The association of the Gowda Saraswata community celebrates its centenary
Their roots lie on the West coast — the family deities of many of them continue to rest on the beautiful hillocks overlooking the sea in Goa — but they are today all over the country, having fled Goa in the 16th Century when the Inquisition began under Portuguese rule.
When Madras became a big city, members of the community began coming here for higher education and jobs. Initially they were very small in number, and they met only during social functions; but by the early 20th Century, when about a hundred families of the community were already living in Madras, they decided to unite under the umbrella of a social organisation.
Thus was born the Samyukta Gowda Saraswata Sabha — an organisation of the Gowda Saraswats (a prominent sect of Brahmins from the Konkan coast who escaped the Inquisition centuries ago) living in the city. This year marks the centenary of the Sabha, popularly known as SGS Sabha, and the year-long celebrations begin on Saturday on the Sabha premises on Habibullah Road in T. Nagar.
“The Sabha was born during a social gathering at the home of Dewan Bahadur K. Narayana Rao, and the inaugural meeting was also held there,” says K.R. Baliga, 81, one of its senior members. “After the death of the Dewan Bahadur in 1916, the Sabha nearly folded up.” But in 1920, some of the senior members revived the institution and decided to extend monetary help to deserving students from the community — starting with a solitary law student who belonged to a poor family. Back then, students receiving such help were expected to return the money with four per cent interest once they landed jobs. But soon after, the Sabha scrapped this practice and started giving scholarships.
Also, in 1922, the Sabha purchased 20 grounds for a mere Rs. 1,250 in Mambalam Saidapet Taluk of Chengelpet District (today the location is known as Habibullah Road, in the heart of Chennai) to build a permanent home for itself. But it was not until 1960 before the foundation stone for the permanent building was laid — by none other than the educationist Dr. T.M.A. Pai.
Today, the number of the Sabha members has multiplied — nearly 1,600 families excluding the 1,000 living in mofussil areas — and so has the number of beneficiaries of scholarships. The sum earmarked for scholarships has also gone up over the years: the Sabha now spends nearly Rs. 22 lakh annually to fund the education of needy students. “As a community, we give top priority to education,” says Baliga, even as he names some of the prominent Saraswats who benefited in the past from the generosity of the Sabha: B.S.D. Baliga (a former chairman of the Railway Board), M.L. Prabhu (a well-known ENT surgeon) and Prof. B.R. Shenoy (the noted economist).
During the centenary celebrations — to be inaugurated by ICICI Bank and Infosys chairman K.V. Kamath on Saturday — three prominent members of the community who've guided the Sabha in the recent past will be honoured: former DGP K.R. Shenai, industrialist U.N. Baliga and former Tata Steel executive C.J. Nayak.