Apart from the British, the other Europeans to have had a presence in India were the French, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Danes. Out of these the Dutch had a major presence in the South of India. At various points of time they held the towns of Cochin, Nagapattinam, Pulicat and Masulipatnam. Out of these the town of Pulicat in present day Tamil Nadu was one of the most significant. The Dutch occupied Pulicat in 1609 after defeating the Portuguese who set up base there in 1502. Till 1690 Pulicat served as the Capital of the Dutch presence in Southern India.Later the British defeated the Dutch and took over Pulicat.
Today only the ruins of the Dutch presence remain in the town. Pulicat is located 60 Km north of Chennai and at the southern tip of Pulicat lake in Tamil Nadu.
A couple of weekends back I was on an official trip to Chennai when I happened to be in the vicinity and decided to check out Pulicat. I took a Tamil Nadu State transport bus from the town of Ponneri to reach Pulicat. The bus drops you right at the end of the main market street of the town. From here all the landmarks are at a walk-able distance.Though having a vehicle certainly helps.
The first point of stop was the famed Dutch Cemetery. This is on the left side of the Bharatiyar Street. Very easy to locate. I made my way to the cemetery but was disappointed to find that it was locked. From the outside I could see the graves. There were around 20 graves with 5 of them having big tombs over them. Two of the five had obelisks. These tombs reminded me of the Victorian era tombs I often read in Gothic Horror stories. I had never seen tombs of this style before and I was excited to take a closer look. I went back and asked a couple of persons standing nearby about the it. They said it usually is opened in the evening around 1630 Hrs.This info lifted my spirits as at least I had a chance to take a closer look at the graves. I still had a couple of hours with me so I proceeded ahead to check out a Museum which was showing on Gmaps on my phone.
This Museum I found out is housed in a couple of shop areas. This was set up by Art and Architecture Research Development and Education Foundation (AARDE). Though small in size it is a must visit for anyone coming to Pulicat. It houses a number of infographics about the early history of Dutch, of Pulicat and has maps of its layout. It also has an excellent summary of the things to see in the town. In addition to the above it has an exhibit of a large pot which was used by the people of Pulicat for water storage.
On the opposite side of the road is a large swamp. This was the area where the Dutch had built their Fort known as Fort Geldria. It was built in 1613 but was later destroyed by Hyder Ali in the second Anglo Mysore War. Nothing remains now. I moved on into the village to look at the second cemetery, that of the Portuguese. Using Gmaps for guidance I reached the place after strolling through the narrow streets. When I finally reached I was greeted by a solitary signboard and lots of garbage. The place was overtaken by bushes and rubbish and there was no way for me to look at the graves.
It was already 1630 Hrs and I hurried back to the Dutch Cemetery. Here I again asked a couple of people standing nearby and one of them said he will go and get the keys. I was delighted now. After a couple of minutes he got the keys and opened the gate and asked me to come inside. I stopped at the gate for a couple of minutes. The gate has an arch on which something is inscribed in a language which I assume is Dutch. On each sides there is a sculpture of a skeleton. The one on the left has a gaping mouth and has on its head what looks like an hour glass maybe signifying the limited time we have on earth. But the more hideous of the two was the one on the right. It has a tilted head and one of its hands is resting on the skull of a smaller skeleton which one can only assume belongs to a child. I have no idea what this means. There was a third skull right in the middle of the arch. The whole picture looked a bit grim.
I walked inside. There were around 20 graves inside. Most of them were pretty plain like the one pictured here. Rectangular in shape with an engraving on the top. I especially like the badge designs on the top. The ones which really stood out were the five I mentioned before. Out of these two had obelisks and no sculptures on them. Two others had no sculptures. Only one had sculptures of two angels flying. I took a few pics here and strolled around to look at the engravings to find anything interesting. But most of the writing was in Dutch so there was no such luck. I found one in English. It was the tombstone of a certain Henry Fortan, who died in Pulicat in 1864.I assume this man was British.All the while the man patiently waited for me finish my walk. After I was done we walked back together to the gate. I found out that he was the designated caretaker of the Cemetery and it was maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. His name was Mohammed Hussain. He informed me that there was no particular time of opening of the cemetery and if one wishes to go inside one only has to ask him. He can be contacted by asking for him at the dwelling located to the left of the gate. I wanted to thank him by giving him a tip but he refused stubbornly.
Following the map I found in the museum I decided my next stop would be an Old Dutch Building. This was located on the way to the light house on the left side just before the bridge starts. The old dutch building was nothing much to look at. It was being used as a store house by a hospital nearby.
Heritage buildings falling prey to Government apathy always brings out the lament that we Indians as a whole simply don’t care about our past.
I walked out the place and continued on to the bridge to take a look at the light house and the beach. This bridge runs over a lagoon formed here.The walk on the bridge presented wonderful views of the sea and the number of fishing boats plying. Pulicat is a fishing town and this is where you can look at the evidence. On the right side of the bridge a huge number of fishing boats were parked. The walk was soothing and relaxing.It was getting dark and the evening breeze from the sea only made the walk more refreshing. I walked to the lighthouse but found out that it was closed for the day for tourists. Its timings were from 1500 Hrs to 1700 Hrs. I next made my way to the beach. There were not many people were around. A game of cricket was in progress and I stopped for a couple of minutes to look at the action. After enjoying the cool breeze for a while I started my walk back to the town. I returned to the area where the bus had dropped me earlier to catch a bus back to ponneri. Soon a bus arrived and I was on my way back after enjoying a wonderful day at the charming little town of Pulicat.
|A guide map displayed in the AARDE Foundation Museum
|The one on the right side of the red gate is the museum
Things to know
– Lighthouse timings 1500 Hrs to 1700 Hrs
– If the cemetery is locked just ask for Mohammed Hussain at the dwelling just to the left of the gate.
– Nothing much to eat in Pulicat. Better to bring in your own food.