• 05-Jun-2023


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Subramaniya Sivam, popularly known as Subramaniya Siva was born in Batlagundu village, Dindigul District (Madurai Region) in 1884 to Rajam Iyer and Nagalakshmi. He showed great interest in spiritual enquiry even when young and became an ardent disciple of his uncle who was a sannyasi named Odha Swami. The strained circumstances of his family made him accept a job in the district court, which he left soon to plunge into the fight for India’s freedom. He was a fine orator, who spoke his mind openly in every context. The principles of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who advocated always meeting the adversary with firmness and without compromising, appealed to him very much.

Some common friends introduced him to VO Chidambaram Pillai (VOC) who had the courage and management skills to compete with British ship companies by starting his own Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company. Siva became a close friend and associate of VOC and started speaking publicly in support of his shipping activities and his role as a Trade Union leader.

It was thus that Siva and another older Swadeshi enthusiast Padmanabha Iyengar, got together with VOC when he organized a strike in the British owned Coral Mills at Tuticorin. Closely following it on March 9, 1908, they also held a well-attended rally in Tirunelveli to celebrate the release from prison at Calcutta of Bipin Chandra Pal, defying the orders of the district collector Wynch. Wynch got all three arrested and tried in court. They were held in a jail in Palayamkottai and released around the end of March.

However, the British were smarting from the fiery speeches of Siva and VOC and charged them again with sedition and unmoved by the support that the leaders received from around the country, sentenced them to transportation for 20 years and 10 years. On appeal, they relented and reduced the imprisonment to 6 years for VOC and 3 for Siva in the jail in Coimbatore, where they were treated harshly and inhumanely.

Siva was unlucky to contract leprosy in prison. He had to curtail his travelling as a result and also his speeches, though they continued to attract people because of his patriotism. His speeches led to more jail terms for him. He spent the rest of his life running three newspapers, one after another, in Tamil, the first of which, named Gnana Bhanu was highly acclaimed because of literary merit apart from content. It had the distinction of publishing some of the songs of the patriotic Tamil poet, Subramania Bharati. Siva was also an eminent writer and is known for his books including Ramanuja Vijayam and Madhva Vijayam.

He spent his last few years in Papparapatti, where with the help of his friends, he got Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das to lay the foundation stone for a temple for Mother India (Bharat Mata). Unfortunately, he had no time to proceed further on the project. He was with his friends when his end came peacefully, though prematurely, in 1925 due to advanced leprosy and exhaustion.

On August 1, 2021, a new library building was declared open honouring the freedom fighter Subramaniya Siva, in the memorial premises built ten years earlier at Papparapatti in Dharmapuri district, Tamil Nadu. At the same time a bronze icon of Bharat Mata about a metre in height was also unveiled in the same premises, bringing to fruition a dream the freedom fighter had, nearly a century ago.