Thursday, 15 May 2014

Madras High Court Heritage Walk

On Sunday morning bright and early at 8 am a large group of us gathered near the old Light house within the Madras High Court campus. The event was a heritage walk cum talk organised by Intach and the gathering of over 50 people were mostly architects, history enthusiasts, journalists or Intach members. The talk started off at the base of the Light house. Built in 1834 and faced with beautifully dressed granite it is in the shape of a large fluted doric column. It has a spiral stairway inside and a pile of firewood was lit each night at the top as a signal to approaching ships.

I was under the impression that we would walk through the building and then there would be a talk later in a hall. That's what I had understood from the invite but as it happened there were short talks about specific parts of the campus and its history right through the walk which lasted 2 hours in total. So right from the start I kept getting five minutes here and there and sneaked in these quick sketches.
From the Lighthouse we walked along the Eastern side of the main building. Sujatha Shankar, a senior Architect and Convener of Intach Chennai took over the talk at this point and started talking about the detailing and the style. The happy marriage of brick and granite that forms the building language.

The High court building took many years to build and doubtless many people contributed. But it's design is mainly credited to Henry Irwin and she spoke about how he was deeply influenced by previous works by Robert Chisholm (in fact just along the beach at the Chepauk Palace and Senate House). The High Court is generally acclaimed as one of the best examples of Indo Saracenic Architecture and we went up close to an arched opening on the east face where she enumerated the many ways in which it was a confluence of various styles.

We then moved into the East Portico. The building has entrances in all 4 cardinal directions but the East gate is currently kept locked up. Mr. Rajah, an Advocate with the high Court and part of the High Court heritage committee took over talking about the history of some incidents at each of the locations we had passed. The gate itself, which I tried to capture as a background in this sketch was beautiful 3 dimensional wrought iron work. But since we couldn't get into the building from here we walked around to the North Portico.

Along the way, we stopped at this statue of Sir Bhashyam Iyengar who was the first Indian acting Advocate General. Mr Rajah pointed out interesting trivia like the fact that the correct formal attire for an Indian like Mr Iyengar was - Silk turban, Robes, Panchakacham (dhoti) and shoes and so this is how he is portrayed in his statue

Our first stop inside the building was the High Court Museum. It has a vast collection of documents, plaques, various objects and furniture used long ago in the courts and this room at the back that is set up with the original furniture. I could only get a peek in and then we were off to the Madras Bar association Library.

Once again Mr Rajah regaled us with many historic tales and anecdotes to try and give us a picture of what it meant in those days to be a member of the Bar, the kind of people they were. Some tales of abject corruption but equally as many of high integrity and honour.

Finally we were also shown the Chief Justice Hall, a very ornate courtroom and with so many of us inside I decided to try and sketch the ceiling as I couldn;t quite look across the hall. The first chief justice was Sir Thomas Lumisden Strange, apparently a great man who was incorruptible and highly regarded,  and a huge portrait of him hangs on the wall facing the Judges, supposedly reminding them of what they need to live up to.
The ceiling itself had a geometric pattern of wooden frames holding up a cardboard painted false ceiling that looked rich and ornate. The same kind of 4-8-16 geometries were seen in a lot of the Jali work and metal work all over the building.
Intach plans on holding this walk and opening it out to all citizens every 2nd Sunday of the month. I would highly recommend it!
And on a final note - I finished another sketchbook! That's the second one to get over this weekend.


  1. kb...I am amazed that you managed so many fine sketches while moving around in a crowd and with such brief halts at each location. I am also impressed that you were able to listen to and retain the amount of information that you have from the tour while also concentrating on your sketching.
    Very well done indeed!

  2. It's awe-inspiring, Kalpana, how you manage to find time to stop and create these little wonders which are way better than photographs, on your Heritage Walk! It must have been a great experience. I remember visiting the Inner City on the Ahmedabad Heritage Walk in the year 2000... That you still chronicle the informative bits and capture the essence of the talk is a testimony to your multi-faceted persona.Terrific! Especially the section on geometries and patterns. Keep up the great work! :)

  3. Thanks a lot Balaji and Ruchita. I'm pretty sure I would have paid more attention to the stories and maybe retained a bit more if I wasn't sketching but I think its a trade-off and I'm happier with a sketchbook full of memories. It was a great experience. I wish I was and could sketch like this back then in 2000 when I went on those Amdavad walks. What amazing walks those were!

  4. Fantastic work and effort Kalpana.. so proud of you.. Sumitha Sundaram

  5. Thanks a lot Sumitha. Had a lot of fun doing this

  6. Terrific sketches Kalpana. Re lived the experience as I scrolled down your text and illustrative sketches.
    My favourite moment was seeing the awesome statue of Bashyan Iyengar- by senior S.Nagappa. What a terrific sculpture that is! I remember his long fingers and nerves on his hands..brought out in this hard medium so exquisitely.

  7. Great work....... Only sketches can bring out the exact memory of an incident ..... I like sketching a lot ... Inspired now to do it in my blog

  8. Thanks Nithya and Jerome. Yes, I agree 100% about sketches bringing out clearer memories especially for the person who sketched them but very often also for the person who was there and shares the memory. Hope you get a chance to try it

  9. wow I remember some of these from the Urban Sketchers group! especially love the close up of the ceiling fans!

  10. Cool that you were able to sketch a few places during the heritage walk. If anyone wants photos, here they are: