December 23, 2017

The Historic Hindu Theological School of Chennai

Madras, (or Chennai, as it is officially called nowadays) has expanded multi-fold in the past 350+ years. Today, there are so many schools and colleges in every nook and corner of the city. Obviously, not many of the citizens of the current generation would have the opportunity to know about this historic school called The Hindu Theological School, which is located in the "original" Madras. This article focuses on this forgotten school, which was visited by Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.

The Hindu Theological School is located in Mint Street in Sowcarpet locality. The school was founded by Sivasankara Pandyaji on 14th January 1889 CE. The objective was to educate the students on Indian culture.

Sivasankar Pandyaji
Shri Sivasankara Pandyaji belonged to Gujarati Khedawal Brahmin community, which had migrated to Tamil Nadu few centuries ago. He graduated from Pachaiappan college and briefly worked as a professor in the same college. Then, he pursued his higher studies in legal field and briefly practiced as a lawyer in Tanjore. Later, he returned to Madras and worked as a teacher in Pachaiappa's High School.

While working in the school, he got an opportunity to notice that the Indian students were influenced towards the western culture. He resolved to dedicate his life to the revival of Hindu ideas. In 1882 CE, he started special weekly moral and religious classes. He continued these classes regularly till 1888 CE. It is said that around 2,000 students used to attend his lectures regularly and his lectures were very popular in the city during this time. The series of lectures were called as "The Castle of Diligence" and they were held in Pachaiappa's College.

Pandyaji founded the Arya Dharma Vidyasala in 1886 CE with the aim of bringing the religious awakening among the Hindu youths. In the meantime, he continued to conduct his religious discourses in English, Tamil, Gujarati and Telugu.

Pandyaji felt that the Christian missionaries' anti-Hindu propaganda had a negative impact on Hindu youngsters. He set up a counter movement by establishing the Hindu Tract Society in 1887 CE.

An incident in The Madras Christian College hurt the sentiments of the Hindu students. Pandyaji learnt about this and felt the urgency to establish a Hindu Religious Institution. As a first step, he sold his house to raise funds. He travelled all over the presidency to collect the donations. Baskara Vijaya Sethupathi, the Raja of Ramnad, donated a huge sum of Rs. 15,000. Several other people generously donated for the cause. Thus, The Hindu Theological School was founded on 14th January 1889 CE.

Pandyaji was the president of the board of management and the first head master of the school. He served the school till 1899 CE. The school, within few years of its founding, became a center for spreading Indian culture.

On 26th October 1896 CE, Mahatma Gandhi visited this school. He made the following statement about the school.

"I had the honour to visit this excellent institution. I was highly delighted with it. Being a Gujarati Hindu myself I feel proud to know that this institution was started by a Gujarati gentleman. Wish the institutions will crop up all over India, and be the means of preserving an Aryan Religion in its purity."

On 12th February 1897 CE, Swami Vivekananda visited the school and addressed the students.

As per the historian V. Sriram, who has researched and wrote about C. Saraswathi Bai, she conducted the first Hari Katha ever done by a woman, in this school. It was organized by Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha on 22nd February 1909.

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, the former President of India, was a member of the education committee of this school in 1913 CE. Sri C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer was another notable member of the education committee.

Kulapathy Joshi
Kulapathy Sri. S. Balakrishna Joshi, who was a popular educationist in South India during his times, served as the headmaster for about 26 years between 1944 CE and 1970 CE. During his tenure, the school became very successful and popular.

Even today, the senior citizens of Madras, who lived in George Town/Sowcarpet in those days, would fondly remember Joshiji.

The school had an iconic building which would look majestic. That was demolished and the school now functions from the same site but in a newly built structure.

Happy travelling.

Photo Courtesy - The photographs of Sri Sivasankar Pandyaji and Kulapathy Joshi are linked directly from the website of The Hindu Theological School. Thanks to them for these photographs.

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