190615 Bluebonnet Swamp Ramble

2 Jul

It is easy for a visitor to Louisiana (LA) to mistakenly assume that New Orleans is the capital of the State. New Orleans was indeed the capital of the Spanish and French administered Louisiana.

It is said that the shift of the capital from New Orleans to Baton Rouge in 1864 took place to reduce the tensions between the largely Creole population of New Orleans and the Anglo American population.

Slightly earlier, in 1829-31 the capital of LA was shifted to Donaldsville, 105 kms due West from New Orleans, on the west bank of the Mississippi. This was a failed experiment and the capital shifted back to New Orleans despite the socio-cultural tensions between French speaking Creoles and English speaking Anglo Americans.

The Louisiana State Capitol was designed as a modern skyscraper rather than as a traditional “rotunda-dome-and-wing” capitol instead of being modeled after the US Capitol in Washington.

In 1699, when a French exploration party first visited the site on which Baton Rouge stands today, they came to a spot on the Mississippi where a stream separated the hunting grounds of the Bayougoula and Houmas Indians. They saw a totem pole with the heads of fish and bear which had been sacrificed. The blood stained 30 foot high totem pole was red in colour, giving rise to the name, Baton Rouge (Red Stick) which has remained to this day.

My host in Baton Rouge decided that the best introduction to the city and the region was for me to spend a few hours at the Bluebonnet Swamp.

If you do a search for New Orleans on Google Maps, you will find that it is on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. You will find the Missiissippi River snaking down from the North West, past Baton Rouge. Large parts of Louisiana are swampland supporting its own flora and fauna. The area is famous for reptiles including snakes, turtles and alligators. Where there are swamps we have to expect swarms of mosquitoes. Typical mammals to be found are Raccoons, Otters, Nutria River Rats, Red Squirrels and Wild Pigs. Birdlife includes Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets. Pelicans, Loons, Cuckoos, Owls, Hawks, Warblers and Bald Eagles.

I spent two and a half hours rambling through the swamp which has well managed trails and signboards. The heat and humidity are as extreme as what you would find in Kerala or the Konkan coast.

Maybe because it was at high noon, I didnt see any wildlife to speak of… there was a lot of birdsong which I tried to capture in a video clip.

I must say I never saw any Bluebonnet flowers for which the swamp is named. The Bluebonnet, by the way is the State Flower of neighbouring Texas State.

The Louisiana Land Purchase

1 Jul

Arriving in New Orleans, Louisiana on 14 June 2019 made me realise that I had to brush up my history of the New World if I wanted to write about my travels.

When Christopher Columbus discovered America, landing first on an island in the Bahamas on 12 October 1492, he claimed it for the Spanish Crown which had sponsored his voyage.

The Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) divided the newly discovered lands outside Europe between the Portuguese Empire and the Crown of Castile [Spain], along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands, off the west coast of Africa [Wiki].

By the early 1500’s, Spain had established permanent colonies in the Americas, Spain divided its territory into viceroyalties with governors appointed by the king. Missions were established to spread Christianity.

Not to be left behind by Spain and Portugal, the Dutch, the English and France began to establish colonies in North America, the Caribbean and India in the 17th century.

The modern state of Louisiana began its existence as French Louisiana, named for the Sun King, Louis XIV. It originally covered most of the drainage basin of the Mississippi River and stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains.

In 1803, the United States purchased the territory of Louisiana from France for fifteen million dollars. The “Louisiana Purchase” (Vente de la Louisiane) included land from fifteen present US States (Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; large portions of North Dakota and South Dakota; the area of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; the portion of Minnesota west of the Mississippi River; the northeastern section of New Mexico; northern portions of Texas; New Orleans and the portions of the present state of Louisiana west of the Mississippi River) and two Canadian Provinces (Alberta and Saskatchewan).

The total land area in the “Louisiana Purchase” was 2.14 million Sq Km. For perspective, the present area of the USA is 9.83 million Sq Km and the area of the Republic of India is 3.29 million Sq Km. This means that the “Louisiana Purchase” was 22% of modern USA land area and 65% of modern India’s land area!

Hurricane and Jazz in Voodoo Land

30 Jun

Thanks to my son Ajoy, who did all my internal flight bookings in the US, The flight from New York JFK to New Orleans with DELTA AIRLINES was sheer privilege and comfort. My ticket said, 14 June 2019, DELTA 2972, First Class (I), NYC-KENNEDY 4:00pm NEW ORLEANS, LA 6:36pm.

The smart white American hostess asked if I would like a Bourbon with soda, but I emphatically asked for a Gin and Tonic. She looked puzzled but smiled and got me what I asked for. She wouldn’t have understood that my order was in memory of the late Jock Whittaker, who made such an impact on me during my early years (1969-71) in Malayalam Plantations…

After lunch, there was time for a quick nap before the plane landed in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA).

My host who shall remain anonymous… let me invent a name… say “Louis” (From Louisiana and Louis Armstrong) for the purpose of this blog… had sent a WhatsApp message to say that he was caught in traffic and might be slightly late.

I collected my baggage and walked to the Exit area and waited between Pillars 8 and 9.

I was soon picked up and off we drove to what I was told was the French Quarter, which is 17 miles (27 kms) due East from the airport on the Mississippi River.

After parking in a public parking lot, we made our way on foot through the narrow streets of the Old French Quarter, bursting with life.

Soon we were outside Preservation Hall, where jazz music is performed every night, with tickets priced at $20 per head.

It may be because I got my earliest introduction to music through Classical and Church music, that I have never seriously enjoyed “jazz”. I learnt that New Orleans style jazz music is collective improvisation. Classical music pieces have passages called “Cadenza”s which allow the soloist (usually) to improvise and show off his skill with the instrument, within laid down limits. The orchestra is never never allowed to improvise… or all hell would break loose in a philharmonic orchestra which might have a 100 musicians!

Before the Preservation Hall opened, we stood in a row outside. Louis my host got me a drink, which was a lurid red with a cherry and slice of orange on the rim of the plastic long drink ‘glass’.

I later learnt that the “Hurricane” was invented during II World War with rum instead of whisky which was in short supply. The recipe for the drink is given below:

Here is the ‘Traditional Hurricane’ Recipe

2 oz. light rum
2 oz. dark rum
2 oz. passion fruit juice
1 oz. orange juice
½ oz. fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
1 tablespoon grenadine

Garnish: orange slice and cherry

. Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a hurricane glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.

When I went to Singapore in December 2018, I made a beeline for the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel where I met my classmate (1983/85) Rohit Bhatnagar who treated me to my first “Singapore Sling”. This drink too is served in a hurricane glass, after Pat O’Brien’s bar in New Orleans. It is called a “Hurricane” glass because it resembles the glass chimney of a hurricane lantern.

Readers will have to forgive my ignorance of jazz music when I merely say that the orchestra consisted of a trombone, trumpet, clarinet, double bass, piano and drums. I counted piano last because it was used more to provide rhythm and could hardly be heard. The piano was played by the only lady and the whole ensemble blended well without any direction or conducting…

Unfortunately for me, photography was not allowed inside Preservation Hall once the concert started. Date and Time stamp on photographs are IST.

By the time the concert was over, I was too knackered to explore the Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodoo. We walked back to the car careful of dodgy characters and drove about 100 miles (160 kms) to Baton Rouge for the night.

59th Bridge Street Song

28 Jun

One of the most important links we had with the American music scene in the Fifties was the radio.

I would have been just thirteen years old when I first heard Simon & Garfunkle’s 59th Bridge Street Song on VOICE OF AMERICA’s Breakfast Show. At the time I did wonder why the song was named after a street.

When I was in New York between 7th and 14th June 2019, my son Ajoy asked me if I would like to go for a Broadway Show. I said no and asked if we could hang out at a cafe on 59th Bridge Street in Manhattan.

“There are no cafes on the 59th Street, Dad” Ajoy said… “its a cantilever truss bridge between Manhattan & Queens. But if that’s where you want to hang out, I have another idea. Lets get some bagels and go sit on the riverside and eat them.”

“‘Bagels’? I dont think we get them in India, although I am sure I had read about them and ‘Pretzels’…”

So what are bagels? These days the information is just a few clicks away… “a bagel is a round yeast roll with a hole in the middle. The shape is important — the name translates to “bracelet” in German. There’s no egg in the dough, and malt is used in place of sugar.” It is said to have been brought to America by Polish Jews, but has become part of New York’s food culture. We went to Bagelworks, the store that specialises in Bagels and Ajoy stood in a queue.

See:

http://bagelworksnyc.com/food-delivery-TW/bagel-works-new-york-city.22781.r?QueryStringValue=DrWy5XJ+7CpkgDjr9TwbTA==

So, we made a father and son excursion out of it… sat watching Manhattan’s East River flow past, and the occasional speedboat or barge as it puttered by.

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feeling groovy…

What does ‘feeling grooy’ mean?

“The more casual you were, the groovier you were. The groovier you were, the cooler you were. It’s what everyone aspired to [during the Sixties].”

The song was included in S&G’s album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966). It was Paul Simon’s musical interpretation of the energy and movement on and around Queensboro Bridge. A call to take it easy in New York where everyone is busy and moving around purposefully on the roads.

I was glad to be on the Street, 60 years after the song was written, in the company of my son. He gave me a brief presentation on the history of the Bagel in New York as we had a relaxed breakfast.

Baahubali

2 May

Hi all,

Today I went to see “Baahubali 2 – The Conclusion”. Ever since the Orion Mall East has come up within 10 minutes walk from my house in Cooke Town, doing movies has become a low-stress outing.

I tried my best to get some of my friends to go with me but ended up having to go on my own.

Me being of pre-Independence vintage (Midnights Child) and an Indo-Anglian, I am sure those who know me would have concluded what my reactions must be.

I realised how INDIAN I was because I recognised most of the symbols and the dialogues and actions of actors. I realised how proud I was to be a SOUTH INDIAN, which for uneducated North Indian politicians is the equivalent of being “Black” [skinned]. Those who think that all South Indians are MADRASIs… when in fact they belong to the Dakshin… or more assertively, to DRAVIDISTAN… They have surely not heard of TAMILAKAM and RAJA RAJA CHOLA or Vijayanagaram… so preoccupied they would be of the humiliation they suffered at the hands of Arab, Afghan, Turkish and Mughal invaders.

I noticed a number of historical inaccuracies like Kumar Verma fighting Pindaries… The Pindaries were made up of different Muslim tribes who congregated solely for purposes of plunder. “They came into existence during the 18th century when the Mughal Empire was breaking up and Marathas were ruling most of India.”

Ref.: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pindari

The reference to Vermas is important because they are Kshatriyas… and not one of the Sudra groups who want that martial recognition.

The amusing armoured car with revolving blades pulled by oxen, the catapulting of a group of soldiers protected by their shields over the fortifications are all ok… so is the gold statue of Bhallala Deva floating down a river.

In one of the reviews I read, the time period of the movie BAAHUBALI is estimated to be within the Golden Period of Hindu Indian History: 500 BC – 800 AD. The review mentions an Afghan prince visiting Baahubali to discuss trade… although I seem to have missed this scene. The Arabs had begun to make inroads into India with the conquest of Sindh by the 8th Century.

Modern Indian children grow up on Video Games and their choice of content on the electronic media. We grew up on stories from the vast treasure trove of Indian mythology including the Indian answer to American comics, “Amar Chitra Katha,”

South Indian actors like NT Rama Rao, Rajkumar, Prem Nazir, MG Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan all played the roles of Gods and legendary kings. Our library of images were filled with the performances of our great actors.

I found the actress who played the Rajmata, Ramya Krishna absolutely stunning, with her expressive (though stylised) eye movements and regal bearing. Anushka Shetty (Anushka who?) portrayed a warrior woman. A Kshatriya queen.

Prabhas who acted as Baahubali and Sathyaraj who played the enigmatic role of Kattappa proved that regional stars can carry a blockbuster without any Bollywood star power.

Those less educated politicians who condescend to live in the same country as South Indians (You know Karnataka, you know Kerala, you know Tamilnad, you know Andhra) who are “black” skinned should see this movie.

The greatest rebuttal of their prejudice which can only backfire on them is the first day box office collections for Baahubali from all over India.

Region wise break-up:

Nizam/Andhra Pradesh: Rs 46 crore (Telugu Version)
Hindi Belt: Rs 37 crore (Hindi Version)
Tamil Nadu: Rs 16 crore (Tamil Version)
Karnataka: Rs 11 crore (Tamil + Telugu Version)
Kerala: Rs 4 crore (Malayalam Version)
Total: Rs 114 crore (Early Estimate)

The collection was Rs 506 crore worldwide (cumulative figure of all languages) over the opening weekend.

The Monk and I

27 Apr

Hi all,

On Sunday 23rd April 2017, I travelled from Bangalore to Mysore by the Shatabdi Express from Platform 7 of Bangalore Central with a smart Lady Officer of the CTA-SARD named Tsering Nordon.

The train takes exactly two hours from 1100 to 1300 hrs to do the 139 kms.

From Mysore, we took a taxi to Bylakuppe which is almost due West on the eastern border of Coorg District.

I checked in at a posh suite of rooms at the Theckchen Khangsar Guest House attached to the Sera Mey Monastery. Although lunch was served on the Shatabdi, I had just pecked at the food and was rather hungry.

I was dismayed to find that both the Monastery Restaurant and the Coffee Shop were closed because a senior Lama had died the previous day.

I asked a monk I saw near the Monastery Gate where I could get some food. He pointed to the East and said, “three kilometers. Camp 1 Restaurant”, in short staccato bursts.

Wow! I could walk that distance, I thought, but I would rather not… maybe I could catch an auto going past. Two autos sped past me, filled with monks, their maroon robes fluttering out of the vehicle from both sides.

The next auto that came slowed down for me and I could see that there was a single monk in it, sitting at the far corner.

“How much to Camp 1?” I asked the Auto Driver… He surprised me by saying, “Rs.10″… in Bangalore there is no such rate. The minimum is Rs.30 x 2 = Rs.60, where you get charged two ways.

I got in, arranged my backpack and two cameras on the floor of the auto and smiled at the monk who smiled back. In his hand he held a book. The cover page had a title in Tibetan. I couldnt bear to be left out… “What’s this book?” I asked…

“I teach Tibetan. For the Tenth Standard”, he said in halting English. My name is Thupten.

I introduced myself and said I am in Bylakuppe on some work for the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala. The monk looked unimpressed and looked away.

Before we could exchange any further pleasantries, we had arrived in front of the Tseshung Restaurant and Tibet Bakery.

I got out, with my gear and walked to one of the tables. There were no other customers, so we could have sat anywhere.

As I laid down my cameras and back pack, the monk commented, “You carry a heavy load!” I looked at him to see if there was a hidden meaning but his face had the same impassive expression.

The restaurant keeper came to our table and displayed a menu which was a page full of coloured photos of various dishes. The monk chose a dish and then I put my index finger on an image of “Tibetan Noodles with Meat”.

I also asked for a “Non-Alcoholic Soft-Drink” with the brand name KB-500, made in Telengana… Well, well!

I was curious to know how the monk could afford a meal at this restaurant. So I asked him, and he told me he gets all his meals at his monastery, and a “stipend” of Rs.4000 per month with which he can buy whatever he wants, including eating out now and then.

He asked me where I live, and as I told him about Bangalore and how I pop in and out of the city because of my work, his face creased into a distant smile.

He commented on my spoken English and said he wished he could speak with the same self-confidence. In what might have been a volte-face, he continued, “…but you speak too fast… if you speak more slowly, I would still be here and understand what you say.”

Our food arrived and while I tucked into my noodles which cost only Rs.80/-, I decided I shall make a conscious effort to relax my mind and body.

I now had my directions for the next two days… slow down, take that load off my back. That should be easy, I thought, since there was no wi-fi here and I would carry around only my NIKON P900. Even the telephone signal was a bit dodgy so I would rely on my paper note book and ball pen and thanked God I hadn’t forgotten to write with a pen!

The Arani Palace, Satya Vijayanagaram

15 Apr

I thought it was due to the date… 13 March 2017… I was going round in circles, unable to find the palace of the Jagirdar in Arani.

This Jagirdar was a vassal of the Nawab of Arcot, and boasted a lineage going back to 1674 when the Maratha armies swept the Deccan, penetrating as far south as Thanjavur.

I knew that the palace was in a settlement called Satya Vijayanagaram. We asked people at the Magistrate’s Court at Arani and no one seemed to have heard of Satya Vijayanagaram.

“We are looking for the Arani Jagirdar’s palace”, I said…

“Oh hoho…Arani Arasanmanai… that’s in S.V.Nagar… I could have kicked myself… the place was no longer called Satya Vijayanagaram…it was S.V.Nagaram now…

Now it had become an easy task… skirt the Paiyur Lake, (12°40’23″N 79°17’31″E), cross the Poondi River and turn East towards S.V.Nagaram.

The Palace is in ruins, although the three storey facade still stands, complete with decorated pediments and Corinthian columns with Acanthus leaves and dentils.

It reminded me of the Lesser Lights of Freemasonry: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders representing Wisdom, Strength and Beauty.

I stepped into the ruined palace. The roof had caved in, the place stank of urine and there was little point in exploring any further.

The campus now houses a Regional Institute of Rural Development. There was considerable activity with groups of students moving in and out of the new building.

I walked in and stopped at the desk of an important looking man.

“Can I take a few photographs of the Palace and the campus please?” I asked.

“You have to get the permission of the Director.”

“And where can I find the Director?” I ask.

“You have to wait. He is taking a class.”

A female bureaucrat spoke to the man, “For taking photos, he may be allowed sir. Director’s permission not required.”

“It is always better to get permission”, the man in-charge asserts with some irritation.

“How long will it take before the Director comes, Sir?”

“Depends…on whether he is supervising an examination.”

I decided to make a move because I had miles to go… Vandavasi (Wandewash) was my next stop.

The Impregnable Gingee Fort

29 Mar

I visited the small town of Gingee on 14 March 2017 during my travels in the old Arcot Nawabdom. “Gingee” is the British spelling. In Tamil script it is “Senji” and pronounced “Chenji” just as one might hear “Sankarankovil” pronounced “Changarankoyil”.

Gingee Fort is 38 km due East of Tiruvannamalai. Gingee is a Taluk of Villupuram District.

The Gingee fort was originally buil by the rulers of the Chola dynasty during the 9th century AD. It changed hands to Kurumabr and then to the Vijayanagar Empire in the 13th century.

The fort was strengthened during Maratha occupation under the leadership of Shivaji in 1677 AD.

Shivaji recaptured Gingee from the Bijapur sultans who had earlier taken control of the fort from the Marathas.

During Aurangzeb’s campaign in the Deccan, Shivaji’s second son Chhatrapati Rajaram who ascended the throne, sought refuge in Ginjee. The Moghuls laid siege to the fort but could not capture it for seven years. In 1698, the fort capitulated, but by then Chhatrapati Rajaram had escaped.

The fort later came under the control of the Carnatic Nawabs who lost it to the French in 1750. The British assumed control in 1761 although it was lost to Hyder Ali for a brief period.

“The Gingee Fort complex is on three hillocks: Krishnagiri to the north, Rajagiri to the west and Chandrayandurg to the southeast. The three hills together constitute a fort complex, yet each hill contains a separate and self-contained citadel. Connecting them — forming an enormous triangle, a mile from north to south — are 25-metre thick walls, punctuated by bastions and gateways giving access to the protected zones at the heart of the complex.”

The first hill, where the main fort is, is called Rajagiri. Originally it was known as Kamalagiri as well as Anandagiri. The fort here is most impregnable. To gain entry into the citadel one had to cross a chasm with the help of a small wooden draw bridge which was drawn as soon as the host troops crossed it.

I bought a tourist’s ticket for Rs.15 and set out to climb the steep slope on Rajagiri hill. The climb was so steep that with the best will in the world, I could not get beyond a third of the way where there was a circular landing with a hole in the center… probably a rotating gun turret for mounting a cannon.

I have an injury on my left knee from an old motorcycle accident and I thought discretion was the better part of valour and made a dignified retreat. In many parts there was no railing and I had to take great care not to miss my step and fall into the boulder-filled abyss.

Shivaji ranked Gingee as the “most impregnable fortress in India” and it was called the “Troy of the East” by the British.

The Ruins of Wandewash Fort

29 Mar

The history of India was irretrievably altered by the Seven Years War in Europe between 1756 and 1763.

One of the warring sides in the Seven Years War was led by the Kingdom of Great Britain, supported by Prussia, Portugal, Hanover and other small German States); while the other was led by the Kingdom of France, supported by Austria led Holy Roman Empire, Russia, Spain and Sweden).

In India meanwhile, the Mughal Empire had begun its decline following Emperor Aurangazeb’s death in 1707.

In 1739, Delhi had been brought to its knees by Persian King Nadir Shah who emptied the treasury of the Mughals and carried it away to Persia. Thirty thousand innocent men, women and children of Delhi were slaughtered in a qatl-e-aam or public killing following the attack on some Persian soldiers by Indian troops and the streets of Delhi flowed with blood for days.

A completely different kind of threat to the Mughals was posed by the English East India Company which had begun to assert itself and resort to force to protect their trading interests. This was because they discovered that despite firmans (Royal Charters) from the Sultan of Bengal and from Emperor Aurangzeb himself, they were regularly harassed by local officials who expected to be paid off.

The Carnatic Wars in India were fought between French Supported and English Supported Indian Rulers between 1746 and 1763

1746-1748: First Carnatic War
1749-1754: Second Carnatic War
1756-1763: Third Carnatic War

From the time the Seven Years War broke out in Europe in 1756 to its conclusion in 1763, here are the main political events that took place in India:

1756 – Accession of Siraj-ud-Daulah as Nawab of Bengal
1757 – Sack of Delhi by Ahmed Shah Abdali of Afghanistan
– Battle of Plassey
– Mir Jafar becomes Nawab of Bengal with Robert Clive’s help
1758 – Comte de Lally in India
1759 – Murder of Alamgir II by Ghazi-ud-din
1760 – Battle of Wandiwash (Vandavasi): French forces decisively defeated by the East India Company Army
1761 – Fall of Pondicherry
– Shah Alam II becomes Emperor
– Madhava Rao becomes Peshwa
– Rise of Hyder Ali
1762 –
1763 – Expulsion of Mir Kasim

The Battle of Wandiwash (22 Jan 1760) marked the end of the Carnatic Wars.

It was a decisive battle in India during the Seven Years’ War in Europe.

The French Army, under Comte de Lally, handicapped by a lack of funds and naval support, attempted to regain the fort at Wandiwash (Vandavasi), which is 95 kms South East of Vellore via Arni.

Vandavasi is about 75 kms North East of District Headquarters, Tiruvannamalai.

Comte de Lally’s army was attacked by Sir Eyre Coote’s forces and decisively defeated. The French general Marquis de Bussy-Castelnau and the French were then restricted to Pondichéry, where they surrendered on 16 January 1761.

The battle of Vandavasi (1760) brought to an end the Third and last Carnatic War.

My mission in Vandavasi on 13 March 2017 was to visit the fort and photograph it. Although we found a road junction called, Kottai Junction or Fort Junction, it was just a busy suburban town road junction.

Just as my taxi driver had begun to give up hope of finding any structure which was part of the Vandavasi fort, we got a tip from an elderly shopkeeper.

We drove through narrow streets till we came to a congested habitation where we could park the car.

An elderly housewife was drying chillies in a bamboo murram (winnowing tray). She looked curiously at us and called a young man who appeared to be handicapped. He couldn’t speak but he nodded his head confidently when the elderly woman told him to take us to the Kottai (Fort).

He took us through a small but fairly neat and clean slum to a spot where there were masonry ruins. Yes, we had found the Vandavasi Fort… or what was left of it. This was a brick and mortar structure which appeared to have collapsed on its foundations.

I stood for a minute looking at what remained of the Vandavasi fort. This was an important fort in the territory of Nayak Damerla Venkatapathy of Vandavasi, a vassal of the Vijayanagar Empire.

The Vandavasi Nayak sold a village called Madraspatanam or Chennaipatanam to East India Company Factors Andrew Cogan and Francis Day on 22 August 1639.

The founding of Madras or Chennai is commemorated as “Madras Day” on 22nd August every year.

I took a few more photos of the ruins and thought, “How the mighty have fallen”… and wondered what Sir Eyre Coote, the victorious English Commander at the battle of Wandiwash would have thought if he had seen his prize which was being gormandised by a fast growing slum.

My disabled guide took me back to my car. I thanked him and we left for Tiruvannamalai.

My only regret was that I couldnt meet my classmate from IIMB, Poongavanam whose home I remembered was in Vandavasi. Neither I nor any of our classmates on WhatsApp Group had his address or phone numbers.

The 450 year old Vellore Fort

27 Mar

Hi all,

While in Vellore District, in February 2017, I made sure I visited Vellore Fort, which is considered to be one of the best preserved forts in the Country, mainly because of the huge blocks of granite used in the construction.

This fort was built by the Nayaks (Kings) of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1566 AD. Subsequently, it featured regularly in the history of the Subah of Deccan and the Nawabdom of Arcot.

The history of the Vijayanagar Empire appears to have faded into the background while the history of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire took centre-stage at school and university level. My only serious study of the Vijayanagar Empire was a reading of Robert Sewell’s “A Forgotten Empire: A Contribution to the History of India (1900)”. Robert Sewell (1845-1925) was a civil servant of the Madras Presidency and held the post of Keeper of the Madras Record Office. It is understandable that this important source book was not intended for an undergraduate level reader.

Vellore Fort, along with Gingee Fort passed into the possession of the Sultan of Bijapur from 1656 to 1678.

In 1676, the Marathas under Chatrapati Shivaji’s leadership occupied Thanjavur. To secure the Maratha position, Gingee Fort was captured in 1677 and Vellore Fort in 1678.

The Mughal empire began to unravel after the death of Aurangazeb in 1707, and with the Nizam as the almost independent ruler of the Deccan, Vellore Fort came under the control of the Nawabs of Arcot.

After the Battle of Vandavasi (Wandiwash) in 1760, the English East India Company became the dominant power in Arcot and Vellore Fort was occupied by the English army.

A nugget of history generally unknown to most Indians today is that in 1806, the English faced the first Sepoy Mutiny at Vellore.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army had ordered a change of uniforms including a hat with a leather cockade to replace turbans, removal of beards, caste marks and jewellery. The sepoys considered this step to be an unwarranted interference in their religious practices and mutinied, killing 15 officers and 100 English soldiers. The Colonel commanding the cavalry cantonment in Arcot, 25 km away reached Vellore fast and the mutiny was put down with brute force.

The Vellore Fort has a Mosque, a Temple and a Church, built for the Madras army.

It housed the family of Tipoo Sultan after the battle of Seringapatam in 1799 to make sure that no heir was available to rally round.

The last king of Kandy in Sri Lanka (from the dynasty of the Madurai Nayaks) Sri Vikarama Rajasinha (1798-1815) was brought to Vellore Fort in 1815 with his family and kept as prisoners for 17 years.

There is a museum in the Fort with interesting items from the Pallava, Chola and Vijayanagara periods.

One room has very poor reproductions of the order of Sir John Craddock, Commander in Chief of the Madras Army making sweeping changes in the uniforms and appearance of the sepoys. There is also a copy of the order withdrawing the earlier order on uniforms.

On the whole, the Fort is well maintained, although the Museum is quite a pathetic effort.