At a time when senior civil servants have met up and discussed the possibility of a heritage act to save Chennai’s historic buildings, a private initiative at restoration appears to have been successful going by results. This is the Pattinathar Samadhi which stands by the sea-shore near Tiruvottiyur. I visited the place a couple of weeks ago was amazed at the cleanliness with which it is being maintained.


The Samadhi is the burial spot of the mortal remains of Pattinathar, the 15th century saint. While a superstructure appears to have existed even in early times, the present structure over the sepulchre cannot be more than a 100 years old. In recent years the building had become a den of vice with anti-social elements having the run of the place. But that appears to be a matter of the past and certainly today the shrine is well tended to and draws a stream of visitors. The access to the Samadhi however is not easy as it is now completely hemmed in by a vast slum colony


The superstructure over the Samadhi is a building of low height which has a flat ceiling comprising wooden planks above which is a vaulted roof. It is divided into three sections – a congregational hall in the front, a narrow vestibule in the middle and the sanctum at the rear. Flooring is of black slabs probably of the Cuddappah variety and the walls are of chunam. The building is fronted by a space covered by a sloping roof structure with Mangalore tiles. What is interesting is that the recent renovation has kept all these elements intact.


Too often, temple renovation in Madras has meant usage of red granite, marble, or even worse, glazed tiles, all of which are alien to temple architecture. None of these have been used here, probably owing to paucity of funds! After attending to minimum and essential structural repairs, the place has been given a coat of whitewash and the woodwork has been painted over. The wooden planks have been left as they are. Even records of recent donations have been inscribed on black stone slabs so that they blend harmoniously.


If only trusts that own similar buildings and structures would pay attention to what they possess and take some care of their maintenance, heritage would be a matter of every day life.