Adyar holds a significant place in the hearts of many people born and brought up here. These are people who have seen Adyar from the time it used to get pitch dark at seven pm-with little or nostreet lighting- to its present IT corridor avatar and from the founding of the Theosophical Society to the establishment of Tidel Park. It evokes varied emotions. Some respect Adyar as sons of the soil while others talk about it like proud parents who have seen their child grow over the years.
One of the many reputed institutions to develop in the serene surroundings of Adyar is the Indian Institute Technology, Madras. In July 1956, when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) for strategic discussions, India was offered German assistance for setting up a technical institute in India. Bringing the sustained efforts of the Indo-German cooperation to fruition, Prof. Humayun Kabir, Minister for Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs, broke ground on 31st July 1959 by laying a stone tablet, in an open field located between the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) and the AC College of Technology. IIT Madras became one of the four institutes for higher technical education in India recommended by a high level government committee. In time, Prof. B. Sengupta took charge as the first director and the first batch of 120 students stayed in the Saidapet hostel, a rented building opposite the Guindy Race tracks. Frequent interactions resulted in the second and third Indo-German accords which strengthened the academic programmes with special emphasis on research.
The 632 acres of land that was granted by the government of Madras State for establishing the institute was made up of approximately 300 acres of lush wooded area belonging to the Guindy National Forest, about 100 acres of paddy fields and irrigation tanks, and the rest a part of the Taramani village. Dante Alighieri rightly said that beauty awakens the soul to act. So, the daunting task of converting the land into a habitable area without causing any damage to the rich flora and fauna was initiated in October 1959. The first sod was turned for the first departmental building, the Building Sciences Block (BSB). Simultaneously, work started for the construction of the central workshops and the Krishna and Kaveri hostels. IIT moved to its present premises in 1961. The offices of the director and the administration moved into BSB from their borrowed premises in CLRI and classes for the first two batches started here.
Gradually, the administrative block and the Open Air Theatre (OAT) were inaugurated. The period from 1967 to 1973 was one of consolidation, expansion and establishment of new centres in the IIT. A modest library, which started in the premises of AC College of Technology, developed into a full-fledged modern facility with its own building in the present property by July 1967. The computer centre was inaugurated in 1973 with generous aid from the USA and Germany. By this time many campus facilities had been developed including a post office, State Bank of India branch, the hospital building, the Electrical Sciences Block (ESB), the Mechanical Sciences Block (MSB) and the Humanities and Sciences Block (HSB). A staff hostel, eight hostel blocks and a guest house were also instituted. The stadium was completed in 1964 on the eve of the third inter IIT sports and cultural meet and was inaugurated by the Nawab of Pataudi, the Indian cricket captain. The metrology and steam laboratory, thermodynamics and combustion laboratory were established by 1967. A transport facility for the campus residents was introduced with a unique feature of ‘moving’ buses named after mountains- Kailash, Nandadevi, Kanchanjunga and Gowrishankar. Earlier, the practice of naming the ‘static’ hostels after the names of ‘dynamic’ rivers had been initiated.
Convocations have assumed special significance in the history of IIT Madras. The Chief Guests at the convocations have been outstanding national leaders, government dignitaries, scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs and spiritual leaders. The first convocation address was delivered by Dr. S Radhakrishnan, the then President of India, on 11th July, 1964 in OAT.
Several student activities have been initiated, including shaastra, saarang and departmental festivals. The cultural programmes started off as inter-hostel and inter-collegiate competitions in the 1960s, transformed into a national cultural fest called Mardi Gras and then blossomed into a very popular cultural extravaganza, Saarang, in 1996. Bharat Utsav, a festival to celebrate India and Indian values was organised annually between 1994 and 2001. The technical festival of the institute, Shaastra, was inaugurated in the year 2000. Publication of student magazines like Focus, Spectator and Campastimes in the 1960s and the extra-mural lectures later were important events in the literary calendar of the students. Many outstanding personalities from various walks of life have visited the institute over the years.
According to Prof. Ajit Kolar, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras, ‘a glimpse at the early history and campus development in the first decade of the institute reveals that the basic infrastructure of the campus was in place and the academic programmes had taken root in this phase. Looking back, one is amazed at the meticulous planning and the hectic activity of that period that made it possible to accomplish so much in such a short time.’
- Snehil Sinha