By Sharon St Joan
On the granite platform just in front of the deity Mangalambika, in the Kumbeshwarar Temple in Kumbakonam, Smt. Saraswathi Pattabhiraman used to sit, sometimes for hours, in contemplation, lost (or rather found) in the transcendent presence of the Great Goddess, whose peace pervades the universe – perhaps not on the level on which most of us generally live our lives, but on a higher level where conflict and discord have faded away, and the oneness of God prevails.
Her husband, called Anna (which means “elder”) by his extended family, served as Member of Parliament from the Kumbakonam District, in east central Tamil Nadu, in the south of India. Chetpet Ramaswami Iyer Pattabhiraman (C.R. Pattabhiraman) served as Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, as well as holding many other government posts. He was a lifelong Member of the Congress Party and served as its Secretary.
His term in the Ministry saw the advent of the first television show ever broadcast in India. It was an important event, one for which his entire family traveled to Delhi to be there for the momentous occasion.
His granddaughter, Dr. Nanditha Krishna, a child at the time, recalls, laughingly, watching a program in grainy black and white, with a woman sitting motionless on the set, expounding at great length on the topic of the price of agricultural produce, followed by a man explaining, equally at length, how cotton grows in the ground. No actual cotton fields were shown, and there was much to be learned about how to captivate a television audience – still it was a noteworthy beginning.
Born on November 11, 1906, to C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar and his wife Seethamma, C.R. Pattabhiraman grew up in Madras, then studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He practiced as a lawyer, and during his brilliant law career, he had the very rare distinction of never losing a case. In 1938, he became an advocate for the Federal Court in Delhi, now the Supreme Court. He was often in Kumbakonam and he ran for election there. From 1957 to 1967, he served as Member of Parliament for the district of Kumbakonam. The greater Kumbakonam area extended to the coast – to the Shiva Temple at Chidambarum, and further south down along the coast of Coromandel.
He loved sports, and like his father, C.R. Pattabhiraman played cricket. In 1931, he played for the combined Oxford and Cambridge team that toured Yorkshire and Lancashire. Later, he captained the Madras Presidency team and became the Founder and President of a number of cricket associations and teams.
Cricket is the national game of India. During the recent first match of the world cup games in February 2015, in Adelaide, Australia, when India won a resounding victory over Pakistan, many of the fans were so enthusiastic that they cheered for both teams. In the stands was one Pakistani gentleman who travels the world attending Pakistani cricket games — always carrying two banners – one for Pakistan and one for India. Whenever the Indian players scored major points, all the Pakistanis, as well as all the Indians, rose to their feet cheering and waving banners – a sort of good natured sportsmanship that one does not see in every country or every sport.
The rivalry between the two countries is intense though, and back home some Pakistani fans broke their television sets in frustration after losing the match to India.
C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar’s family’s association with Kumbakonam extended back to the days of his great grandfather, Tharruppukkal Ramaswami Aiyar, who was a colorful adventurer. Rudra Krishna’s novel “The Onus of Karma” is based on the life of Tharruppukkal Ramaswami Aiyar. Growing up in the north of Tamil Nadu, in a small Brahmin village, he was the seventh of seven sons. All the family property would be divided up on the death of his father, and as the seventh in line, the amount of land and wealth he would inherit would be small indeed.
Instead of staying put in this situation which offered so little to him and so few prospects, he set out to make his fortune. Leaving his home and family, he traveled to the great city of Madras, nearly a hundred miles away. This was in the 1700’s and it was a huge journey at the time. He found work as a police officer, and hearing of a bounty that was being offered of for the capture of an infamous outlaw, he spotted a good opportunity to gain a substantial reward. He hunted the outlaw down, captured him, and put him in jail.
Unfortunately, within a few months or a year, the outlaw was released from jail, and he was out free again, seeking revenge against the officer who had sent him to prison. Catching up with Tharruppukkal Ramaswami Aiyar, he attacked him late one night along the road and severely beat him. The police officer escaped with his life only by recalling his training in yoga. He was able to control his breath for many minutes at a time and, badly beaten, he held his breath so as appear dead and lifeless to the outlaw, who left him for dead, so that way he managed to escape.
A while later, he captured the outlaw a second and final time and turned him over to be tried and imprisoned. This time the outlaw was jailed for good. The British authorities in the region were so relieved to be rid of this fellow who had caused a lot of pain and difficulties, that they rewarded Tharruppukkal Ramaswami Aiyar with the gift of the city of Kumbakonam.
How can you give a city to someone? The feudal system was still in place, encouraged by the British, who made use of it for their own ends in order to consolidate their power in India. The gift of a city meant that the holder of the zameen, or the district, was empowered to collect taxes from the people who lived there. He received a share of the revenue derived from their farming produce or their businesses.
Later on, his son, who did not wish to profit by collecting taxes returned the city to the people of Kumbakonam. However, the link between the family and the city did not vanish, it was carried on by the family, and C.R. Pattabhiraman, who they elected as Member of Parliament, continued to represent them and serve that district in Parliament.
He died at the age of 94 after a long and highly distinguished career.
Top photo: Courtesy of C.P. Ramaswami Ayar Foundation /A portrait of C.R. Pattabhiraman
Second photo: Arian Zwegers / Wikipedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / Kumbeshwarar Temple
Third photo: Legaleagle86 / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / This Supreme Court building dates from 1954.
Fourth photo: Yoga Balaji / Wikimedia Commons /” This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.” / The Madras High Court; the building was built in 1892.
© 2015, text, Sharon St Joan