As a political leader, the late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa touched remote communities even outside Tamil Nadu.
Jayalalithaa’s birth is traced to the Mysuru region though little of her early life here is fully documented.
She was born in Melukote, now in Pandavapura taluk of Mandya district in 1948 and her father Jayaraman was a graduate but without a job. He passed away when Jayalalithaa was hardly 2 years old. Elders of Melukote do not have memories of her as a child.
Her mother Vedavalli shifted to Bengaluru with her children (Jayalalithaa and Jayakumar) after Jayaraman died, and Jayalalithaa completed her primary schooling there. She would visit her grandparents in Mysuru.
Later, Vedavalli moved to Chennai at the behest of her sister Ambujavalli who worked in films as ‘Vidya’. Vedavalli joined the industry with the screen name Sandhya.
There are claimants to kinship such as Mr. N.J. Vasudevan, a resident of Srirangarajupura in T. Narsipura taluk who identifies himself as the late Chief Minister’s ‘half-brother.’
He claimed to The Hindu that Jayalalithaa’s paternal grandfather was Dr. N. Rangachar who was the personal physician to Maharaja Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar and his son Jayaraman married Vedavalli.
Jayalalithaa’s grandparents had properties in Mysuru — in Lakshmipuram and Saraswathipuram, named Jayamahal and Lalithamahal — from which Jayalalithaa’s name was derived, according to Vasudevan. He says they have never spoken to each other.
“Though I saw her in 1983 in a studio in Madras, I was not able to talk to her. I made many attempts soon after she was sworn-in as Chief Minister but was unsuccessful,” Vasudevan claimed.
Jayalalithaa’s Mysuru links were severed soon after the family shifted to Bengaluru sometime in the early 1950s. After her entry into the film industry, she did visit the region as scenes of some of her Kannada and Tamil movies were shot at Brindavan Gardens and popular places along the Cauvery river. But she is not known to have visited Melukote, a priest at the Sri Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple said.
Donation to Guruvayur
Jayalalithaa had a close association with the Sreekrishna Temple, Guruvayur.
When she faced a political setback, astrologer Parappanangadi Unnikrishnan advised her to offer an elephant to the temple. Her visit on July 2, 2001, accompanied by her confidante Sasikala, took place when Tamil Nadu was tense, in the wake of the arrest of DMK leader M. Karunanidhi soon after she took over as Chief Minister. Although A.K. Antony, who was the Chief Minister, requested her to postpone the visit as it could cause tension, she decided to go ahead. She also handed over some decorations for the elephant and Rs. 1.05 lakh for its maintenance.
The Chief Minister, who spent almost an hour, also offered a golden crown to the deity apart from some quality sandalwood to the temple. She sanctioned a bus service from Chennai to Guruvayur.
Jayalalithaa also prayed at Mammiyur Narayamkulangara temple and presented a ‘golden trishul’ at Melekkavu and a ‘golden sword’ at Thazhathekavu. She again visited Guruvayur temple in 2004.
Aided a school
Residents of Naguvanahalli of Karnataka’s Srirangapatna taluk remember her gesture of performing at a charity fund raiser to help the local school. The performance at University of Mysore on March 19, 1967 raised Rs. 70,000.
At Bishop Cotton Girls School in Bengaluru, where Jayalalithaa was a student in the 1950s, classmates remember her as ‘the girl with a sparkle in her eyes’.
Long after she left school and rose to fame, Jayalalithaa continued to stay in touch. Fatima Jaffer, a teacher at Bishop Cotton who was also Jayalalithaa’s classmate, was responsible for distributing sweets every year on her birthday until she retired in 2007.
Lavanya Mitran, principal, attended the last two ceremonies at which Jayalalithaa took oath as Chief Minister. Shantha Asok Kumar of Bannerghatta Road, a retired teacher who was also her classmate in classes three and four, said she learnt that her ‘classmate Jaya’ was Jayalalithaa only last year.
Rice for KGF workers
Jayalalithaa’s passing left the Kolar Gold Fields region, which has a sizeable Tamil population, in gloom.
The Assembly constituency at Kolar returned an AIADMK candidate in 1983, 1989 and 1999. When the fortunes of the gold mines in KGF eroded, she stepped in to help.
The AIADMK candidate who won from Kolar, M. Bhaktavatsalam recalls that when he met Jayalalithaa and explained the plight of the workers following closure of Bharat Gold Mines Ltd. in 2001, “she arranged for distribution of 25 kg rice to all the 3,850 workers.”
Though it was a one-time assistance, it was testimony to the large-heartedness of the late leader, he said.
Jayalalithaa never visited KGF but was very popular and revered by a large section of people, the former legislator recalls. “It was her charisma, adding to that of MGR, that helped the party,” Mr. Bhaktavatsalam, who is now in the Janata Dal (Secular) said.
In New Delhi, Tamil Nadu Bhawan and Delhi Tamil Sangam had a steady steam of visitors all day paying floral tributes. P. Ramesh a retired school teacher said “I have come to meet other people from Tamil Nadu who understand what a loss her death is. Delhiites do not seem to understand how big an icon she is.”
(With R. Krishna Kumar, M.T. Shivakumar and Vishwa Kundapura)