Monday, 7 December 2015

Dynamic Dewan Sir. Seshayya Sastry, builder of Pudukottai

Sir. Seshayya Sastri,architect of Pudukotta, India.

1913 map of the Madras Presidency  withf Pudukkottai State./

During the British rule when higher positions in the government such as court judges, collectors and Dewans etc were later thrown open to well educated Indian natives, they took up the responsible jobs and did their given duties with extreme care and dedication. In those days of power struggle within the royal families of Princely states, who had an alliance with the British rulers, the job of Dewanship was a tough one. In the princely states, if the ruler was inefficient or the legal heir to the throne was  a minor, the British rulers would  appoint a Dewan-Regent to run the administration till the ruler was able to take care of his state on his own.  Persons with excellent credentials  in the areas of  civil administration,  covering bureaucracy, justice, revenue, agriculture  departments, etc were chosen for such coveted positions.  Personally for the Dewans,  it was challenging assignment  akin to  tightrope walking including slack rope walking, using discretionary power and commonsense as the balancing tool.

Sir Amaravati Seshayya Sastri KCSI (22 March 1828 – 29 October 1903), also known as  Seshayya  Sastri was an Indian Administrator of repute who efficiently served the British  government in various capacities  and won their appreciation and admiration. 

Thondaiman King/ iruler of Pdukkottai
Born in the village of Amaravati in Tanjore district, Madras Presidency in 1828 in a poor Hindu Brahmin  family, he achieved success and accolades through hard work.  His parents being  very poor (his father was a prohit/Vaidika priest),  he  moved over to Madras with his uncle Gopala Aiyer for better education.  At school he was a good student and gained considerable knowledge both in Tamil and English. As  a result of his mastery over the Bible verses, he became a favorite with the Rev. Mr. Anderson.   The Rev. John Anderson, a Scottish missionary, started the General Assembly's School (which became Madras Christian college). Later he  went to a preparatory school and then to High school in 1841(this school grew into Madras Presidency college, Madras university ) Seshayya Sastri,  studied at the government board school till 1848 and the headmaster of the school was legendary E. B. Powell took keen interest in Seshayya Sastri.  Later he completed his degree at   Pachaiappa's College and graduated in first class honors with a gold ring.

By dint of hard work, dedication and commitment, Mr. Sastri  who started out as a clerk in a revenue office, later became Tahsildar, Naib Sheristadar, Deputy collector(of Tanjore)  and  later, Head Sheristadar.  Thus starting at the bottom of the rung, Mr. Sastri slowly and surely climbed every rung in the ladder and finally rose to the position of Dewan of Travancore and served from 1872 to 1877 in the middle of  an uncomfortable situation prevailing in the royal palace.  He could not brook the conspiracies and intrigues  going on in the palace,  as such things were common in many royal families, and  he left the job.

While  serving the  Madras Legislative council, in 1878,  he took up the Dewanship of Pudukotta, the only princely state of Tamil Nadu then, During his tenure there 1828-1904) he put in extra efforts to improve the state which was financially and  administration wise in a  mess. The ruler - Raja Ramachandra Tondaiman (7th in line)  had heavy debts up to his neck to be cleared due to mismanagement. The British took away the royal honor of ''salute state'' and his title 'His Highness.' The British rulers thought Mr. Sastri was the right person to save the state from the predicament. Initially he served as Sirkele (1878- 1886) and later became Dewan-Regent (1886-94)He introduced several reforms that saw overall improvements in many fields in that state. The following are worth mentioning:

 01. The complete  renovation  of  famous  and   Pudukkulam  and  Pallavankulam tanks  in Pudukkottai was the brain child of Mr. Sastri.  Giving priority to famine and relief work (the state comprised mostly of rain-fed agriculture lands),  he de-silted, drained and  cleared of  slush in the above tanks, He thus  saved the protected water supply to the town. He also introduced chemical treatment of tanks to get rid of worm problems to take care of health hazards.
 02. The ruler renovated numerous Hindu temples on the Dewan's advice.

03. Smallpox was a dreaded infection in those days. Scores of people died without proper treatment at the right time. As a preventive measure, he  introduced  vaccination programs among the natives..

04. As part of  reorganization of judicial system,  he was instrumental in the establishment of  the chief court.

05. Importance was given to education for children; a girl's school in 1883, up gradation of an English school to second grade college, an Arabic school for the local Muslim community  were started at his initiative.

06. Development of Pudukotta was given priority. It is a well  planned town with parallel roads and streets  intersecting at right angle. Easy accessibility to copious supply of drinking water for the town from nearby tanks.

07. Sashiah  Sastri   took  steps  to  have  a  survey conducted for linking Pudukotta town and  Thiruchirapalli town by rail link. Subsequently based on this survey, a railway line was opened in 1928.

08. Surface road transportation saw improvements with the strengthening of trunk roads connecting adjacent district towns and districts.

09. In the area of management of jails, Mr. Sastri introduced training in skilled work for the prisoners, so that when they got out of the jail,  they could survive, using the skill learned there. A way to cut down criminal activities.

10. There  was marked  improvement in the quality of town life through introduction of town  extension, better sanitary conditions, tank renovation, better buildings for hospital and  and educational institutions.

Upon Ramachandra Tondaiman' death in  1886, Martanda Bhairava Tondaiman, then a minor, succeeded  to the throne of Pudukkotta. Seshayya Sastri, continued his Dewanship and  ruled Pudukkottai  as Regent  till Martanda Bhairava Tondaiman attained the eligible age to rule the state on his own. He retired from  Dewanship in 1894 and  returned to private life.

Honors: Seshayya Sastri was made a fellow of the University of Madras in 1868 and on 1st January, 1878, made a Companion of the Order of the Star of India in the New Year Honour's List.  In 1901, he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India in the King's Birthday Honour's List.

Mr. Sastr tirelessly worked hard during his tenure as the Dewan of Pudukotta and through his efforts, foresight and proper planning,  he turned what was once a dilapidated town and financially ruined state into a prosperous place and  a treasury with surplus funds. Meticulousness and execution of given duty with near perfection were his hallmark. Mr. Sastri died on 29 October 1903.