Thanjavur ''Old Collectorate'' building - a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture

British built  Old Thanjavur collectorate, Thanjavur

Standing elegantly on the Court road (also called Kutchery  road),  close to  district Tasildar's office and old district court buildings  Thanjavur, is an impressive colonial building that was built in Indo-Saracenic architecture. This style was widely popularized by the  British architect  Robert Chisholm (11 January 1840 – 28 May 1915) who had built a number of structures blending Indian elements with European features in Madras (Chennai). Examples are: the Senate building,  univ. of Madras, Presidency College,  Chepauk Palace, etc. The collectorate  structure built in 1896  served as a the HQ of  composite Thanjavur district as well as the present bifurcated district. Since 1896 till  June 2015 it had continuously served as the Collectorate office with collector's official room on the first floor overlooking the front open yard and the main road. 

The Thanjavur (Tanjore) Maratha dynasty that  had been ruling the delta region  for a long period had internal squabbles over the successor to the throne.  When Shivaji II (1832–55), the last Thanjavur Maratha ruler, died without a legitimate male heir, the political scenario became more complicated. In 1787, Amar Singh, the regent of Thanjavur,  became greedy and deposed the minor Raja, his nephew Serfoji II (1787–93) and captured the throne.  However,  Serfoji II was restored in 1799 with the assistance of the East India company. During this tumultuous period Fr. Christian Friedrich Schwarz, Danish missionary, who had a close relationship with the British was of great help to the Martha ruler. The British  made him  relinquish the administration of the kingdom and left him in charge of Thanjavur fort and surrounding areas and they put the rest of the area under their administration. The wily British who had an eye on the fertile delta region finally took over the kingdom   unethically  using  the Doctrine of Lapse  (introduced  by Lord Dalhousie)  as a ruse. Upon the death of  last ruler  in 1841 without heir, the Thanjavur fort was also annexed by the British and it became part of the then Madras, Presidency  Till his death the Maratha ruler had  limited administrative powers and the British kept him in check. 

Details are not available where the district collectorate HQ had functioned during the early period.  However, from the year 1799 onward, the district collectors had begun to administer the delta region. From 1799 to 1804 one Charles Harris was the district collector, followed by John cotton briefly (1984) and later  J. Wallace (1804 to 1811). Invariably,  most of the collectors in the later years  had to pass a tough civil exam held in England to become ICS  (Imperial Civil Service later known as Indian Civil Service) officers (now it is IAS).   According to the 1871 India census, Tanjore had  a population of 52,171, making it the third largest city in the Madras Presidency.  

At  a time  when monuments and  heritage structures are relegated to the back stage to be  either demolished later or earmarked for complete restructuring, I am glad the beautiful collectoerate building  is well preserved and   repaired to run a museum there. The history of a place will never get lost if we preserve and protect the heritage buildings for the posterity.  A proposal was  made in June 2021 to convert the main collectorate building into a mega museum  to attract more tourists. A sum of Rs 9.9 crore was allotted to carry out major repair works without damaging the heritage value of this structure. Since June 2015 the  new District Collectorate has been functioning close to the Tamil University  just off the Thanjavur-Thiruchi express way. Space-crunch was the main reason  in the old collectorate building.

Indo-Saracenic style. Thanjavur collectorate, Thanjavur

An excellent example of Indo-Saracenic building in this part of Tamil Nadu  made of bricks and  ground  lime-mortar with thick walls and high ceilings, this  single-story  structure has three onion-shaped domes, center being bigger than the other two. The rounded arched windows around the fa├žade of the building and the arched porch get the attention of the visitors. The doorways are large and tall, many doors are louvered. I find it difficult to get the architect's name, however, whoever designed it, he used ingenuity in designing it.  Taking the hot weather into account in this  part of delta area, he not only designed high ceilings  with girders  to support the Madras terraced roof but also introduced  louvered  wooden doors to keep the inner place cool.  Such doors   provide superior air flow due to their design; warm or cool air  travels between rooms, even when the door is shut.  As you find pots (kumbam or kalasam ) atop the temple towers (gopurams), the three domes in the front have  small decorative pots  at the center - a typical Indian style.  The Chhajja below the central dome is a bit prominent. But the stone brackets -c orbels all along the edge of the first floor roof are closely spaced and visible.   A spiral stairway  with decorative rails   connects  the upper levels. The central  open hall is fairly spacious and  the various departments used to function in the rooms around the hall.  Plans are afoot to introduce toy trains and Sound and Light show in the future.  

View from the road. Thanjavur collectorate

Thanjavur  collectorate in 2016 in bad

Steeped in history, this  British-built heritage structure  is a landmark in  the old part of Thanjavur and gives character and aesthetics to this old city. A legacy of British India, it was a silent spectator during the freedom struggle, particularly when the salt satyagraha yatra was held under  late Rajaji (C. Rajagopala Chari former CM  and first Gov. General of India)  and other freedom fighters  in April 1930 from Trichinopoly to Vedaranyam ( coastal area in Nagapattinam district) via Thanjavur District (then Madras Presidency). It   was from this Collector's office J. A. Thorne,  rude but duty-bound  district collector of Tanjore, issued a  stern  warning ''that those who provide food and accommodation to the marchers shall be punished.'' He tried his best by widely publicizing his order throughout his jurisdiction through notices and public announcements (locally called Thandora). This collectorate functioned both under the British Raj and also under the Indian Union. Then Tamil Nadu was part of Madras Presidency. It was in 1954, effective and energetic Collector T. K  Palaniappan  kept the composite district in good shape and conducted a major government exhibition in the summer of 1955, if I remember rightly, The venue was the palace grounds including the play ground once used by St. Peter's High School and also V.H School.  The exhibition  with lots of shops, etc.,was a big success and lots of people from various parts of the district visited it.  The exhibition was educative as well.

 The proposed museum in the main hall  will have a host of facilities, including a 5D theatre to exhibit the grandeur of Thanjavur and will carry artifacts, etc.,  of heritage value. The museum will be  beneficial to the children and for the elders it will give them a break from the mere mundane existence. This improvement is part of smart city mission of the central government. 


Indo-Saracenic architecture:

Ujjain Collectorate, Madhya Pradesh,

Ujjain Collectorate, Madhya Pradesh.

Above images: Indo-Saracenic architecture. Ujjain Collectorate.  look at the the three  onion-shaped domes and the large doors in the front. This collectorate building (also called Vikramaditya kothi) in the historical city of Ujjain , Madhya Pradesh  has close similarity with Thanjavur old collectorate building. At Ujjain there is a stairway on either side in the front to access the first floor. The building itself is much wider than  the one at Thanjavur.  Chhaija and  hanging eaves are quite visible in the facade of the building on the first floor....................

Indo-Saracenic style.Senate House, U. of Madras, Chennai. 

Indo-Saracenic architecture (also known as Indo-Gothic, Mughal-Gothic, Neo-Mughal, or Hindoo style)  was more or less a revival  architecture  mostly used by British architects in India in the later 19th century.  They used this design particularly in large  public and government buildings in the British Raj with fine decorations and attractive architectural elements to get the attention.  Many rich  Indian Maharajahs also followed this style  with embellishments when they built their palatial palaces to establish their pride and status as a Princely State ruler. Part of inspiration was from Mogul and Indo Islamic architecture mostly followed in the northern states. It was blended with western classical features. Good examples are the High Court buildings in Chennai, Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata, Chhtrapathi Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria terminus) building, Mumbai, Napier Museum, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, etc. The main features of Indo-Saracenic style are: onion (bulbous) domes, pointed arches, cusped arches, or scalloped arches Chhajja, overhanging eaves, often supported by conspicuous brackets. Pinnacles,  towers or minarets may be included for decorative purposes. This style was popularized in Madras by Robert Chisholm, British architect who was in great demand in India then, particularly among the Maharajahs of the princely states .............  (