Monday, 25 October 2021

Mahatma Ayyankali Hall (formerly VJT), Thiruvanantha puram - a fine monument


Mahatma Ayyankali Hall,Thiruvananthapuram

Mahatma Ayyankali Hall in Thiruvananthapuram

Above image: Formerly Victoria Jubilee Town Hall, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. It was opened on 25 January 1896 by the erstwhile ruler and enlightened social reformer Moolam Tirunal Rama Varma. On the morning of  22 October  1904, the hall hosted the first ever  meeting of the Sri Mulam Popular Assembly (Sri Mulam Praja. Sabha). The objective was “solely to give the people an opportunity of bringing to the notice of the Government their requirements, wishes or grievances on the one hand, and on the other, to make the policy and measures of the Government better known to the people so that all possible grounds of misconception in regard to the action of Government may be removed.”. As for the architect, it is presumed  that Robert Chisholm might have been consulted considerting its Indo-gothic style design.........................

.Location map. Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

The Victoria Jubilee Town Hall  in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala was built in 1896 by Maharajah Sri Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma of the Travancore princely state to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Victoria. Popularly known as  "VJT, it has been widely used by  various communities for cultural activities, etc. Part of the expenses were met by public subscription.   Till India's independence it was a symbol  of Travancore ruler's allegiance to the Queen of England. In the early days before opening to public, the royal family members used the town hall  to throw birthday parties, etc., which were attended by Europeans and Indian elite. 

Ayyakali Hall (VJT), TV Puram, Kerala,

VJT Hall, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

VJT Hall, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

VJT hall Thiruvananthapuram.

Rich  in architectural  style and its role as a center of Kerala's rich tradition and cultural ethos, the town hall is sought by many people including those who want to hold exhibition, etc. In the 1940s and 1950s this hall was vibrant and active and many social events, public  meetings, performing arts events used to take place here. The local Kathakali Club used to stage  their monthly performances in the hall.

.Mahatma Ayyankali Hall (VJT)

In the last week of August 2019  CM  of Kerala  Pinarayi Vijayan  was inaugurating the 157th birth anniversary celebration  of  brave  social reformer  Ayyankali in the VJT Hall.  It was here in 1912 Ayyankali  made his  his historic speech  unequivocally demanding equal rights for  the oppressed community members as the first Pulaya member of the Moolam Praja Sabha.  Availing  himself of the opportunity on the same occasion  the CM of Kerala   honored  Mahatma Ayyankali  by  renaming  VJT  after the  reformer. Some  historians  were of the view that the ruling party could have  chosen some other way to honor the social reformer instead of naming. a heritage structure, that was built in honor of the British queen.  Anyway, the Dalit community as a whole welcomed the the move 

Maharaja Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma,/ 

Above image:  Sri Moolam Titunal Rama Varma (1857–1924) was  the Maharajah of the princely state of Travancore between 1885 and 1924, succeeding his uncle Maharajah Visakham Thirunal (1880–1885). He was from the Changanassery Royal Family and Maharani Lakshmi Bayi of Travancore, niece of Maharajah Swathi Thirunal...  The Travancore Legislative Council was formed in 1888,  and it was the first Legislative Council for a native state in the history of India. It was later succeeded by the Sree Moolam Popular Assembly, the first legislature in Indian history to have elected members. The portrait by famous painter Raja Ravi Varma................................

The  Town Hall since its inception has interwoven  with changing  political scenario of this city. An  important  fact that  emerges is the hall used  to host both the Legislative Council and the Sri Mulam Popular Assembly. The hall was a silent spectator to various  agitations/protests  by the Travancore State Congress party.

Brave social reformer of Kerala Sri Ayyankali.

Presently being managed by the Thiruvananthapuram corporation, the hall is widely used for conducting expos, craft exhibition, sale, etc., pushing the cultural events, etc., to the back stage. Many  historians and heritage lovers feel that if commercialization of the hall takes precedence over cultural events, at stake will be the historical importance of the hall and the purpose for which it was built.

The  city  corporation must use discretion to rent out a 100 plus year old building because care must be taken to maintain and conserve it for the posterity. Conducting cultural events native to Kerala will be appropriate and will match the majesty of this structure built in honor of the British queen.

Patna GPO, Bihar - Gothic styled heritage building

Post & Telegraphic building Patna.

Above image: This iconic Post & Telegraphic  Office (Commonly GPO)  building in Patna is 104 years old and was built during the British Raj under the Crown administration, London.  Viceroy Charles Hardinge laid the foundation in 1912.   Serving as an important economic and administrative link between United Provinces of Agra & Oudh and Bengal Presidency, Patna GPO was a major postal center then.  According to  senior official, “Besides the grand structure with 1.93 lakh square feet built-up area, Patna happens to be the first postal unit in the world to have evolved a prepaid system for postal services.”.............................  

The Patna GPO building.

The General Post Office (GPO) also called, Patna GPO), Bihar,   is functioning in a  British colonial building  on  the intersection of Buddh Marg and New Market Station Road  in Patna; the Hardinge Park is on west side of the GPO campus.   Being the central post office of the city of Patna and the headquarters of India Post's Bihar Circle,  it  handles most of the city's inbound and outbound mails and parcels. Completed in 1917 (work  began in 1912) at a cost of Rs. 2.69 lakh and opened to public on 1 July 1917 with 17 employees,  the building was designed by New Zealand-born architect Joseph Fearis Munnings, a consultant architect to the state of Bihar and Orissa in 1912.  As a matter of fact in 1911 itself at the Delhi Durbar King George V officially announced the creation of a new province of Bihar and Orissa under a lieutenant-governor with as the capital of the new province for administrative purpose.   Accordingly, the British established a new city in 1912  and the PO  known as  Post and Telegraph Office began functioning there. It celebrated its anniversary in 2017. 

GPO, Patna, Bihar.

The Postal building in the new Patna city  designed by Munnings, came up on a plot of 22 acres of land, now a prime area. The work began with the laying of foundation stone by Lord Hardinge on 1 December 1912. According to official records the first post office in  Patna was near Anisabad area, later it was shifted to Bankipore. The PO near  Hazaribagh - now part of the state of Jharkhand, was the   first post office of the province of Bihar and Orissa. The P & T Office  building was designed in Gothic Revival architectural style by the architect Munnings and it was not a well embellished structure. Part of the reason is Britain  was in the midst of WWI and the treasury of the  British Empire  had experienced financial constrains on account of war expenses, part of which was borne by British India. So, the architect followed  a simple design and used the local construction materials as much as he could, thus saving money for war efforts in the European theater.  

Featuring arcade and flat roof the design of the building includes Mogul  elements,  plastered brick walls and  fine  Chhajja (an overhanging eave or roof covering) common in Delhi. The original building is designed with three   porticoes - north, south and east, and each one functioning as the main entrance to the main building. The western side was a later addition. The ground floor  with  seven rooms  has  four halls with counter areas. On the other hand the 14 halls on the first floor are big.  The chief postmaster's office is in the central portion, while the deputy postmaster's office is  underneath it.

The built-up area is around 2.5 lakh sq ft and and 296 employees are working there. The building was renovated way back in 2000 at a cost of  INR 1.25 crore. This included two fountains five gardens, including one with  medicinal herbs within the complex. In 2017   GPO Patna delivered 1 lakh letters and parcels daily through 96 postmen. and had  more than 12 lakh savings accounts. There are separate counters for students and senior citizens.,_Patna

Sunday, 24 October 2021

Bellary, Karnataka and its British legacy - a brief note

Deputy Commissioner's office building: 

 the Deputy Commissioner's office a colonial building in

12i year old colonial building Bellary,

Above image:  Just across the  Bellary railway station, Bellary city  in the state of Karnataka  stands  a  3-story colonial building that houses the Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) office. This typically exotic building is on the  Mysuru-Bannur Double Road in Siddhartha nagar. Also function here  the assistant commissioner’s office, and others. Made of thick walls the interior looks impressive with many symmetrical arches and also windows. This structure has wide corridors around the floors to keep the interiors cool and well-lit during days. With a dome at the center, the facade of the building has Indo-Saracenic design - a blend of European architecture with Indian elements.  A new building complex  (total built-up area: 23000 sq.m) on a plot of 15 acre of land  came up at a cost of  Rs. 85 crore  and the DC office was supposed to shift there long ago.  Until April 2020   the new building   remained unoccupied by the DC office and  it continued  to function in this building which is more than 121 year old................................. 

Across south India particularly, in cities like Chennai, Bangalore and Mysore (Mysuru)  there are many historic colonial buildings built by the  British government or by the rulers or business people or patrons of the British rule. On the district level also many colonial structures came up to house the district collectorate, police departments, revenue departments, etc.

The region including Bellary was ruled by various dynasties including  Pallavas, Badami, Vijayanagara,  Hoysalas  and Cholas. After the fall of Vijayanagara, it came under the Bellary Nayak, a vassal of the Bijapur Sultanate. Marathas, Moguls and the Nizam of Hyderabad  had  a grip on this region for some time. The latter ceded a large part of the Deccan including Bellary to the East India Company after the fall of Tipu in 1799. The British ruled this part of India for more than 147 long years. During their reign many colonial buildings came up.  Bruce Pete police station, on Old Bengaluru Road, built in memory of a collector,  Millerpete, named after another collector, DC bungalow on Annathapura road,  Judge's bungalow on Taluru road, old court building, Jails, etc  are some of the vestiges of early colonial rule. 

Soon after Bellary became part of the Madras Presidency, Sir Thomas Monroe, (27 May 1761 – 6 July 1827),  a popular  Scottish soldier and colonial administrator was the  first  collector of Bellary district in 1800.  From here he made  the  historic visit to the Ragavendra Mutt at Mantralaya   regarding Mutt properties and spoke to  the great seer (in the Samadhi) through  intense prayer. Upon  clarification from him, he convinced EIC about the legality of the Mutt lands, etc.  

Alipore Jail, Bellary:

Bellary: Alipur jail, Karnataka.

Above Image: Alipore Jail, Bellary:  In 1884  during the tenure of Collector Sir  Thomas Monroe,  the maximum security Ballari Jail or the Central Prison (called Alipur jails)  came up.  Once part of Madras Presidency, it  has a large military cantonment (built in 1866) with  big ammunition storage facilities (next only to Madras), etc; the reason is this place was the center of peninsular india.  A part of the cantonment's  infantry barracks was converted into a military jail, called the Alipore jail  which had 14 blocks.  It was initially  built to lock up POWS  of WWI (prisoners of war) from Turkey Denmark and France. It  is the only jail in the sub-continent that was closed by the authorities after independence. Now the   Vijayanagara Institute of Medical Sciences (VIMS) is functioning there and the  barracks of the soldiers have been converted into doctor’s residences. The ‘Swatantra Soudha’ has come up in place of the cells that once housed the freedom fighters.

The Alipore  jail became well  known where  thousands of prisoners of the Mappila riots in Kerala  and  prisoners of the Anglo-Turkish War in 1807–09, were locked up.  Lots of freedom fighters  including well-known patriots were jailed here; some  died here and their tombs are noticeable even today.   The govt. has built  the ‘Swatantra Soudha’  in  the cells that once housed the freedom fighters. The 157 year old Alipore jail is a protected monument under the state. The monument has to be repaired and conserved soon as it has close links with India's struggle for freedom from the prolonged colonial rule. 

Madurai Old Collectorate, a Victorian-styled structure to be conserved soon

Old Madurai District collectorate building

 The Madurai District Collectorate building near Anna Bus  stand,  Madurai city  is one of the oldest  colonial buildings in Tamil Nadu; 15 years have gone by since its inauguration. Built in 1916 on a huge land comprising 30 acres of land in the prime area of Madurai city,  it ia a huge  dressed stone building constructed  in typical  Victorian-era architectural style. Known for  random rubble masonry style and flaunts stone work with huge corridors and  fine entrance arches  and window arches it had been a seat of  power for a long period. Further, it was a  silent spectator to  freedom struggle  movements in Madurai,  Gandhiji's visits to this temple town and his change of attire into loin clothes, and above all the first temple entry of the Dalits into the Meenakshi temple led by the late freedom fighter and famous  lawyer  A. Vaidyanatha Iyer  on the morning of July 8, 1939. 

1916. Old Madurai collectorate building, Madurai,TN

Because of its unique European-styled architecture, any visitor to this place will be tempted to take a look at the structure twice. The Madurai North and South tahsildar offices, supply office, Tamil Nadu Medical Services warehouse, government workshop, fire station and the Madurai RDO office function in the building.

Madurai city,TN location map.

Prior to the British rule, Madurai Nayaks  ruled this place for a long time Madurai became an independent kingdom from Vijayanagara rule in 1559 CE under the Nayaks; however their   rule ended in 1736 CE  because the last Nayak Queen Regent, Meenakshi  was betrayed by Chand Sahib.  Subsequently, there was a power struggle between  Chanda Sahib (1740 - 1754 CE), Arcot Nawab and Muhammed Yusuf Khan (1725 - 1764 CE) in the middle of the 18th century to control Madurai. The British took over  Madurai kingdom  around 1750 and formally established Madurai district. One  A.  Mc Leod was the first collector of Madurai, assuming charges on September 6, 1790.

The expansion of the city took place in 1837 during the English company rule under the collector John Blackburn who opened up the walled city. Under the Nayak, the city was within the confines of four walls. It so happened  most of the European  settlements, including missions established by the American missionaries   started coming up outside the city limits toward  Teppakulam.

Additional information is not available on the old collectorate building. 


A few years ago it was decided to have a new  spacious collectorate complex built as the old  colonial building had become  too congested   for  further expansion.

The foundation stone for the new building was laid by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palanisamy and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam in April 2018.  A sum of Rs. 21 crore hd been allocated for the project plus additional  Rs. 9.2 crore to house the Collector’s new chamber. The new structure will cover 10,900 square metres - 1,800 sq. metres more than the original plan. and the complex will house  various departments including   District Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare office. The good news is the new building will include  ramps, lifts and special toilets for differently abled people.


The 106 year old ''Town Hall'' of Nellore city, AP - its link with play-back singer late SPB!!

 During the colonial days and later post independence period in major cities and towns across India Town Halls played no less role than other public buildings in serving the public. They were built to showcase the rich cultural history of the place by hosting dramas, native dance recitals, folk arts, etc. Most importantly, they  played a crucial role during the independence movement because they served as a public meeting place for the patriots to fight against the British. In the past two decades or so most of  the public halls of the past era have fallen into disuse owing to the growth of innumerable Kalyana Mantaps (Wedding halls) in many cities. The Town hall at Nellore city is intertwined with the growth of  this place,  HQ of Potti Sriramalu Nellore district which is famous for high quality rice. 

Nellore City Town Hall,

The 106 year old Town hall of Nellore city is one of the oldest structures where countless cultural activities took place in the past. Built in   in 1915 by Rao Bahaddoor Rebala Lakshminarasa Reddy on a plot of two and half acres of land on Trunk Road, officially it is called  the  Rebala Lakshminarasa Reddy Puramandiram’.  The  complex has  a big  auditorium, Dining Hall,  an  open ground  Reading Room and a small Vinayaka temple right in the town hall compound. 

location map Nellore city.

The Town hall underwent major restoration in 2003 and a big contribution of Rs.40 lakh  was  given by one J.S.Reddy. The town Tall since  its inception had  hosted several arts and cultural programs,  music recitals, drama performances, school functions, etc. Quite interesting fact  no other town halls in this part  have hosted  thousands of wedding functions and  theater performances  as this town hall did in the past. People in thousands who had some kind of link with this town hall through weddings, social functions, etc fondly remember this venue which is associated with this old city for a long time. 

Yet another fascinating fact is the town hall's  close association  with the  famous movie playback  singer late Sri S.P. Balasubramanium, quite popular in the south as well as in the north. When he came for the inauguration of the Town Tall after renovation in 2003, in front of a huge audience  he  recalled his association with the town hall since his childhood and his very early music performances there. He  himself  said,  ''This is the stage from which I gave my first performance at the age of five as Raghurama in Bhaktha Ramadasu where my father and noted Harikatha exponent S.P.Sambamurthy was Ramadasu.”After major repair work, the town hall sported a new look. 


Saturday, 23 October 2021

St Aloysius' Anglo-Indian High School (1847) - first Catholic and English medium school in Andhra

1847 St Aloysius' Anglo-Indian High School, Vizag.

Saint Aloysius High School, Visakhaptnam,

Above image: St.  Aloysius' Anglo-Indian High School, a Christian mission school in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh was founded in 1847. The East India Co was the proxy ruler at that time and they ran the govt. for the British Crown. The school was  started by  the British Indian Army  for the purpose of educating the children of  British Indian Army European Soldiers .It was not only the first English medium school in the state of Andhra and the only one between Madras and Calcutta but also  only the first Catholic institution in Visakhapatnam . 

 1847 St Aloysius' Anglo-Indian High School, Vizag

The school was started by Fr. John Decompoix in 1847, when the first batch of Catholic priests from Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales had arrived in India from France.and it is located in  the  Old Town area. Located on a plot of 2 acre land in a prime area, the school had a humble beginning under a tiled house. Now it has fine building made of hard stones with spacious class rooms and lab facilities. It was also one of the oldest ICSE schools with boarding facility in the combined State of Andhra Pradesh.

 St Aloysius High School, Visakhaptnam, A

.Built in Gothic style, it is a U- shaped structure with a big  courtyard at the centre, Besides the school building,  there is  the Chapel (built in 1935-36) on the premises.  To cut down radiation and heat from outside the building has a wide corridor on the ground floor with stone flooring that will resist long wear and tear  due to frequent usage. On either side of the corridor there are big semicircular arches. . The ground  and first floors have   Madras terrace roof. There is a a bridge connecting the school and the chapel. There is a rose window on the top, beautifully decorated in stained glass. There are pyramidal structures in stone highlighting the chapel’s unity

St Aloysius High School, Visakhaptnam,

Unhealthy’ competition takes a toll on the  174 -year-old school.  The school is credited with best credential such as good faculty, largest play ground, best library facilities, good boarding facilities etc, But despite all these  credentials such as a glorious past, the biggest school library, most modern labs, it is loosing out to  the corporate schools that came up in the recent past.  

This Old Town is the most neglected part of the city. With the development of a busy port air pollution is a big problem, it already went beyond the dangerous limit levels; one of the pollutants being soot from the coal handling piers.

VPT propagated the idea of shifting the school to a better location and this proposal affected the admission to school which dropped from 3000 to just 900 in the past.  The  proposal to demolish the old building was later dropped.  “It is a heritage structure and we cannot have it demolished. We have vehemently opposed it,” said Prasad of INTACH.

Visakhapatnam Collector's office - a heritage structure built by the Dutch company

.Visakhapatnam District collectorate building, AP.

The  collector  during the Raj was the head of the district administration, his multifarious duties include  revenue organization,  settlement of disputes,  management of indebted estates; loans to agriculturists,  famine relief, etc. The district administration, a legacy of the British rule, wss first introduced by  Warren Hastings in 1772. District collectors were invariably trained professionals in the area of administration  and they belonged to Indian Civil Service (ICS). To get qualified  for ICS, they had to take tough competitive  civil  service commission exams held in England  after completion  specified subjects at  a few well-known British  universities. 

Vizag district collectorate, AP.

Above image: During the freedom struggle, many freedom fighters from Andhra wanted the British to quit India. Some of them took to violence as a way to intimidate the white settlers.  It was from this building in 1920  a notorious  British Collector Rutherford  devised a plan to trap live or dead  Alluri Seetharamaraju –a popular  revolutionary from this region who gave them nightmares.......... 

During the Raj the  collectorate  functioned in a spacious building specifically built for the purpose of district administration carrying on an array of various administrative work, including paper works  in one place.

Visakhapatnam  District Collector office building

The Gothic-styled impressive  E-shaped Collector’s Office building in Maharanipeta, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh  is a heritage structure  designed and built by Dutch engineering company Gannon Dunkerly in 1865. The work on the building was  taken up in stages and after a long spell of time roughly 49 years later  the building was completed  by 1914; part of the reason for the delay might have been  due to availability of funds for the project.  

During the 2014 cyclone Hudhud,   the old  structure was  damaged in some parts and subsequently they were rectified.  It was designed like a castle with  buttressed porch,  tall circular turrets covering all the three floors, and even a crenelated parapet. it is a  fine example of European - styled architecture  wirh  big court yards, spacious corridors on either side, impressive vintage stairways to access the higher floors and grand spacious rooms with arched doorways and  big windows.  This building that stands apart in the neighborhood  in Vizag carries the legacy of British empire and their tradition of carrying on the administration in a grand style from a stylish building matching their supremacy and assertiveness. 

The 3-story structure's elegance is further enhanced by open arches in the rooms on all floors symmetrically similar  circular turrets,  with a pyramidal roof atop.   The fine-looking  square-pavilions have three square turrets at  all its outer three corners.  The portico  is designed at the center of the main-block.

Vizag Collectorate building, AP.


01. This year in August this heritage collectorate building celebrated 74th year of Independence Day and the tricolour was hoisted atop the building. Tradition has been that the National Flag is hoisted every day at the Collector’s office, but August 15 has a unique significance. 

02. It  was on  15 August 1913 the building was inaugurated and occupied by the then District Collector L.T. Harris. 

03. Paradoxically, 34 years later on the same day Indian Nationa Flag was hoisted on the  same flag-post  by a  member of INTACH  and history buff  of Vizag   Paul.  

04. According to Paul  on 15 August 1947 the Union Jack was brought down from the same flag post for the first time since the building was inaugurated and our National Flag hoisted by the then District Collector A.H. Southern, who was also a Britisher.

05. In 1756  Visakhapatnam and the Northern Circars came under the control of the East India company from Mogul ruler Shah Alam II as per the firmans issued by him and later in 1758  by the Nawab of Hyderabad, Mir Nizam Ali Khan, Asaf Jah II.


06. In 1803 Visakhapatnam district was formed  and  the first District  Collector was L.G.K. Murray. The collector office functioned in various locations before moving into a permanent location.