Chennai: There was widespread outrage in Chennai over the destruction of a 244-year-old heritage building by fire on Tuesday. The building that housed state government offices suffered serious damage, which the state PWD minister said was beyond repair.
While conservationists lamented the utter neglect of heritage buildings in the city, the government seems to be readying plans for a new structure in its place.
The heritage building, Kalas Mahal, or more popularly, the Chepauk Palace was constructed in stone and wood. Most of the building, except the walls, have been gutted in the fire which killed a fire service personnel. PWD minister KV Ramalingam told the media that the building will have to be demolished, as the floors of the two-storey building have collapsed and only the walls remain.
Fire was still billowing even on late Thursday from the wooden beams and other remains of the structure, which is the first Indo-Sarasenic architecture in India. Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali, a descendant of the Nawab Wallajh, who constructed the Chepauk Palace as the ruler of the erstwhile Carnatic, appealed to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to rebuild Chepauk Mahal to its original glory. He said many heritage buildings have been restored in the country and hence this should not be a challenge.
The incident brings to sharp focus the sheer neglect of heritage buildings in Chennai and the rest of India. Chepauk Mahal has been a marvel to students of history, art and architecture, as well as for tourists. Instead of preserving it with necessary care, the government used it as office space and a dump for files, which incidentally aggravated the fire.
There are many structures in the city that have been damaged by fire in the past, some demolished and rebuilt in newer forms, and some restored. The most impressive restoration was that of the General Post Office, which suffered extensive damage in a fire in 2000. The 100-year-old GPO was also an example of Indo-Sarasenic style of architecture. Conservationists hope that the GPO example can be replicated for Chepauk Palace.
The destruction of the Chepauk Palace and the inability to look into restoration possibilities reaffirm the fading respect for history. Historian S Muthiah considers the building the most important after Fort St George, where the state secretariat is located, which inspired the architectural style of Lutyen's Delhi.
Conservationists hope that the government will find ways to restore the building than replacing it with a more utility-laden office space. Meanwhile, urgent steps to protect heritage buildings in the city, including timely upkeep and restoration, are required before it is too late.
Updated Date: Jan 18, 2012 17:39 PM