Thursday, 2 December 2021

Sree Poornathrayeesa temple in Thripunithura, Kochi and Vrishchikolsavam festival - controversy over elephants participation!!

 The famous Vrishchikolsavam festival is to take place soon at Sree Poornathrayeesa temple in Thripunithura, Kochi and the traditional  Seeveli  marks the opening of the  8 day temple festival.  As part of  this  ritual participation of a large number of elephants is a must.  The deity Thrayee signifies Rig, Yajur and Sama Vedas -  the God of the Three Vedas, hence the deity in the temple is known as Thrayeesha.  Participation of elephants is part of the worship protocol of this temple. 

Beginning on December 2 to December 8,  the 8-day festival  ends on the Thiruvonam nakshatra day in Vrischikam month.    Also known as  Anguradi festival,the main event is   Ezhunnallippu (procession of the utsava murti of the temple atop than elephant).  Caparisoned elephants  (Numbr varies) accompany the deity with Panchari Melam  and the ritual lasts a few hours. 

The crux of the  matter is the decision by the authorities to  permit 11 elephants to be paraded at the  temple in  Thripunithura, has  shaken the hornet's nest  with objections being raised by a member of the Elephant Monitoring Committee. The decision was in violation of  guidelines issued by the Kerala High Court and the Supreme Court, according to  a member of the   committee who alerted the Ernakulum Collector. The arbitrary decision taken over participation of elephants is  tantamount to  contempt of court.

On Nov. 22 the district administration made a decision not to increase the  number of elephants to be paraded in the festival. ''The High Court and the Supreme Court had  made  it clear that ''the district Elephant Monitoring Committee was the sole agency which could decide on all matters related to parading of elephants.''   The collector by issuing permission for parading 11 elements has run into rough weather and  is being criticized  for violating the court decision. His decision. the  collector  said,  was within the purview of duties entrusted by the Monitoring committee. 

The Thripunithura temple had permission to parade 15 elephants for the temple rituals, but  only  the administration allowed 7 elephants. The temple authorities made a request to allow 15  citing customary practice. Finally only 11 elephants were allowed to be participated  in the festival as the COVID threat is yet to come down in Kerala and the now the medical officials are getting ready  to deal with the new threat of  Omicron.  

Seeveli at Thripunithura temple


In this famous temple where the presiding  deity is Sri Vishnu, who is fond of elephants, participation of a large number of elephants for  Seeval ritual has been in vogue for decades. Only in the last two years, the festivities and participants are very much restricted  as a  precaution against COVID -19.

Sree Poornathrayesa temple of Tripunithura, Kochi - a fascinating temple with lots of festivities

Poornathrayeesa temple,

Above image: In the last two yeras, the temple festivals are low-key affairs on account of COVID -19. 

Poornathrayeesa temple, Kerala

Sree Poornathrayesa temple of  Tripunithura, Kochi is a popular Hindu  temple in Kerala state and it has the unique distinction of being the first among eight royal temples of the erstwhile Kochi Kingdom. Lord Vishnu, the primary god of this temple is the tutelary  deity of the Royal family of Kochi. In this temple he is in the form of  Santhanagopala and often known as Poornathrayeesa meaning fond of elephants. 

.Poornathrayeesa temple, Kerala

In the famous annual festival or utchavam of this temple the Vrishchikoltsawam, it is said, more than  40 elephants actively participate.  Celebrated in the month of  Vrishchikam (November–December) lots of elephants are sent by owners free of  fees  to participate in the  temple  festival.  A 8-day festival,  events  take place day and night  for 7 days and they include  Ottan Thullal, Kathakali, thayambaka, Chenda melam, katcheri, maddala ppattu, kombu pattu, and kuzhal pattu, etc  all are native to Kerala. .

As the god happens to be the guardian deity of the ex ruling class of Kochi, extra  significance is given to this famous festival which is said to be the biggest in the world, followed by  Koodalmanikyam  ulsavam of Iringalakkuda. What about Thrissur poorum? it is not a temple festival.

.Poornathrayeesa temple, Kerala

Tradition has been that as the presiding deity is Santhna Gopala Krishna,  if childless couples visit the temple and pray to the deity with trust and devotion, they will be blessed with  a child. This reminds me of the   famous Mannargudi Rajagopala Swamy temple, in Thruvarur district of  Tamil Nadu. Here childless couples are  advised by the priests (Bhattacharyas) to carry the small idol of Santhana Gopla Krishnan in their hand jointly. The Ithegam is the God will bless them with a baby. 

The legend has  it  the idol of  Poornathrayeesa was given to Arjnuna (one of  Pandava brothes of the Mahabharata) by God Vishnu. Because of Arjuna's association with this temple, the Srikovil/garbagriha has a unique shape - in the form of a chariot.  Arjuna used the mustard seeds  from the plants grown in the surrounding forest to  get oil for  lamps. A Valia Vilakku is  in front of the idol  and  the burnt oil of this lamp has medicinal properties according to a local belief.  

 The moolavar (original idol) was originally  in  near-by Poonithura Sree Krishna Temple, . and the then ruler  shifted the deity from there to the present location for unknown reason.  The original design of this temple was according to native design and in 1920 a major fire mishap ravaged much of the temple, particularly the sanctum/ Srikovil mostly made of wood. 

The  temple  was rebuilt  in concrete, a departure from traditional  method. The architect was one Sri Eachara Warrier, quite popular in this part. To make it look like a traditional design   the temple was carefully covered  with copper plates, wooden panels and granite tiles. The walls of srikovil are  covered with large brass sheets with images of gods and goddesses;  the roof is laid with copper sheets. A note worthy feature that is rare in many temples  of Kerala and other parts of south India is the entrance to the sanctum which is covered with gold sheets.   This temple with  two-story  gouram has  a mantap supported  by eight carved wooden pillars.

As for temple festivals there are  many interesting ones. Mention may be made of  Ambalam Kathi Utsavam  (Thulam month) to recall the mire accident that took place in the past. After  the evening deeparadhana,  before lots of devotees   a lump of camphor is lit all over the temple Besides Vrishchikolsavam, other festivities are he birthday of Sree Poornathrayeesha  in "Uthram" Nakshathra of the Malayalam month Kumbham (February–March),  Para Utsavam, where people give special offerings to the temple, Mooshari Utsavam (Aug. Sept.), Lakshmi Naryana Vilakku, Uthram Vilakku and Thulam Ombath Utsavam.

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Metropolitan Magistrate Court building of George Town, Chennai - now a protected heritage monument!!

The ''heritage activism''  and value of  buildings older than 100 years dawned on the people of Chennai and  Govt. officials after the unfortunate fire mishap in 1985 that completely destroyed a land- mark erstwhile colonial shopping complex - Moore market near MGR Central Railway Station in Chennai.  ''Heritage activism'' was given a big boost.

Heritage buildings are defined as  those  ''notified structures of historical, architectural, or cultural significance''. The state government in 1997  embarked on a serious steps to  protect and conserve numerous heritage buildings in Chennai.  To go into detailed aspects   related to enactment of the Heritage Act,  the state government in 1998   formed  a committee  of Town and Country Planning  headed by  a Director.  Next to Kolkata  Chennai is home to the second largest number of of heritage buildings in the country, 

 To conserve heritage buildings  in the Chennai Metropolitan Area (MCA) in 1999,  Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA)  constituted a Heritage Conservation Committee to draft regulations.  Only  on 2 September 2008, special rules for conservation of heritage buildings/precincts came into force.  After long deliberations and discussions in 2010  a list of   criteria for listing the heritage structures in the CMA region was finalized, and in 2011, the process of assessment and documentation of heritage structures had begun.  The official list of heritage buildings was compiled by the Justice E. Padmanabhan committee.  In 2013 countless owners objected to the listing  of their buildings under the heritage tag, but  HCC overruled their objections. Categorization of  structures  into three grades Grades I, II, and III   was introduced and among them  ''Grade I structures will be prime landmarks upon which no alterations will be permitted''. external changes may be made on Grade II buildings. As  for Grade III,   suitable internal and external changes can  be allowed  for 'adaptive reuse'. It means the renovated structures can be put to use. 

Metropolitan Magistrate court,

Metropolitan Magistrate court, Chennai

Metropolitan Magistrate Court on the Rajaji Salai, Chennai  is housed in a fine colonial building built  during the British Raj. It is one of the  subordinate courts  started with other courts during the same period to deal with more litigation.


Metropolitan Magistrate court,

Above image: The metropolitan Magistrate Court on Rajaji Salai, Chennai (Madras).  Fine ceramic ornamentation around the gothic styled windows...........................

This 3-story  architecturally well made red-brick colored structure looks like a dwarf sandwiched between two popular and large heritage buildings -  State Bank of India and the General Post Office. On account of this  subtle contrast many visitors to this place miss this simple, but impressive building with rectangular plan.  This structure that looks like a box is made of quality brick with lime-sand mortar and thick walls, and Madras terraced roof well supported by thick beams and sturdy rafters made from teak wood. The design is a bit  of departure from European styled building as the top roof is flat and  there is no slanting roof. 

Metropolitan Magistrate court,

In the façade of the  building there is  a series of  symmetrical pointed arched windows within the rectangular panels that carry ornamental ceramic decoration, imparting  an inspiring look from out side. This kind of ceramic ornamentation on British-era structures is rare.  On the ground floor the pointed arches are large. The advantage of Madras terrace roof and a series of windows is it allows cross ventilation and good air circulation inside and keeps  the interior of the building cool  and comfortable, irrespective of hot weather condition prevailing outside. Though built in 1880, for unknown reasons, it was declared open in 1890. 

The most impressive aspect of countless British-era structures, mansions or railway bridges, etc is  intense dedication shown by the British engineers whose approach was methodical . Because of their quality of work most of them have survived this day despite poor upkeep by the Indian government. A case in point is the  British-era District Court building with a turret clock in  the heart of Tiruchi city. Built in 1919 in the recent past it completed 100 years  and the Tiruchi legal fraternity asked the government to give it a heritage tag. The pieces of furniture were made from quality wood imported from England.  If our officials had shown one tenth of dedication and commitment shown by the British, we would save saved countless monuments across India that were lost due to sheer negligence. This is also true of civil works like road-laying, etc. Frankly speaking, we lack  total commitment.

The conservationists  from  INTAH (Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage) involved in the restoration of the structure had to face certain issues like deposition of coal dust, etc., on the walls and roof.  In 2012 the INTACH was entrusted with the job of renovating and conserving  5 courts in Chennai: The George Town Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court, the Small Causes Court in the High Court campus, the Egmore Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court, the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court, Egmore, and the Saidapet Court. It shows that the Madras High court had immense trust in the quality of work being done by INTACH who had several projects going across India. 


Among the Indian cities,  Chennai Metropolitan  Area (CMA) has the highest number of  heritage sites as many as 2,467  dating back to the Pallava period..

Egmore Metropolitan Magistrate Court, Chennai - a colonial building already renovated

 The century-old heritage building of the Egmore Metropolitan Magistrate Court  was  not in good condition and in  2017 the renovation work was undertaken  by the PWD  in consultation with  National Centre for Safety of Heritage Structures . By  March  2019  the work was over and a sum of Rs.5 crore  had been spent on the renovation work.  Upon completion of the work by the PWD, to the astonishment of  the fraternity of Chennai  lawyers, the  renovated court building had remained idle  and unoccupied for several months. It was yet  to open for the courts to function there.  The reason was not clear  and the courts were still  functioning at  Allikulam.  There was  a proposal to shift the  fast track courts and land-grabbing offence courts functioning at Allikulam to here.

Egmore metropolitan Magistrate court, Chennai

Egnore metropolitan Magistrate court,

 The British under the Raj in 1916 established three   Municipal Magistrate Courts in Madras (Chennai)  in Egmore, Saidapet and George Town to meet the demand  of increasing litigation and to clear the pending legal cases.   Since then the old buildings have  seen any activities  and remained idle. These  colonial structures  are worthy of preservation.   Symmetrical arches quality wood work and staircases, and rosewood doors and  features give  the  old Indo- European styled building  a unique look that makes  it stand apart. 

Toward the end of 2013 the  state government has sanctioned 22.21 crore for the  for the purpose of preservation and maintenance of the heritage court buildings at Egmore, George Town and Saidapet, besides Court of Small Causes in the Madras HC premises.

Damaged Egnore  Metropolitan Magistrate Court,

In June 2015, the metropolitan magistrate courts functioning in the  old building in Egmore, were shifted to the Lily Pond Shopping Complex (was constructed in 1986 on the plot where Moore market was ravaged by a fire accident in 1985) near the Central railway station. The govt. paid a monthly rent of Rs.17. 79 lakh for the courts.  Shifting  was done to begin  the  time-consuming  renovation  work of the heritage structure and  also the construction of a new court    complex in  Egmore to accommodate all courts affiliated to Egmore court.   Since 2015  the  Court  had been  functioning on    a separate premise in Allikulam market complex.  As for modern multi-storied  court complex  a sum of  Rs 26 crore was spent.

But the shifting of court back to the renovated building got delayed   because  the  structure's heritage value might  be affected because of frequent access by common people.  The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate court had also sought for the heritage premises to be utilized for the smooth functioning of the courts.  The onus was on the   ''Heritage Committee of the High Court."  to  make a final decision.

Old Cuddalore District Collectorate building - TN govt should take guidance from ASI or INTACH

Cuddalore  Dist. Collectorate building,

Collectorate building, Cuddalore, TN

In the 18th century  after several skirmishes with the French army  and Tipu Sultan of Mysore, an alley of the French, the British took control of  the region part of which lying between Palar and Portonovo rivers  became South Arcot District. The first collector of this district in 1801 was  Captain Graham who was with the East India company's military. Vide records in the  Madras district gazetteers  with respect  to South Arcot (1962 ) we understand  the name ‘Arcot’  is derived from Tamil ‘Aaru kadu’ meaning six forests which  were supposedly the abode of Hindu hermits./rishis.

Location map Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu.

The old  Cuddalore  District Collector's Office in Cuddalore town   is  functioning  in a heritage building  built with Indo -European style of architecture. Past  several years its upkeep by the govt. officials  has been  very poor. Because of govt. apathy and lack of  interest in saving a heritage structure, the building  is showing the impact of poor maintenance coupled with time factor and  the effects of  vagaries of weather being on the coastal area.  Details regarding its date of construction, etc., are not available. However,  the building has been around for about 150 years.  In 1993  Cuddalore District was carved out of South Arcot district. 

However, the old Collectorate building seems to have undergone some  changes by way of  some additions and repair work without proper planning and foresight.  It is quite imperative that   when additions and repairs are made to century plus old   heritage structures, precaution should be made not to disturb its original design or parts.  Invariably, the builders give a damn to their old charm and heritage values. They use construction  materials that do not match old buildings that were  constructed  with old  traditional  techniques. The contractors  carrying out repair work  have  neither any fundamental  knowledge of conservation of old structures  nor do they value the heritage  aspects in those structures under repair.  

As for the Cuddalore  collectorate building,  alterations and additional  building construction done by contractors mar the beauty of the colonial edifice. Because they never ever do research and choose construction   materials similar to the ones   used  centuries ago.  The addition of a new portico in  the façade of the building  at the entrance is at odd with   Indio European styled structure. The haphazard construction and repair work  done in a hurry show the beautiful building in poor light,

When dealing with old monuments,  as for repair and conservation, discretion must be used  before embarking on the work.  Altering the old architecture, changing   color coating, flooring, replacing the original wooden doors with glass  doors  according to  whims  and fancies of  builders  is a horrible mistake.  It is to be assumed that  to the contractors  money matters more than that of   heritage of a monument. 

The govt  both at the center and state must make it mandatory to consult the ASI and  INTACH. whose workers and conservation engineers have lots of experience and they know how to bring back the old structure back to old splendor without compromising  on their heritage values.  TOI dated 24 December 2020 in an article mentioned that  29 heritage buildings in Tamil Nadu will get a facelift in one go. Among the sites included the old Cuddalore  collectorate building.  Rs.80 crore had been sanctioned  for the renovation work od many structures.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

''Rani Mangammal Mahal'' of Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu, a heritage building is undergoing conservation!!

Rani Mangammal Mahal, façade, Tiruchi.

That Rani Mangammal Mahal  where a state museum is housed is undergoing restoration work is a good news for the monument lovers. Parts of the museum  are  closed   and the exhibits packed and kept safely away.  Some of the exhibits have been moved to the front. Upon restoration,  on display  will be  exhibits that highlight  Tiruchi city's rich  history including the colonial period and its local traditions and specialty.  

Rani  Mangammal Mahal in Tiruchirappalli is a heritage building  built in 1666 CE by Chokkanatha Nayak of Madurai Nayak Dynasty who ruled Madurai and other parts. Close to the important land mark of Tiruch  Rockfort temple, it was used  by Rani Mangammal as the Durbar hall   as it was  the seat of power and capital from   1616 to 1634 and later from 1665 to 1731. Rani Mangammal Mahal or Kolu Mandapam was earlier known as   Chokkanatha Nayak Palace. Earlier their capital was Madurai. This palace is the last surviving  palace in Tiruchi district.

interior, Rani Mangammal Mahal , Tiruchi.

In 1983 a  museum was established  by the State Department of Museums at Cantonment after Salem and Madurai, as the then    government wanted to start a museum in each district with a view to  educating the people on the rich culture and tradition of Tamil Nadu and also of  India.  It was a well conceived idea as the museum was instructive and educative to the public, in particular, to  students.   Subsequently, the  museum was shifted to   Rani Mangammal Durbar Hall during 1997 which is within Town Hall Complex.  Managed by PWD   the museum  is functioning here for more than 20 years.

.Rani Mangammal mahal, Tiruchi. Govt.

pottery of Tamils civilization Govt. Museum Tiruchi.

The government museum  has a good collection of exhibits on display covering various fields like anthropology, epigraphy, history, zoology ( covers a collection of rare insects, birds and mammals), geology ( covers rocks, minerals and fossils, etc.),   and  paintings, There are more than  2000 indoor and outdoor exhibits and these include artefacts like megalithic sculptures, carvings, Stone Age inscriptions, musical instruments, tools, currencies and Chola-era coins, paintings, etc. Also included are rare photos, rare documents, palm-leaf manuscripts, fossils Mostly from the Ariyalur area of Cretaceous age) , tribal life of pachamalai & Kohli hills, weapon and cannon balls used by Hyder Ali of Mysore kingdom in the 18th century. There is a small section on philately.  In 2012 a Sculpture park was opened that included a vast array of sculptures and  idols of  Hindu gods and goddesses covering 13th century to 18th century.  Rare sculptures include God Vishnu (Thirumal), Durga, Tamil  saint  Sri Manickavasagar (16th century; builder of  Avudaiyar koil, in Pudukkottai district)

restoration of Rani Mangammal Mahal, Tiruchi.

A good news for the heritage lovers is in February 2020 the Union Govt.  govt  announced that the heritage building - the Rani Mangammal Mahal,  housing the Government Museum in Tiruchi would undergo repairs and  restoration soon and a sum of  Rs. 3.85  crore had been set aside for this project. As it is a heritage structure experienced conservationists would be given the job to carry out the  work without disturbing the heritage elements in the structure. The construction materials used in the conservation work will be in sync with those used centuries ago to retain the old charm and glory. Murals accidentally discovered  under several layers of lime coating and paint during the early repair work would be taken care of under expert guidance. as recommended, natural dyes would  be used to paint the murals.  As for   structural  restoration work, PWD sought the help of conservationists from Jharkhand. To maintain authenticity, experts will study the old photos and related texts.  PWD  hoped that the project would be completed over a period of 18 months.  The old building's roof will be carefully repaired including  domes and minarets. They plan  to  remove cement patches all over the structure  to ''showcase the building as it was,''  The Union culture ministry had initiated the renovation work .and .the renovation work aimed at modernizing the museum. The 354  year old Nayak-era building  will get a face lift as part of the union govt. project. 

Nayak palace, Tiruchi,

Above image:  This is a 1858 photo  of the 'Chokkanatha Nayak Palace', now known as 'Rani Mangammal Mahal'. It is close to the Rock  Fort complex of Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu. Built in mid  17th century the palace now houses the TN Government Museum. Way past it underwent major repair work. Presently it is undergoing renovation work that may be completed pretty soon in he early part  of 2022. Nayak Dynasty of Madurai and also Thanjavur   originally governors of  Vijayanagara Empire, and as their vassals  they were ruling southern Tamil Nadu with Madurai as their  early capital from 1559 until 1736............................,_Tiruchirappalli


Padmavilasom Palace West Fort, Thiruvananthapuram - the heritage royal abode is now a star hotel




Padmavilasom Palace  located in the prime area of the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram on  Enchakkal road, is a  150 year old  heritage site,   Built in native and European style of architecture, it  is close to the famous  Sree Padmanabha Swamy  temple -  just 1.7 km.  The palace with s single upper  floor has royal suites, common furnished hall and well- suited bedrooms and a fine corridor.  Now it is  star hotel  for the upper income people. 

Since the beginning of  last decade the state government has given facelift to many mansions and palaces close to the main temple here. This palace has a fine regal entrance with high compound walls all around it.  Privately owned   by  a  family having connection with  Vadasseri Ammaveedu family,  it is a Naalukattu palace with four independent quarters. The surrounding big trees in the garden throw shadow on the building and  keep it cool even during mid day.  It happened to be the former royal abode  of the Travancore family members  and the fine  architecture  highlights the regal elegance of the past era.  

The impressive features of this building are  tall ceiling, white walls, shining wooden flooring, cool lighting and  impressive   chandeliers, A large number of  rich brown old-style doors and windows, antique furniture and curios  not only highlight the Kerala tradition, but also   enhance the majesty of this old palace.   In the absence of AC, cross ventilation and fine quality wooden roofs  the veranda  plus  greenery around it keep  the interiors cool. Kitchen near the Naalukattu is ideally located. 

The owners made a realistic approach to renovate and decorate the palace   with a view to  bringing  back the  regal ambience  to showcase how the palace and its interiors looked like during  the heyday of Travancore rulers. Mere decoration or  beautification of interiors  does not give the right result.   You have recreate an atmosphere matching the regal look of the bygone era. ''We have tried to break away from the claustrophobic atmosphere of a traditional diner with air-conditioning and closed doors and windows,” says Deepu  director and Archana, a relative of the owner. Except two royal suites, there is no central air-conditioning in this palace.

When it comes to renovation and repairs, the refurbishment  of this old building is kept to the  minimum to retain the heritage look and  to keep the old charm  without disturbing the  original look of a royal household.  As it was necessary  portions  of  certain walls were recast with limestone and given a fresh   coat  of white paint.  The building has large wood work and the wooden carvings  are restored to their  original grandeur.

bed room.Padmavilasom

lounge. Padmavilasom

In the last decade or so, some heritage buildings and graceful mansions in the capital have been given a facelift and turned into restaurants for fine dining and homestays. The latest is Archana’s Padmavilasom Palace at Enchakkal road is a nice place to relax.

Padmavilasom palace.

Padmavilasom palace.

According to Sharat Sundar Rajeev, conservation architect and history enthusiast,  ''the Ammaveedu marks a slight departure from other similar buildings of the era''.  Padmavilasom Palace stands independently away from the entrance unlike other structures that are close to the  entrance gate or compound. The spacious balcony on the first floor offers a clear view of the front part and the street.