Madras Miscellany History & Culture

Love’s helping hands

Some time ago (Miscellany, July 30), I had wondered whether we could find more information about those who helped Col. H.D. Love with his Vestiges of Old Madras and, sure enough, my own helping hands have turned up something or the other about all of them.

The best known of them was Raj Bahadur V. Venkayya of Arani, stated to be a descendant of the Advaita scholar Appayya Dikshitar. Though a Physics Graduate of the University of Madras, Venkayya’s interest was the South Indian languages and their scripts, which he duly mastered. This led to his being recruited by the renowned D. Hultzsch into the Government of Madras’s Department of Epigraphy. Venkayya succeeded Hultzsch as chief epigraphist in 1908 and served in the post till 1912.

Teaming up with Hultzsch and H. Krishna Sastri, he studied the inscriptions found in the Big Temple as well as those in temples in the Pandya, Pallava and Vijayanagara country, their findings being published in 1891. Apart from his work on inscriptions and the records of ancient South Indian dynasties, Venkayya became particularly well-known for his theories about the origins of the Pallavas. He was convinced they were Parthians, from that land in the northwest of modern-day Iran on the shores of the southern Caspian Sea. His book on this was published in 1907 by G. A. Natesan under the title The Pallavas.

Well-known in another field was Dewan Bahadur Kadambi Rangachari, who did much of the field work and then helped put together Edgar Thurston’s famed seven-volume Castes and Tribes of South India (1906). Rangachari was an ethnologist who worked in the Government Museum, Madras, as an Assistant Superintendent.

Information about the others I mentioned is briefer. Dewan Bahadur V. Krishnamachari is believed to have, in 1901, helped publish Murugudasar’s Pulavar Puranam that was compared with Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Poets. Less certain is the suggestion that he was one of the first to develop a shorthand system in Tamil. Rao Sahib V.A. Parthasarathi Mudaliyar was a member of the Board of Trustees of Pachaiyappa’s College from 1906 to 1913. And S. Subrahmanya Aiyar was an assistant instructor in the College of Engineering, which Love headed for many years. He was responsible for many of the maps and plans included in Vestiges.

They contributed to Love’s monumental three-volume work as follows: Venkayya converted Indian dates into Gregorian ones, Krishnamachari provided information on temples, Parthasarathi Mudaliyar traced temple documents and Rangachari contributed the spelling of Indian proper names, made local inquiries and verified numerous references in the Fort St. George records. All of this, contributed to creating a history classic.

I don’t think any other city in India has such a solidly documented early history.

Thinking for themselves

As Madras Christian College continues its 175th year celebrations, its various student societies and associations have been more active than ever. Many of them are over 100 years old and owe their genesis to the Rev. William Miller who breathed new life into the college after his arrival in Madras in 1862. These are amongst the oldest college student societies in South India. Miller was convinced that such extracurricular fora would play a major role in developing character and leadership qualities in students by giving them the opportunity to think and act for themselves. “If you can get a young man to think for himself, you have put him on the high road to character and independence,” he would often say.

The first of the societies whose formation he encouraged was The Madras Students’ Association which saw the light of day in September 1877. Two years later it became The Madras Debating Society and today is The Debating Society. Among its best speakers were S. Radhakrishnan, S. Satyamurti, R.K. Shanmukham Chetty and K.P.S. Menon (Senior). Also founded the same year was what is now called The Literary Society.

Ten years later, and now celebrating their 125th year of existence, are the Tamil Peravai, which was founded as the Dravida Bhashabhivirddhi Sangham, the Andhra Bhashabhiranjani Sanghamu (focussed on the Telugu language), and The Philosophical Society whose motto was “All our knowledge is ourselves to know.”

Radhakrishnan, later to be President of India, was an active member of four of these five societies, the Tamil society alone not enjoying his participation. The Andhra Sanghamu, which recently celebrated this anniversary, recalled that it had once been graced by the membership of one who went on to become a President of India (though I wonder whether V.V. Giri wasn’t also a member of the Sanghamu), two who went on to serve as Prime Ministers of Madras, B. Muniswamy Naidu, and K. Venkata Reddi Naidu, and one who went on to be elected president of the Congress Party, B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya. Also remembered as being prominent in the Sanghamu was K. Nageswara Rao, the Andhra Congress and separatist leader, the founder of Andhra Patrika, and manufacturer of ‘Amrutanjan.’

The Malayala Samajam was founded in 1900 but I’m not sure whether about a Kannada society.

When the postman knocked…

Several readers responding to my item on Talboys Wheeler (Miscellany, November 19), remind me that he had also written a Handbook to Cotton Cultivation in Madras Presidency and that it was published by Higginbotham’s in 1862. But reader Sriram V. takes the story further. Sriram, who penned a pictorial history of the Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry earlier this year, writes that the Wheeler book was written at the instance of what was then the Madras Chamber of Commerce. With the American Civil War raging at the time, the Chamber wanted Madras to grab the opportunity and offer supplies to a cotton-short world, an opportunity that Bombay had already exploited. Sriram goes on to add that there’s much more to this story of cotton in South India, with Robert Wight, the famed Madras naturalist, playing “a not so honourable role in the selection of locations for cultivation of cotton and in the choice of machinery for ginning.” This brought him into conflict with the Chamber which felt that Wight was “fudging records to indicate that areas under his control were better suited for growing. Wight also ran into conflict with an American named Fisher whom the East India Company had sent out to advise on growing American varieties of cotton in South India. In the end, both failed and Tinnevelly cotton became a major export for a few years. But in the end, Wight was probably not too far off the mark; Andhra – Wight’s ‘beat’- does better with cotton today than Tamil Nadu. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to hear more from Sriram on Wight’s.

My having no information on the Jeremiah side of Gwendoline Jeevan Raj’s family (Miscellany, December 10), had one of my helping hands, Bharath Yeshwanth, digging hard for details and coming up with some answers. A John Jeremiah of Purasawalkam, he has found, was a notary public and proctor of the Supreme Court of Madras in the early 19th Century. Jeremiah married Jane Mary Conran in St. Mary’s in the Fort in 1817. He was one of the 16 directors of the Madras Male Orphans’ Asylum. According to the records, he passed away in his house in Purasawalkam in July 1831, aged 43. Presumably, Jeremiah Road led to his house. Now where do we go from here in search of other Jeremiahs?

Another of my helping hands, Ramineni Bhaskarendra, has traced an interview which Raghupati Venkaiah’s son Prakash (Miscellany, November 19) gave film journalist and film historian S.R. Meenakshi Soundaram in which he stated that the Gaiety theatre was opened just a fortnight after the German raider Emden had shelled Madras. The Crown and the Globe (later, Roxy) were built the following year. With the Emden raid on Madras dated to September 22, 1914, that would date the opening of the Gaiety to around October 7,1914 and the other two to 1915. In the same interview, Prakash stated that he had used a shot of the Madurai Meenakshi temple taken from a low angle; many a viewer thought the tower was falling. Be that as it may, that shot was taken for Meenakshi Kalyanam so what had been filmed for it was not totally abandoned, as many believed, but some of it was used elsewhere.

Apart from Venkaiah and Prakash, the Star of the East Studio’s Board of Directors included the Maharajah of Pithapuram, Sir R.K. Shanmukham Chetty and Govindoss Chaturboojhadoss. Their first film was Bhishma Pratigna starring Peggy Castello, Bunny Osten, A. Narayanan (later to become a renowned film-maker in his own right) and Prakash as Bhishma. The preview was held at the Gaiety with Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar, presiding.

Prakash was also probably the first documentary film-maker in the South; he did health and hygiene films for the Government of Madras as well as a Roman Catholic documentary, Catechist of Kil-Arni, for the Paris Foreign Mission Society, Pondicherry.

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 2:28:04 AM |

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