September 24, 2017

The Madras Temple which witnessed Communal Violence

If you are from George Town/Sowcarpet area of Madras, you would have definitely noticed this temple, if not entered inside. This temple of Ganesha called as Varasiddhi Vinayakar is a very small temple, located at the junction of NSC Bose Road and Devaraja Mudali Street. Except for Lord Ganesha and a small prakara around the shrine, the temple has no other idol. But, not many know that this temple has a 300 years old history.

(I am quoting few historical details based on the book "Vestiages of Old Madras" written by H.D.Love and another book called "Madras in the Old Time" by Talboys Wheeler).

Ever since the city of Madras was founded, there had been tensions between the left hand Chetti community and right hand Komati community. The Governor, Thomas Pitt settled the dispute through an agreement in 1708 CE. However, a fresh community dispute broke out in 1716 CE. According to Chettis, the Komatis upsurped several titles that belonged to Chettis and also they performed some ceremonies in front of the icon that belong to Chettis. It was complained by the representative of Chettis, Collaway Chetti on 18th October. The icon is Chindadry Pillary and the ceremony was Pennagundoo Naggarum (as per the British records - it's a kind of recital of prayers in Sanskrit language).

On 20th December 1716 CE, the matter escalated and the Left Hands Chettis called for the closure of shops. It was followed by full scale riot. The British summoned the heads of both the communities and tried for a pact between them. This meeting which was held on 24th December 1716 CE was not successful. On 7th January 1717 CE, just one day before embarking to Britain, the Governor Harrison ordered that the Komaties could cry out Pennagundoo Naggarum at their houses and on ceremonies, but not before the icon of Ganesh. The matters were still not settled properly. On 8th January 1717 CE, Governor Collet, who had succeeded Harrison, issued an order. As per that, neither community would have any right to recite prayers before shrines of the other caste. He also warned that the icon would be shifted into the Gentoo Pagoda, if the disputes would continue. He further added that no small Pagodas should be constructed without getting Governor's permission to avoid future disputes.

The Gentoo Pagoda mentioned above is Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple, which stood in the current site of High Court. The historian, Mr. Sriram V. has identified Varasiddhi Vinayakar Temple as the Chindadry Pillary Temple. Interestingly, the Ganesh icon never moved to Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple. But that temple was demolished and was rebuilt near this Ganesh temple.

Happy travelling.



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