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Tamil Nadu - Nagapattinam Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Tombstone tells traumatic tale

P.V.Srividya

Queen's Cemetery dates back to Dutch East India Company era

— Photo : B.Velankanni Raj

standing testimony: The tombstone of Anthonio Nilo, wife of Dutch Governor of Nagapattinam, at the Queens Cemetry.

NAGAPATTINAM: The domed tombstone stands stately against a melancholic evening sky. It is called the Queen's Cemetery or Rani Kallarai. Only that the buried were no queens. They were three young women, outlanders, who lived, loved and died as wives of Governors in an alien land.

The cemetery, tucked away with a nondescript façade, behind the railway line here, adjoining the CSI graveyard speaks of a history- a history of imprints left behind by the Dutch East India Company. The tomb of the Queen is a definitive structure with the coat-of-arms (heraldry) of the buried etched on the three sides of the dome.

Underneath, resides a mother, with her arms around her still-born son, on whose delivery she lost her life.

Buried alongside, are three other sons of hers, who had died ahead of their mother. Anthonio van Steelant- Nilo, wife of Joannes Van Steelant, the Governor of Dutch possessions on the Coromandel coast, died in 1709 at the age of 32.

In the insides of the Tomb, there is an engraved epitaph for the dead lady, on the ceiling. The crevices nurturing plants at the four corners of the dome adds a certain poignance to the one that already defines the tombstone.

The mausoleum also hosts an obelisk (stone pillar tapering imposingly towards the sky) for Adriana Appels, wife of Jacob Mossel, Governor of Nagapattinam. Adriana's is majesterial in its own right facing Anthonio's tomb.

According to a paper by a Dutch researcher which is available with the St. Peter's Church, “All the bells of Nagapattinam tolled throughout the day and the canons of the Dutch ship…fired a shot every fifteen minutes,” and that “the sky above Nagapattinam must have been heavy with the scent of gunpowder,” to mark Adriana's funeral.

Adriana's obelisk has a plaque dedicated to her and her five-year-old daughter Catharina Johanna, who died of chickenpox and was buried in a cellar below.

As for Adriana, she was said to have died of a broken heart at the death of her children. She married at the age of 15 and died when she was 28 in 1743.

Sandwiched between the two imposing tombs is another slab beneath where Dina Maria Leydecker was buried. Wife of another governor Daniel Bernard, Dina's relatively non-extravagant tombstone is offset by the exquisitely carved coat-of-arms.

The research paper with the St.Peter's Church describes Dina's tombstone as the Cinderella of the three.

Opulence of the grave also became a marker of one's position in society, as Anthonio's tombstone depicts. As if to match these women's positions in life, three mahogany memorial plaques adorn the St.Peter's Church here, with their names painted in gold and their coat-of-arms depicting their familial pedigree.

Known as the three brides of St.Peter's Church, these ladies are also known as thethree brides of the Dutch mausoleum with its 60 other exquisitely engraved Dutch tombstones.

Today, the 1664-dated Rani Kallarai stands desolate in the wilderness of time and neglect.

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