Heritage walk Chennai

The captivating history and amazing legends of the Madras High Court
Heritage walk Chennai

The security guards look perplexed and doubtful. They aren&rsquot accustomed to having camera-toting visitors in hats and sunglasses making their way to the deserted Madras High Court. We were joining what was only the fourth heritage walk of the campus, a delightful effort to help citizens connect with the magnificent and frequently overlooked architecture of what&rsquos normally a bustling high-security zone. The Madras HC is the only heritage campus (as opposed to a lone building) that has become thus accessible in the southern metro. Others, like the Theosophical Society, Kalakshetra, Fort St George and the Museum Theatre, are still out of bounds to such efforts.

The walk befittingly begins at the disused lighthouse, the oldest structure in the complex, a fluted Doric column built in 1838. An elegantly soaring sentinel in stone, originally lit with oil and wick, it encases a spiral staircase (which can&rsquot be seen) and stands on a laterite foundation that marks the mean sea level. It&rsquos 135ft tall, but was eventually abandoned because, well, it wasn&rsquot tall enough. We looked up on what was a terribly hot day, but tall trees loomed everywhere, and leaves rustled in the uplifting sea breeze as we strolled by to the majestic main building.

The next two hours spilled over with charming vignettes the eccentric yet secular amalgam of Moorish, Islamic, Hindu and European styles that come together in the stunning fa&ccedilade the &lsquopassive solar&rsquo construction which cools the main complex naturally and gives it depth with the play of light and shade how Namperumal Chetty was the contractor of choice for many of the city&rsquos colonial landmarks the High Court&rsquos ceremonial traditions that were meant to awe and subdue witnesses furniture with jaali work that&rsquos also seen at the Humayun&rsquos Tomb the trapdoor that brought prisoners up for sentencing the non-standardised interiors of the courts, some shorn of embellishment, others ornate (nobody knows why) the library and museum (the latter is open to the public on all working days) statues and paintings with epic stories behind them honourable judges, fearless barristers, progressive thinkers, and cases that set radical precedents. Fali Nariman once described this as the finest court in India, and I would like to think he wasn&rsquot referring to the frescoes and lintels alone. Oh, my racing pen just couldn&rsquot keep up with all of it.

Senior advocate M.L. Rajah and architect Tara Murali, who led the walk by turns, contributed immensely to its value. Their combined understanding of their subject came from two different perspectives &ndash Murali&rsquos eye for visual detail and deeply felt concern for the threats faced by the city&rsquos heritage architecture, and Rajah&rsquos thoughtful erudition and fascinating stories on legal luminaries who strode like colossi down these corridors. Together, they brought the stately edifice to poignant, witty and inspiring life.

The Madras High Court Heritage Walk is co-organised by the Madras High Court Heritage Committee and Intach&rsquos Chennai chapter on the second Sunday of every month there is no charge 91-9841013617

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