Sunday, August 16, 2009

Town temple

Beri Thimappa, who, as the dubash of Day and Cogan, was instrumental in negotiating the grant of land that would grow into Madras, appears to have been a far-sighted man. He recognized that if the 'natives' had to be persuaded into moving close to the new 'factory' at Medraspatnam, they had to have facilities for their spiritual needs; acting on this, he appears to have had a temple built in fairly quick order. While the exact date of its building is unknown, it appears that both Nagabattan (who was gunpowder-maker to Francis Day) and Thimappa made contributions generous enough to be recorded, the former in 1646 and the latter in 1648. It is possible that what started out as a small shrine to Chennakeshwara Perumal was expanded, thanks to these (and other, smaller,) contributions, to cover an area of over 8000 square yards, enclosing sanctums for both Perumal and Mahadeva, thereby catering to both the Vaishnavas and the Shaivites who were doing business with the British East India Company by then.

As the years rolled by, the area occupied by the temple contracted and in 1757, it was just under 24,000 square feet. The British, with their plans for an esplanade, found the temple to be a hindrance (it was in the place where the Madras High Court stands today) and therefore pulled it down. There must have been some outcry when the 'Town Temple' (also called 'Patnam Perumal' Temple) was demolished, for the East India Company very soon offered to help reconstruct the temple and gave a piece of land equal to the area occupied by the Town Temple, a little further away (at what is today Devaraja Mudali Street). The reconstruction took the shape of not one, but two distinct temples - the Chenna Kesavaperumal and the Chenna Malleswarar. The money provided by the Company - 1173 pagodas (about Rs.4,400) - was hardly enough for such grand plans, so Manali Muthukrishna Mudaliar, then dubash to Governor Pigot, opened a subscription list, to which he contributed 5202 pagodas. The total subscription of 15,562 pagodas was gathered and the temples were consecrated in 1766.

Both temples continue to be in active use and the entrance to the Chenna Kesavaperumal temple is shown in the photo. Without the gopurams that are a feature of almost every temple here, it is possible to overlook this as being just a gathering hall of some sort. If you do so, however, you will miss the 'first temple of Madras' - one that also contributes in some way to the city's name today!


Hilda said...

You're right, it does look different without that pyramid of deities. Still a huge entrance though and a very interesting — and contentious — history.

Shantaram said...

@ Hilda: Somehow, that style doesn't seem to have caught on in this part of the world!