Monday, January 20, 2014
Not just the soul
You might remember that, in Chennai, the patron saint of drivers is the 'Bodyguard' Muniswaran. That appellation came about because of where the Muniswaran's shrine is located, but many drivers are firm in their belief that it is because of the special powers of this deity to protect the bodies - their own as well as that of their vehicle's.
Further up Mount Road, a little after Pallavan Salai, is this board that is truer to the origins of the Bodyguard title. The Governor's Bodyguard was raised in 1778 and unlike many other units of the army, retained that title until it was disbanded. Though it started off as a Europeans-only unit, later expansion meant that it had to include the natives, of which there was a fair number of Musalmans. The unit had its barracks to the south of Fort St George, across the road from where Madras Gymkhana is today. The Europeans had their places of worship within the fort, but the troops had to make their own arrangements for worship. It appears that sometime towards the end of the 19th century, a mud-and-thatch structure was being used as a mosque; in 1904, with some public subscriptions, a more permanent structure was raised, and a full-fledged mosque began functioning there, with the Mullah being provided a room within the sepoy lines.
The Governor's Bodyguard was disbanded in 1947. Some of the space that the troops were using was retained with the army, and most of the rest was handed over to the state Transport Department. The land where the temples and the mosque were located were of course handed over to the trusts that continue to administer them to this day. And yes, the sign points to the minaret of the mosque itself!