CHENNAI: If a history/heritage enthusiast was to write a book on ‘How to spend your Sunday morning 101’, a heritage walk or ride would top the list. It was a Sunday to remember (minus the scorching sun), for the city’s heritage and history buffs as a curated walk led by historian Nivedita Louis, opened us to as yet unchartered territory of Poonamallee, a town in Tiruvallur district.At 6 30 am, we head to our assembly point — the Poonamallee Blind school (Victoria Memorial Blind School). “The town of Poonamallee was an old town mentioned in inscriptions as poonthamali — a cool garden with flowers,” says Nivedita, showing us vintage pictures of the town in her tab.
As we stand in the school, which was a garrison that once stationed the Madras regiment, Nivedita reveals that the structure is said to have been built by the Nawab of Carnatic. “In 1763, Muhammad Ali who ascended to the throne with British armed support gave the entire ‘Jagir’ to the British,” she says. The construction of Barracks began in 1888 and was completed in March 1893. “The famed, Poonamallee Arab horses were bred here,” she adds.
The idea of a blind school was mooted by Eric Conran Smith and in 1931, this school began functioning as Asia’s first High school for the blind. Most interestingly, two Chola inscription fragments were discovered in the recce for this ride, by Nivedita — belonging to Rajendra Chola and Vikrama Chola period. “I have informed the director of museums to take them in for safe custody,” she says.
Our second stop was the Aringnar Anna Government School and what we witnessed in the school, started in 1902, threw us off guard. As we walked through the modern school, bustling with boys getting their Sunday dose of fitness, pillars belonging to the Vijayanagara period grab our attention.
“These were found during research for this walk. The pillars are broken and would have probably belonged to a choultry nearby, or this very place could have been one,” she says and historian, Venkatesh Ramakrishnan concurs. In the three-hour walk-cum-ride, Nivedita took us through the expanse of both the old town, which consists of temples and mosques, and the new town formed by the British, which teems with garrisons, a court, the military hospital and cantonment area.
We head to St John, the Baptish Church, constructed in 1840 by Rev Doctor Carew. “This bell tower is the only one left from the old structure,” announces Nivedita, as the sound of the mass prayer in the church reverberates. “There is also a commemorative stone for JH Fitzpatrick the Chaplain who served the church for 40 years from 1840,” she says pointing to it, tucked amid bushes.
The Doris lodge constructed before 1854, the Panaiyatha Amman Temple, which has a panel – a ninaivu kal belonging to the 18th century, Big mosque, the first mosque in Tamil Nadu to be built in Indo-Saracenic style, Tirukachi Nambi Avatara Mandapam, CSI Wesley church, Vaitheeswaran temple, Mary Magdalene church and the Mary Magdalene cemetery, were other historically relevant places, covered during the walk.