Hidden histories Metroplus

Pioneers in textile

Cut out of the same cloth Diwan Bahadur P.Somasundaram Chettiar & P.S.Sathappa Chettiar  

Diwan Bahadur P.Somasundaram Chettiar (1861 - 1929) and his son P.S.Sathappa Chettiar did much to put Coimbatore on the textile map of the world. Somasundaram was born to M.Perichiappa Chettiar and Meiyyammai in Devakottai. He was a precocious child who had a thirst for learning both English and Tamil. Eventually, his business acumen attracted the attention of the Zamindar of Devakottai, Arunachalam Chettiar. The Zamindar wanted Somasundaram to bail out the loss making Malabar Spinning and Weaving Company at Kallai, near Kozhikode. Somasundaram accepted the managing agency on behalf of the Zamindar in 1899 and relocated to Kallai. Somasundaram brought the mill was back on its feet. Somasundaram foresaw the efficacy and advantage of putting up a mill in Coimbatore and thanks to the endorsement of the Zamindar of Devakottai, Kaleeswarar Mills was incorporated in 1907 and began production by 1910.

Both Kallai Mills and Kaleeswarar Mills did very well and the Rs.100 paid up share of the Kallai Mills went up to Rs.600 from Rs.20! The Government of the day conferred the title, ‘Diwan Bahadur’ on Somasundaram Chettar.

Somasundaram was also a member of the Madras Legislative Council and did much for the people at the time of the Moplah rebellion in 1922. He sponsored and managed the Electric Supply Corporation at Devakottai. The large granite mandapam at Perur in Coimbatore was endowed by him. He gave liberal donations to the Ramar Temple at Coimbatore. Among his other benefactions included a hospital for women and children at Kallai, a maternity hospital and a High School at Devakottai. Somasundaram Chettiar served gruel to the poor every Saturday and cut down the weight of his daily mail dispatches and used the money thus saved for educating the poor in Coimbatore.

Somasundaram adopted P.S.Sathappa Chettair (1897 - 1950) in 1908. Sathappa was sent on a business tour to Europe and the textile brand Kamadhenu was an outcome of the same. He took over from Somasundaram and did exceedingly well. He also looked after his own factories at Pollachi, Tiruppur, Ariyalur, Avinashi and Kovilpatti. The Mall Mill was acquired by him and he christened it ‘Somasundaram Mills’ after his beloved father. He added much to the spinning and loom capacity of all his mills within a short period of time. He also erected a well-equipped cinema studio at Chennai.

The Kaleeswarar Mills had an impressive record of profits. The capital of Rs.6.5 Lakhs was deployed efficiently and the joint management of Diwan Bahadur P.Somasundaram Chettiar and his son P.S.Sathappa Chettiar gave the mill a profit of over Rs.75 Lakh during its first 25 years and a sum of Rs.35 Lakh was distributed as dividend by the year 1938. Sathappa Chettiar was elected as the Founder President of the Southern India Textile Manufacturers Association (SIMA) and was also the President of the Coimbatore District Devasthanam Committee. He was an Honorary Magistrate and a member of the local boards. He did much for the Pettai Sangameswarar temple in Coimbatore and the drinking water facility at the Chennimalai Andavar temple. He gave donations to the P.S.G. Institute at Peelamedu, the Nagarathar High School at Devakottai and also sponsored the erection of the main building at the T.B.Sanitorium at Perundurai besides doing much for the Tamil Isai Sangam at Chennai.

When Sathappa passed away, his wife Seethai Achi adopted a son - P.S.S.Somasundaram Chettiar in1951. P.S.S.Somasundaram Chettiar requested the Rajah of Chettinad to unveil the portraits of his grand father and father - Diwan Bahadur P.Somasundaram Chettiar and P.S.Sathappa Chettiar, whose work inspired other textile entrepreneurs of Coimbatore and elsewhere to follow their footsteps. Rajah Sir M.A.Muthiah Chettair, the Rajah of Chettinad did so in a glittering ceremony on the 25th of August 1954 at Somasundaram Mills in Coimbatore.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 6:26:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/pioneers-in-textile/article7382889.ece

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