Friday, 14 October 2016

Thoppikaran- the hat man of Tanjore temple

If you've visited Tanjore's famed Brihadeeswara temple and spent your sweet time looking at the murals and sculptures adorning the famed Rajagopuram, you can never miss him. He is to the Eastern side of the gopuram- with both his hands folded, a cheeky smile on his face, arches brows and a coat, probably adorned with a rose or a pin and to top it all, a hat. His features distinctly Caucasian, how did his stucco end up in the 1100 year old Tanjore temple?

All of our hypotheses point to one man- the Briton Colonel William Lambton, the man who was behind the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India that mapped the planes and was the pivotal point of all surveys undertaken in India. Granted permission to survey India in 1800s, Lambton successfully surveyed the distance from Fort St George to Mysore and from there proceeded to the plains of South India. His handwritten notes of the same are available in Asiatic Journal, with his calculations.

He found the plains of Cauvery delta difficult to map and hence used the temple tops for his measurements of geodesy. It was during July 1808, during the reign of Serfoji II of Tanjore that Lambton arrived at Tanjore to measure from the heights of Tanjore's Rajagopuram. After his signing a Treaty that made Tanjore part of Madras Presidency, British East India Company had adequate control of Tanjore.

Lambton used a giant theodolite made by William Cary to measure the altitudes and it was mounted on Tanjore temple's gopuram. The half a ton mammoth theodolite somehow lost balance and fell down from the gopuram, chipping off a portion of the gopuram. Lambton stayed back at Tanjore, himself repairing the theodolite, if on his own wish or under orders of Serfoji II, we never know.

Was it a wanton ploy by Lambton to chisel his own feature on the gopuram or was it by some cheeky sculptor who wanted to please his British Lord, or Serfoji himself permitted the new change, we find ourselves peering at the hat man in our gopuram. Alongside the murals and sculptures of danseuses and Gods 1100 years old, stands the lone Britishman in his hat, in all regal glory, a new 19th century addition. Excerpt from the Engineer journal published on July 1, 1870, that explains in detail about the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India mentions about the Tanjore incident, the fall of the theodolite from Tanjore temple's Gopuram and the resultant repair of the same at the place itself by Lambton.

Lambton died in 1823 at Hinganghat, Wardha, while still conducting his survey. There is a memorial for him at Wardha where he is buried and a stone plaque mentioning the GTS standard benchmark 1907 is still intact. Better than any memorial is this sculpture of Thoppikaran atop the Brihadeeswara Temple, Tanjore. It was Lambton who carved out the modern map of India, with all topographical features. A fitting tribute to him, would definitely be the place where he is today, with his cheeky smile and hat!

1. Tanjore Brihadeeswara Temple

2. Thoppikaran in Tanjore Gopuram

3. File picture of Col Lambton

4. Model of the theodolite used by Lambton

5. Article in The Engineer, July 1, 1870 about the GTS

6. The para mentioning the fall of theodolite from Tanjore Gopuram and Lambton's repairing it

7. Lambton memorial at Hinganghat, Wardha

8. Stone plaque of original GTS with inscription at Wardha

Credit: Karthik Lokhande's blog
The Engineer Journal

The life of John De Monte- spooky stories and a sad man

A life full of tragedy. Money so huge involved. Hundreds of acres of land in the heart of the city all willed to a church. Spooky roads. Welcome to the life and times of John De Monte. The biggest benefactor of the Mylapore Archdiocese. The man rumoured to still haunt the De Monte Colony. 

He smiles in the picture hanging at the church museum in Santhome. A sad smile not quite reaching his eyes. He was a celebrated Portuguese merchant when he entered Madras after his successful stint at Pondicherry. Married into the rich German Bilderbeck family. The Bilderbecks were pearl merchants in Madras who even had an indigo factory at Colachel, Travancore. Mary Bilderbeck De Monte gave birth to Christopher De Monte, the son who was to have carried forward the De Monte clan.

In 1810, at the age of 16, Christopher was sent to England for further studies where he was struck with intermittent malaria. Still, the French Revolution intrigued him and he set out a travel around the continent in 1815. He attended the Ball that Lady Richmond gave in Brussels for the Duke of Wellington on the eve of Battle of Waterloo. He was an amateur guitarist who struck an unusual friendship with Mauro Giuliani, the famed musician and composer who gifted him the guitar handed over to him by Empress Marie-Louise. The guitar and his handwritten letter to Christopher have been discovered recently.

In 1816, Christopher had an untimely death- probably in a duel just when he was about to leave for Madras. It was his bones that reached the grieving John De Monte. Mary De Monte went mentally deranged after the incident, roamed the streets of Madras, while John owned 500 acres of prime land and posh garden houses, including the Mowbray's Cupola that now houses the Madras Club. 

Mary had wandered off to Covelong and John is supposed to have tracked her down and built her a house there to pacify the poor woman. He also built the Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in the same place, hoping it would cure his wife. Conflicting theories emerge if Mary was cured, but finally, John bequeathed all his property to the Archdiocese of Mylapore- Santhome to care for them and use the lease/rental proceeds for charities. 

The current De Monte Colony, Benz Gardens, Madras Club and its adjoining 105 acres, all belong to the De Monte Trust. The spooky stories around the De Monte colony started when the Trust tried to lease out afresh the colony. The rumours have failed to die down. Pet dogs and watchmen keep dying. People have vacated the colony in droves and its bare walls and houses with overgrown weeds now stand desolate testimony of a wretched life. John died in 1821 and his body remains buried in the Mount Carmel Chapel, Covelong, along with his son's bones. No one knows what happened to the poor Mary De Monte. 

John De Monte's life just goes on to prove that money can't buy everything. History has taught us today that.
1. John De Monte's picture in Santhome Church

2. Bilderbeck family archives containing picture of De Monte

3. English translation of Giuliani's letter to Christopher De Monte

4&5. Original handwritten letter of Giuliani to Christopher

6. The guitar from Marie-Louise gifted by Guiliani to Christopher

7. Content of epitaph in the tomb of John De Monte

8. Tomb of De Monte in Mount Carmel Chapel, Covelong

9. Song written in praise of De Monte sung in the Mt Carmel church.
10. Mowbray's Cupola- the week end retreat of John De Monte that is now the Madras Club