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Founder - Sivasankara Pandyaji

BRAHMASRI SATCHIDANANDA Yogi R SIVASANKARA PANDYAJI' the illustrious Founder of the Hindu Theological High School Madras was born on the 6th of August 1853 in madras; His parents Sri Ramanatha Pandyaji and Srimati Rupa Bai were a pious couple , belonging to the Gujarathi Brahman community. Sri Ramanatha Pandyaji was the Dharmakartha of a Saivite temple in the village of Puliyur, about six furlongs from Kodambakkam. He discharged his duties in that capacity with religious zeal and expended a considerable part of his fortune in the renovation and the maintenance of the shrine. Young Sivasankara imbibed from his god-minded parents deep devotion to Hindu ideals. His filial affection was mingled with a profound respect, bordering almost on adoration.

Pandyaji's early education was carefully planned by his father who was very keen that his boy should not miss the blessings of Samskrit culture. He employed a special tutor to coach him at home in that classic tongue. A precocious lad he matriculated in 1668, when he was barely fifteen summers old, taking the 13th rank in the Presidency. Three years later, he passed the First in Arts Examination with flying colors, winning the second place in the list of successful candidates. He could not prosecute his studies in 1872 on account of trouble in the eyes which had been strained by too much reading. The next year he sought admission into the Presidency College in the B.A. class with Mathematics as his special subject. Mention must be made here of an incident which reveals in a striking manner the mettle of young Pandyaji. Mr. Porter, the Principal of the Presidency College just then, refused him admission into the Pandyaji's spirit, and immediately he set to work in order to acquire the required proficiency in the subject with such remarkable diligence and grim earnestness that in 1875 he graduated from the same College and capturing the second rank in the Presidency. That he was as erudite in Telugu as in Samskrit, English and Mathematic is borne out by an interesting incident. The Telugu Examiner for the B.A. Examination was so much struck with Pandyaji's answers that he sent for him and frankly owned that he had learnt much from the candidate's answer paper !

After graduation he was employed as a tutor in the same College for about six months. The next year he passes the Higher Tests in Civil and Criminal Law, entered the Tanjore District Court and practiced there for some time. But the legal profession held out no attraction for him. A man of brilliant intellect, possessed of indefatigable energy and supreme patience, he would have easily made his mark in the profession and risen to a position of eminence. But God had fashioned him for a nobler purpose, and he felt that his field of activity lay elsewhere. Consequently, he bade adieu to the legal profession, thanking it for the equipment it had given him, came down of Madras and become a teacher in Pachaiyappa's High School.

It was at this time that his religious consciousness was awakened to its highest pitch. He was sore at heart to note the indifferent attitude of Hindu youths towards the religion of their ancestors. They were slowly slipping away from its fold under the influence of an alien culture. He made up his mind to stem betimes the tide of religious degeneracy. He resolved to dedicate his life to the revival of Hindu ideals. The following extract from an appeal that he issued to his co-religionists, dated the 14th of October, 1888, gives an insight into his feelings in the matter and the earnestness with which he had equipped himself for the noble task he had set before himself: "After graduating in 1875, I set about in earnest to make deep researches in our sacred lore with the help of such distinguished Pandits as Brahmasri K. Venkataratnam Pantulu, the Editor of "the Andhra Basha Sanjeevini," Brahmasri Siddhanti Subrahmanya Sastrulu, the Editor of the Puranas, Sri Ramachandra Saraswati, an eminent Paramahamsa Sanyasin of Conjeevaram, etc. My chief object was to discover the hidden truths of morality and religion enshrined in our Sastras, Srutis, Puranas, Ithihasas, Agamas, Tantras, Mahakavyas and a host of other writings of ancient India. I was amply rewarded for my patience and trouble, for I succeeded in collecting from them many precious gems of morality and religion and many scientific and philosophical treasures. As I was convinced that the apathy and indifference of Hindu students in general towards their noble religion was chiefly due to their ignorance of the existence of such gems in our sacred books, I determined not to allow my collections to be buried within me but to share them with my Hindu fellow-countrymen. With this view, I started in the beginning of 1882 special weekly moral and religious classes to teach Hindu boys and girls the general principles of Hinduism on a non-sectarian basis". These classes were held between 1882 and 1888 in his own house which he christened significantly "the Castle of Diligence," in Pachaiyappa's College and in the premises of the Hindu Excelsior Reading Room. His discourses were in English and in the Mother-Tongues, profusely interspersed with quotations and illustrations from English literature. No wonder, therefore, that these classes were immensely popular and attracted about two thousand eager, regular students during the period when they were conducted.

The next manifestation of Pandyaji's burning zeal for bringing about a religious awakening among Hindu youths, was the founding of the Arya Dharma Vidyasala on the 12th of April, 1886. Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and English were taught in this school up to the Upper Primary Standard. The first hour of every working day was devoted to prayer and religious instruction. No fees were levied and the poor boys were provided gratis with books and other school requisites. Side by side with imparting instruction, he continued his religious discourses in four different languages-English, Tamil, Telugu and Gujarathi. His popular expositions of Hindu ideals naturally led to the publication of books styled the Hindu Excelsior Series. These activities, varied and numerous as they were, did not, however, seem to satisfy Pandyaji's missionary zeal, which sought further scope for its manifestation.

It was at time when Hindu religious ideals and traditions were at a discount with the generality of the English-educated young men who had tasted the new wine of an alien culture. Such a sorry state of affairs was brought about, on the one hand, by the anti-Hindu propaganda carried on by Christian missionaries. The doctrines and customs, dear and sacred to the Hindu heart, were held up to ridicule. To neutralise the baneful effects of these activities, Pandyaji set up a counter-movement by establishing the Hindu Tract Society in April,1887.It had a threefold aim : The defending of Hinduism, the advocacy of Hindu social reform and the furtherance of the cause of morality and learning. The work which he vigorously carried on with fervor of a zealot, told. The Hindu community felt the need for a national institution where Hindu youths would be given, besides secular education, instruction in their own ancestral faith.

Just at this time, a provocation incident occurred in the madras Christian College which stung the Hindus to the quick and hastened the realisation of pandyaji's ambition. one of its professors,Rev.Laidlaw,while condemning idol worship, wantonly insulted the religious susceptibilities of the Hindu students by suggesting that his shoes might as well be worshipped. To add to this, there was a rumor of the conversion of a Hindu student, the only son of his parents, while the latter were away from Madras .The Hindu lads were naturally deeply irritated by these happenings. They were besides themselves with range expressed their displeasure and are said to have 'rebelled'. There was a tremendous commotion in the Hindu community which woke up to the grave menace that threatened its children. It rose as one man to protect the honor of its hoary religion. The need forth establishment ofa Hindu religious institution became more urgent and imperative than ever before. Pandyaji, who had played the most prominent part in the agitation , naturally became the spear - head of the movement .His selfless labors carried on with apostolic forever and fiery zeal for the vindication and protection of ancient Hindu Dharma were not viewed with favor by the authorities of Pachaiyappa's college which he served. Mr. John Adam , the then principal of the college , object to pandyaji's activities and demanded their suspension. With rare courage born of a firm faith in the righteousness of his mission, Pandyaji gently replied that he was prepared to court martyrdom for the sake of his convictions. He was as good as his word , and promptly resigned his appointment. Far from minding the tremendous personal sacrifice that the resignation necessarily involved, he seemed to rejoice over it as it sent him free to work with redoubled zeal for the fulfillment of his object.

He began his work in right earnest and carried on an intensive propaganda. He made a fervent appeal to the rich and the influential to help him in the realisation of his idea,setting forth clearly the reasons for the establishment of a Hindu Educational Institution. The following is an extract from it:" The proselytising influence of Christian missionaries resulting in serious consequences to many Hindu families, the natural dread of Hindu parents to send their children to missionaries institutions, the deeply-felt want of religious instruction among Hindu students, the gradual withdrawal of government from field of higher education in India by suggesting that the cause should be upheld by rich and influential native gentlemen , the voluntary suggestion of many leading Hindu gentlemen to establish a Hindu National College in the metropolis of southern India to impart both secular and religious education, the ample scope afforded for the establishment of such a college , considering the wide and rapid spread of higher education and lastly the uncharitable demand of heavy fees in schools and colleges-all these circumstances and considerations have inspired us to establish soon a Hindu Theological College for teaching the general principles of Hinduism on a non-sectarian basis and for imparting secular instruction up to the B.A. standard of the Madras University and for promoting thus the interests of Hinduism as a whole." Nor did Pandyaji stop with a mere appeal for help. The very first contribution of Rs.1000 was his own. This voluntary donation from his depleted resources soon after the resignation of his appointment, bears eloquent testimony at once to his spirit of self-sacrifice and magnanimity of heart. He went from door to door collecting funds. It was not always that he was received warmly. Often he met with cold welcome. To give but one illustration, a haughty gentleman scoffed at his idea of starting an institution and insulted him by offering a copper coin as donation. But Pandyaji met this wanton provocation in the gentlest way. Not only did he receive the coin calmly but he also issued a receipt to the gentleman, thanking him for his donation. Thus , indifferent to praise and blame alike, with faith in god with indomitable will and with single-minded devotion he went on with his work. He toured the distant corners of the presidency, sought interviews with princes and zamindars and raised large sums of money. The most sublime and touching part of this stage of his life , however , was that he denied himself all comforts, nay, even necessaries, to save as much as he could. Out of such incessant toil and cheerful self-sacrifice was born on the 14th of January, 1889, The Hindu Theological High School, the child of high ideals and noble endeavors. It is the unique glory of Pandyaji that he had set on foot the work of the resuscitation of Hindu ideals even before the world-renowned patriot-monk of India ,swami vivekananda,strated the Hindu missionary movement, and that he had established the first Hindu denominational school before that noble lady of revered memory, Dr.Annie Besant , founded the Central Hindu College in Benares.

Pandyaji was the president f the board of management and the head master of the school. The exacting duties and the onerous responsibilities of these offices did not stand in the way of his further efforts to stabilize and strengthen the infant institution. Such was the power of his magnetic personality and disinterested labours that he was able to get from that philanthropic prince, Rajah Bahskara Sethupathi of Remand, a munificent donation of Rs.15,000 and from Amarambedu Munuswami Mudliar , a noble - minded citizen of madras, the sum of Rs.10,000. Nor did he allow himself to be influenced by well-meaning friends who tried to dissuade him from his purpose by suggesting that he was hiding his light under a bushel. To quote an instance, the Maharajah of Vijayanagar pressed him to give up his school work and to undertake an English Translation of the Mahabharatha for which he promised Rs.20,000 .To him and to other such friends, Pandyaji replied that he believed that his salvation lay only in giving moral and religious instruction to the youth of thee land

Pandyaji's connection with the school covered the period 1889-1899. He was ,indeed, its soul during the decade of his regime. His voice prevailed in all matters concerning it. As the head of the institution, he was known to be a strict disciplinarian. In addition to his intense work within the four walls of the school, he carried on several useful activities for the uplift of the student community, such as the sowcarpet literary society and citizenship classes at different centres in the city. A leading member of the Theosophical society and a friend of the best pandits of the day, he frequently arranged for discourses by savants, steeped in our ancient lore. In this connection it may be mentioned that swami vivekananda sanctified the institution by paying a visit to it in 1897. The school was ever in the forefront as long as pandyaji was at the helm of its affairs. Ruling Princes,Dewans of states, distinguished educationists and notable public men came under the spell of thee magnetic personality of this remarkable man. They visited the school and lavished praise on it. The inspecting officers gave favorable reports and the director of public instruction recorded his satisfaction at the steady progress of the school. The anniversaries were celebrated regularly under distinguished auspices. The press of madras especially "The Hindu'" not only gave full publicity to the proceedings but also pleaded editorially for public support to the school. The selfless work of the noble Hindu missionaries made itself felt even beyond the borders of the presidency. The press of Bombay and Calcutta had now and then a good word to say about him and his work. All this was the sheer triumph of personality.

Pandyaji's versatility and soundness of scholarship won the respectful admiration of the people that came into contact with him. Those who had the rare good fortune and the proud privilege of learning at his feet were captivated by the profundity of his learning and the masterly manner in which he presented highly abstruse religious and philosophical truths. The following is a striking incident in point : While the matadhipathi of sringeri was once sojourning in ramnad, pandyaji happened to be the guest of Rajah Sethupathi. The latter requested him to engage His Holiness in conversation,recognising him to be the fittest for the task.Swamiji was so struck with the sound scholarship and evangelic zeal of pandyaji that he forthwith presented him with a pair of shawls. With characteristic modesty, pandyaji wished to be excused from receiving the gift. The Swami there upon gently persuaded him to accept the tokens, saying ," You are doing our work. We wish all mutts copied your example and spread Hindu Dharma far and wide." Pandyaji, in deference to the strongly-felt wish of his holiness, took the shawls . He offered one of them to his patron deity at puliyur and worshipped the other as a sacred object to the end of his days.

That Pandyaji was a writer of no mean ability is borne out by his numerous publications, covering a wide range of subjects . One of his books , " Modern British Wisdom," was dedicated to Queen Victoria in whose praise he composed a poem called the "Victoria Rule." His booklets of the Hindu Excelsior Series which enshrine his religious instruction of Hindu youths are at once a standing testimony to the excellence of his penmanship and to his unrivalled capacity for lucid exposition of the verities of life, in a style simple , telling and arresting. The madras Christian College magazine-to give only one out of seventy-three appreciations from various sources-commended pandyaji's literary activities in the following words :" He labors with indefatigable patience and simplicity of purpose which are refreshing . Mr.Sivasankara pandyaji 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. In his selection our author has shown sound judgment, and some of his explanations are unexceptionable".

Pandyaji had a charming personality- a face beaming with intelligence, calm self-possession, inflexible determination and spiritual illumination. He was simplicity incarnate. Without any false sense of dignity, he willingly consented to go to any place when invited to propagate Hindu ideals. With him god was not a mere abstraction or an intellectual conception but an ever-present reality. In the midst of his manifold duties, he daily found time for contemplation. The devout Hindu that he was , he went on a pilgrimage to almost all the sacred shrines of our land, and in all those places he often lost himself in meditation and composed extempore hymns of praise in honor of the deities . Such was the man who laid broad and deep the foundations of the Hindu Theological High School. It pleased god to take him suddenly to his bosom on the 14th of february,1899, at the comparatively early age of 45,exactly ten years and one month after the establishment of this great Hindu National Institution.

One hundred and four years have elapsed since his exit from the seene of his labours. But he lives to-day in the hearts of his successors ever inspiring them to march on towards the goal which he set for the school.