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Cambridge Of The South: horrendous Baisakhi at Jallianwala Bagh, Bobby Srinivas, 23 March 2005 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 23 March 2005

Cambridge Of The South

horrendous Baisakhi at Jallianwala Bagh

By Bobby Srinivas

Not many in the North may have heard of Kumbakonam, an ancient, temple town on the banks of River Cauvery in Tamil Nadu with many distinct Shaivite and Vaishnavite shrines.  The locals believe Kumbakonam to be as ancient as Varanasi. It is steeped in its own history and tradition.  It can also be said to be the centre of Brahmincal orthodoxy!  It is a seat of learning, both ancient and modern.  It has 500-year-old Pathshalas (gurukul system of schools) for teaching of the Vedas, the Upanishads and Sanskrit.  It has a modern college started by the erstwhile British administration on the banks of Cauvery.  Some liken this college to the Cambridge University in England on the River Cam and call Kumbakonam, the Cambridge of the East. 

Kumbakonam was for some time the seat of Kanchi Sankaracharya before he moved to Kancheepuram, a town famous for Conjeevaram saris!  Midway between the 12-yearly Kumbha Mela at Allahabad, Kumbakonam has its own Mahamangam festival.  This festival is akin to the Kumbh drawing thousands of pilgrims mainly from the South.  This was perhaps an ancient time formula for pilgrims and ‘seekers’ to travel North and South every six years. The town has its detractors.  Perhaps out of jealousy!  In the South particularly in Tamil Nadu if someone is wily and cunning he is referred as doing kumbakonam.   The detractors would claim that Kumbakonam is a dictionary word for wily persons!

Not many know or remember that Kumbakonam has also produced some great intellectual giants.  There was this humble anonymous Vaishanavite Brahmin Srinivasa Ramanujam (1887-1920) who could not pass the Intermediate examination from the Kumbakonam College.  Like Albert Einstein who was a clerk in a Swiss patent office became world famous with his Theory of Relativity, Ramanujam had to seek a job in the Madras Port Trust on a meager salary. 

Ramanujam later came to be recognized, as the mathematics genius of India and the world.  He has now become a common noun for mathematics in the West.  He was the first and only person in the history for whom the Cambridge University amended its Constitution.  The University awarded him a BA degree on the basis of his research on mathematics, so that he could be made a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS).

Another celebrity from Kumbakonam, now almost unknown and forgotten, is Pandit K.Santanam of Lahore!  Santanam (1885-1949) was a contemporary of Ramanujam.  In my childhood days my mother said her kinsman (perhaps she meant biradari) had gone away to Lahore.  A romantic story floated around was that Santanam went to the Punjab to marry so that the South Indian Brahmin brain and Punjabi brawn would result in a marvelous progeny! This is something like a Hollywood actress proposal to George Bernard Shaw who retorted what happens if the progeny takes after my looks and your intelligence! Santanam himself was a very handsome specimen.

Recently, I received a clipping through email about the forgotten hero Pandit Santanam well described by my friend veteran journalist and columnist R.C.Rajamani in the Asian Tribune.  The Kumbakonam Brahmins had ostracized Santanam for crossing the seven seas and refusing to do prayaschit (repentance) rituals!  Santanam’s elder brother K.Bhashyam Iyengar, another celebrity renowned lawyer and minister in the Madras Presidency had sent Santanam to England for further studies.  Santanam had met Lala Lajpat Rai in CambridgeEngland and wrote to him about his plight.  in

The Lion of the Punjab invited Santanam to Lahore, where Santanam established himself very well in insurance and banking.  He soon adapted himself totally with the Punjab.  Apart from his mother tongue Tamil and English, he was fluent in Urdu and Punjabi.  The locals addressed him as Pundit not for his Brahminical origin but for his erudition.  He was equally at home with all communities – Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and others, each one claiming Santanam as their own!  At the instance of his mentor Lala Lajpat Rai, Santanam joined the freedom movement of the Indian National Congress (founded in the year Santanam was born) and was in the reception committee of the Lahore session of the Congress. 

The Baisaki of 1919 was horrendous as on that day took place the infamous massacre at Jallianwala Bagh.  As a result of mounting pressure both in India and in England, the British government appointed a committee of inquiry called the Hunter’s Commission.  Its report was a whitewash!

Columnist Rajamani writes that The Indian National Congress set up its own committee to go into the tragedy. Its members included Mahatma Gandhi, C.R. Das, Abbas S. Tyabji, and M.R. Jayakar. Its secretary was K.Santanam, who doggedly dug out details of the outrage to present them to the outside world.  He painstakingly compiled a two-volume report after touring Punjab, talking to hundreds of survivors of the massacre and the families of those killed.  He traveled incognito with great personal risk as Marshal Law restricted all individual movement.  Published in 1920, its second volume contains 784 pages of direct evidence.

Santanam did marry in the Punjab, but not for the reason mentioned earlier in this column!  Santanam married Krishna Ved, daughter of a well-known Arya Samajist Atma Ram Ved of Delhi and settled down in the Punjab. The Santanams had four daughters, with only one, the youngest Madhuri surviving now. Madhuri married Prof. M L. Sondhi, an Indian Foreign Service topper who was elected to the Lok Sabha as  a Jan Sangh member from the New Delhi constituency in 1967. Prof. Sondhi died November last year aged 73. 

Madhuri writes occasionally for newspapers.  Another of Santanam's daughters married Govind Swaminathan, son of Ammu Swaminathan, freedom fighter and legislator in the erstwhile Madras Presidency and brother of Dr. Lakshmi Sehgal of INA fame.  Lakshmi had contested the presidential election against Dr. Kalam as the consensus Opposition candidate.  These families had set examples of national integration! 

At the time of Partition that broke his heart an asthmatic Santanam was away in Kashmir to avoid the allergic dust of Lahore. Events that followed prevented him from returning to his beloved Lahore his adopted home. He returned to Delhi, leaving friends and associates and property behind in Lahore. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru could very well have included him in his cabinet for he had all the attributes. But Santanam was a sad man completely shaken by the Partition and the accompanying holocaust. The thought of office never crossed his mind. He died on August 31, 1949 in Delhi, a great patriot and now a forgotten hero.—INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)





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