Pachaiyappa Mudaliar, the most munificent patron of learning and religion in modern south India, was born in 1754 in Periapalayam, a village about twenty five miles from Madras, where there is famous Sakthi temple.His father, Visvanatha Mudaliar, had passed away a few months before and he seemed born to destitution and misery.But by dint of unexampled commercial acumen, always regulated by honesty and fairness, he amassed a huge fortune in only forty years, when he passed away in 1794.It was with his money that the first Indian College in Madras was started and, along with it, a number of other educational institutions which keep his memory green.
Visvanatha Mudaliar, an Agamudiya Vellala, has been living in Kanchipuram, the great city of Tamil antiquity and heritage, in quite humble circumstances.He and his wife, Punchi Ammal, had two daughters, Subbammal and Acchammal, before Pachaiyappa was born.Visvanatha Mudaliar's death, apparently in prime of life, was a great blow to the bereaved family.The mother, along with her two children, virtually took refuge in Periapalayam.There she had the good fortune to earn the esteem of Reddi Rayar, who was Faujdar of the Periapalayam District under the Nawab of the Carnatic.It would seem that Visvanatha Mudaliar and Puchi Ammal used, before the later settled down there, to visit the village for the famous festival and that they had made friends with the Faujdar. It was there that, in a few months, Pachaiyappa was born.
For some five years the family was able to live in fair comfort, mainly because Reddi Rayar (the name sounds strange, but it was not uncommon at the time, for another man of the same name was involved in the imbroglio of the debts of the Nawab of the Carnatic, Mohammad Ali; the correct form of the name seems to be Reddi Rao) and his wife, Venkatammal, befriended the helpless family out of old friendship.Then tragedy struck again.Reddi Rayar passed away, and the family was again left adrift.Venkatammal and some other friends in Periyapalayam continued to help it, but Puchi Ammal resolved to remove to Madras, to the "Black Town's" as George Town used to be called then.The family was able to obtain a place of residence, a small house, at the northern end of a lane called Swami Maistry Street, near Walltax Road.(Another source of information says, near the Esplanade.Here the nearly distraught mother was fortunate enough to obtain the help of "Powney" Narayana Pillai, of Neidavaya, through a neighbour, who was an employee of that magnate. Since this kind and helpful Indian leader of the times was greatly instrumental in Pachaiyappa developing into multi-millionaire, it is necessary to explain what he was and the conditions of his time.
In 1760, when Pachaiyappa first came to Madras, hardly a year had passed since, for the second time, the French had besieged Fort St.George, but this time unsuccessfully.Count de Lally, maddened by the failure, had retreated, wreaking destruction along his path.The victorious British were beginning to rebuild the fort into something very much like what it is today.But the debris of the ineffective siege would be still strewn about, and young Pachaiyappa would have seen what war meant to people.
He would, of course, have been for too young to understand the political and economic conditions of the time.These were pretty chaotic.The Nawab of the Carnatic, Mohammad Ali, was nominally ruler of a vast territory extending from Nellore to Tirunelveli. The real rulers were the British.In the Carnatic wars, they had defeated the French.The French siege of Fort St.George was an incident in the second war.
The inhabitants of the "Black Town" had felt war's alarms.Very near where Pachaiyappa was now living, a skirmish had occurred on December 14, 1758, hardly two years before he had come to live in Madras.Colonel Draper had a brush with a French contingent.There was some street fighting in this war, and the "Black Town's" appearance could not have been much improved thereby.
The young boy must have heard some of the older residents talk about the stirring events of the first Carnatic war when, in 1746, on the banks of the Adyar river, a tiny French contingent, marching from Pondicherry, had made short work of a huge array of the Nawab's, about de la Bourdonnais' siege of the fort, about the British surrender after only two days of nominal resistance.He might have heard but probably could not have realised the significance, of the exploit of Robert Clive when, with a small force, he held at bay, in Arcot fort, a huge army of Chanda Saheb who, under French auspices, was fighting Mohammad Ali for the throne of the Carnatic.It was a troubled time for Madras and its inhabitants, particularly for those like Pachaiyappa who had no money.
Worse was to come in the coming years.For, in 1767, the Mysore cavalry of Hyder Ali raided Madras for the first time and, two years later, for the second time.The Mysoreans almost caught the Governor of Madras by surprise.He was in the old Government House, by the Cooum, and escaped only because, by accident, a boat happened to be moored on the river.What the two invasions did to the Carnatic is embalmed for ever in the famous passage in Edmund Burke's speech in the British House of Commons on the Nawab's debts.For long years, the grim memory survived among the people.Pachaiyappa was to live through the time of terror.
The times were out of joint mainly because the Mughal empire was collapsing, and there was no firm central control. Following Aurangzeb's death in 1707, which was followed by the inevitable war of succession among his sons, and following the devastating invasions of Nadir shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali, the provinces of the empire were breaking away from Delhi. In the Deccan Asaf Jan had or rather the fiction, was that the Nizam owed allegiance to the Mughal emperor in Delhi, and that the Nawab of the Carnatic similarly owed fealty to the Nizam. In fact, the Nizam was virtually independent of the emperor and, likewise, the Nawab of the Nizam, only that the Nawab's independence was being challenged and, finally, was subverted by the growing British power. The British, who built Fort St.George in the middle of the seventeenth century, were waxing as a result their success over the French and also as a result of the Nawab's weakness. It was as his champion against his challenger and would-be supplanter, Chanda Sahed, that they were establishing themselves.Day by day the Nawab came to depend on them for his throne. The British exacted their price for their help, and it was ruinous. The Nawab ahd to borrow money wherever he could in order to satisfy them.
This involved him in enormous difficulties. He borrowed from practically every Briton, official and non-official, in Madras of any note or none and promised them ruinous interest. After a time, forged bonds supposedly of his began to circulate, and all was confusion. The Nawab, always at his wit's end for ready money, would auction the revenues of his territories; that is, sell to the highest bidder the right to collect land and other taxes from the cultivators. The tax farmer undertook to pay a certain amount of money to the Nawab. He was free to exact from the farmer as much money as he could and in what manner he pleased. The farmer was at his mercy. Little wonder that the country was groaning under the oppression.
At the time Pachaiyappa came to Madras, the British territorial possessions in south India were confined to the Northern Cicars, the Jaghire district, and the commercial "factories" on the coast. The Jaghire district was Chengalpattu district, so named because the Nawab had given it to the British as a jaghir. Conditions here were quite miserable. William Place, a Collector of the district (who is associated with the famous Madurantakam tank incident) said after Hyder Ali's invasions, "Hardly any signs were left in money parts of the country of its having been inhabited by human beings than the bones of the bodies that had been massacred; or the naked walls of the houses, choultries and temples, which had been burnt. To the havoc of war succeeded the affliction of famine, and the emigrations arising from successive calamities nearly depopulated the districts".