Continued from part 1
The town was to, however, play a key role in this takeover, for the siege of Trichy in the Carnatic wars was when Robert Clive displayed his mettle. Clive Hostel, nestling at the foot of the Rock Fort and facing the Nayak-built temple tank, is today synonymous with a warren of shops long straggling neo-Gothic facade fronted by it. A marble plaque, similar to the one at Mangammal’s palace, says that Clive lived here in 1752. What is clear, however, is that Clive must have taken over a Muslim nobleman’s residence when he came to Trichy.
The shopping arcade can be architecturally divided into two parts. The lower level is a series of arches in Islamic style, with a central passageway that leads to a vast open courtyard. A Naubat Khana as in Amir Mahal would have probably topped this structure, and drums would have been beaten there on ceremonious occasions. This upper storey must have later made way for the Gothic structure that was later commercialised. All this is the property of St Joseph’s College, whose church dominates the skyline on the other side of the tank. When the college moved to Trichy from Nagapattinam in the 1880s, Clive House became the hostel for its students.
It still remains one. Inside, on three sides of open courtyard are the hostel buildings. The ones on the left and right are new additions. The building at the far end is of earlier vintage. We were assured that this was where Clive lived. But alas, a plaque there gives the date of construction as 1913. There must have been an older structure here that had served as Clive’s residence and, no doubt, it was demolished to make way for the hostel a century ago. Whatever be the case, the upkeep of the premises is shocking and even the sole plaque commemorating Clive is ready to fall off, being kept in place by an air-conditioner that hides it from view.
On coming out of Clive Hostel, if you walk to your right along the tank, you reach Nandi Koil Street. Here, exactly opposite the Naganatha Swami Temple, is Christ Church, built by the Rev Christian Frederick Schwartz in 1766. It lays claim to being the second oldest Anglican church, built east of the Suez, after St Mary’s in Fort St George. The Rev Schwartz is a legend in South Indian history. Known as Schwartz Iyer owing to his piety and learning, he is best remembered as the guardian of the young Serfoji and for waging a ceaseless and ultimately successful battle to get the latter recognised as the rightful Raja of Tanjore.
Schwartz came to India in 1750 as part of the Danish Mission and then moved to Trichy where he set up home in the same premises where Christ Church stands. His home, a single storied building mounted on a high plinth which accommodates subterranean chambers, can still be seen on one side. It was in this house that Schwartz first thought of the Vestry School for the children of officers killed in a magazine explosion in 1763. The Nawab lent a hand in funding it. From 1766, the school functioned from the vestry of Christ Church and became the Vestry School. In 1812 it moved to St John’s Church built in the newer cantonment area of Trichy where it still functions. 2013 is its 250th year.
Christ Church has a marble plaque too and it records its date of consecration and also states that the land for the church was donated by the Nawabs of the Carnatic (rather like the way they donated the land for the Kapaliswarar Tank). It is, however, in St.Mary’s in Madras that Schwartz is remembered in a huge bas-relief.
The church though kept well, has seen renovation that can only be termed as ill-advised. Polished granite has replaced the old flooring. The memorial stones that lined the floor are now permanently buried underneath. The new granite floor has markings and inscriptions reproduced to indicate whose memorials lie below, but it is just not the same is it? The old wagon-vaulted ceiling (on the same lines as the Mangammal Durbar Hall) has been dismantled and replaced with a flat roof. A false ceiling hides whatever there is on top. A metal spire now tops the church that probably had none to begin with. The stained glass fanlights over the doors have survived intact, thankfully. The altar has been given a new coat of gold paint.
Not far from here is the Bishop Heber School. Established in 1826, it commemorates Reginald Heber, Lord Bishop of Calcutta, who that year died in Trichy while in his bath tub.
Looking down on all this recent history is the immense bulk of the Rock on which a Fort was built at 83 metres in height and said to be over 3.8 billion years in age, it is older than the Himalaya, The Fort is home to a small settlement and the historic temple to Tayumanaswami – Shiva who took the guise of a mother to help a pregnant devotee through her labour. The 100 pillared hall which is half way up has seen umpteen music concerts right through the 19th and most of the 20th Century. Mostly kept locked now and used as a wedding hall on hire, its pillars can tell us a lot of Carnatic music history if only they could. At almost the same level is a unique three-storied bell tower, 19th Century in vintage. It combines elements of Indo-Saracenic and is topped by a Dravidian Vimana!
A road originally used by processional elephants leads half way up to the Rock Fort. A village still exists here. On one side of it is lower Pallava cave, there being an upper one, much nearer the summit. The lower cave, dated to 580 AD is a typical rock-cut shrine with alcoves for deities facing the entrance and two empty sanctums on the extreme left and right. It is thought that these were Jaina caves built by Mahendra Varman which were later converted into Hindu shrines. This also gives credence to the theory that Tirucchirappalli gets its name from Tiru Jina Palli.
The Rock Fort area is in many ways like our George Town. Though a lot cleaner, it faces the same problems of over crowding, unregulated traffic (though a system of one-ways is in place) and rampant demolition of old structures to make way for crass modern showrooms. This ‘retail-isation’ of the area needs to be stopped at all costs. A huge enclosure at the foot of the rock is said to be the future home of a retail giant in the region, an equivalent to the kind that dominates our T Nagar. There is no list of heritage structures and no protection is afforded to any bar those that are under the ASI. Nobody has any information on the historic buildings that still survive. The area has immense potential for tourism and it will be a pity if it all goes away. Hopefully the women who came on the tour will show the way.