C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, part three

C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar
C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar



To read parts one and two first, click here for part one and here for part two.



On the third day, realizing that the young man must want to speak to him, he got out of his car and walked over to him.  The young man told him that he was a recent law school graduate, but though he had applied to many law offices, he could not find a job because he was a dalit, and no one would hire him. Sir C.P. told him, “Come back tomorrow morning, and you can start work.”


The next morning the young man arrived and started work as a junior in the law firm. Later in the morning, before going to the court, they would all gather every day for an early lunch. As they started lunch, Sir C.P. looked around for his new employee, but couldn’t see him anywhere. When they left to go to the court to take up their cases of the day, he spotted the young man outside under the same tree where he’d been standing the day before.


Sir C.P. walked over to him and said, “Why are you here? We were expecting you to be at lunch.” Unaccustomed to being spoken to like a regular human being, the young man, with tears running down his face, replied, “Sir, I didn’t think you would want to sit down for lunch with someone like myself.”


The man worked for many years in Sir C.P.’s law firm, as a valued member of the legal team. His adult grandchildren have remained in touch with Sir C.P.’s family.


Sir C.P., though he was from Madras, began to be called upon to serve as an advisor to the Maharaja of Travancore, Maharaja Moolam Thirunal. His advice was always wise, principled, and practical.


Maharaja Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma


Travancore was an Indian state that was later divided up, in 1956, with most of the land becoming part of Kerala, and a smaller section becoming part of Tamil Nadu.


In Travancore, at that time, there was a traditional matrilineal system in place, which meant that the ruler would be succeeded not by his own son, but by the son of his sister. So when the Maharaja died, his sister’s son was in line to inherit the throne. There was a difficulty though. The Maharaja’s sister had been adopted, and after her brother died, her son Chithira Thirunal, became the subject of controversy. Rumors were spread about him that he was not mentally stable and not qualified to occupy the throne. Sir C.P., as a good friend of the family, was asked to help.


Sir C.P. arranged for the young man, Chithira Thirunal, to meet with the British Viceroy, Lord Wellington, who during their meeting, was very favorably impressed. He had Chithira Thirunal appointed as the Maharaja; but with a condition attached. Because Chithira Thirunal was quite young, and because of the amount of controversy that had been swirling around him, Lord Wellington insisted that Sir C.P. must be permanently on hand as Legal and Constitutional Advisor to the young monarch.


edited Chithira_Thirunal_Balarama_Varma
Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma


Living and working in Travancore, instead of Madras, was not the course Sir C.P. might have chosen for himself, but since it was the only way the young Maharaja could take his place on the throne, he reluctantly agreed.


Sir C.P.’s mother Rangammal, who he was very close to, was not happy about this, and though she could understand Sir C.P’s position, she never entirely reconciled herself to the decision. She had envisioned her son spending his career in Madras, as his father had done, as a brilliant, successful lawyer.


This is how Sir C.P. came to be in Travancore, where he was to play a major role, as Dewan (or Prime Minister) of Travancore, from 1936 to 1947.  He and the young Maharaja, whose position he had helped to secure, worked extremely well together.


edited Palace_of_Trivandrum
The Palace of Trivandrum, Travancore


Sir C.P. brought fresh new energy to the state of Travancore, and did much to guide the state into the modern world.


As well as advancing the cause of social equality with the issuance of the Temple Entry Proclamation, he introduced a great many other bold reforms. Travancore, during his term as Dewan, became the first Indian state to abolish capital punishment, the first to give voting rights to every adult, the first to provide compulsory education to all children and the first to ban hunting of wild animals.


He nominated the first woman district judge in India, and the first woman to serve as Surgeon General anywhere in the world.


He was often kind in simple, down to earth ways.


When, one day, he saw a poor boy lying sound asleep in the sun, discovering that the boy had had nothing to eat for two days, he not only gave the boy money, but he also set up a program to provide free midday meals to schoolchildren. The program continues to this day for poor schoolchildren in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.



Top photo: Courtesy of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation / C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar


Second photo: A painting by Raja Ravi Varma / Wikimedia Commons / “This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.”/ Maharaja Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma.


Third photo: Source: http://www.kamat.com/database  / Wikimedia Commons / “This work is in the public domain in India because its term of copyright has expired.” Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, c. 1938


Fourth photo: Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: Manu rocks at en.wikipedia” / The residence of the Maharajah of Travancore.









C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, part two

tree in the GroveIMG_3579

To read part one first, click here.

Annie Besant, born into a middle-class family of Irish descent, was a freedom fighter, active in the causes of both Indian and Irish home rule.  She, Sir C.P., and others worked together to organize the Home Rule League, in India, and the first meetings were held outside Sir. C.P.’s family home, “The Grove,” under a tree which still stands today, with a plaque beside it commemorating the meetings.  They were held outdoors because Sir C.P., being a lawyer, was well aware of the law that would allow the British to confiscate any building that was used to oppose British rule, consequently, the meetings could not be held inside.

plaque by tree IMG_3577

Annie Besant, though she was 32 years older than Sir. C.P., never referred to him informally as “C.P.”, which his friends did whenever he was visiting. She had been given a gold cup and saucer, which she used only to serve him tea. Being a man, he did not pay much attention to cups and saucers, and he never noticed this honor that was being paid to him, until one day his mother Rangammal pointed it out to him.


From 1936 to 1947, Sir C.P. served as Dewan, or Prime Minister, of the state of Travancore, under Maharaja Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma.

In those days the caste system was fully in force. If anything, British rule had reinforced the caste system, which the British sometimes found useful as a way of maintaining their hold over the various sectors of the population. And after all, class distinctions were a way of life in Britain too; it was a system they were used to.


Sir C.P. who read avidly, who wrote books on a vast range of subjects, and who could converse eloquently on any subject at all, was a complex individual. He was a reformer, yet a pragmatic realist. Far-sighted, he looked ahead, envisioning how his policies might affect the future. He was one of the individuals who played a significant role in bringing India into the modern world.

Certainly, it was inevitable that India, one way or another, would make a transition from ancient ways to a more modern way of doing things, but exactly how that would happen was what was at stake. Sir C.P. had a great deal to do with ensuring that the transition incorporated the elegance, grace, and undying respect for culture and tradition that is still so much alive in India today.

Though a Brahmin by birth, he was opposed on principle to the rigid inequalities and unfairness of the caste system. He was instrumental in the enactment of the Temple Entry Proclamation, which was issued in 1936 by Maharaja Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma.

Prior to this proclamation, the dalits, who historically were considered to be beneath the four castes of the caste system, were not allowed to enter Hindu temples to worship. The Temple Entry Proclamation stated that any Hindu of any background or caste could freely enter the temples.

This was a bold shot across the bow of caste-based discrimination. Issuing the Proclamation paved the way for the eventual demise of the legal framework of the caste system.

Newspapers all over India took note of the new law, and, despite shock and dismay in some quarters, for the most part, there was general rejoicing.

Sir C.P. also practiced absolute fairness to everyone in his own personal life. On one occasion, for three days in a row, on leaving his law office, he spotted a young man standing outside under a tree.

To be continued in part three.

Top photo and second photo: Sharon St Joan

Third photo: Wikimedia Commons / “This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired… You must also include a United States public domain tag to indicate why this work is in the public domain in the United States.” / Annie Besant in 1897

Fourth photo: Wikimedia Commons / “This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.”/ Annie Besant, before 1933