Tucked away in the walkway that surrounds the Kapaliswarar Temple tank is a pavilion commemorating Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.
As part of the Mylapore Festival organised by the Mylapore Times, it has been customary that I lead a heritage walk each year, and thus far I have managed eight different routes in Mylapore, a testimony to the historicity of the place. This year, I focused on the Kapaleeswarar Temple and its tank. As part of this, I was delighted that Vincent D’Souza of Mylapore Times managed to convince the temple authorities to open up the walkway around the inner periphery of the tank. As I took the group along, I realised I had last walked on the tank steps forty years ago. The protective fencing did not exist then, and so it was possible for anyone to access the tank. That meant the walkway was kept clean.
Today, with it being out of bounds, it has become a convenient receptacle for all kinds of rubbish — leaves and branches, litter and empty liquor bottles. It is understandable that the authorities keep this area locked, chiefly to protect the tank from being misused. At the same time, it is necessary that they clear the walkways periodically too.
The tour included several mandapams surrounding the tank. Also included was the now-forgotten three-pillared pavilion, a favourite stop in my childhood. My memories were somehow of a much taller structure, which it clearly is not. Located at the North-west corner of the tank, it is a simple brick-and-mortar flat-roofed edifice on a triangular base, topped with an urn and supported by three cusped arches that rest on round pillars with lotus capitals. In the centre of this structure was once a font for water, but that had gone dry even when I saw it forty years ago.
There is no way of knowing what this edifice was put up for or by whom, until you look above the arches. Carved on one side of the flat roof in Tamil letters is the legend Pe Subramania Iyer Dharmam. The other side carries in English the inscription — The Diamond Jubilee Gift of P. Subramania Iyer, 22 June 1897. It is clear from this that the pavilion was meant to commemorate 60 years of Queen Victoria’s reign. The donor was Pennathur Subramania Iyer (1860-1901), who after graduating from Presidency College, worked initially in the Subordinate Civil Service before qualifying in law and rising quickly in his new profession. He was a Commissioner of the Corporation of Madras (equivalent to a Councillor today) and represented Mylapore Division from 1890 till his death. That accounts for his choice of place for the memorial to Queen Victoria’s jubilee. It is, in fact, an Indian version of the Jubilee Memorial water troughs that were put up in hundreds of English villages in 1897. Subramania Iyer did not live long after his donation, for he passed away in 1901.
This contribution of his may be forgotten, but not so the charities set up in his name that runs the P.S. schools in Mylapore.
This article appeared in The Hindu dated Jan 27, 2017.
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