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There seems to be a general lack of awareness about the contribution of Mackenzie Manuscripts to understanding and analyzing the history of ancient Chennai region. Here, we provide details of what these manuscripts meant for evaluation of history, and how he has recorded that Puliyur Kottam existed 2,000 years ago under then rulers called Kurumbars and subsequently taken over by Tondaiman. Puliyur Kottam continued to exist (under which most areas of Chennai came) under various rulers right upto the British period.

Colonel Colin Mackenzie, of the British East India Company, was the first Surveyor General of India.

Prof. T V Mahalingam, writing about Mackenzie’s contribution, said: “That a few of the Company’s servants did not tread this golden path to fortune, but chose on their own, prompted by the love of learning, ‘to discover the east’ for the benefit of…the east itself was a lucky accident of great historical value.’

Col Colin Mackenzie was born in 1754 in Scotland.

He landed in Chennai on September 2, 1783, when Warren Hastings was the Governor General of India.  He remained in India till his death on May 8, 1821.

Over 38 years, Mackenzie collected a vast treasure of maps, inscriptions, drawings, coins, original manuscripts, translations and literary works in all South Indian languages and even in Sanskrit!

“Mackenzie was a pioneer in his field. There was no precedent for his special field of research into the antiquities of India…he stood alone.” – Prof. T V Mahalingam

Horace Hayman Wilson, documenting Mackenzie’s works, recorded that there were 1,568 literary manuscripts, another set of 2,070 local tracts, 8,076 inscriptions, 2,159 translations, 79 plans, 2,630 drawings, 6,218 coins, 146 images and other antiquities.

This entire treasure house of knowledge, which is unmatched, and which provide the basic data relating to ancient India, has come to be known as the Mackenzie Manuscripts or the Mackenzie Collection.

He met up with Madurai Brahmins and a number of scholars of Tamil and Sanskrit, and this fired in him the passion for Indian antiquities.  In Madurai, he drew up a plan to make a collection of these antiquities, and this turned out to be the “most extensive and the most valuable collection of historical documents relative to India that ever was made by any individual in Europe or in Asia.”

He undertook extensive research in South India, with the assistance of Cavelly Venkata Boriah, who was a genius at gathering information and as Research Assistant helped Mackenzie put together a dedicated team of Indian helpers from 1795-96. After Boriah’s death, his younger brother Cavelly Venkata Letchmayyaa took over as the Head Interpreter of Mackenzie.

In 1810, Charles Grant, MP and then Chairman of the East India Company, was full of praise of Mackenzie when he said that Mackenzie had provided the “real history and chronology” of India as well as the “genius of (Indian) past government” and unearthed possible evidences of “remote eras and events…monuments, inscriptions and grants preserved either on metals or on paper.”

Robert W. Wink has written that the particular case of Mackenzie becomes “the most impressive orientalist explorations [that] were collaborative, unofficial and voluntary. Among these, none matched the enormous privately funded venture by Colonel Colin Mackenzie”. His teams “copied, from village heads, virtually every manuscript of value they could finally acquire. Collections so acquired, reflecting the civilization of South India, manuscripts in every language, became a lasting legacy – something still being explored.”

Prof. T V Mahalingam pointed out that “Mackenzie was a pioneer in his field. There was no precedent for his special field of research into the antiquities of India…he stood alone. The results of his work were a topographical survey of over 40,000 square miles, a general map of India and many provincial maps, a valuable memoir in seven volumes containing a narrative of the survey…of historical and antiquarian interest”.

Mackenzie had provided specific details relating to village registers, land grants to temples, pilgrimage centres located across remote towns and cities across South India. A proper study of these primary sources would help analyse and even unearth several tonnes of vital information relating to South Indian history.

Mackenzie had surveyed over 70,000 square miles of South Indian territory!

Writer Sandeep Balakrishna states, “The chief value of the Mackenzie Manuscripts is the sheer lavishness of their abundance, making true the dictum that sometimes, quantity is also quality. When we consider that we have an overwhelming total of 1,568 literary manuscripts, 2,070 Local tracts, 8,076 inscriptions, and 2,159 translations, 79 plans, 2,630 drawings, 6,218 coins, and 146 images of primary historical sources, we can only begin to fathom the extent of and the scope for study that this treasure affords us”.

After Colin Mackenzie’s death in 1821, his manuscripts were subsequently acquired from his wife Petronella. Horace Hayman Wilson, Secretary to the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, was the first to volunteer to catalog them in 1838. Several volumes of Mackenzie’s works were prepared.

Particularly valuable was the Mackenzie three-volume ‘South Indian Temple Inscriptions’ published by the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras.

Mackenzie and his team provided material and manuscripts about stories, poems, legends, Jain literature, astronomy, philosophy.

Prof Mahalingam notes, “the Mackenzie Manuscripts narrate the history of several important temples in South India…which still prove useful.”

The Mackenzie Manuscripts indicate and confirm that kings and rulers took care of patronized temples as a continuing tradition, even if they belonged to different sects.

His work on Chidambaram temple and several other temples in South India, Mysore, Tippu Sultan etc., for example, were considered path-breaking and vital to study ancient Indian history and civilization.

T.V. Mahalingam and T.N. Subramanian have said that his inscriptional eye copies and research were invaluable. …. but for Colin Mackenzie, these inscriptions, land records, and local tracts would’ve been lost forever, making the reconstruction of history almost impossible.

Scholars like T V Mahalingam, K A Nilakanta Sastry and S K Aiyangar have research and analysed and profited from a reading of the Mackenzie Manuscripts. The Madras University Mackenzie Manuscripts summaries, under T.V. Mahalingam’s editorship, which are regarding South Indian history, were 224 in number including Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam.

The Mackenzie Manuscripts had been quoted extensively in the Asiatic Journal, the Madras Journal of Literature and Science, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, etc.

Some of his manuscripts were brought back to Chennai and were lodged in the Madras University complex for some time, and are now housed in the Government Oriental Library, in the Perarignar Anna complex, Kotturpuram. Some of the manuscripts are elsewhere in UK museums and British libraries, and it would be worthwhile to try and get them back to Chennai to conduct more research on ancient South Indian history in particular.

Writer Sandeep Balakrishna states, “On the point of historical reinterpretation and reconstruction, a pervasive narrative both in the scholarly and popular realms holds that but for the British, India wouldn’t have had a robust administrative machinery. Some even go to the extent of claiming that viceroys like Curzon introduced these systems for the first time ever in India’s long history.

However, the Mackenzie Manuscripts—among other historical records—show exactly the opposite. As a representative sample, we can simply look at the awe-inspiringPalaiyam system.”

“….discussion on the PalaiyamKaval and other administrative systems simply show the astonishing, sturdy, flexible, enduring, and resilient systems that India’s age-old political and administrative acumen dating back to Kautilyahad birthed and whose memory was preserved for centuries in both theory and application”.

This backgrounder about Col. Colin Mackenzie, the first Surveyor General of India, to understand the importance of the Mackenzie Manuscripts which have recorded that Kurumbars ruled ancient Chennai 2,000 years ago, when the land was called Kurumbar Bhoomi, and that Puliyur Kottam was governed as one of the 24 kottams formed for North Tamil Nadu later called Tondamandalam.

Many historians have also recorded that Tondaimandalam had 24 kottams of which Puliyur Kottam was one, and that areas in erstwhile Madras or Chennai came under Puliyur Kottam.

Tondaiman continued the tradition of 24 kottams including Puliyur Kottam which included the area now broadly classified as Greater Chennai, so vast and sweeping was this area called Puliyur Kottam. It has been recorded by Mackenzie himself that among the areas of Puliyur Kottam were Ezhumur (modern Egmore), Mayilarpil (modern Mylapore), Poondamalli, Pallavaram and Tamparam (modern Tambaram) among others.

Puliyur kottam seems to have derived its name from a small village called Puliyur near modern Kodambakkam in Madras. Puzhal kottam seems to have derived its name from Puzhal, a village near the modern Red Hills.

Many historians have also recorded that Tondaimandalam had 24 kottams of which Puliyur Kottam was one, and that areas in erstwhile Madras or Chennai came under Puliyur Kottam.

There are several inscriptions in and around Chennai region which testify that many areas in Chennai came under Puliyur Kottam. Inscriptions relating to Egmore, Mylapore, Thiruvanmiyur, Guindy, Alandur, Adambakkam, Nanganallur, Nandambakkam, Tirunirmalai, Velanchery, Tirisulam, Kundrathur, Mangadu, Tambaram, Somangalam, Pozhichalur, Manimangalam, record that they were part of Puliyur Kottam.

Inscriptions and copper plates pertaining to this region are available right from 7th century onwards and include the Pallava, Chola and Pandya period. A reader writer, responding to our article in inmathi.com about inscriptions in Puliyur Kottam gives an erroneous take, that inscriptions are available only from Chola period and that too after 11th century. Wrong. Inscriptions are available even from Pallava period. I will give more details of the Pallava period inscriptions to further substantiate this. There are inscriptions under various rulers including Pallava, Chola, Pandyas, and others.

A second wrong impression given by this reader is that August 22, 1639, is the foundation of the city. This date is itself disputed, as the grant for Madrasapatnam was signed on March 1 itself and on that day the fee was paid to Rajah of Chandragiri by Francis Day. Later, dated July 22, 11639,  gold-plated agreement was signed by the Rajah and Francis Day. This date is mentioned in other books too about the city.

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