Scottish connections to Chennai

On the banks of Adyar lies a Scottish mark left on the Tamil soil by James Brodie, which echoes the Indian musical notes in the present day
Scottish connections to Chennai

CHENNAI : Inspired by the architecture of the Brodie Castle of his clan in Scotland, James Brodie, a civil servant in erstwhile Madras, had constructed a house that would also give him access to his favourite Adyar River. Unfortunately, James could only reside here for a few years until his accidental death in the very Adyar River. After being home to several famous tenants like Sir Thomas Strange, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Madras, the building is now the Tamil Nadu Government Music College.

On the International Day for Monuments and Sites on April 21, students of Mohamed Sathak AJ Academy of Architecture conducted a heritage walk in collaboration with the INTACH Chennai Chapter. The walk covered this famous Thendral or Brodie Castle, standing on the banks of the Adyar River since 1796, as a reminder of the past that Chennai should not forget. From the balcony of the landmark facing the Adyar River, one can see several iconic points of Chennai, like the Theosophical Society, the Broken Bridge, and the Chettinad Palace. Built on one of the significant battle spots of the city, the Brodie Castle also stands as a reminder of the heavy wars fought on Tamil soil.

“Being a functioning heritage structure — we call it a living heritage — gave us an added benefit of it not going into a dilapidated state. These are like the hidden gems,” said Angeline Infantcia Dsilva, B Shree Shwetha, Madhi Vathani S, and Janani Vel TN — the students who conducted the heritage walk. They also added that even though the architecture is similar to several Garden Houses of the Colonial times around Chennai, the castle does showcase Scottish features like the turrets, which can be seen in the structure of the original Brodie Castle in Moray, Scotland. “The turrets are actually found in the two wings, the central wing and the west wing. So, both the turrets have been placed in such a way that they sandwich between the central, east, and west wings,” explained Shwetha.

The structure, also said to be a summer house where the colonizers rested, has great ventilation through windows, doors, and balconies on all sides and makes up for all the heat that the city otherwise lashes upon its people. The corridors are designed to block direct sun and heatwaves into the rooms, creating cool, if not well-lit rooms. The architecture can be observed to be created in such a way that the residents could adjust to the climate changes they faced when moving from European countries. Among trees that have stories worth a hundred years to tell, the Brodie Castle had taken two years to stand tall on the sprawling 11 acres. The building, under renovation now, has an architecture with acoustic uniqueness in each room, including the various halls where music has gotten etched through the students on campus. “You don’t get access to it on the other days or usual days. So I’m really glad that INTACH and Mohamed Sathak College are doing this,” says Reshmi, who conducts heritage walks of her own.

Photo: PS Niranjana
Photo: PS Niranjana

The walk, which included performances by students of the Music College, gave an insight into not just the history but also the architectural importance of the colonial building. Considering how it is not open to the public otherwise due to the functioning of the Government Music College in the building, the heritage walk was a great experience for all the history enthusiasts who gathered. “There are many places where you don’t get access in general. I really wish those places, you know, they conduct these kinds of walks as well,” adds Reshmi while talking about her experiences being a part of heritage walks.

The walk, which had people from across the city, from history enthusiasts to photographers, was a reminder for everyone how history is always all around us. As the cool breeze from the side of the Adyar River caressed us, ‘Thendral,’ the name given to Brodie Castle or now, the Tamil Nadu Music and Fine Arts College in Raja Annamalaipuram truly made sense.

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