Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Klein and Peyerl – Photo Studio


I recently attended a lecture delivered by Mr. Randor Guy as part of the "Madras Week celebrations" in Chennai. The venue was M. Ct. Muthiah Chettiyar High School in Pursawalkam and the topic was on the Photo Studios of Chennai. He was referring about one Photo Studio by name Klein and Peyerl. The Madras photo collection known to many as the Harry Miller Collection were NOT his pictures. He only owned the collection till he sold it to Vintage Vignettes. The pictures in Madras were one of those seredipitous discoveries. Please read on to know more…


The firm Wiele and Klein was founded by an Englishman named Wiele, probably in the late 1880s. Before long, he took as partner a Theodor Klein, who was born of German parents in Madras. The earliest record of the firm Wiele and Klein is in 1890 when there's mention of it being a prize-winner at the Madras Fine Arts Exhibition. At 11, Mount Road, the studio was on the ground floor and Klein and his wife Valeska, whom he married in England in 1909, lived on the first floor, tending the store. Wiele, it would appear, preferred to move to the Blue Mountains, where the partners set up studios in Ooty and Coonoor around 1900.

The Great War had Klein, the German, out of the frame for its duration, but once it was over, Wiele decided to return home and Klein bought him out. The first thing Klein did was to sell the Round Tana property to Venkatapathi Naidu - a descendant of the founder of the city, Beri Thimmappa, and an active figure in civic affairs - and move to smaller premises further up Mount Road, between the LIC tower block and VST Motors. There he employed a young fellow German, Michael Peyerl, to run the shop and in the 1920s took him on as a partner. It is as Klein and Peyerl that Madras, till not so long ago, knew the firm - but in a different context.

During World War II, both Klein and Peyerl were interned as German nationals and the business was run by the Custodian of Enemy Property. Klein died during internment and, after the War, Peyerl decided to sell the firm and return to Germany. The firm was bought by Vettath John who continued the studio, but gradually made Klein and Peyerl the blockmakers most sought after by the letterpress printers and advertising agencies of South India. The wane of letterpress industry and a fire in 1987 spelt the end of Klein and Peyerl - a name the Johns retained - and the shell of the building was used by John's son Basu as offices.

One of the mysteries that the German owners left for posterity was an enormous collection of large and small glass plate negatives of India that the firm had accumulated. Besides the pictures taken by Wiele and Klein with their cumbersome equipment that weighed several scores of pounds and which needed several porters to carry, there were also negatives by Peyerl and Klein's brother-in-law Erwin Drinneberg. Holidaying in India in 1929-30, with his wife Elizabeth, Drinneberg, Klein and Peyerl with their families travelled to several parts of India and took hundreds of photographs. Many of these photographs found their way to Germany and over 500 of them were gifted by Elizabeth Drinneberg, after her husband's death, to the J&E von Partheim Stiftung (Endowment) in Heidelberg. A few years ago, a few of these pictures were exhibited in Madras.

An Englishman visiting Coonoor heard of a collection of pictures which a Miss Cooper, an ageing and penurious Anglo-India spinster, did not know what to do with. When he visited her, he found four huge custom-made teak boxes crammed with glass plate negatives. He told Harry Miller, perhaps the best known news photographer in the South in those days, about the collection and Miller sought the help of his friend, Eric Stracey, the then Inspector General of Police. Stracey had the collection picked up in Coonoor and brought to Madras in a police van. When Miller examined the collection, he found there were 1515 plates in all, ranging from 3 ½ x 4 ¼ inch quarter plates to 52 large plates of size 10x12 inches. Of them, over 300 were of Madras, including 100 and more of a bit of our lost heritage, the palms of Chepauk Park.

Harry Miller nursed this collection like a baby and whenever use was made of any of the pictures, the proceeds were used to help make Miss Cooper's last years more comfortable. As Miller himself became older, he was not able to care for the collection as it ought to have been and he sold it to a five-man partnership, `Vintage Vignettes', which now tends it.

The intriguing part of the collection is that there is no provenance to it. All that Miss Cooper could offer was that she had worked for a German family and they had left the collection with her and never came back for it. Could it have been Klein or Peyerl? Stracey's attempts to trace their heirs proved fruitless. Many such plates in old collections have the names of the photographers etched in the plates. There are plates with names of contemporaries of Klein and company, like Willie Blake, A. Nicholas, Tripe, and Bourke on them - but this collection has no names, though several pictures in it have dates. They all also have numbers - which perhaps tally with a catalogue or index - but of either, no trace was ever found. And so here in Madras is a provenance-less collection of brilliant photographs of an India of the past of which the most we can say is that there is a good chance that the photography was the work of Wiele, Klein, Peyerl and Drinneberg.

And if it was their work, they were indeed brilliant photographers - explaining why Wiele and Klein and then Klein and Peyerl were such popular studios in South India from the 1890s to the 1940s.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My experiments in Dining - Sree Mithai



I recently visited Shree Mithai Food Court @ Anna Nagar along with my family. The Hotel seems to be very new and the ambience and the furnishings are damn good. The Hotel is having three Floors. On the first floor the sweet shop is there, in the Second Floor the Food Court and the Restaurant is coming up on the third Floor.


The day was Sunday with limited seats available on the Second Floor the floor is full at 7 p.m. and huge Anna Nagar Crowd especially the north Indian faces are visible in the Hall. The decibel level is very high and there is a huge rush. We waited for some ten minutes as we were about seven people and the Court Manager helped us in getting the seats.


My sister’s son already started enquiring about a mocktail somebody was having and the manager told that the item was “Midnight Beauty”. We ordered the specialty of the Hotel “Special Chole Bhature”, Delhi Chat, Veg Pulav, Pav Bhaji, Mocktail “Blue Lagoon” which is a mix of juice and ice cream and finally the Kesar Badam Milk. All the items were very tasty and delicious. Also the price seems to be moderate. Chat items like Vada Pav, Bread Pokada, Dhokla Idli, Khandvi, Paneer pakoda, Bhakkarwardi etc., are available and the list of items are huge.I strongly recommend to try this out.


Shree Mithai, #189, Shanthi Colony,4th Avenue, Anna Nagar, Chennai


About Shree Mithai

Forty years ago Shri K. N. Patel left his village in Gujarat to follow his dreams. He came to Chennai in the year 1951 with a wealth of experience in dairy farming and an indomitable desire to realise his dream of making a success of his life. Shri Patel embarked upon his journey to success with the launching of Shree Milk Supply. Right from the start providing Quality products to his customers has been the primary concern for Shri Patel. One success followed another. Finally, his dreams culminated in the foundation of Shree Mithai. Shri Patel established this shop with the help of his two sons Mr. Kiran Patel and Mr. Mukesh Patel.

Today, Shree Mithai is synonymous with Quality Indian Sweets, Savouries & Chats. Infact, it is one of the most sought after names in the confectionery industry. 'Shree Mithai' is a sweet shoppe with a difference catering to a wide clientele, that has remained faithful and grown unprecedentely over the last decade.


The 'Shoppe' which can rightly be called a 'confectionery boutique' is spread over 2,000 sq.feet and functions at No.8, Dr. T. V.Road, chetpet, Chennai-600031. Uncompromising quality, flawless taste & amiable service are the hallmarks of the shoppe

Friday, August 7, 2009

Temple Visit - Chettipunyam


I recently went to Pondicherry while returning I took the dindivanam route and on the way visited a village called “Chetti Puniyam” where there is a temple for Lord Hayagriva. The Hayagriva in the temple, it is believed, bestows upon the devotees, education, wealth and progress in all walks of life. The avataram of Hayagriva Bhagavan took place to restore the Vedas to Brahma. Brahma became extremely conceited about his power as the creator. Lord Narayana discerning this, decided to rid Brahma of his pride. A couple of water droplets from the lotus seat of the Lord incarnated as two Asuras, Madhu and Kaitabha, who stole the Vedas from Brahma. Unable to carry on his work of creation without the Vedas, Brahma beseeched Lord Narayana for help. Lord Narayana incarnated as Hayagriva and destroyed the Asuras and restored the Vedas to Brahma. Swami Desikan has very eloquently described the greatness of Bhagavan Hayagriva in the Hayagriva Stotram. Many references from the Hayagriva Upanishad are succinctly contained in Swami Desikan's tribute.


In Hinduism, Hayagriva is an avatar of Vishnu. He is worshipped as the God of knowledge and wisdom, with a human body and a horse's head, brilliant white in color, with white garments and seated on a white lotus. Hayagriva is celebrated in the Puranas for rescuing the Vedas from the demons Madhu and Kaitabha and teaching them again to Brahma. Symbolically, the story of Hayagriva represents the triumph of pure knowledge, guided by the hand of God, over the demonic forces of passion and darkness. Hayagriva is a very important deity in the Vaishnava tradition. His blessings are sought when beginning study of both sacred and secular subjects. Special worship is conducted on the day of the full moon in August (Sravana-Paurnami) (his avatara-dina) and on Mahanavami, the ninth day of the Navaratri festival. He is also hailed as "Hayasirsa" HayaSirsa means haya=Horse, Sirsa=Head.

jnAna-Ananda-mayam devam
nirmala-sphaTikAkRtim
AdhAram sarvavidyAnAm
hayagrIvam upAsmahe!

This verse is originally from the Pancaratra Agamas but is now popularly prefixed to the Hayagriva Stotram of the 13th century poet-philosopher Vedanta Desika. It is very popular among devotees of Hayagriva.

The idol, small but bewitching, was brought to Chettipunyam from Thiruvahindrapuram in 1848, and attracts many devotees. Lakshmi Hayagriva is the presiding deity of the Parakala Math in Mysore. There are also sannidhis for Hayagriva in the Desikar temple in Mylapore and also in the Soundarraja Perumal temple in Dadikombu near Dindigul.

In Thiruvahindrapuram, Vedanta Desika recited the Garuda Mantra taught to him by his uncle, Kidambi Appular and was initiated into the worship of Hayagriva by Garuda. Desika composed the Hayagriva Stotram in 33 verses. Apart from the `phalasruti' there are 32 verses. There is a reason for Desika writing the Stotram in 32 verses. The Brahma vidyas are 32 in number. His composing the Hayagriva Stotram in 32 verses is to show that Hayagriva is the repository of all vidyas. Desika says the neighs of Hayagriva are the essence of the Rig, Yajur and Sama Vedas. The 32nd verse which is the `dhyana sloka,' speaks of Hayagriva's right lower hand as `vyakhyamudra' - the elucidating pose and the left lower hand holds a book. Desika says that Saraswati, Dakshinamurthy and sages like Vyasa reflect a fraction of Lord Hayagriva's effulgence.

Singaperumal Koil, which is neither a village nor a city but a delightful mix of both, is about 45 km to the south of Chennai. The Devanathaswamy Temple is situated about 3 km West of Singaperumal Koil. Devanathaswamy resides in a village named Chettipunniyam, which boasts of four or five streets. The presiding deity, Devanathaswamy, sits facing East.

Though there is no direct bus from the city, route no. 60c plying from Tambaram to Vadakal takes one to the temple. The other way to reach the Devanathaswamy Temple, from the city is to reach Singaperumal Koil, by buses going Kalpakkam, Madurantakam, Chengalpattu, and then go by autorickshaw to the Devanathaswamy Temple. Though a Sannidhi for Varadaraja Perumal has been in this temple for the last 350 years, it was only in 1848, thanks to the efforts of Sirasdar Rao Sahib Rangachar that the idol of Devanathaswamy of Tiruvendipuram was installed in this temple. The year was 1848; the day Friday; month Vaigasi; date 22; and the star Makam. From that day, daily pooja is offered to this deity. Devanathaswamy did not come alone but along with Hayagrivar. These facts are corroborated by the Government Gazette records of the South Arcot Government, of the same year.

The idols of Thayar, Sridevi, Boodevi and Andal were installed after this. The idols of Sri Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman were brought to Vandalur in Chennai, in the year 1868, on Oct 5, by Mudumbai Ramaswamy Iyengar, from the Tanjore Palace. When Ramaswamy Iyengar migrated to Bangalore, he had all these Gods installed in the Devanathaswamy Temple, since Chettipunniyam, was his native village. There is a separate sanctum sanctorum for Sri Rama in this temple. It has to be mentioned here that the first Mysore Dewan Veeravalli Rangachar (1831-1883) also hailed from this village.

The villagers conduct the 'Thiruparvettai' festival in a grand manner, on a Sunday in the month of 'Thai' (Jan 15 - Feb 15), every year. The temple trust organises a number of utsavs like Sri jayanthi, Special thai velli poojas, Sri Vaikunta Ekadasi, Sri Desikan Sathumurai, Vaigasi magam and Deepa (Lights) utsavam. The devotees also conduct many utsavs - adhyayana utsav, Vijaya dasami, Adi Pooram, Panguni Uthiram, Udayavar Saathumurai and Sri Ramanavami. Another famous celebration was Sri Devanathaswamy's centenary (100 years in this temple), which was celebrated for 10 days, in grand style.

After a very long time, in 1993, the Ashtabandhana Maha Samprokshanam was performed on May 17.The devotees of the village say, as far as their knowledge goes, no Samprokshanam had been done in the last 100 years. This famous temple is under the HR & CE board. An officer has been appointed to manage the affairs of the temple. A five-member committee oversees the functioning of the temple. The temple owns about 55 acres of agricultural land and a big grove, in the village. It also owns a house thanks to Thiru Rangaswamy Iyengar, who has donated his ancestral home to the temple.