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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Raging Fire at Chepauk Palace, Chennai

There are very few monuments of historic significance in the heart of Chennai.  Chennai has not witnessed any battles and is not the land of any kingdoms.  Many of us who have lived for ages in Chennai may not have seen this !  Sandwiched between landmarks, this has often escaped public glare.  On the one side is the Beach Road –  Opp to Triumph of Labour Statue [Uzhaippalar Silai] lies the Ezhilagam Complex housing many State Govt. offices.  On the other side is the famous Chepauk Cricket Stadium across Buckingham canal which once flowed and thorough which boat transportation occurred till Pondy.  A beautiful building with a colourful history behind – it is touted as a fine example of Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, a style for which Madras became famous.
View of Ezhilagam complex

The Chepauk Palace was the official residence of the Nawab of Arcot from 1768 to 1855.  From what was part of a kingdom of a ruler with harem and idle crowd of retainers became bustling office complex housing various State Govt Departments – occurred ages ago.   The town of Arcot was the capital of the dominion, and the Nawab of the Carnatic was sometimes spoken of as the Nawab of Arcot. Chepauk Palace belongs to the history of the Carnatic nawabs.  Some records hold that Aurangzeb put Hyderabad under a Nizam whom he named 'Viceroy of the Deccan' and the Carnatic under a Nawab who was to be subordinate to the Viceroy.   In a war in 1749, French and British fought supporting one claimant of nawab – that was the War which brought Robert Clive to prominence.    The Nawabs of the Arcots were later to shift to Madras and years later the Nawabs acquired private property in Royapettah, which is now known as ‘Amir mahal’.   

The Chepauk palace was acquired by the  British for a price, and was eventually turned into Government offices.  Have read that the Palace was once enclosed within the walls and was not to the gaze of the public.   It is also recorded  that  as per the Doctrine of Lapse, the Chepauk Palace was brought to auction to pay off the Nawab's debts and was eventually purchased by the Madras government.  The Chepauk Palace comprises two blocks—the northern block is known as Khalsa Mahal while the southern block is known as Humayun Mahal.  It reportedly encompasses 117 acres.

This premises was in news as a pathetic story of death of a fire man unfolded at this place -   Police suspect an electrical short circuit could have triggered the fire. It is reported that Mr  K Anbalagan, attached to the Teynampet fire station, died fighting the blaze, Divisional fire officer Priya Ravichandran and station fire officer (Ashok Nagar) Murugan suffered 50% and 17% burns and have been admitted to a corporate hospital in Nungambakkam. Doctors said their condition was stable.

Photos of damaged premises
Courtesy : Times of India

Chepauk Palace now housed the social welfare department on the first floor and the commissioner and director of industries and commerce on the ground floor. Its wooden flooring and roof helped the fire to spread quickly. It took over six hours to bring fire under control.  The brave action of the fire fighters who reportedly entered around  2.15am on 16th Jan 2011 needs to be appreciated.  Sadly when they were fighting fire, a portion of ceiling crumbled and few of them were caught inside which lead to the injuries and death of Mr Anbalagan.  Tamilnadu CM J Jayalalithaa has announced a solatium of Rs 2 lakh to the family of Anbalagan. She also announced Rs 25,000  and Rs.10000 to the injured. 

Perhaps the dilapidated condition was waiting for a disaster and the fire has ravaged the building claiming a precious life. Another report of TOI states that several thousands of files on welfare schemes have been destroyed in the fire at Chepauk palace. Those reportedly were files of the popular marriage assistance scheme for the poor  and many service record files of employees. 
It is a sad Pongal for the fire fighters who have always rendered assistance to many fire victims

Regards – S. Sampathkumar

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