'Colonial 'Coronation Diamond Jubilee Arch'' of Thanjavur, TN - lost British legacy

photo taken for her diamond jubilee 1897 indianexpress.com

Victoria Jubilee arch, Thanjavur Photo credit.facebook.com

Above image: The non-existing  Coronation Diamond jubilee arch, Thanjavur  built across the Gandhiji road (formerly railway station road) close to Ranee's clock tower was pulled down in 1994 in view of Tamil International Conference that was held in 1995  When first built in  1937  It was not a busy road then.  It was meant to  to honor Queen Victoria on her becoming the ''Empress of India.''  Anyway it was not an impressive arch  worth her name................... 

There are a few colonial structures  barely surviving in Thanjavur - one of the oldest towns in India - that carries the legacy of Cholas, Nayaks, Marathas and finally the British rule in this part of Tamil Nadu.  Later the Maratha kingdom was annexed in 1856 (using the Doctrine of lapse as a pretext) with the Madras Presidency; Madras (Chennai) being the capital), once  an important trading center.  

Among the surviving colonial buildings in Tanjore the most visible are the old colletorate building on the Court road  built in Indo-Saracenic style,  Ranee's clock tower (in Indo-European style)  built by the Maratha  queen of the local Maratha dynasty, the Union club building  right across the old bus stand and the Eye hospital near Eratta masthan dharga. Built in Indo European Saracenic style, the eye hospital  building is in bad shape and needs to be conserved. Certain alterations and addition were made not in tune with the old style. These additions mar the beauty of the structure.

On the other side, the tall Ranee clock Tower (8 story octagonal structure built in 1883) had an imported  chiming clock with four faces  and  the hourly chiming would cover 1 km diameter all round the town. There was also a small public library in the Ranee's park. Yet another colonial legacy is the bust of  king George V (1865 - 1936, son of Queen Victoria, formerly the Prince of Wales) on the back of the clock tower facing the north. 

King George V, Ranne's park, Thanjavur
Photo credit: J. Ramakrishna Anand

Sudharsana Sabha building adjacent  to old bus stand was pulled down in the recent past as it was not in good nick. The old court complex buildings, old registrar's office building in the Sivaganga park complex are colonial structures  with high ceiling, pointed  arches and fine ventilation. The sad commentary is they  are slowly dying due to poor upkeep. Will the government restore them so that they could be reused? 

1897 Queen Victoria diamond jubilee medal in silver coin etsy.com/in

Prior to 1994 the colonial arch was very much there across the present Gandhiji road close to present Venkateswara lodge and the Ranee's tower.   The  big arch  with small ones on either side over the sidewalk   called  ''Coronation Jubilee Arch'' was built in 1937 to honor Queen Alexandria Victoria of England and her accession to the throne. The proclamation  Durbar (under Thomas Henry Thornton, ICS)  in January  1877   made Victoria  as Empress of India. With the exit  (after 1857 great rebellion) of English  CO's corrupt and unjust rule  the Indian subcontinent in 1858 came directly under the British  Crown administration and 1903 Durbar and the last one 1911 Delhi Durbar attended by King George V and his queen  confirmed their grip on India; thus the Crown administration came to be called '' the  British Raj.''

Thanjavur location map. indiamap.com

It was on 20th June 1937  Queen Victoria's   60th anniversary of her accession to the throne taken place, the first Diamond Jubilee celebration of any British monarch in history. She went on and  continued to rule the British empire till her death in 1901. Her reign was  the  longest one, (second longest female monarch after Lorraine  of France)  in the annals of world history.  Incidentally the queen never visited India during her reign. The reason attributed was she became too obese to move out.

.BritishImperial  crown istockphoto.com

The slim arch on the Gandhi road was not an impressive one as there were no embellishments on it in the form of ornamentation, etc. It looks as if it was built in a hurry.  The money was apparently collected through public subscription. Made of local brick-lime mortar, the arch had a small crown on top at the center - symbolic of British imperial monarchy. On either side there is a steep upwardly  narrowing tower  like structure emerging from the base near the  lion statues and they appear to carry elements of old neo-Gothic style prevalent in Europe. 

In mid 1990s  the traffic on Gandhiji road  was fairly heavy and the colonial coronation arch was a nuisance and had no utility value. Now, though without the arch, the road near the clock tower is so congested,  crossing the road is a herculean job. In the 1940s  to and 1960s the mode of transport in this area was mostly bullock cart drawn by  just one bull  (Ottrai mattu vandi).  Horse drawn carts were rare (quite famous in places like Palani).  Later  cycle rickshaws became common. In the 1950s and early 1960s the RM hospital was spick and span and their health service was good. The asphalt roads in the city were fairly clean and one could rarely run into pot holes. No clogging in the main sewers on the streets. There were fewer cars only - all of them were  foreign cars (such as Ford Prefect  Morris Minor, Vauxhall, Hillman Buick Vanguard, Fiat, etc. So were the  trucks and commercial buses. Mostly they were gas-guzzlers - consuming lots of petrol.  People relied more  on trains than on buses for long distance travel until the end of 1950.

Being an old timer I would like to recall that in the early 1950s I had  gone  past  this  place countlesstimes along with my dad. In the place where Venkateswara lodge stands there was a popular  hotel called Mangalambika lodge close to the small arch on the east side and its owner was one Vaidhyanatha Aiyar. I can't recollect how many times I went to this eatery with my dad. Fairly famous was yet another hotel called Rajendra Bhavan (now Balaji Bhavan), just a few buildings  away from  Venkateswara hotel. It was run by Palakkad  brothers Srinivasa Aiyar and Visvanatha Aiyar. 

In the 1940s and 1950s there was no bus stand across the union club building. A small make shift bus stand functioned in the place where Thituvalluvar theater stood. With thatched roof  and 5 to six bays for the buses, the entire town was dependent on it for long travel. I remember having seen some coal-gas powered buses during that period.!!  The  vast area - the rampart east of it all the way up to Keezha Vasal -East gate   used to be a dry mote - 15 ft deep. The present old bus stand came in the late 1950s  and early 1960s thru the efforts of great congress men like Parisutha Nadar, R.Ventatraman, Sri Vandyar, et al etc. Raja sefoji college was the only college that came up in the mid 1950s in the place called Rotary town (close to the Bus stand) The town owes its origin to the Thanjavur Rotary club whose Governor then was Advocate K.V. Srinivasan and a senior patron  was Sri Parisutha Nadar. Near the college in the 1960 there used to be a location board ''Rotary Town.''  The new bus stand came up on the land once under the management of Raja Serfoji College. The old auditorium on the Raja Serfoji College campus was built with donation from the US rotary clubs headed by one Abbey ( I don't know his full name).who himself with his wife visited the college in 1961-62 when Cap. Murugaiyan (professor in Physics) was the principal. First college to have co-education in the Delta distract then and the  College used to be quality education institution until its take-over by then government.