Pudukkottai District Court building, TN - a fine colonial Indo-Saracenic structure

pudukottai dist. court.dreamstime.com

pudukottai dist. court.dreamstime.com

Any new visitor to Pudukkottai town will be very much impressed by two important colonial buildings that still stand as a legacy of the  Royal Thondaman family and the British rule. The ruling family had a long lasting alliance with the Crown till independence in 1947.  

The red brick buildings, reminiscent of  colonial  architecture of the British era, are landmark structures in the prime area of the town known for their quality design that promotes cool indoors. In one building the District Collectorate  (built in 1930) is functioning  and in the other structure, built more less during the same period, the District Judicial Court is operating.  

The amazing  bright-red colored  District Court building  constructed on a sprawling land  is a typical example of  Indo-Saracenic architectural style showcasing native Indian design in the form of pierced arcades with windows, domes, chhatries with eaves to drain out rain water, pair of domed minarets in the facade, miniature chhatries at regular interval  all along the edge of the parapet wall on the top terrace. 

District court building, Pudukkottai town, TN.shutterstock.com

This design style, a blend of  strong European features like arched windows, entrances with hanging eaves  ingeniously mixed with vernacular design native to India, was  popularized by  famous  British architect Robert Chisholm (11 January 1840 – 28 May 1915). Selected by Lord Napier, then the governor of Madras Presidency, Chisholm  made a mark not only in Madras (Chennai but also in Vadadora (Baroda), Gujarat where he designed many buildingsfor the Maharajah of Baroda. The Pudukkottai royal family took  inspiration from  some of colonial buildings of  Madras such the Senate House, a part of Chepauk Palace, etc and incorporated the design in the buildings built in the 1900s. 

Influenced by western perception of building designs, in independent India,  contemporary architectural practice has  ignored the native traditional building designs  and the logical reasons are lack of skilled masons specialized in decorative art work, lack of matching quality construction materials, long working hours  and cost overruns. 

The  rich and complex heritage  design systems prevalent in the country are  eco-friendly and aesthetically rich. There is enough space for interaction among the occupants. Open yards provide light, shadow and cool air.  In the present modern scenario, occupants of  public buildings designed in old  Indo-Saracenic style have found the ambiance both inside and outside more  comfortable and suitable for the extreme tropical climatic conditions of many parts  across India. Most buildings have high ceiling, large entrance provided with louvered  wooden doors for the windows and entrance or room doors, promoting smooth flow of air all through the interior parts. Whenever privacy as well as ventilation is required such doors can be used. Louvers are mostly wooden in the olden days  fixed in the frame of shutter such that they prevent vision but permit free passage of air. The doors may be fully or partially louvered. It is imperative that much awareness has to  be created with respect to the relationship between the social, climatic conditions and the energy usage of the buildings.

Indo-Saracenic buildings in India  with adequate ventilation and unique  design features offer enough scope for  standard contemporary  buildings  to improve energy efficiency. Experts say that an understanding of the energy mechanism for  these buildings can contribute towards controlling the amount of CO2 emissions prevalent in the prime busy, crowded and polluted  areas of the  cities. So, Vernacular design elements can be well be integrated in today's new buildings with a view to  improving energy efficiency.

Pudukkottai state, a small one was founded in 1680 as a feudatory of Ramnad and the area extended with additions from Tanjore (Thanjavur) and Sivaganga.The Princely state enjoyed 17 gun- Salute  status  under the paramountcy of the British company and later under the Raj (1800 to 1840). As part of official protocol, a British  Resident was appointed to represent the Madras government (Madras presidency) to keep an eye on the ruler and to see that he was not acting against the interest of the British. In those days, in some places the British Resident had a  dual role to play in the matter of administration. He also donned the role of   District Collector. In the earliest stages the district collector's jurisdiction used to cover two  or more districts. The Collector also had the rights to hear cases and pass judgement in the judicial courts, a sort of de facto judge. 

The Pudukkottai District Collector’s Office, now functioning in a colonial building  was built in 1930  during the reign of Raja Rajagopala Thondaiman (1928 -1948), the last and ninth in the line of Thondaiman rulers.  Raja Sir Rajagopala Tondaiman Bahadur was honoured with the George V Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935, George VI Coronation Medal in 1937 and the Indian Independence Medal in the year 1948. He died in Chennai in January 1997 at the age of 74. 

Besides the District court and the collector's building, the ruler of Pudukkottai had a royal palace built in 1930 in  Indo-Saracenic  architecture