Archive Review: Tamil Nadu State Archives
SUNDAR VADLAMUDI, Department of History, University of Texas at Austin
Published on January 30, 2013
I conducted research in the Tamil Nadu State Archives (TNSA) between October 2011 and November 2012. My research focuses on the maritime trade and society of Tamil-speaking Muslims during the late-18th and early-19th centuries.
The TNSA contains an immense amount of documents and it is difficult to recommend a single source that will list the full extent of the holdings. A good place to begin is the following website, http://www.tn.gov.in/citizen/archives.htm which lists the holdings under Annexure – 2 (towards the bottom third of the webpage). The same information is available in a slim yellow-cover spiral-bound publication called “Archives Week Celebrations”. A copy is available in the TNSA Research Hall and it is usually referred to as the “yellow cover index.” Also in the Research Hall is a huge volume, commonly referred to as General Index or Vol 43. It is a treasure trove of information on pre-1857 records holdings of the archives. It is also useful to check your university library for any reference books on the holdings of the TNSA. It would also be wise to check your library for a copy of any books on the Tamil Nadu State Archives or the Madras Records Office (earlier name). A useful reference is A Manual of Archival Systems and the World of Archives by Dr. M. Sundara Raj (1999). Also consult H.H. Dodwell’s works on the records of the Madras Presidency. Dodwell was the curator of the Madras Records Office, former name of the Tamil Nadu State Archives.
Location and Directions
The TNSA is located at, No.28-29, Gandhi-Irwin Road, Egmore, Chennai – 600008. Ph: +91 44 28190355
The building is located diagonally opposite to the Egmore Railway Station. One can reach Egmore railway station by bus or by using the Chennai Suburban train system, locally known as the “electric train.” The TNSA is a red brick building surrounded by a red wall. As you come out of the Egmore railway station, you can easily see the red wall towards your right.
Monday – Friday: 8 AM – 8 PM Saturday: 10 AM – 5 PM * Please note that records can only be requested from Monday through Friday.
The documents can be accessed in the Research Hall (RH) and in the library, which is located in another building. To get access, scholars must present documents indicating their institutional affiliations. This usually consists of a letter from the student's adviser or from the department. Foreign nationals, in addition, are expected to present a letter from their embassy. Please check the link provided below for the complete list of documents needed for foreign nationals. Researchers must fill out a registration form and provide a passport-sized photo. They must pay Rs 200 admission fee (in cash) and Rs 500, which must be paid at a bank. Usually researchers are asked to pay Rs 500 at the State Bank of India branch located on Pantheon road (near Asoka Hotel). This amount will be refunded upon submission of a copy of their work for which the research is conducted. For details visit http://www.tnarchives.tn.gov.in/rules.html
There are two locations where researchers usually work: the Research Hall and the Library. All primary source documents are requested and read in the Research Hall. The Library contains books and theses. Besides these, the Library also contains copies of 19th and 20th century journals, official reports, district manuals, administration manuals, and several other documents. Unfortunately, the catalog for the library's collection is poorly organized. So, one must spend some time going through the index cards to even get an idea of the library's holdings. Sometimes the items listed in the index cards will not be available as they might be lost or misplaced.
Laptops are allowed in the Research Hall and the Library. Both rooms have AC and a sufficient number of power outlets. Photography is prohibited. For a list of rules visit, http://www.tnarchives.tn.gov.in/rules.html
In the Research Hall, documents can be requested by filling out a requisition form. One can ask the staff or fellow researchers if they have questions about filling out the form. The TNSA Research Hall and the Library are understaffed. Therefore, researchers have to wait longer to obtain the requested documents. But the staff in the Research Hall is helpful and does its best under the circumstances. One can request 10 items in a requisition form. For post-1900 periods, the records are usually in the form of slim folders called “Government Orders (GOs).” But in cases of pre-1857 records, the documents are in the form of bulky volumes. So, one can only request a few items at a time. Due to the brittle nature of the documents, some of the requested records might be unavailable for researchers. In some cases, the documents are lost or under preservation, and therefore not available. For the pre-1857 period, documents requested in the morning are usually made available by 12:00 PM or by early afternoon. However, for the post-1900 period, the requested documents are given after 3:00 PM on the same day of requisition or the next day. Although the archives website indicates that requisition slips are collection thrice daily, this is not the case. For the pre-1857 period, one can submit one requisition slip per day and two on some rare occasions. For the post-1900 period, you can bunch several requisition slips together. But you need to monitor whether they have been retrieved and sent to the documents stacks for retrieval.
For photocopying documents, one must fill out a photocopy request form with details of the document to be photocopied. The copy rates vary based on the paper size. In addition, the copy rate is also less for Indian citizens. The rate can be paid in cash. The photocopied documents are usually delivered within a week or ten days. However, it is advisable to keep reminding the staff about it. If one is pressed for time, particularly in the case of scholars from outside India, please inform the staff about your travel plans so that the documents can be delivered on time.
Since the archives building is located close to Egmore railway station, there are several options for dining, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. The set vegetarian lunch option at Hotel Sangeetha (opp. Egmore station) costs about Rs 60 (non-AC). The same option in the upper level AC room costs around Rs 100. The Mathsya restaurant (about 80 meters from archives-near Mayor Radhakrishnan Hockey stadium) offers a fine Udipi fare at a slightly higher price. Besides these, other options include Adyar Ananda Bhavan (in Egmorestattion compound) and Saravana Bhavan (on Kenneth Lane - at a slightly longer but certainly walkable distance from the archives). For non-vegetarian menu, one can go to Buhari (opp. Egmore station) or Anjappar (within Egmore station compound). In addition, there is also a Subway (opp. Police Commissioner’s building – a 10 min walk from archives).
Several accommodation options are available for researchers. Since the TNSA is located near Egmore, researchers can avail the several hotels for short-term stay. If you plan to stay for longer periods, you might consider renting an apartment, staying as a paying guest, renting a room in a mansion (Chennai term for a lodging house). Useful information can be found here and here.
To reduce travel time, it will be better to look for accommodation in the following areas: Egmore, Chetpet, Triplicane, Nungambakkam, Choolaimedu, Purasawakkam, T. Nagar, Royapettah. If these localities are expensive, one can also find accommodation within close distance of a Chennai Suburban train station. You can hop on a train and reach Egmore and walk across to the archives.
Tamil Nadu State Archives Official Websites
Two other webpages with information on the archives: