipuram. He was a regular visitor to that shrine until the governor (was it Streynsham Master?) put it to him that if he were to build a temple near the Fort, a great deal of travel could be avoided*. Putting that idea to work, Alangatha Pillai had the Ekambareswarar temple built on what was then the Washers' Street.

However, there are other versions which claim that the temple has been in existence for over 500 years now, dating it to a time before the British. In which case, Alangatha Pillai probably financed the temple's renovation, endowing it richly from his personal fortune. Because of his munificence, the temple was marked in the official records as "Allingall's Pagoda"; that name did not catch on and the temple continues to be known as 'Chennai Arulmigu Ekambareswarar Temple'. There is, just as soon as one steps inside the temple, this carving on one of the pillars, showing a devotee. It is believed this represents Alangatha Pillai, the chief devotee at one time!

* A similar story is said about the Varadaraja Perumal temple at Kaladipet, but that'll have to wait for another post!


Gold Biscuit said...

I love these interesting tid bits you enlighten us with.

Anonymous said...

Came across your blog only today. The Kachaleeshwar temple in Georgetown also has a very similar story.