The Newsletter 71 Summer 2015

Decoding a mysterious pavilion: How astronomy brought together local dignitaries and foreign traders

Liesbeth Bennink

It can easily be missed, driving along the scenic East Coast Road between Chennai and Pondicherry. An insignificant roadside structure, just six pillars deep and four wide, flat roofed and without walls. The brightly painted Ganesha shrine next to it is more likely to draw the attention. Right behind both constructions, that what is left of an artificial pond, a shallow depression which holds a little water after the rains. The road invites speed, and besides, passing travellers are unlikely to realise its signifi cance from its simple appearance. This small mandapam, or pavilion, is actually a remarkable historical monument of astronomical events and of the close but little known relationships once existing between local authorities and Dutch VOC traders in the colonial period.