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Vol. XXXIV No. 1, April 16-30, 2024

Heritage Watch: A Brief timeline of Gokhale Hall

It was in 1914 that Annie Besant founded the Young Men’s Indian Association (YMIA). She planned a home for the association which would have hostel facilities for outstation students, a library, a gymnasium, canteen facilities and above all a central hall which would function as an oratory. Constructed by her close associate A Ranganatha Mudaliar, the building was completed in 1915 and its central domed hall was named after Gopalakrishna Gokhale. The building itself came to be referred that way.

Almost from inception it was the oratory that became the best-known feature. Carnatic concerts were held here as were the most fiery political meetings. The building played a key role in the history of the freedom movement. Jawaharlal Nehru has written in its praise.

By the 1970s however, the best days were over. Cultural events had shifted elsewhere. The canteen, sub-contracted, flourished. But the building flowered as a centre for sports for table tennis and body building. In the early 2000s, a misguided move to demolish the structure was stopped by legal intervention. The building will soon get a fresh lease of life. With improved connectivity to George Town by way of Metro services, it may yet again become a venue for public events.

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