Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Grecian imagery

If you think this building is too pretentious, with its imitation of the Athenian temple of Theseus, pause for a moment and reflect upon what it represents. You will then realize that the imagery reflects the Grecian tragedy that was played out before the Pachaiyappa's Hall was built. It honours the "greatest contributor to charity the Madras Presidency has ever known": Pachaiyappa Mudaliar, born of poor parents in 1754 and orphaned soon after, came to Madras in his teens, as a protege of dubash 'Powney' Narayana Pillai. The boy was a genius of some kind - by the time he turned 21, he was recognized as one of the richest men in Madras, though he was himself frugal and simple, by all accounts. It is said that he had a premonition of his death and being childless, he drew up a will - one of the first Indians to do so, just weeks before he died in 1794.

Though Pachaiyappa Mudaliar's will left his wealth to "the sacred service of Siva and Vishnu and to certain charities at various temples and places of pilgrimage, to the erection of religious edifies, to bounties to the poor, to seminaries of Sanskrit learning and to other objects of general benevolence”, the executors of his will pillaged his fortune to such an extent that the then Advocate General of the Madras Presidency, Sir Herbert Crompton, was forced to litigate against them; though the Supreme Court of Madras directed enforcement of the will's provisions, it was easier said than done. Sir Herbert's successor, George Norton finally salvaged about 800,000 rupees, of which 450,000 rupees were earmarked for establishing various educational institutions around the Presidency. The Board of Trustees who were to manage this first started a primary school; finding the school expanding beyond their expectations, they decided to build a hall to house the "Pachaiyappa's Central Institution" as the school was then called. The foundation stone was laid by George Norton on October 2, 1846 and the building was inaugurated on March 20, 1850.

For over 150 years, this hall has overseen the growth of the Pachaiyappa's Trust, an body that today runs several educational institutions in the state. Considering the vast spread of the Trust's influence, it is sad that Pachaiyappa's Hall has been denied the grandeur due to its history!

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