Catherine’s Grand Tour of India – Part 2

  • Published on: 15th February 2016
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Gargoyles at the Gates of Archives.


So at the end of the last update I was just about to venture to the Oriental Manuscripts Library at the Madras University, to begin my quest of getting in amongst all the wonderful Mackenzie material. The Mackenzie Collection is the core and makes up the body of the library’s collection. Approximately 50 thousand palm leaf manuscripts, in many different languages and scripts, which Mackenzie collected from all across South India are housed here.

Here is the beautiful Madras University Campus – located right on the sea front of Marina Beach.



And tucked away in the middle of the campus is the Oriental Manuscripts Library…


Naively I thought my Mackenzie pilgrimage would enthuse the Curators and librarian here about their precious collection – given the wealth of Mackenzie material they hold here ……but oh no, no, no, no, it wasn’t so. Quite the opposite – it seemed to create a real sense of frustration and annoyance. My interest in the collection and my requests had created a series of intertwined problems which could only be overcome by a series of endless letters of ‘permission’. I had to seek these permissions from all the various authorities before I could proceed. My interest, my request, were all problems. Great rows broke out all around me and about me. I had roused the gargoyles and they were not happy.

Here’s the catalogue I was presented with. I’m fairly sure this was a measure taken to dissuade me. To halt me from any further requests or researches.

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There was a great necessity for me to sit down on very specific chairs and if I got up from these chairs … again great rows could break out around me and about me. So alas this door and these chairs was as far as I got on my first endeavour into the great collection.



I had started to feel like I was trapped inside a whale and a confused cage of bureaucracy with an army of gargoyles blocking my every move. My mind in a mangle I identified very closely with this small artefact I came across.


Later that day I took myself to the Government museum in Chennai where I thought I’d cheer myself up with some Mackenzie collection on Open display. A literally monumental set of marbles from the great Buddhist site of Amravati beautifully and intricately carved.

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If only this old Buddha could talk…..


Another artefact I came across which may be interesting for any military history buffs, were the cannons of Tippu Sultan. These would have been the very cannons that Mackenzie himself was under the direct fire from during the famous battle of Srirangapattinmam, where Tippu Sultan was over thrown.

Feeing slightly defeated myself I headed for Calcutta to check in with Mackenzie again and see what treasures of his were housed at the Asiatic Society of Bengal……

To find out more about Colonel Colin Mackenzie ‘The man who mapped India’, visit Stornoway Historical Society’s website here