Landmark Mylaporean - V. Krishnaswami Iyer
If you are in Luz and then move down Royapettah High Road, take time off to stop and gaze at the campus of The Madras Sanskrit College, just behind the statue of Thiruvalluvar.
Here is a landmark Mylaporeans should be proud of.
This week, this unique college kicked off its centenary celebrations.
Its goal has been this - to promote higher education in Sanskrit along traditional lines.
Over the decades, its students who come from all over the country, have gone on to become well known scholars who have been decorated in India and abroad.
The man who set the foundation for this, and many other institutions in the city, was V. Krishnaswami Iyer, a well known and wealthy advocate of his time.
Besides the college, Krishnaswami was responsible for the founding of The Mylapore Club, Ranade Library, Indian Bank and Venkataramana Ayurveda College, besides supporting institutions that remain with us today.
Here are some highlights of one of Mylapore’s most distinguished personalities.
1. Krishnaswami was the second of four brothers, born in a Thanjavur village. His father went on to become a munsiff while his mother died after her fourth delivery. While at school, he was joined by Sivaswami, the man who later became Sir P. S. Sivaswami Ayyar, a celebrity of his times and whose name is remembered in the schools of Mylapore today. After schooling, Krishnaswami came to Madras to study at Presidency College.
2. Though Krishnaswami wasn’t inclined to read law, well wishers persuaded him to become a lawyer. He then joined the ranks of juniors at the office of R. Balajee Rao, a leading advocate who lived in Mylapore. The early days were tough, life was tough and he and his wife were sustained by his brother.
3. The young lawyer’s stock went up after he began to work at the office of Sir S. Subrahmanyam Aiyar, and with colleague, P. R. Sundara Aiyar, the duo slowly began to scale great heights. Krishnaswami settled down in life and moved to South Mada Street, Mylapore. He was a busy ‘vakil’ and while being an office bearer of the Vakils Association, he played a vital role in starting the Madras Law Journal (MLJ) in 1891, on the lines of contemporary English law journals - with critical notes and obeservations on judgements. The MLJ is still being published.
4. Krishnaswami became a household name when he was the contending advocate in the famous Arbuthnot bank case, In 1906, this popular bank crashed on account of bankruptcy, depositors were aghast and had it not been for this advocate’s public spirit and professional efficiency, the powerful Englishman would have gone scot free. The event then encouraged him to set up Indian Bank.
5. Realising the need to revive interest in India’s ancient systems, he founded the free-to-public Venkataramana Dispensary and the Ayurvedic College in 1905 on Kutchery Road. (While the dispensary/clinic still exists here, the college has moved to the suburbs.) A year later, he started the Madras Sanskrit College. He suggested that students be given free boarding and lodging and even paid a stipend to sustain their families, and that teachers be given free accommodation - a practice that is followed to this day.
6. His involvement in public affairs naturally drew him to the Congress party. In 1907, the Congress had split and it was Krishnaswami’s idea to hold a convention in Madras which brought the ranks closer and made the moderates win. Gopal Krishna Gokhale acknowledged Krishnaswami’s practical idea - one which had a bearing on the history of the Congress. The two were to get very close in the years to come.
7. Gokhale laid the foundation stone in 1904 for the Ranade Library in Mylapore and the South Indian National Association was also started; conceived to promote research among students in economics and politics. Though the two institutions exist today, few people use the well stocked library and SINA’s activities are low key today.
8. Krishnaswami became a judge of the Madras High Court in 1909 at a time when he was admired in political circles. Some saw him as an impatient man keen to clear all arrears. He was judge for a mere 15 months and then, became a member of the Executive Council of the Governor of Madras, a top ranking post, offered to him by the admiring British.
9. Krishnaswami packed many things into his short public life. Working on educational issues at the University of Madras, funding the trip of Swami Vivekananda to Chicago, intervening in the management of properties of the Kanchi Math when they fell into the wrong hands when the Paramacharya, then a minor, took charge.
He was 49 years old when he died. In about two decades, he had executed and accomplished a lot. The Sanskrit College and the allied institutions in Mylapore are a living memorial to a great man.
PHOTO CAPTION : Dr. M. Rama Jois, former Chief Justice and former Governor, unveiled the bust size statue of V. Krishnaswamy Iyer, on January 25, to mark the beginning of the centenary of the college. Seen in the photograph are Dr. N. V. Devi Prasad, Principal, Dr. Rama Jois, and B. Ramamurti and B. Madhavan, both grandsons of the founder.