Victoria Edward Town Hall and Old Library , Madurai - library needs funds from the government

Madurai town hall, TN  serving as a cine theater.

Victoria Edward Town Hall, Madurai,

Since the colonial days the town halls built in many cities and towns have been the venue for public meeting, music, dance recital, etc. Nowadays some  halls are being used for political meetings, make-shift voting booths, etc., during the election time. Among the town halls, the ones built during the Raj and before that period under the English company stand apart because of their unique architecture - a blend of Indo European style. The town hall built  in 1884  in memory of  Dewan C.V. Rangacharlu in Mysore and the one built in honor of P.P. Puttana, former President of Bangalore municipality   and Rajaji Hall, (in memory of former CM of Madras \ and first Governor General of India after India's independence) previously known as the Banqueting Hall, Madras (Chennai) are good examples. Invariably, such town halls are used for various cultural activities.. The last one in Chennai has appeared in several Tamil movies and a large section of the Tamil population may not know about it.  

''As Marine drive is for Mumbai and Mount road is for Chennai, Madurai has it’s famous Town hall road''.   Many of us may not be aware of  the presence of a colonial town hall  on North Veli street in Madurai, the third largest city in Tamil Nadu  which is famous for   Meenakshi Amman temple and Kallazhagar Thiruvizha. Close to the Railway junction, the town Hall road in this city owes its name to this old town hall . Built in 1908,  it was the first closed auditorium for public purposes in this part and 

Madurai town hall, TN  serving as a cine theater.

earlier open grounds like Thamukkam  maidan, Tilakar Thidal were the venues for various social and political events. Standing in its glory and colonial splendor the  striking feature  of the Town Hall is  its  architecture  -  a blend of Victorian, Gothic and Portuguese. The building has a fine well-kept lawn. 

Madurai Victoria Albert Hall.

The Victoria Edward Hall Library, a prized possession of the city  is  a heaven for book worms and there is a vast collection of rare and old books  more than 30000 covering various subjects.-  Homer’s Odyssey,  various English essayists and novelists, English plays by both Indian and English authors,  postal stamp catalogues of the British Empire, important Government gazettes (since 1923) and bulletins, etc. There are  Tamil and Sanskrit  novels besides important news papers, magazines in English and Tamil. 

Location map. Madurai city, Tamil Nadu.

Because of lack of publicity and awareness a large section of city's well- educated population may not be aware  of the book treasures in this library.  The library that began as a small reading room in the early 20th century  needs substantial funds from the state government  to keep it going  and catering to the needs of the local people, in particular, college students. Though there are more than 2900 members, there are no regular users and countless rare books need preservation. and proper care.  The library is functioning without a librarian, hence many problems related to books - preservation, buying, etc.,  are not properly taken care of. ''The books must be checked for the presence of insects like silverfish and fungus. If the paper is damaged, it needs to be strengthened through a process called mending,”  acceding a retired conservator of Saraswathi Mahal Library, Thanjavur, TN.

Library in the Victoria Edward Hall, Madurai.

Above image: Library in the Victoria Edward Town Hall, Madurai:  One of the oldest libraries in Tamil Nadu, it has priceless old books about  In addition  to  valuable books on various subjects the library has countless .Government gazettes and bulletins dating back to several decades. Catholic dictionaries and  postal stamp catalogues of the British empire   are priceless possessions.  The Victoria Edward Hall library was very much close to  the cafes of Paris. The first floor has a rich collection of over 100000 books  from which readers can gain a wealth of knowledge....... 

 The books need to be catalogued systematically s with proper call numbers so that they will be  accessed easily by the public. Further, there is a need to preserve them for the posterity. Steps are being taken to preserve the rare books through digitalization and cloud computing, besides mending (of damaged pages in the books)..  Since a charitable organization is running the library and the hall, considerable funds are a must  for regular periodic improvements, purchases, repairs, etc. Part of the building was converted into a cinema hall  pretty long ago. The town provides  air-conditioned   banqueting space to the public for various needs, wedding reception, corporate meeting, etc.. 

This library has its origin in the early 20th century when a group of well-read men started  the Madurai District Literary Association, and established a small library in 1902 on North Chitrai Street on the  first  floor portion of  E.M. Gopala Krishna Book Shop.  The elite of the city felt the need of a more spacious town hall and  a library, according to a Souvenir  on the Town Hall  put out during  2008 Centenary  celebration.   Sri Palanikumarasamy, former President of the Victoria Edward Hall Society wrote the Souvenir

The society bought one acre and 11 cents of land for a sum of  Rs.7000  in a prime location for the town hall in memory of Queen Victoria and to commemorate the  coronation of King Edward VII,

King Edward VII and Queen Victoria


Above image: Queen Victoria (Alexandria Victoria; 24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901), daughter of Prince Edward,  married her cousin Prince Albert in 1840 and they had nine children.  Her reign is the longest one in the English history and  second longest female monarch reign in history after Queen Lorraine of France. The Raj in its early period - 1880s held  queen Victoria in great esteem.  The Madras based  Gayan Samaj (that patronized Carnatic music) in association with  Madras Philharmonic Orchestra  had Tennyson’s Ode to Queen Victoria translated into Sanskrit, set to music and performed for the benefit of an invited audience at the Pachaiappa Hall in Esplanade (Flower bazaar), Madras..... 

Since a charitable organization runs the library  and  the Town Hall, the management  experiences financial  crunch though the income from the theater is not good enough  to maintain them and  if the state or central government steps in to tide over the difficulties, it will help the organization a lot  and be free from financial constraints. Countless rare books are aging and turning yellow and hey need special care to  get them back to old shape. The library is not a quiet place as it is surrounded by messy urban traffic, snippets of sound from the theater, etc. Quite lacking is the library ambiance- proper lighting in the reading area as well as in the shelf area, ventilation, comfortable seating arrangement,  and dust-free book shelves, furniture, etc. Owing to paucity of funds, proper upkeep of this once prestigious library is a tough job for the management.   .