A great philanthropist
Pachaiyappa Mudaliar was "the greatest contributor to charity the Madras Presidency has ever known". Born in a poor family in the Thanjavur district, he became a dubash in his teens and had made a fortune by the time he was 21. One of the firs t Indians to leave a will, Pachaiyappa's bequests were the subject of 47 years of litigation before the courts appointed a Board of Trustees and formulated a scheme for the smooth running of the Trust.
PAST THE YWCA - with the printer's devil at work last week, it sadly became YMCA in a couple of places - are three commemorative symbols of note. The first is of Dr. G. Srinivasa Murti, principal of the Government School of Indian Medicine at its founding in 1925 in what was then known as Hyde Park Gardens and which, from 1960, has been the campus of the Kilpauk Medical College whose hospital is across the road. The School of Indian Medicine became a college in 1957, was wound up in 1960 and then re-opened in Anna Nagar in the late 1970s.
Capt. Srinivasa Murti, an ardent Theosophist and an allopathic doctor and professor "who drank deep of the cup of the Ayurvedic system", was Secretary of the Usman Committee on Indian Medicine established in 1921 and which advocated the setting up of a school that later Governments allowed to lapse for over a decade. The institution today has a wholetime department to translate into Tamil all Ayurvedic material available in Sanskrit. It has also done some significant publishing. Captain Srinivasa Murti, moving on, founded the Indian Medical Practitioner's Cooperative Society, now on Lattice Bridge (Kalki Krishnamurthi) Road, which formulates a wide range of Ayurvedic medicines and tonics.
Further down Poonamallee High Road, just before St. George's School (Madrascapes, April 23), is the only commemoration of Madras's 350th Anniversary in 1989 - and the gleaming white building in classical style proclaims exactly that. A warm but whimsical gesture of builder Jos Fernandes, who went on to develop the resort of Buena Vista in Neelangarai replete with half a dozen of the largest mansions in the city, set midst lush greenery, `Madras 350 years' remains a striking curiosity as you turn off for Avadi, leaving the passer-by wondering what such a small but ornate building is meant to be used for.
And across from it, in the tree-shaded campus of one of the oldest colleges in South India, is the statue of its benefactor, blessing a child entering the world of education. Truly was Pachaiyappa Mudaliar "the greatest contributor to charity, the Madras Presidency has ever known" till more recent times when the whole value of money changed with its dollar-orientation. Pachaiyappa's College moved into this campus from George Town in the 1940s but its story goes back a 100 years before that. The central figure of that story certainly deserves a biography of some length, but it is strange that no one has attempted one.
Pachaiyappa Mudaliar was born in 1754 in a poor family that struggled to make ends meet in Periyapalayam in the Thanjavur District. Invited to Madras by Dubash `Powney' Narayana Pillai, Pachaiyappa Mudaliar with his benefactor's help became a dubash in his teens and had made a fortune by the time he was 21. The Powneys were a well-known 17th and 18th Century family in Madras and it was John Powney who had instructed in his will that a vault be raised over his tomb in the old St. Mary's burial ground (where the Law College later came up). The Hymen's Obelisk, associated with Elihu Yale, and the Powney Vault are the only burial memorials still left in this campus. John Powney's sons Henry and Thomas became Mayors of Madras and Narayana Pillai was probably their dubash as he had been their father's. Whose dubash (= `interpreter', but in fact `middleman') Pachaiyappa Mudaliar was, I have not been able to trace with any certainty, but I'd be glad to hear from anyone who can provide that information as well as how he made his fortune.
Pachaiyappa, a pious man, lived a simple life in a house he built in 1790, No.26, Pagoda Street, later to be known as Harris Road, on the banks of the Cooum. Of him and his affluent neighbours it has been said they would bathe in the Cooum morning and evening before worshipping at the Komaleswaranpet Temple. Pachaiyappa Mudaliar divided his time between Madras and the Court of Thanjavur - whose dubash he might well have been - staying a few days at the Chidambaram Temple whenever he made this journey. Partly paralysed during his last years, he nevertheless continued travelling to Thanjavur and it was on one of those trips in 1794 that he fell ill in Kumbakonam and asked to be taken to Tiruvaiyyaru where he died and was cremated. He was only 40.
One of the first Indians to leave a will, Pachaiyappa's bequests were the subject of 47 years of litigation. The courts finally ordered Rs.4.5 lakh of what he had left be spent on Hindu religious institutions and the remaining Rs. 7 lakh on providing an English education to Hindu youth. The bequests remained contested even after that and it was 1909 before the courts appointed a Board of Trustees and formulated a scheme for the smooth running of the Trust. As the 1990s dawned, it was reported that the Trust was worth over Rs.150 million, one of the biggest in this part of the world. Apart from administering religious charities from Kanniyakumari to Varanasi, it ran six colleges, a polytechnic and 16 schools in Tamil Nadu, helped several medical facilities and owned several properties in the State.
The flagship of its educational institutions is Pachaiyappa's College whose nucleus was Pachaiyappa's Central Institution that opened its doors in Popham's Broadway on January 1, 1842. Its first headmaster was G.T. McNamee and this, the first non-missionary, non-British-financed Hindu education institution in South India, prepared its students for the Presidency High School in Egmore. Work on its own buildings began in 1856 in China Bazaar (now NSC Bose Road) and when the school moved in there in 1850, it became a High School. Fronting these buildings in which the Govinda Naicker School, founded in 1865, also functions, there was inaugurated, also in 1850, Pachaiyappa's Hall, modelled on the Athenian Temple of Theseus with its tall Doric columns. Located opposite Telephone House today, it is rather lost midst the welter of buildings that have since been raised alongside it.
The High School began sending up students for the University of Madras's entrance exams in 1858. Thereafter, it gradually began to develop the additional facilities necessary for a college, which it became in 1889, the third oldest arts and science college in the city. Until 1947, it admitted only Hindu students and employed Hindus. A growing college and the changed thinking post-Independence necessitated the move to Poonamallee High Road and a more secular staff and student body. Pachaiyappa Mudaliar's blessings are bestowed on all of them everyday, symbolised by that statue few pay attention to on the campus.
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