RMH Eye Hospital, Thanjavur, TN , 3rd oldest in the world is housed in a 100 year old colonial building

Govt. Eye Hospital Thanjavur. deccanchronicle.com

Preponderance of people residing in Thanjavur city may not be aware that the  Government Eye Hospital On Gandhiji road is one of the few oldest eye hospitals in the world. 

According to the principal of the Thanjavur Medical College Dr. Kumudha  Lingaraj,  the Ophthalmology department of RMH (Rajah Mirasudar Hospital) is the third oldest one in the world.  The first one being Moorefield Eye Hospital  at Charterhouse Square London (established  in 1805).  It  was a dispensary for curing eye and ear diseases The second oldest in the world is  Royapettah (Madras) Eye  hospital  which is  now more than 200 years old (founded in 1819 by Robert  Richardson).  Because of space crunch it was shifted to Chennai Egmore hospital. The Eye hospital in Thanjavur is the  third oldest in the world!! 

Established in 1880 during  the Raj under direct administration from London, the RMH was built on  a land donated by the then Maratha queen of Thanjavur. The land used to be a big garden (Bagh prior to that).  According to Dr. R. Krishnamurthy, a senior doctor,  "It is a fact that the ophthalmic ward was opened in R.M.Hospital on land donated by Rani Kamatchi Bai Saheb(a), grand daughter of Rajah Serfoji - II, who ruled Thanjavur and also practiced 'Native Medicine and Ophthalmology''. 

Since 1919 the Eye department has been continuously  catering to the needs of not only patients from Thanjavur district, but also from  neighboring districts like  Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam, Tiruchy, Pudukottai, Perambalur, Ariyalur, Cuddalore, Karur and their suburbs;  a minimum of 400 out-patients from these places. In 2019 the building completed 100 years of existence. The eye doctors here cater to the needs of  30 to 40 in-patients  daily in the  past  and the number is going up in the past few years  Currently  about 90 to 100 patients are being treated here.  According to the Doctors in the eye hospital 600 major surgeries like cataract, glaucoma, lid reconstruction, cornea transplantation and 300 minor procedures are done every month.

Govt. Eye Hospital Thanjavur. deccanchronicle.com

Above image: Projected balconies. The 100-year-old building of Ophthalmic ward at Raja Mirasudar Hospital (RMH) in  Thanjavur city ............

The  Ophthalmic ward at RMH  is functioning in a  100-year-old  colonial  building adjacent to  Errattai Masthan durgah on the south side and next to Ranee's clock tower on the north side  on the busy  Gandhiji Road. It can also be accessed from the hospital road. 

RMH Eye hospital building,Jharokha window Thanjavur, TN. dailythanthi.com

It is a single-story brick-lime masonry  Madras-terraced structure with thick walls and high ceiling which  is supported  by quality wooden rafters and beams. The pointed  arched entrance,  arched windows  and  projected hanging balconies  on the first floor  suggest the building was constructed in Indo-Saracenic architecture. This type of design - a blend of European and Indian features  was popularized by the famous British  architect Robert Chisholm who had built several buildings in Madras and elsewhere. The Senate House, Presidency college, Chepauk palace, etc   The building was designed ingeniously  with high ceiling and thick walls to keep indoors cool.  In some places it seems, the original window designs, etc.,  are repaired in a different manner. In the future special  care should be paid  to retain the heritage features of the colonial structure.

Jharokha, Rajasthan. mapio.ne

Above image: The Jharokha is a stone window projecting from the wall face of a building in an upper story, overlooking a street, market, court or any other open space. A common feature in classical Indian architecture, most prominent in Rajasthan. It is a sort of decorative work  to enhance the beauty of the building. The RMH Eye hospital has features similar to Jharokha on the first floor which are visible from the road side. .......... 

When I visited this hospital more than  4 years ago along with my daughter to get an Eye  certificate to renew  her  driver license, the building was not well kept  and it looked as if it had not  even received one or two coats of whitewash and paint for several years. The  tall wooden doors  were squeaky and looked faded without proper paint job. Some new structures  came up in the recent past and  were not in sync with a fine colonial ambiance. When I saw part of the building I was quite upset and saddened because there was no periodic  maintenance  work  to keep the old structure in good nick. 

The Ophthalmology department of the Thanjavur Medical College, functioning from Rajah Mirasudhar Government Hospital (RMH) celebrated  its 100th year in 2019.  Little  do we know that its growth  is closely linked with the Thanjavur  Maratha family   and  landlords (mirasudars) of  Thanjavur district of past era. RMH came up  through public subscription, major contribution of  about Rs 33000 was made  by the Maratha  Queen  Kamatchi Bai Saheba and the rest were from prominent landlords.

From the plaque in the hospital  we understand  it  was opened to public in 1926 by George Joachim  Goschen  (2nd viscount Goschen  Hawkhurst), Governor of  Madras Presidency.  He  was a British politician MP for East Grinstead from 1895 to 1906 and as Governor of Madras from 1924 to 1929.  It was on 13 December  1919 the foundation stone was laid  for the  Ophthalmic ward  by Sir. E. H. Wallace, ICS, Judge and  Collector of Tanjore.

 The hospital  building was dedicated to the memory of  the end of World War I  (it  lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918) as per  1919 Verisellas Peace Treaty' in Paris. WWI was the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated 8.5 million combatant deaths and 13 million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war.  Roughly 67000 Indians died in WWI and equal number of people were wounded.  Besides resulting genocides,  the related 1918 Spanish flu pandemic caused many millions of deaths worldwide including India.

Records  of Saraswathi Mahal library established  by the Nayaks  initially later well developed by Rajah Serfoji - II,  point out that Raja Serfoji was  interested in native medicine and had a good knowledge of  Ophthalmology.  He  also did  surgery for 'cataract couching' (extraction of lens) in 1828, and it was done at Dhanwantri Arokyasala, Thanjavur.

 Besides keen interest in arts, education and literature, Rajah Serfoji - II  had a flare for  medical treatment using native medicine. He  evinced keen interest in native medicine - Sidha, Ayurvedha and Unani.  Giving importance to western system of medicine from 1810 onwards,  he  founded an  institution called  'Nava Vaithiya Kalanithi Sala' in 1827. Dhanvantri hall being his medical centre, it acted as medical research center in Thanjavur.

His descendants continued to show interest in medicine and after Serfoji's death  the Arokya Sala services continued unabated for a pretty long time  about 50 years,. Subsequently,  princess Kamatchi Bai Saheba,  the grand daughter of the king. being a charitable person, giving due importance to public welfare and health care,  granted  40 acres of   land opposite to Big Temple (present RMH hospital). The RMH is a legacy of the Maratha family.  Sir Sullivan Thomas was the then Collector of Thanjavur in 1876.

Among the landlords of  Thanjavur  the donors included:  Tiruppanandal Kasi Mutt, Poondi Veeraiya Vandayar, Kabisthalam Duraisamy Moopanar,  Poraiyar Thavasimuthu Nadar and Gopala Krishnan donated money to build the hospital. The hospital became 'Rajah Mirasudhar Hospital' which later became part of the Thanjavur Medical College.  

The Prince of Wales - (later Edward VII), who visited India in 1875, advised opening  medical  schools to issue a certificate called   'Licentiate Medical Practioner' (L.M.P) in six places in India including Thanjavur, Nagpur, Madurai, Visakapattinam, Royapuram (Chennai) and Calicut.  Thus, Tanjore Prince of Wales LMP Medical School, started functioning at Thanjavur.  in the later years it was closed for unknown rasons.  In 1879, Sir Sullivan Thomas,  had  new buildings, operation theatres and emergency surgical halls, built  at RMH to keep abreast of the latest developments in medicine. The emergency  and OP ward is popularly  even to day known as 'Thomas Hall' and served emergency medical services for about 130 years, for the people of Thanjavur and surrounding areas.

Good news  is under the Smart City project the 100 year old colonial building that houses the eye hospital will be repaired and conserved back to old glory. Yet another good news is  a sum of Rs 16.47 crores will be spent to establish a  Regional Eye Care Center in the Thanjavur Government Raja Mirasudar Hospital (RMH). It will be under the Department of Ophthalmology of Thanjavur Medical college.   In this regard the  GO for this had been issued recently. The money will be spent for constructing a 120-bed block to house the center.