I had ended my previous post giving a list of places Swami Vivekananda was associated with in Madras.
This post is about place no.3 in the above list.
The Hindu Theological High School on Mint Street was founded by R.Sivasankara Pandya, a prominent member of our community, The Gujarati Khedawals. This school is one of the old schools in the North Madras area, having been founded as early as 1889. The school was founded to provide the society good education based on the lofty ideals of Hinduism.
I had compiled an article on the life of R.Sivasankara Pandya and the founding of the Hindu Theological High School. An edited version of this long article given below was published in the September(16th-30th),2008 issue of Madras Musings,the fortnightly dedicated to Madras Heritage.
Bramhasree R.Sivasankara Pandya was born on the 6th of August 1853, in the village of Puliyur (present day Kodambakkam region) in Madras. Born to devout parents, he imbibed the lofty Hindu ideals even at a very young age. His father, Ramanatha Pandya was the Dharmakartha of an ancient Siva Temple in Puliyur.
Sivasankara Pandya was quite proficient academically and he finished his Matriculation in 1868, securing the 13th Rank in the Presidency. Three years later, he passed the First in Arts examination with flying colours, securing the second rank. In the year 1873, He sought admission into the Presidency College to the Bachelor of Arts degree with Mathematics as his specialization. Initially a bit deficient in Mathematics, he soon acquired a flair for the subject through his hard work and remarkable diligence. He passed the degree examination with flying colours in 1875, securing the First rank in the college and the second rank overall in the Presidency. Though a Gujrathi, he was well versed in Telugu as well as Sanskrit.
After his graduation, he worked as a tutor in the same college for about 6 months. He subsequently acquired a law degree in Civil and Criminal Law and went to Tanjore, the land of his forefathers, to practice in the Tanjore District Court. He soon lost the fascination for the legal profession and genuinely felt that his true calling lay elsewhere. He returned to Madras and taught at the Pachaiyappa’s High School and later, at the Pachaiyappa’s College.
Sivasankara Pandya was deeply distressed at the callous attitude the youth of the time showed towards our hoary and distinguished heritage and culture. He felt the need to take immediate steps to bring about a change in the mindset of the youth, whom he felt were foolishly aping the West and teach them about the lofty ideals our culture propagated. In the year 1882, he established weekly classes to teach the youth the tenets of Hinduism. These classes were held at his own house, which he had named “The Castle of Diligence”, at the Pachaiyappas High School and also at the premises of the Hindu Excelsior Reading room. The Hindu Excelsior was a magazine which he founded and edited. A bound volume of the 1884 series is available at the Madras Archives. The classes attracted a lot of young eager students. A charismatic speaker, he also gave religious discourses in various places in English, Tamil, Telugu and Gujarati. Dr.Nanjunda Rao, the famous doctor philanthropist of that time, wrote : “ I also came to know of Sivasankara Pandyaji lecturing in English on the Bhagavad Gita on Sundays and I began to attend his lecture, where even from listening to various Upanishadic quotations in explanation of the Gita my faith in Hinduism in its new light began to increase.” He also founded the “Arya Dharma Vidhyashala” in the year 1886 where Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and English were taught to the students. The school started every day with an hour dedicated to prayer and religious instruction. He started the Hindu Tract Society in the year 1887 with a threefold aim : The defending of Hinduism, the advocacy of Hindu Social reform and furtherance of the cause of morality and learning.
It was around this time that a provocative incident occurred in the Madras Christian College, which deeply hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus. One of the professors of the College, Rev.Laidlaw while condemning idol worship made a statement that even his shoes might as well be worshipped. Also, there was a rumor of the conversion of a Hindu student, the only son of his parents while they were away from Madras. Sivasankara Pandya, on learning of these felt deeply hurt and wanted to start an institution that would teach Hindu values as also impart quality education and started to work towards realizing his goal. His activities were not looked upon favourably by his employers, the Pachaiyappas college and Mr.John Adam, the then principal demanded his suspension. Sivasankara Pandya quit his job in order to work full fledged for the formation of his dream institution. Thus, the seeds were sown for the formation of what would come to be known as the Hindu Theological High School.
Sivasankara Pandya soon started raising funds for the school and the first major step he took towards funds was selling his own house. He went door to door collecting funds and did not always meet with success. A very rich person once invited him to his home and insulted him by giving just a “naya paisa” as donation. Unperturbed, Sivasankara Pandya magnanimously acknowledged the donation by issuing a receipt. However, help was forthcoming from other places and his dream slowly took shape. The most munificent contribution came from H.H.Baskara Vijaya Sethupathi, the Raja of Ramnad, who donated Rs.15000. Other significant contributions in the early years came from one Mr.Ramakishnaiah Panthulu, who donated Rs.9044 and Ambarambedu Munuswamy Mudaliar who donated Rs.10000 and also gifted a house situated at 31, Muthaiah Mudali Street. The school showed its gratitude to this noble gentleman by later starting a Primary Section in his name.
The school was inaugurated on the 14th of January, 1889. He took charge as the first principal of the school and with a devoted band of teachers, went about the task of imparting quality education in an efficient manner. The first managing committee, in the year 1889 consisted of, besides Sivasankara Pandya, Sowcar Lodd Krishna Doss Balmukunda Doss and Sowcar Chaturbhuja Doss Kushal Doss of the famous Doss family and T.Gopinatha Tawker of “Tawker and Sons”, the famed diamond merchants. The management committee of the school has seen many prominent members such as Dr.S.Radhakrishnan, Dr.C.P.Ramaswamy Aiyer, Lodd Govindoss, Rao Sahib Prof Srinivasachariar.
Sivasankara Pandya dedicated himself fully to the task of strengthening and stabilizing the institution. He even declined an offer by the Maharajah of Vijayanagar to translate the Mahabharatha into English for a lavish sum of Rs.20000 as the Maharajah wanted him to give up his school work. Thanks to his able guidance and leadership, the school made steady progress and earned the praise of many distinguished educationists, ruling princes, Dewans and even the Directorate of Public Instruction whose inspecting officers gave the school favourable reports. “The Hindu” was an active supporter of the cause of the school and gave publicity to many school anniversary functions.
The school was visited by many luminaries of that time. Prominent among them were Mahatma Gandhi in 1896 and Swami Vivekananda in 1897. The Hindu dated 28th October 1896 reported Mahatma Gandhi’s visit as under:
M.K.Gandhi, Esq., Barrister-at-Law, Durham, South Africa, paid a visit to the Hindu Theological Institution on Monday, the 26th instant, and was shown over the different Forms. He remarked thus in the Visitors' book:
"I had the honour to visit this excellent institution. I was highly delighted with it. Being a Gujarati Hindu myself I feel proud to know that this institution was started by a Gujarati gentleman. wish the institutions will crop up all over India ,and be the means of preserving a Aryan Religion in its purity."
(Extracted from "The Hindu",28th October,1896)
Swami Vivekananda visited the school in 1897 and commended the wonderful work done b Sivasankara Pandya. He remarked that Sivasankara Pandya’s work in the cause of Hinduism deserved all credit as they were undertaken at a very difficult time when all such attempts were considered by the Europeans as superstitious.
The Hindu Theological High School has produced many distinguished alumni over the years. Notable among them include Dr.Kesari (of Kesari Kuteeram) and the founder of the Indian Express B.D.Goenka.
Sivasankara Pandya was a very good writer and wrote a book called “Modern British Wisdom” which was dedicated to Queen Victoria and in whose praise he composed a poem called “Victorian Rule”. Some other books written by him include Dravida Bala Nithi Bodhini (Moral maxims in Tamil, with English translation),”The empress of India and other poems.” His Hindu Excelsior series which consisted of small books containing various religious themes based on Hinduism was well received. An ardent Theosophist, some of his books received good publicity in Lucifer, the Theosophical Magazine. The Madras Christian College even commended his literary activities thus : “He labours with indefatigable patience and simplicity of purpose which are refreshing. Mr.Sivasankara Pandyji has entered a field in which much good work may be done, work valuable from a purely literary point of view as well as from that of moral instruction.”
Sivasankara Pandya shed his mortal coil on the 14th of February 1899 at a relatively young age of 45 yrs.