The new city of Chennai is a jam-packed metro, with fumes from buses, trucks, cars, auto rickshaws everywhere. The old part of Chennai, George Town, is another noisy commercial district, where most of the wholesale and retail activities takes place. In between the busy commerce of George Town, there are hidden alleys, streets, which are now forgotten. One such street is the Armenian Street, which was the home for the Armenians, who has settled in Chennai, in the 16th century A.D. On this Armenian Street is the Armenian Church, one of the oldest churches of India.
As soon as one enters into this complex, you’ll be greeted by silence. It’s an oasis in today’s busy lives. Except for the caretaker, one hardly sees any worshippers, as there are no more Armenians in Chennai. It’s now managed by a Armenian Trust based in Calcutta. Built in 1771, the Armenian complex is known for its Armenian Church of Virgin Mary. The complex also consists of a small chapel and a belfry tower. The bells of the tower, six of them, are the main attractions. The bells, which are the largest and the heaviest in Chennai suburbs, each weighs 200 kilo, the oldest two dating back to 1754 and 1778. Two other bells were gifted by Eliazar Shawmier and while the remaining two are from 1837. The complex also served as a mortuary and cemetery for the Armenian population of Chennai. The founder, publisher, and editor of the world’s first Armenian periodical ‘Azdarar’, Reverend Haroutiun Shmavonian is buried here.
Take a break at this historical place, now a heritage site open to visitors. Do check the time of opening though before going there. Walk through the old photos and you will be transformed back into time, when this church would be used daily and the pages of the Bible, which remains untouched, would open.
Today’s project in Chennai was to photograph the twin sisters Mahalaxmi and Vijayalaxmi. Both these sisters were academically brilliant and were toppers in their schools with scores which would definitely catch your attention. I was looking forward to this project, which was sponsored by the ladies of Madras Esplanade Ladies Circle 100.
The sisters come from a family, which includes the retired parents, the sisters and a brother. The father’s pension took care of the brother’s education and thus the sisters had no options but to give up their education. It was, by luck or fate, that the Ladies Circle 100 took up their education costs just in time. The Ladies Circle has spent Rs 40,000 to these girls and have assured a long-term commitment to fulfil their education.
Unfortunately, one of the sisters couldn’t come for the shoot but I had the pleasure of meeting Vijaylaxmi, who came with her father to Anna University to get her picture taken. And of course, how I can forget my wonderful hosts Chetan, Mala and Anita who made this project happen. MELC100 has spent more than Rs 300,000 in the last year and have benefitted more than 500 people through their projects!