Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Banqueting (Rajaji) Hall, Chennai - steeped in colonial history

The Banqueting Hall, c. 1905. en.wikipedia.org/wik
Rajaji (Banqueting) Hall, Chennai Flickr
The Rajaji Hall, earlier known  as the Banqueting Hall, Madras built  in 1802 in the form of a Greek temple by  E I Company's astronomer and engineer Goldingham, is one of the earliest public halls used mainly for  social functions. The total cost of the building then was Rs. 250,000.00. It is said it was built to commemorate the British victory over formidable Tipu Sultan  of Mysore in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War of  May 1799. It took just two years to complete the building that was commissioned by Gov. Edward Clive as an extension of the Government House. The gala opening was done on 7 October 1802 with a grand inagural ball worthy of governor's official status.

In the initial stages, since the time of George Foxcroft (1668), the first Governor, the EIC's Governors had lived within the prescient of Fort St George, Chennapatnam (Madras / Chennai) along with their paraphernalia - writers, soldiers, etc. As the British company progressed well, a century later it became a necessity to have a separate  building  with enough garden space for recreation and parties.  After 1752,  the government through the efforts of  Governor Thomas  Saunders  acquired land and built a mansion that later came to be called   Government Estate near Round Tana. In its place now stands the huge new State Assembly complex. During the time of  Edward 

Lord Edward Clive WordPress.com
Rajaji, Eminent lawyer of TN ,Ist Gov. Gen. of India the myLaw.net blog
Lord Clive the Second (tenure:1798-1803; son of Robert Clive, died in London in 1839, aged 85 and   buried at Bromfield parish church, near his Oakley Park property), additions were  made to the mansion and again the authorities decided to have a stately Banqueting Hall (now Rajaji Hall) built with impressive  rows of columns - Doric, Ionic and Corinthian style. 
Tamil Nadu, S.India Webdunia
Rajaji Hall was built in the form of a Greek temple and it is believed to have been modeled after the Parthenon in Athens.   Hence,  it looks like a Greek temple as mentioned before.  Goldingham, preferred this building built this way, a bit different from other structures.  He had begun his career in Madras in 1786,  and was a  good friend of Edward Clive and it was natural that Goldingham  had been entrusted with the project in 1800. The basement is made of arched cellars and store rooms surrounded by a colonnaded terrace. The exterior of the hall was built in the 16th-century Italian Manneristic style. This historical building saw extensive expansions and additions after 1875. An arcaded  verandah was built in 1895. An interesting fact that emerges is that the building was commissioned under the British company's  rule and massive extensions and additions were made after the British government, London  took direct control of India. The extensions included  widening of the access to the hall through a fine flight of steps, open terraces enclosed by rows of arches linked by columns and low walls,

 The dimension of the building is 120 feet long, 65 feet wide 
and 40 feet high and is enclosed by a gallery which is adorned 
with portraits of popular Anglo-Indian leaders and eminent  administrators including Edward Clive, Richard Wellesley,  Sir Thomas Munro and others. Also on display are British monarchs George III and Queen Charlotte. The southern end has an 
access to the Government House by an array of steps resembling 'neo-classical temple' for hero worship" The Banqueting Hall from 1857  witnessed  convocations of the University of Madras till 1879 when the Senate House was built. A historical event took place  during  27 January  1938 - 26 October  1939 when the legislature of the Madras Presidency met here. 

The north gates of the Government Estate has direct access to what was once an impressive sweeping driveway taking us to Banqueting Hall and  past to the Government House. The silver-painted iron gates had on either side the shelters for the Governor’s mounted bodyguard. They formed  the most colorful and regal  body of troops  whose ‘Changing of the Guard’  and the excitement filled the air in the by-gone era  and  it was almost on par with that of what still takes place at Buckingham Palace in London. The place looks void now, no extravaganza, no change of guard and no din and only a gloom prevails. That historical edifice was unfortunately replaced by a new Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly - Secretariat Complex built  between 2008 and 2010. Media reported that the new massive building caused considerable damage to  the hall's foundations. The Rajaji Hall needs to be repaired and restored back to old glory that would have silently watched various important colonial meetings, social gatherings, and grand balls. The state government regardless of its other urgent commitments, should take serious steps to preserve this heritage site, steeped in colonial history.

Only after India's independence,  the famous historic hall was renamed as "Rajaji Hall" in honor of lawyer C. Rajagopalachari (native of Salem,TN), a  great patriot (who led the Vedaranyam Salt March) and first and last Governor General of India.

Tit-Bits:

01. Incidentally,  Rajaji  Hall is featured in innumerable famous Tamil films, depicting demonstrations by the people, government functions, marches, etc., when the core of the story is about a hero and how he is tackling the corrupt politicians and their coterie of henchmen and sordid party men.
Ex CM, Tamil Nadu (dec.2016) lying in stateThe News Minute
02. The mortal remains of important political leaders lay in state in Rajaji Hall before their funeral. When our former CM Honorable Ms. Jayalalitha died recently  6 December 1916, her body lay in state in the Rajaji Hall for public viewing before the final funeral.
Rajaji Hall.ex CM M.G.R. 's death.Ms. Jayalalitha behindMy photography
03. The body of Ex CM, Tamil Nadu MGR  lay in state at the Rajaji Hall in Madras on December 24, 1987. In the image above you can see Ms. Jayalalitha, the  future CM of TN.

 Ref:
 http://madrasmusings.com/Vol%2019%20No%2023/otherstories.html#story1
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajaji_Hall