A Radiant Profile of "Dharma-Rakshaka" Sri Subbier Subramania Iyer, the Grand Old Man Of South India

A Radiant Profile of "Dharma-Rakshaka" Sri Subbier Subramania Iyer, the Grand Old Man Of South India

The first episode of DVG's brilliant autobiographical sketch of Sri S. Subramania Iyer, the father of the Home Rule Movement, eminent lawyer and a multifaceted luminary of the Indian freedom struggle.


THE LIST OF MY GROWING DEBTS to Shatavadhani Dr. Ganesh has newly expanded after he sent me a delightful video of a elevating lecture by Sriram V titled Some Lawyers of Madras and their Cultural Influence. If our alleged education system had any modicum of fundamental sense, such lectures would have been printed out and made prescribed reading for high school students.

Among the legal and judicial luminaries that Mr. Sriram mentions in the lecture, the name of Subbier Subramania Iyer (popularly, Sir S. Subramania Iyer) caught my attention for a rather fond evocation: a profile that DVG has written about this stalwart. It is perhaps the best-ever profile of Subramania Iyer written in English. It is actually a fragrant garland of offering that DVG has placed at the feet of Sri Subramania Iyer.

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A Radiant Profile of "Dharma-Rakshaka" Sri Subbier Subramania Iyer, the Grand Old Man Of South India

About half a century separated Sri Subramania Iyer and D.V. Gundappa. In one sense, DVG was both the beneficiary and indirect disciple of Sri Subramania Iyer. Thus, when he wrote Sri Iyer’s biographical sketch on June 7, 1918, DVG was in a way offering a heartfelt Guru-Dakshina of sorts, spread over thirty-four ennobling pages. Sri Subramania Iyer had ripened into seventy-six years, living almost like a Sanyasi.

DVG wrote in his manifold capacity as a man of public eminence, a magazine editor, a freedom fighter, a statesman, a legislator, and a junior contemporary of Sri Iyer. These combined roles embodied in DVG gave him the kind of authority that later generations of biographers cannot naturally possess.

At this distance in time and thanks once again to an “education system” that has bred ingratitude for our past savants—even of recent vintage—Sri Subramania Iyer’s name does not even occur as a footnote in our national memory. But well into the first decade of “independence,” his name figured prominently and variously as the Father of the Home Rule Movement, which he founded along with Annie Beasant. His role in and the successes that the Home Rule Movement notched up back then was the truly stuff of legends. Sri Iyer also counts as one of the seminal builders who transformed Madras into a thriving commercial, political and cultural nub during the 1860-1960 century. His substantial home was home to culture, music, learning, scholarship, and publication. Above all, he earned a permanent abode of distinction and reverence in the Hindu Heart of that period for his unstinted service of devotion to Dharma via two great institutions he founded and nurtured: the Dharma Rakshana Sabha and the Shuddha Dharma Mandala.

I’ve already given away enough.

Without further ado, I consider it my pride and bounden duty to offer this first episode of a series containing excerpts drawn from DVG’s profile of Sri S. Subramania Iyer titled Sri Subramania Iyer: Biographical Introduction. Some stylistic changes have been made but the original text has not been altered in any fashion.

Happy reading!

– I –

THE ILLUSTRIOUS PATRIOT furnishes a conspicuous example of the truth that character is more than opinion. The influence of an idea upon the popular mind depends not merely upon its own ethical or utilitarian soundness, but also upon the moral and practical worth of its promulgator. So has it been with Sir S. Subramania Iyer. It looks as if the high gods in their benignance presided watchfully over the life of this great son of India and guided it along lines that have eventually brought it to its present high destiny.

– II –

Sir S. Subramania Iyer was a lad of 15 when India made the first startling sign of the persistence in her of the instinct of self-preservation. The Indian Mutiny was in truth not a mere rising of the Sepoys, nor a frantic onslaught of native ignorance upon foreign enlightenment; it was the self-assertion of the nation against the self-aggrandizement of the alien Power.

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A Radiant Profile of "Dharma-Rakshaka" Sri Subbier Subramania Iyer, the Grand Old Man Of South India

The years 1857 and 1917—covering between themselves one full Hindu cycle—mark two notable stages in the history of but one principle, the principle of national self-consciousness. The interests, ideas, passions, and hopes that have electrified the air we breathe today, had begun to agitate the atmosphere in which Sir Subramania Iyer had to spend the impressionable years of youth.

Born on 1 October, 1842 and brought up amid the enlivening and chastening circumstances of a Brahmana family that had been spared both the degradation of poverty and the demoralization of wealth, he had access to education in English very early in life, so that his mind was open in its formative period to the energizing influences that the West had introduced. His father Subbaiyer was the trusted Vakil or agent of the Zemindar of Ramnad (Madura District), and he was, as his popular appellation Suravally (whirlpool) indicates, a person of marked energy and aptitude for practical affairs. These qualities were the only fortune that he (since he died in 1844) was able to confer on his third son Subramaniam.

The child of two years grew under the care of his mother who lived to see him on the pinnacle of prosperity, and who, in the early years of her widowhood, had the support of her devoted first son Ramaswamy Aiyer, who rose to the position of Huzur Sheristadar of the Madura District. Having gone through the elementary course first in a school maintained by a tailor, then in one run by a Christian Mission, and lastly in one opened by a certain Krishnaswami Chettiar, young Subramaniam joined the Zilla High School in 1856. The head of that institution, Mr. William Williams was a cultured Englishman of broad sympathies, and he was quick to discern the latent worth of his new pupil. Subramaniam was soon awarded a monthly stipend of ₹ 5, and winning prize after prize, he successfully passed the highest examination in that school in 1859.

His name appeared in the official Gazette and caught the eye of the Collector of the District who, on enquiry, learnt that its bearer was a brother of his own head clerk. Very soon the successful young man was able to start his career in Government service as a clerk on ₹ 20 a month—by no means a negligible position in those days.

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A Radiant Profile of "Dharma-Rakshaka" Sri Subbier Subramania Iyer, the Grand Old Man Of South India

These various facts serve to show that Subramania Iyer’s character was moulded in no dull or langorous environment. Access to new mental avenues, a generous incentive for self-exertion and an intimate contact with the general life of the country—these were the advantages that he had in the most plastic period of life.

To be continued

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