Referring to my mention of forgotten North Madras in Miscellany, June 23, Dr. A. Raman e-mailed me from Australia wondering whether I knew that Joseph-Francois Dupleix’s famous dubash, Anandaranga Pillai, was from Perambur? And the answer was, “No, I did not; I had always thought he was from Ayyanavaram.”
The search following that hint led me to a review of a 1752 Sanskrit work called the Anandarangam Vijaya Champu, and there I discovered that it was an ancestor of Anandaranga Pillai called Garuvendhan who had lived in Ayyanavaram. It would appear that Garuvendhan was affluent enough to support the arts liberally and his generosity did not go unnoticed. The King of Golconda, in recognition of the gifts Garuvendhan had made to men of letters from Golconda, granted him the village of Vetrapura. And since vetra means pirambu (cane), Vetrapura is in fact Pirambur or, as we now call it, Perambur. And so, Garuvendhan resettled in Perambur and became its laird.
A great great grandson of Garuvendhan’s eldest son Colaya was called Thiruvenkatam. He was an accomplished linguist in European and Indian languages, a man with a literary flair, and well-versed in politics, religion and business. Like his ancestor, Thiruvenkatam was renowned for his contributions to charities, two of which were a choultry in Perambur and the founding of a village for the Brahmin poor (an agraharam) next to it.
It was to Thiruvenkatam that there was born, after an appeal to the Lord of the Seven Hills, a son on March 30, 1706. The belatedly born son was greeted with great joy and named Anandarangam. When his wife died after the birth of his second son, Thiruvenkatam moved from Perambur to what was then called ‘Black Town’ (George Town, now). Here, he became a merchant and prospered as a dubash, but an invitation from his brother-in-law, Nainiya Pillai, who was the Chief Indian Merchant in Pondicherry, took him to the French settlement.
There, he prospered till Nainiya Pillai got into trouble and landed in prison. Thiruvenkatam fled to, as the Champu has it, Chennapattana. Nainiya Pillai died in prison, but was later exonerated. Whereupon, his son Guru Pillai returned to succeed him.
When Guru Pillai died, Thiruvenkatam succeeded him, and after his death, Governor Lenoir appointed Anandaranga Pillai to succeed his father. Anandaranga Pillai was a power in Pondicherry during the Governorships of Dumas and Dupleix (whose Chief Dubash he became), but after Dupleix’s fall from grace, Anandaranga Pillai’s star waned and he died in 1761.
But what he left behind were those diaries of his, perhaps the most splendid account of the European trader-turning-imperialist in India as seen through Indian eyes. Given that record, perhaps Perambur should be remembering Thiruvenkatam Pillai and his son Anandaranga Pillai in some sort of fashion in the township.