Archive for September 2010

Heritage Walk: In The Presence Of The Apostle

The final leg of our journey was inside the Church of St Thomas. Although tiny in size, the church has a rich history.

The Church is associated with St. Thomas, one of the Apostles of Christ. The spread of Christianity in India can be traced back to the arrival of St. Thomas on the shores of Kerala. From here he traveled, preaching the message of Jesus before he reached Chennai. It is said that his evangelising angered the locals and he fled to the Mount to escape their wrath. Here he was martyred in AD 72 when he was struck down by an arrow.

The Portuguese built a shrine here in the 16th century at the spot where St. Thomas was martyred. During the course of excavation, a stone cross was unearthed. The cross was believed to have been chiseled by the apostle himself. It was rumoured that he had clutched the cross to his person when he was martyred and his blood spilled onto the cross. Apparently, the stains reappeared even after being rubbed off and even bled periodically. So it came to be known as The Bleeding Cross. This cross is now mounted on the wall of the shrine at the alter. Here is a picture:

It is interesting to note the details on this cross. If not for the cross, it could well have been a Hindu sculpture! Note the 'thorana' and the sort of lotus base on which the cross stands. What a wonderful amalgamation of cultures and religions!

The shrine is also dedicated to 'Our Lady of Expectation' ie, Mother Mary. Above the alter, there is an oil painting of The Madonna. Believed to have been painted by St. Luke and brought to India by St. Thomas, it is one of the oldest Christian paintings in India. Here is a picture:

There was another rather interesting rendition of Mother Mary as full term pregnant. I have never seen it before:

With that our heritage walk concluded and we descended the steps on the other side of the hill. At the last step, I turned back to get one last glimpse.

But before I sign off on this series, I must introduce some spiritual beings that I came across during the walk. This gentleman was enjoying the morning sun at the Garrison Church and was kind enough to hold his pose so I could click a picture:

And this guy is totally self actualised. Bordering nirvana!

Ha! Ha! You didn't think they would be canines now did you? I love dogs and the Lord God Made Them All!

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Heritage Walk: Ascent Up The Mount

Moving on from the Garrison Church, the group took a long and circuitous route to reach the top of St. Thomas Mount. The road went past the main gate of the Officers Training Academy and wound up the hill. Once we cleared the defense area, we moved to the base of the hill. I must say it was not very pleasant. Overgrown with shrubs and bushes on one side and slum like settlements on the other.

Once we started climbing the hill, our focus shifted to the awesome veiw of the city that lay stretched out before us. The road was smooth and there were wall writings on the hillside proclaiming it as a 'Holy Hill' and imploring the public to maintain its sanctity. One person even compared the climb up the Mount to the 'Girivalam' at Thiruvannamalai. (Girivalam is a spiritual festival observed on every full moon day at Tiruvannamalai, for the sacred Mountain Annamalai.In Tamil "Giri" means mountain and "Valam" means circumambulation and involves the actual circumambulation of devotees around the hill with a diameter of nearly 16km)

Half way up the hill we passed some schools run by the Catholic Church (which I presume owns a great chunk of the land on the Hill), and a park on the outer edge of the hill with a life size statue of Christ a la Christ the Redeemer of Rio. We also passed a training center belonging to the Church where we saw a banner of an Indo Sri Lankan seminar:

However did the Indo-Sri Lankan fishermen reach the Pak Bay (whatever THAT was?!). A spelling mistake can be truly hilarious.

Huffing, puffing and sweating profusely, we finally clambered up the hill to reach the sacred Shrine of St. Thomas. As Sunday services were still on, we had to wait to enter the Church. While waiting, we looked eastward, hoping to see the spire of the San Thome Church and the Little Mount Church. But it was cloudy and we were not able to do so. Here is a picture of the vista:

Set a little behind the Church, we came across an interesting bust of Lt. Colonel William Lambton. Lambton served in the British Army and was the superintendent of the Great Trignometrical Survey (GTS) during its initial years. So what is the significance of the GTS to the St. Thomas Mount? The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India started on 10th of April 1802 with the measurement of a base line near Madras. The spot where the bust is located marked the first station of the Survey.

Lambton carefully laid the baseline, which stretched across a distance of 12 kilometres between St. Thomas Mount and another hillock in the southern direction, for the "measurement of the length of a degree of latitude" along a longitude in the middle of peninsular India....This 12-km-long horizontal at about sea level grew into what is known as the Great Indian Arc of the Meridian, a gigantic geometric web of 'triangulations' roughly along the 78° longitude across the entire length of the subcontinent covering a distance of about 2,400 km in the north-south direction. As a corollary, at the end of this massive and perilous exercise, which consumed "more lives than in most contemporary wars" and involved tomes of calculations and equations more complex than any in the pre-computer age, it was conclusively proved in 1843 that the Himalayas constituted a mountain range that was higher than the Andes, until then believed to be the highest. It also established the height of the highest point on the earth, what is now called Mount Everest....The GTS continuous to be the bedrock of topographical surveys even today, 201 years after Lambton laid out his first baseline from St. Thomas Mount to another nearby hillock... (Source: Frontline, Apr. 27 - May 12, 2002 and June 21 - July 04, 2003)

When the volunteer from the walker's group stopped talking, there was a brief silence,marked by a sense of timelessness. I felt as if I was also a station, standing in the path of the Great Arc.

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