The Coja Petrus Uscan plaque, courtesy Madras Musings

Though there have been frequent laments about its precarious condition, it was only last week that matters reached a climax of sorts. A social media post had it that the Coja Petrus Uscan plaque, commemorating that philanthropist’s funding of the Marmalong bridge in 1728, had gone missing. There were reports in the daily press as well.

Reality, fortunately for us, was not that bad. The plaque was still in situ, none the worse for the volume of Metro Rail work that had gone on around it. But we at Madras Musings decided that it was best that our concern, and those of several heritage enthusiasts, was lodged with Metro Rail. An email from was therefore sent to the Managing Director, CMRL, ( – the email address given on their web site) on Thursday, February 15, 2018. The content of the email was as follows:

Sub: Coja Petrus Oscan plaque by the side of the Saidapet Bridge

Kind Attention: Thiru Pankaj Kumar Bansal, MD, CMRL

Dear Sir
I introduce myself as a historian of our city and I am writing to you in my capacity of Associate Editor of Madras Musings, the fortnightly brought out by Chennai Heritage, the not for profit company supported by 25 corporate houses of the city. As you may be aware, the editor and founder of this magazine is Mr S Muthiah, the best known name when it comes to documenting our city’s heritage – built, cultural and natural.
I am writing to draw your attention to the precarious condition of the plaque that commemorates the building of the first bridge over the Adyar river, in 1728. Known as the Marmalong Bridge, which stood at the site where the Maraimalai Adigal Bridge stands today, this was funded by the philanthropist Coja Petrus Uscan, an Armenian who did much good for our city, including the building of the 135 steps leading to St Thomas Mount. The plaque, which has inscriptions in Latin, Armenian and Persian is 290 years old and has survived all this while, even though with the relaying of roads over time, around 1/3rd of it is now beneath ground level.
With the proliferation of Metrorail work in the vicinity, the stone is greatly endangered. It is best that it is shifted out of the place for its protection. The Government Museum will be the best place for it. I urge you to take this up as an immediate matter for it is unlikely that the workmen who are engaged in construction activity in the vicinity are unlikely to appreciate its value. In this connection, I give below the link to a report that has recently appeared in the media.
It is also important that once the Metro work is done the stone is brought back to where it stood. After all, heritage is best appreciated when it relates to a place and not in isolation at a museum. 
May I request a response from you to this at the earliest?
Sriram V
Associate Editor, Madras Musings


This was followed up by a personal call to Mr Bansal that afternoon, thanks to the kind courtesy of Mr Vikram Kapur, IAS, former Commissioner of the Corporation of Chennai and presently, Industries Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu. Mr Bansal assured me that Metro Rail is fully aware of the heritage value of the plaque and has taken all steps to ensure that it was not damaged in any way when the work was in progress. And as of now, all work of CMRL at that site had ended.

When asked about the possibility of shifting the plaque to the Museum, he responded that the artefact falls under the jurisdiction of the Highways Department and it is up to the latter to take a decision on then same. Matters rest there for the nonce.

Now the questions:

  1. True, the plaque has survived. But for how much longer? With 1/3rd already underground, will its safety be assured against any further work in the vicinity?
  2. The fact that it is under the Highways Department is a cause for worry – this is a national highway and that means we are now dealing with a ministry at the central level. That lifts the issue into a rarefied strata.
  3. Clearly, it is up to us foot soldiers of heritage to keep a watch on this piece of heritage.