The early hours of the morning on May 15, 1972, was of great significance for the late chief minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa. After having navigated her way successfully through the film industry for over seven years, she finally built a home that could be her own. Her mother Sandhya had worked hard to bring her daughter up. Sandhya was the screen name adopted by Jayalalithaa’s mother Vedavalli, who after having worked in a commercial firm, started working in films. As a tribute to her mother, the newly built home was called Vedanilayam.
The house warming had a classical veena recital by the legendary Vainika Chittibabu in the evening. But in retrospect, what is interesting in the sandy brown invitation for the grihapravesham of the home is that Jayalalithaa has mentioned Stella Maris College and Railway Service Commission’s office as a landmarks for the visitors. Perhaps, she had no clue that her home would become one of the biggest landmarks of the city and soon, is going to be converted into a memorial, a storehouse of her life and her times. From January 28, 2021, Veda Nilayam will serve a memorial of the late chief minister and will be thrown open to the public.
Kamaraj lived in a rented place, which was later converted into a museum. Jayalalithaa built Veda Nilayam towards the end of her active film career and it became a power centre after she became the chief minister
Historically, not all leaders lived in their own homes. “Kamaraj lived in a rented place, which was later converted into a museum. Jayalalithaa built Veda Nilayam towards the end of her active film career and it became a power centre after she became the chief minister,” notes historian Venkatesh Ramakrishnan.
“From central ministers to industrialists, many dignitaries met the former chief minister at her residence. During her last tenure she rarely met anyone at the secretariat,” says writer R Kannan, MGR’s biographer.
Dr S Suresh, Tamil Nadu state convenor of INTACH, feels that Delhi has many house museums, including the one dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi at 30 January Marg, the spot where he was assassinated.
“Many presidents and prime ministers too have memorials built there. Chennai also has such large memorials for its leaders. Their location on the Marina beach adds to their significance and sees plenty of footfalls as well.” He cites Teen Murti Bhavan in Delhi as a rare example of a home converted into a finely curated house museum.
Rajaji Illam, the home of C Rajagopalachari in Thorappalli village, near Hosur, was taken over by the Tamil Nadu state government in 1978 on his birth centenary. Memorials of departed leaders and esteemed personalities have had great significance in Tamil Nadu. Kannan points out that the homes of Periyar, Annadurai (his Chennai home), MGR or Kalaignar Karunanidhi have not been designated memorials by the state. “Kamaraj’s residence has been. I guess Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram and Nehru’s Ananda Bhavan were also converted into memorials. In Tamil Nadu, there have been large memorials for Rajaji and even for those like Sivaji Ganesan,” says Kannan “Even Anna’s Kanchipuram home was converted to a memorial by RM Veerappan during the first MGR government in 1977-1980.”
MGR lived in Royapettah initially but had to travel to Vadapalani for his film shoots. There was no overbridge at Kodambakkam and instead there was a railway gate. The stars mostly had a non-airconditioned car, which would halt at the gate and often, it was draw a lot of attention from the fans
MGR lived in Royapettah initially but had to travel to Vadapalani for his film shoots. “There was no overbridge at Kodambakkam and instead there was a railway gate. The stars mostly had a non-airconditioned car, which would halt at the gate and often, it was draw a lot of attention from the fans,” points out Venkatesh. “Hence, MGR decided to move to the other side and got a house in Ramapuram. This home shot into prominence as this was where MGR called for a dinner of MLAs where Karunanidhi got elected as the leader.”
Memorials for departed leaders are there throughout the world, be it in the UK, USA or India. “In Chennai, these memorials are very much a part of the city’s landscape and a tourist attraction,” says Suresh.
But Suresh makes a distinction between memorials as we see in Marina and houses converted to museums. “House museums, as they are known across the world, hardly exist the way they should in India because not many visit them. Ideally, they should be run by qualified museum professionals, where the exhibits are curated, with educational programmes and contextual exhibits,” he says.
This story was published in The Times of India, Chennai, on January 27, 2021