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Only Light House in the City of Chennai – India’s tallest

chennai-lighthouse-front-land-viewFacing the 2nd longest beach in the world – Marina Beach, looking right to the end of the promenade stands a 45 mts triangular concrete man made structure in the heart of the city known as – Madras Light House, today called Chennai Light House. It’s the tallest lighthouse in the country that too bang in the center of the city! The only kind! It’s prime location stands on the meeting of three main roads at Chennai – Kamarajar Salai – Dr. Radhakrishnan Road & Santhome. This is the 4th Light House of Chennai built recently. The lighthouse history is interesting of Madras to Chennai!
The First Light House(1796 – 1844) was just a Lantern on the wall at Fort St.George. It was commissioned by the British East India Co. to enhance landing of British vessels of trade at Madras in annoyance to the Dutch settlements further south. The Madras seabed was sandy and shallow and there was a great chance of ships grounded. The cargo was shifted to the fort by smaller boats with ships anchored away. The navigators of the ship had to be skilled getting their vessels closer to Madras port. At night the fishermen boats would carry bonfires guiding the sailing ships! The Initial plan by British East India Co. was construct a Light House at St Mary’s Church but the church authorities refused even thought the church was built and gifted in 1860 by East India Co. The Second Light House of Madras was on a Granite pillar erected in 1841 located at the Madras High Court a little North of Fort St.George. The light was 117 feet high and the visibility was 20 miles into the sea!
The Third Light House (1894 – 1977) was located on the Dome of the existing Madras High Court Building! The lantern was shifted from the 2nd lighthouse onto this Domed structure of a building! It was in the same premised.
On the night of 22nd September 1914, during World War I, a German Light Cruiser attacked Madras St.George Fort destroying huge storage oil tanks with it’s 22 heavy guns reaching 200 mts to the shore. The Light House brightness attracted the German Commander, Captain Karl Von Muller to this place so far away in allied territory. He turned back after a 30 minute onslought and wanted to bring down this Light House but the allied forces were saved by the timely intervention of a Russian war ship anchored at Fort St.George. Both the Light Houses in the Court premises were untouched but for a few damage at the Court Complex.
This coast of Bay of Bengal has been indunated by violent cyclones destroying property & life. A good guiding light is absolutely necessary on this coast. At the southern peninsula there are 23 lighthouses covering areas of Tamilnadu, Puduchery & Kerala not counting 31 on Andaman islands and a few in Karnataka! Currently the Director General of India’s Lighthouses is based in Noida operating through 4 Deputy Director Generals with 7 District Regional Head Quarters.
Chennai Light House is 79 ft (24 mts.) high flashing White, Red & Green light on to Bay of Bengal. It’s a triangular building painted horizontal Red & White at surface facing the sea and is 11 stories high and the only one with an Elevator. Public are allowed up to the 9th floor. There’s no entry to public on to other floors.  Photography from here is allowed. There’s a small entry fee to be let in. Camera attracts an additional small fee. Bags are not allowed up. . . one can leave it below with the security. CCTV is monitored on all visitors and tourists. Public are allowed from 10 am to 5 pm. Monday Holiday. Don’t miss visiting the Museum on the Ground floor, behind the lighthouse. This Light House is one of the landmarks of Chennai. Do visit this place when you are in Chennai, it takes an hour of your schedule. It’s beam of light reaches 28 nautical miles or 32 miles or 52 kms into the sea! This structure also houses the Meteorological Department & Radar monitoring unit for national safety & security and is restricted to visitors. Today this lighthouse uses LED bulbs with mirrors. . . Lighthouses have come a longway operating from light sources and mirrors. . . from wick lamps using coconut oil, mineral oil, kerosene etc.
Lighthouse is one maritime post which the sailing ships and fishermen folk can’t do away with. It’s sonic beeper keeps one anchored to the bay to reach home safe!

Jagdeesh Laxman Singh
aka Jugie Singh
Text & Photography

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