The Madras Literary Society—The Story of India's Oldest Library

Though the British East India Company had set up shop in Madras (now Chennai) in the year 1639, it was only towards the beginning of the 19th century that they started spreading out of Fort St. George. As large parts of India started coming under its administration, the curiosity to learn more about India and its languages, customs, people, history, natural resources, started peaking. Literary societies, educational institutions and museums followed in due course.


On this walk we visit the Madras Literary Society (MLS). Founded in 1818 it is the oldest surviving subscription library in India today. With a history going back 200 years, MLS and its patrons/members have played a singularly important role in our understanding of South Indian history, art, architecture, epigraphy, geology, anthropology, natural resources, etc. We look at the journey of this famed institution, take a quick peek at some of the iconic books in its collection, and get a lowdown on how a motley bunch of volunteers are helping revive the Society to its former glory.

This guided tour is free.


Rajith Balasubramanian
Walk Leader
Rajith Balasubramanian is a heritage enthusiast and storyteller, and the Founder of the special interest travel firm The Traveling Gecko. He organises and leads heritage walks and talks in Chennai, especially during the annual Madras Day celebrations which is held in August every year. He is closely associated with the revival project currently underway at the Madras Literary Society, India's oldest surviving subscription library. There is an element of community interaction in all his walks. He will be doing the walk in association with Breakaway.