Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

On V. Krishnaswami Aiyar

K. Ramakotiswara Rau


It is a great honour to be called upon to deliver the Commemoration Address on this occasion. Sri K. Balasubrahmania Aiyar was not merely kind, but exceedingly generous and affectionate, in extending the invitation to one who had never met his distinguished father. In previous years, I used to sit here and listen with the utmost eagerness while friends or associates of V. Krishnaswami Aiyar spoke of his life and achievement. But today, I can only show you things through the wrong end of the telescope, and describe the impression created in the young minds of a generation that was at school or college when he passed-away, and, especially, how that memory moulded the thought and coloured the outlook on life of an aspiring lad of twelve or thirteen, who lived in a far-away little town in one of the northern districts.

To me in those days, Krishnaswami Aiyar was an able and immensely rich lawyer, –one of the band of Mylapore lawyers whose fabled magnificence seemed to rival the glories of Haroun-Al-Raschid of the Arabian Nights, or of Yudhishthira at Indraprastha, as narrated in the gorgeous prose and verse of Nannaya in the ‘Sabha Parva’ of the Telugu Mahabharata. Well, thought I, if my father, who practices in a mere Munsiff’s Court right opposite my house and makes only two or three hundred a month, is considered rich, and if, as a result, I can wear fine clothes and a lace cap and go about like a little prince amongst my school-fellows, surely Krishnaswami Aiyar, who practises in the High Court at Madras and earns ten thousand a month, must be infinitely richer, and his sons, of course, must have finer clothes and many more lace caps!

But to this impression of wealth and luxury succeeded another. News of the great Arbuthnot crash travelled into my little world, and people spoke of the famous Madras lawyer whose heart was pierced by the cry of destitute widows and orphans all over the land. And they said, "This Krishnaswami Aiyar never took a pie!" So, this man who knew how to earn, knew also when to refrain from earning. There was something in that. I longed to know more of him. Almost as if in answer, there floated into my young life the beneficent influence of a deeply loved friend–who is now no more–Chavali Venkata Krishnaiya, a student of the F.A. class in the Madras Christian College. He was my senior by three or four years; but, when you are young, that makes a great difference. Krishnaiya was tall and handsome, intensely affectionate by nature, and an eloquent speaker. During the vacations, he used to gather round him the youngsters in our home-town, and give us vivid glimpses of the great world of Madras. He spoke of his Professors, Skinner and Russell and Macphail, of the debating societies at College, and of the big men whom he, as Secretary, invited to speak at important functions. He was full of admiration for gifted speakers of English like T. M. Nair, C. R. Reddy and L. A. Govindaraghava Aiyar. But the name that was oftenest on his lips was that of V. Krishnaswami Aiyar "There is none like him", he used to say. Some years later he recited to us with gusto whole passages from Krishnaswami Aiyar’s memorable Convocation Address, particularly the one about "the mighty stream of master-minds". That revealed to me another side of Krishnaswami Aiyar; he was a scholar and a patriot who realised the glory that was Ind and dreamed of her noble mission in the future. And he was a statesman too, for, at Surat when the Congress broke up in confusion, it was he that suggested to the President, Dr. Rash Behari Ghose, that they ought to call an informal Convention and save the Congress from virtual extinction. "And, do you know," said Krishnaiya, "the learned Doctor Rash Behari was overjoyed. He actually enfolded Krishnaswami Aiyar in a warm embrace and exclaimed, ‘We too have studied history and constitutional law; but what is the use’? Now, you are a genius’." Thus the legend of Krishnaswami Aiyar grew into my consciousness and prepared me for all that was to follow.

A little later I passed into a new atmosphere, that of Masulipatam, the stronghold of Nationalist ‘agitation’ in Andhra of those days. Dr. pattabhi Sitaramayya, Mutnuri Krishna Rao of the Krishna Patrika, and above all Kopalle Hanumantha Rao, evoked in me and admiration which bordered on worship. The Andhra Jateeya Kalasala was inaugurated while I was a student of the Intermediate class in the local Noble College. Those were stirring times. We boys were all for Tilak and his band of se1f-sacrificing heroes. The Congress, we were sure, was no longer a national institution; and Krishnaswami Aiyar who had accepted a High Court Judgeship, and then an Executive Councillorship, was not a genuine patriot. He was a number, who owed allegiance to the Moderate Congress. And yet, this same Krishnaswami Aiyar was the first important person in Madras to befriend Hanumantha Rao and to encourage him to proceed with his noble work for the Kalasala. Hanumantha Rao was an M.A. and a B.L. He was born to affluence. But the impulse to serve was strong in him, and more than a decade prior to the non-co-operation movement of Gandhiji, he gave up his practice at the Bar and spent himself in the service of a renascent Indian nationalism. I have heard Dr. Pattabhi relate the meeting of the two great dreamers of South India. Hanumantha Rao was modest as a bride, while Krishnaswami Aiyar was vehement and aggressive. But deep called unto deep, and after the first few meetings, Krishnaswami Aiyar took Hanumantha Rao to his bosom. He let his shy but persistent visitor unfold his plans for a new centre of art, literature and handicrafts, his dreams of a renaissance of Indian culture, and his vision of an India freed from the shackles on her spirit. And then he burst out, "Look here, you are right. Now take this cheque"–it ran into four figures–"spend it, and come for more!" To Hanumantha Rao in his loneliness and weariness of spirit, these words came as a breath of spring, and the memory of it all must have sustained him in many difficult moments. He survived Krishnaswami Aiyar for ten years, and nurtured the Kalasala which, after him, I too served in a humble way. And always, this dear institution is to me a symbol of the affection which Krishnaswami Aiyar and Hanumantha Rao bore each other.

Krishnaswami Aiyar passed away before I migrated to Madras and the Presidency College. But, by bits and in snatches, from new friends like K. S. Venkataramani and V. S. Venkataraman, I learnt more of Krishnaswami Aiyar saw the institutions he had founded and the men who managed those institutions with devoted zeal. The details of the picture, however, were filled in several years later when Triveni brought me into touch with the ‘Ashrama2 and with Chandrasekharan. krishnaiya, the friend of my boyhood and companion of my youth, inaugurated Triveni in Madras at my request in December 1927, but, alas, within a few months he was snatched away. Chandrasekharan seemed to step into my life to fill the gaping void. During moonlit nights, on the silver-white sands of the Marina, with the music of the sea in our ears, Chandrasekharan related to me many moving passages out of Krishnaswami Aiyar’s life,–passages which he himself had heard from the elders of his family, for he was but a child when Death parted his father from him. They were precious moments: they revealed the essential nobility of Krishnaswami Aiyar’s life, and they revealed also the reverence that the son cherished for the memory of the father whom he had lost all too early in life.

I shall not weary you with more of what might appear ‘sentimental effusions’. But then, it is sentiment that accounts for my presence here. Else, how should a man of many failures feel a kinship of spirit with Krishnaswami Aiyar who was supremely successful in all he undertook? It is the love of culture, of Indian culture especially, that constitutes the kinship between us.

Modern India has given birth to eminent lawyers and statesmen, great scholars and founders of institutions, noble philanthropists and friends of humanity. But there was something distinctive about Krishnaswami Aiyar. I shall try to evaluate the ‘something’ that was like an upsurge from within,–a life-giving stream that fertilised the entire domain of his life, and gave it a meaning and a purpose. In one word, Krishnaswami Aiyar had ‘vision’. He came at a crisis in our nation’s history, when old values were being questioned, and the foundations of Indian life were being undermined. As he grew up, he sensed the new life that men like Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, Naoroji and Ranade, poured forth in abundance. He saw a new India in the making, and himself contributed to that making. That new India was, doubtless, to be free politically, but political freedom was but an outward, tangible expression of that inner freedom of the mind and the spirit, which could not be won until we grasped the significance of the long ages of Indian culture and achievement, in art and literature, in social organisation and in religious quest. A whole generation, or even two, had been cut off from this fount of life; and so, in the process of raising the edifice of new India, the revival and re-interpretation of ancient Indian culture in varied domains, was an essential need. If Krishnaswami Aiyar was a friend of Vivekananda and Baba Bharati, if he looked upon Malaviya and Gokhale as his own brothers, if he welcomed subrahmania Bharati, the poet, and Sambanda Mudaliar, the playwright, if he edited the Arya Charitam3 and encouraged the recitation of the Gita, it was entirely because he perceived, not just in a momentary flash but in the effulgence of his intuition, that all this was an offering at the feet of the Mother, who after a temporary eclipse was becoming ever more real to a whole people. His fundamental faith was that the custodians of this great culture–the Vedic scholars, the masters of the Sastras and Kavyas, must be sought out and provision made for the continuity of the stream of national culture. Thus he founded this Sanskrit College. Thus too he founded the sister institutions, the Ayurvedic College and the Venkataramana Dispensary, for the preservation and growth of the science of healing which the Rishis left us as a precious legacy. And then, having the gifts of a statesman, he was resolved, for the honour of India, to prove that Indians could shape high policy and administer Departments of State.

The ‘stream of master-minds’, which flitted before Krishnaswami Aiyar’s vision when he spoke at the Senate House, has been enriched by, among others, Gandhi and Tagore, Aurobindo and Radhakrishnan. None of these had become wor1d-famous when Krishnaswami Aiyar uttered those prophetic words. But, of them, Radhakrishnan was just then receiving the M.A. degree, and drinking in Krishnaswami Aiyar’s great message of hope.

1 The Commemoration Address for 1942, delivered at the Sanskrit College, Mylapore, Madras, on March 2.

2 V. Krishnaswami Aiyar’s residence in Mylapore.

3 An Anthology of famous episodes from the Sanskrit classics.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: