Friday, January 29, 2010

The Jugga Rao Observatory

A crowd gathers to watch the transit of Venus at the Jugga Row Observatory in 1882
The Observatory at Visakhapatnam stood on the same grounds as the Dolphin Hotel (needs verification) does today. It was established by Venkata Jagga Rao, on whose immediate ancestors Francis W. heaps praise in the Vizagapatam Gazetteer.

About Jagga Rao’s paternal uncle, Surya Prakasa Rao, Francis quotes one Dr. Benza as saying, “He speaks and writes the English language uncommonly well, and his pronunciation evinces hardly any foreign accent. He disregards the show and glitter, the suite of attendants, the umbrella-carriers, and other indispensable appendages of his countrymen of rank corresponding to his own; and wears none of their ornaments. He came to visit the governor on a superb Arabian horse, and was introduced without a single attendant. We accompanied him on his return to Anakapalle, and he conducted us to his garden, which was laid out in a most beautiful style, rich with indigenous and exotic plants and trees.’ Francis W. goes on to say this uncle of Jagga Rao also helped capture a notorious rebel, Prakasa Rao, in 1834. Sounds like an accomplished Anglophile, whom the English liked in return.

Jagga Rao was the elder son of Surya Prakasa Rao’s only brother, Surya Narayana Rao. He studied at Madras under the then government astronomer, T.G. Taylor, from whom he seems to have acquired a love for astronomy. On returning home to Vizagapatam, in 1841, he built the observatory. He died in 1856, leaving behind a daughter. She married Ankitam V. Narasinga Rao, who carried on his father-in-law's work, even resigning his post of deputy collector, in order to find time to manage his newly-acquired estate.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Observatory site

Finally! I've managed to pinpoint the exact spot of Nursing Row's observatory. I'd already known it was somewhere in Dabagardens, but I did not know the exact location or whether any remains of it survive.

But today, as I looked up the transit of Venus in a search quite unrelated to my Vizag story (in fact I am fascinated right now by a book by Dava Sobel, called "Longitude"), I came across a 1995 book by Rajesh Kocchar and Jayant Narlikar, which mentions Nursing Row and his observatory. It says quite clearly, "The site in now occupied by Dolphin Hotel." Voila! Here's my revelation for the day. Hope you enjoyed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

One story idea

I'm toying with ideas on which to base my history and one of them is this:  I could trace the history of one of the Vizagapatam ivory-work cabinets:

1. An 18th century one which is presently at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The path the piece followed from owner to owner is well documented. It was apparently commissioned by a Muslim and can be traced back through six generations of the family.  The name of the ship (The United States) on which it was brought from India to America, when it arrived in Philadelphia (Sept. 13, 1785), and how it descended over time through the family of socialite Anne Willing Bingham (1764-1801), who counted both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson among her acquaintances, are all there.

2. The second one is the ornate writing and dressing table that was auctioned away by Lily Safra. I had written about it in a previous blog.

Both stories sound quite good, but how much of the city's history do they cover and what's the scope of the sotries is, I'm not very sure.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lars Fogelin

I've decided to go into Buddhism for a while. A must read seems to be "Archeology of Early Buddhism" by one Lars Fogelin. He's spent two years (2000-2002) doing a surface survey of the ruins of the buddhist monastry in Thotlakonda and seems to have written this book based on what he found out there.

Rough plan

A rough draft of my book would consist first of a sweep through the Buddhist world, dealing with how the Thotlakonda and Pavuralakonda monastries came into being and how they managed to sustain themselves on those lonely hillocks, out of sight of all humanity and several metres above all sources of food and water. Then will follow the Kalinga kingdom and the effect of Ashoka's conquest, if any. In fact, I think the Buddhist settlements themselves are an effect of this. But we'll have to see.

The Simhachalam temple speaks of the Vijayanagara kingdom's influence. What were people in the area like in this era? What language did they speak? Oriya? Telugu? or something else? What castes emerged in this era? What professions did the people follow? Were there any royalty?

From my very preliminary research, it appears as if recorded history has suddenly jumped from the 13th century to the arrival of the Europeans -- the Dutch in Bhimli and the British in Vizagapatam. About this period there seems to be plenty of material.

The outline looks fine as of now. But the treatment is what matters. I want to make it sound like one connected story. So a theme must be found. A single common thread, one thought that runs through the whole narrative.

Next the style must be conversational. My aim is to make it a readably scholarly book. So once again, we need a story. What will it be?

Monday, January 11, 2010

The East Coast News

Am reading a book called "Southern India: Its History, People, Commerce, and Industrial" resources by Somerset Playne. One interesting find is that there was a newspaper --  The East Coast News -- printed in Vizagapatam.  I guess the date must be somewhere in the first decade of the 1900s, as the first edition of the book itself was printed in 1912.

Wonder if the archives of the newspaper can be found somewhere.


Southern India: Its History, People, Commerce and Industrial Resources; Somerset Playne

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ramsden and Du Jardin

People could make my history come alive. And here are two promising figures: George Ramsden and Clement Jordan (later du Jardin). When the English settlement was established in Vizagapatam in 1682, George Ramsden was sent there as the chief and Clement du Jardin as his deputy.

They beat the Dutch at gaining favours from the local lascars and establishing business. However, in 1683 they fell out and Ramsden was temporarity suspended, while du Jardin was recalled and prosecuted. Would love to learn more about these men.


Found out from a book, "A geographical account of countries round the Bay of Bengal, 1669 to 1679" by Thomas Bowrey that Vizag was called Gingerlee or Gingalee before the British took over. Must do a search and see where that leads. Actually Gingerlee refers to the part of the coast between the estuary of the Godavari and the Pagoda of Jagannath (assume it's Puri). Quite a bit of coastline. Not very specific at all.

The book itself paints an interesting portrait of the inhabitants. It says they are mostly of the Hindu merchant class and rigorously paid taxes, as they were in mortal fear and total awe of their Muslim rulers. They paid a huge price for the privilege of worshipping their gods.

The merchants were rich but feared to display their wealth, as inheritance was not their birthright but depended on the goodwill of the king. So they wore the same kind of clothes as their servants and lived in thatched huts. Probably accounts for the present Vizagite's psyche. Most still prefer to hide their wealth and live very frugal lives.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Suryabagh Palace

Caught a glimpse of the Suryabagh Palace of the Daspallas. It's not as huge or opulent as I expected it to be. It stands right next to the Daspalla Hotel, behind the new Chermas showroom and looks like it's made of lime. It's pretty well-maintained though. Not dilapidated in the least.