Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Triple diamond gift

You would have seen it in that 1906 photograph of Mylapore. Seeing it over a century later, it looks different, yet the same. The real challenge these days is more in being able to see it, for the area around Kapaleeshwarar Temple is not the open field it was over a hundred years ago. The low wall behind the coconut trees in that photograph is gone, as are the trees (I think). That wall marked the boundary of the temple tank; today, entrance to the tank is zealously guarded, with a fence keeping everyone well beyond the periphery of the tank.

Also missing is the structure in the foreground (right) of the photograph. Even in the early 70s, that structure was a common sight in some parts of the city. It is a sumaithangi, the load-bearer, which travellers could use to rest their loads on. It makes eminent sense that something useful for travellers needs to be placed next to such a structure. You will notice that the photo shows a man sitting under what seems to be a water fountain; of course the first thing a traveller would do after placing his bundle of belongings on the sumaithangi would be to drink deep. And placing such a fountain under a canopy will ensure that travellers bless the far-sighted benefactor.

To find out who this benefactor is, you will have to peer intently above the arches; you might be able to make out the statement "Diamond Jubilee Gift - P. Subramania Iyer - 22 June 1897". That was the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne. While the occasion was marked by several performances and installations, a water dispenser in some form seems to have been a favourite. It is fortunate that Subramania Iyer's interpretation of that for Mylapore had the canopy added to it. Apart from providing shade, the canopy is all that remains of the gift, with the water fountain having run dry long ago and completely removed from this structure!

No comments: