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Governor's coach gets back stately look

By T. Ramakrishnan

CHENNAI, NOV.12. "I have not seen such a coach," says an excited Adarsh from Mangalore. The boy, on a holiday to Chennai along with his father, took a close look at the restored Governor's Coach, one of the prime collections of the Government Museum, Egmore.

Lying dilapidated in the National Art Gallery for long, it remained an eyesore to the visitors. It received the attention of authorities during the 150th anniversary celebrations of the museum.

Attractive object

Used by several luminaries, including the British Governor Lord Erskine (with whom Rajaji as Premier of the Madras Presidency (1937-39) developed a special relationship), the coach is now an important object in the Gallery on the Progress of Industries and Handicrafts of Tamil Nadu.

In 1913, Simpson and Co. manufactured two state carriages at the instance of the then Madras Government for the use of the Governor on ceremonial occasions. The Maharaja of Bhavnagar, Krishna Kumara Bhavasinghji, as Governor of the composite Madras State, used this four-wheeled and four-seater coach for his State drives till 1952. The museum got the coach in 1964 during the Governorship of Jayachamraja Wodeyar.

The State emblem of the Tamil Nadu Government (a temple tower, representing the gopuram of the Andal and Vatapatrasayi temple of Srivilliputhur) with the three-lion Ashoka emblem of the Government of India is painted on both sides on the doors of the coach. The legend "Satyameva Jayate" is not seen.

"The British Coat of Arms might have been originally painted on it," says civil servant R. Kannan who, as the Commissioner of Museums (1999-2004), initiated the restoration work early this year.

The work, costing about Rs. 70,000, was monitored by a team of senior officials of the museum including the former Assistant Director K. Lakshminarayanan, who died recently, and J.R. Asokan, curator.

Each part special

Two oil lamps of the European model fitted on the front portion and seating arrangements for an attendant in the rearside are some of the interesting features. There are 12 spokes in each front wooden-wheel, while every rear wheel has 14 spokes. The coach has four leaf springs in the back axle and four in the front axle. This is to completely insulate the seating box from any jerk.

Considering the specialty of each part, "we have married six or seven technologies for the restoration," says Dr. Kannan.

During the Independence Day celebrations in 1956, the then President, Rajendra Prasad, used a similar coach during his State drive to the Island Grounds to witness a military parade. Such coaches are on display in the Historical Museum, Hill Palace, Tirupunitura, Kerala, which houses the memorabilia of the Maharajahs of Kochi. According to V. Jeyaraj, curator in the Chennai Museum, a star hotel in the city has a similar coach.

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