The Tribune - Spectrum

, April 28, 2002

Vellore — the town with the "healing touch"
Maninder Kaur

The CMC hospital at Vellore
The CMC hospital at Vellore

AS the plane tilted and lowered one could see innumerable tiny houses dotted with palm trees — the typical South Indian landscape. We were approaching Chennai from where an express train takes about two hours to Kathpadi railway station on the outskirts of Vellore. We had come here to attend the annual ACBI conference at the esteemed Christian Medical College for which Vellore is famous.

Situated at a distance of 140 km west of Chennai, the clean peaceful town of Vellore sits in the valley of the eastern Ghats and in the Palar river basin. Vellore (Vellur in the local dialect) traces its name back to the various legends of the past. According to one such legend the name "Vellore" was derived from Vel (velayudham) of Lord Subramanya. In the dream of a tribal chief, Lord Subramanya directed him to destroy the enemy with the help of the Vel (spear) from the nearby lotus pond. Another legend says, Vellore was named after the Velan (Babul) trees which grew in abundance in the area. The Vijayanagar kings called it "Raya Vellore" to differentiate it from Uppu Vellore in the Godavari region. The architecture of this town reflects a blend of historical influences. The fort, the temples, the mosques and the madrasas, the churches and the beautiful British bungalows stand to date to testify to these political and architectural influences.

The hospital was founded by Ida Scudder, a sensitive young Christian lady who was moved by the misery of Indian women in childbirth.


Her life of sacrifice reminds us of Christianity’s conviction that caring for the sick and the dying is a service to Christ. I don’t think we’d have hospitals or hospices without this notion.

A view of the Christian Medical College campus
A view of the Christian Medical College campus

The main hospital building is in the heart of the city whereas the medical college campus is situated on the outskirts, in Bagayam. The college campus is a beautiful complex that nestles in an area of dense vegetation against the backdrop of small hillocks. The college building, with its various seminar rooms and halls is made of solid stone and the windows with the grey overhanging shades have frames that have been painted a dark brown — the colour of mahogany.

A shady, winding staircase overlooks the green, breezy surroundings which exude an aura of the romance of a British summer. The steps led down to an open and airy lecture hall — with its walls made of stone and open on three sides and wooden benches for the students it is a lively place to study (as compared to the dull lecture theatres of our state medical colleges). The well-ventilated architecture is a hallmark of the college.

The CMC, a centre of excellence in our country, has set a record of achievements. It has completed 2500 renal transplants and over 10,000 open heart surgeries. The first renal transplant in India was performed at Vellore in 1971. The hospital is also a pioneer in bone marrow transplant. Major achievements of the hospital are introduction of sophisticated assisted reproduction techniques and the setting up of a developmental pediatrics unit.

The Vellore Fort
The Vellore Fort

The Vellore Fort is the best specimen of a ground fort that exists in our country. It is described that "there is no such fort on the face of earth like the one in Vellore. It had a deep wet ditch (moat) where once 10,000 crocodiles swarmed, waiting to grab every intruder into this impregnable fort. It has huge double walls with bastions projecting irregularly, where two carts can be driven abreast."

This fort is an interesting complex and comprises a temple, a mosque, a church and a series of British military buildings. The walls are made of heavy granite that was probably brought from the nearby hills. As the legend goes, this fort reflect Dravidian architecture was built by the Vijayanagar princes in 1350 A.D. Later it became a stronghold of the royal dynasty of Vellore. In 1667, it was captured by Shivaji and later on by the Muslims. In 1768, it became the seat of the British administration in the Carnatic region. Among the various protected historical monument inside the fort, the most magnificent is the Sri Jalakandeswarar temple devoted to Lord Siva. The temple manifests a double gopuram and impressive mandapas. The kalyana mandapam is excellent in the luxuriant character of its carving, even at present. The gopurams, with their intricate workmanship, belong to the 16th century. The mosque also situated inside the fort signifies the earliest Islamic structure in the town. The church in the same fort complex has an impressive stairway and a bell tower.

The "Scudder Auditorium", named after Ida Scudder, the founder of CMC
The “Scudder Auditorium”, named after Ida Scudder, the founder of CMC

Exquisite residential architecture of the British can also be appreciated in the town. Some of these tastefully designed British bungalows now house important government offices. About an hour’s drive from Vellore is Kanchipuram, the famous silk city renowned for its silk sarees and splendid temples.

On the whole, Vellore is a calm hospitable town, set up against a background of small green hillocks. The climate is warm even in February when I visited it ; probably owing to its proximity to the Equator. The clean even-surfaced roads do not have much vehicular traffic or big cars. The town is inhabited by simple cultured people. And, generally speaking, "to whom it may concern" — do not jump at cutlets out here as vegetable or cheese cutlets are a far cry. The cutlets are usually made from beef.

The imperial monuments as well as the architecture with the English touch are reminiscent of this town’s glorious past. Its sophisticated and technologically advanced CMC and Hospital with its dedicated medical staff will remain a destination of solace for the ailing millions who come here in search of healing.

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