Mrithyunjay Singh and Vidya Singh are cousins, being scions of the erstwhile princely state of Vizianagaram. I had once told the former that the Lady Sivaswami Iyer Girls Higher Secondary School in Mylapore was established, thanks to the munificence of his family, and that foundation stones and portraits in the school still establish the connect. And so, off the three of us went to the historic institution at Sundareswarar Street, after the authorities gave us permission to visit.
The school started with three primary classes as the Vizianagaram Maharajah’s Hindu Girls School in 1869, the principal benefactor being the then ruler of the state — Sir Vijayarama III Gajapathi. In 1904, it changed its name to the Mylapore Girls School, when noted lawyer and philanthropist V. Krishnaswami Aiyar helped it financially. Four years later, the first major block among the buildings was constructed, the money being donated by Sir Vijayarama’s daughter Appalakondayamba Bai Saheba, who married the Maharajah of Rewa.
Her brother Sir Ananda Gajapathi entrusted to this lady the task of finding a suitable successor to the estate in 1897, just before his death. This she did, helping the widowed queen adopt a boy from distant Markandeswar near Varanasi and he became Sir Vijayarama IV Gajapathi. He had two sons, the first succeeding him as Sir Alaka Narayana Gajapathi and whose unhappy married life is pretty much a well-known story in Madras. It was he who ended his life by throwing himself off a tower at Admiralty House in Mandaveli in 1937, leading to a lasting reputation that building has of being haunted. More famous than Sir Alaka Narayana was his brother, Lt Col Sir Vijay Ananda Gajapathi, known in cricketing circles as Vizzy of Vizianagaram and captaining the Indian team in 1936. He was also President of the BCCI for a while in the 1950s.
The school changed its name in 1910 to the Vizianagaram Maharani’s Girls School and remained that way till 1918, when it became the National Girls High School. In 1930, Sir P.S. Sivaswami Iyer, noted lawyer, Advocate General, Government of Madras, and Member, Governor’s Executive Council, became closely involved with the institution, donating copiously to it, and on his death in 1946, bequeathing the bulk of his estate to it as well. In gratitude, the institution became the Lady Sivaswami Iyer Girls High School, thereby commemorating his wife who had predeceased him. The school also benefited greatly by the guidance of Sir S. Varadachariar, judge of the Federal Court of India.
Connections with the Vizianagaram family endured for long. The foundation stone of the 1908 block, commemorating Appalakondayamba’s gift, is a carefully preserved relic even now. Portraits of her and her father grace the prayer hall, where a song in the latter’s praise is sung by the students on special occasions. In 1968, K. Savitri Ammal, daughter of V. Krishnaswami Aiyar, put up Jayastambham, a handsome pillar commemorating the school’s centenary. Vijayaram Gajapathi, the great great grandson of the founder, unveiled it.