A Literary Pilgrimage in Chennai
It won’t be an exaggeration to say that not visiting a few of the many amazing libraries in Chennai is like living there and never having entered the grand temples of the city.
We recently came across an article by Seetha Gopalakrishnan in Citizen Matters that surprised us. Chennai has 162 public libraries! We set out on a tour of the libraries and found amazing facts and stories, some known, some not so known.
The grand decorative 1919th-century architecture of the Connemara Public Library competes in magnificence with the antique teakwood bookshelves, chairs and desks, even before you get your hands on its treasure of books. Meanwhile, the green architecture of the Anna Centenary Public Library, made in an environmentally responsible way is impressive in the way it employs both passive design features and resource efficient active elements.
Next time you’re on a saree shopping tour or a temple tour in the city, a break at some of these libraries would be worth it, we promise.
A historic Act
The Madras Public Libraries Act, renamed as The Tamil Nadu Public Libraries (enacted in 1948), was the first of its kind to be enacted in India post independence. The Act provides for overall governance by a State Library Committee directed by the incumbent Education Minister for the State.
The act was enacted based on research by S. R. Ranganathan and the Madras Library Association. A number of other states have modeled their own libraries acts based on the Madras Public Libraries Act. Ranganathan had trained as a librarian in London around 1923. He was much impressed by the system of public library legislation that existed there. Upon returning to India he began to campaign for something similar to exist in India. The situation was complicated by the existence of various types of government, including provinces, which were administered by the British Raj and various States under the control of princes. The fruits of his research and consultations were presented at the First All India Educational Conference in 1930. This report included a proposed Model Library Act. The first Act, the Kolhapur Public Libraries Act was passed in 1945. This was followed in 1948 by the Madras Public Libraries Act, which became the first such Act to be passed in the newly independent republic of India.
Connemara Public Library (Egmore)
The Connemara Public Library, the first library to come under the purview of Madras Public Libraries Act, as a State central library, beckons invitingly with the lush green garden in the building compound. It is located within the Chennai Museum Premises.
Opened in 1860 and converted to a public library in 1896, this was the principal library of Madras prior to the Act. Here’s a little tour.
The District Central library (Anna Salai)
The library was inaugurated in 1965. Named after the noted Tamil author and Dravidian scholar Devaneya Pavanar, the District Central Library, quite synonymously distributes books to all branch, part and full-time libraries in the district. As many as 62 branch libraries, 87 rural libraries and 24 part time libraries with 24.56 lakh members are under the control of the district library. A few year ago, the library introduced digital readers through which readers can access thousands of books, some more than a 100-year-old.
Anna Centenary Library (Kotturpuram)
A fairly new library, this one was inaugurated in 2010 on the occasion of the 102nd birth anniversary of the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Dr. C N Annadurai. It was named after him because of his great interest towards books and libraries. The library has a number of sections: braille, own book reading, children, periodicals, Tamil books and English books among others.
Other libraries in Chennai
Adyar Library (The Theosophical Society, Adyar)
Roja Muthiah Research Library (CPT Campus)
Academy of Islamic Research (Teynampet)
American Library (Triplicane)
Dhivyamaruthi Library (Chinmaya Nagar)
Nurturing creative and literary energies
Talking about the libraries and its books, one cannot not talk abou the great writers and literary figures who have been and are part of Chennai.
The Madras Literary Society was founded in 1817. The Society produced a journal called the Transactions of the Literary Society of Madras and from 1833 under the name of (Madras) Journal of Literature and Science. Most of the early members were Europeans and the first Indian member was Kavali Lakshmayya. The journal published extensive researches on geology, meteorology, fauna, flora, culture and history.
Among the modern and contemporary writers: R.K. Narayan, born in Chennai in 1906 and died in Chennai in 2001, is one of the greatest literary figures in the history of Indian literature, most known for his works set in the fictional town of Malgudi. Ashokamitran is regarded as one of the most influential figures in post-independence Tamil literature. Contemporary women writers such as Rajathi Salma, an author, columnist, social worker and speaker’s novel The Hours Past Midnight has been long-listed for the Man Asian Booker Prize. Meena Kandasamy whose work mostly centers on feminism and the anti-caste Caste Annihilation Movement and Sharanya Manivannan are some who have taken the literary world by the storm.
Perhaps it is the ability of the city to balance the challenging essentials of life in Chennai - politics, society, education, culture, tradition, arts, textiles, water and food, modernization and industries, among other facets, which kindle and nurture the literary brilliance in this city. The city’s reality itself is the story and its people, narrators.
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