The Ashe Murder case

Sir CP’s role in it……
The eminent historian Sreedhara Menon in his books on Sir CP mentions that he was unable to find the exact connection that Sir CP had with the Ashe murder case. I assumed, but naturally that Sir CP as a barrister was involved with the pleading of the case and many ‘knowledgeable’ sites and people nodded in agreement. But the official record is cryptic, it says - It is worthy of note that Travancore was the first State in all India which requisitioned his (Sir CP’s) services. That was in connection with an off-shoot of the Ashe murder case. His services were retained when a very important side issue was engaging the attention of the Madras High Court. While some persons know about the Ashe case, especially Tamilians, what connection would it have with Travancore? Don’t you think we should find out?

While I started out on this article considering it to be relatively straightforward, I found a number of twists and turns in the story, which kept me fully engaged. So let me now take you along, to those days when the Indians were staging a feeble revolt against British tyranny. Interestingly you will find that every single person connected to this story had violent events impacting their own lives. While one was stabbed, two others were killed by bullets; a third was stuck by a temple elephant. As we can see, their stars were crossed during that period and it was so fated. Curiously all of them except one Irishman were Brahmins, not otherwise associated with violence. But in the end this research turned out to be a bigger mystery than it was when I started out.

There are some who would wonder who Sir CP is. To answer them in a few lines, in describing a volcano of a character that shaped the Travancore scene between 1931 and 1950, will be pretty difficult, but I will give a simple introduction. CP Ramaswami Iyer, an up and coming barrister of the Madras Bench had already obtained an insight into the governance of neighboring Mysore during his school vacations. Later he worked with Annie Besant and the IN Congress and as advocate general of the Madras High court was instrumental in many reformative measures in the state of madras. In 1931 he caught the eye of the Travancore monarchy and after that he was closely aligned to them and shaped the future of that Southern state, now part of Kerala. But how did he get involved with the Thirunals of Travancore? Therein lay the connection to the murder case of historical repute, otherwise known as the Ashe murder case. So let us now turn our sights at the Ashe story. As is said, Sir CP’s ability marked him for the Madras High Court at a very early age, but when the offer of a judgeship came he wrote, in refusing it, "I prefer, Mr. Chief Justice, to talk nonsense for a few hours each day than to hear nonsense every day and all day long." A caustic character, hated by many, loved and trusted by a few in high office, Sir CP did more good than bad in hindsight. In the course of time, I will write a few more articles on him, and that is another story. Now who was Ashe? For that we now leave Madras and go to the southerly Coromandel Coast and zoom in at Tuticorin and Tinnevelly (Tirunelveli).

Chalapathy in the Hindu (See link under references) explains - In 1894 Robert William Escourt Ashe passed fortieth among 61 successful candidates in the Indian Civil Service (ICS) examination. On December 4, 1895, he arrived in India, where he began his career as an Assistant Collector and rose up to be District Magistrate and Collector. In 1907, Ashe found himself posted in the southernmost corner of the Presidency, in Tirunelveli. After a period of long leave he rejoined duty on February 17, 1908. The two months he spent officiating in the Tuticorin division were to be fateful. Tuticorin, a major port in the Presidency, also had a major spinning mill, the Coral Mills, managed by the European firm A. and F. Harvey. The Harveys were also the agents of the British India Steam Navigation Company BISNC, which had a virtual monopoly over the trade between Tuticorin and Colombo. After the eventful months in Tuticorin, Ashe was posted out to Godavari. He took charge of Tirunelveli district on August 2, 1910, as Acting Collector.

So what were the events occurring in Tuticorin? The country was stirring in revolt against the British and the seeds were taking root at any place the British became autocratic. In the 1890s and 1900s India’s independence movement and the Swadeshi movement, initiated by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai of Indian National Congress (INC), were at their peak.Many a young soul joined in this outcry against the white man who ruled him and took away his grains while he was struggling for food. There was a specific thorn in the British flesh , a lawyer named VO Chidambaram Pillai a.k.a VOC or Kappalottiya Tamizhan, he was the champion for the oppressed. Soon he started the Swadeshi steamship navigation company flouting the monopoly of the British. VOC had great difficult in starting up the company and leasing ships, but finally he had two and went head to head with the BISNC offering cutthroat fares. Even though free tickets with umbrellas were offered, people used the Sawdeshi ship plying the Sri Lanka route. The British tried to buy him out, but VOC would not agree. Next he incited a strike at the Coral mill. VOC was later convicted by Pinhe and sent to Coimbatore, imprisoned for life. An appeal resulted in reduction of the sentence. He was later moved to Cannanore. The shipping company went bankrupt and the ships were taken over by BISNC. The people of the South were angrier with all these rapidly evolving events.

VVS Aiyer enters the scene around this time – then in Britain, V.V.S. Aiyar came into contact with VD Savarkar, an Indian revolutionary, at the India House. Under Savarkar's influence Aiyar began to take an active role in the militant struggle for Indian independence. Aiyar's militant attitude prompted the British Government in 1910 to issue a warrant for his arrest for his alleged involvement in an anarchist conspiracy in London and Paris. Aiyar resigned from the Lincoln's Inn and escaped to Paris. Aiyar landed in Pondicherry, the hotbed for such anti British revolutionaries around December 1910 disguised as a Muslim to escape arrest and remained there as exile. Poinditry or Pondicherry, North of Madras, was then a French colony. This was where a number of Anti British revolutionaries were holed up, acting with impunity and living under French political asylum. Aiyar remained in Pondicherry for over ten years. Aiyer started revolver practice for young Indians in certain gardens and preached the necessity of violence and assignations to free the country. As later events were to show, he trained them well and was also involved in hatching the plot to murder Ashe.

Meanwhile a conspiracy against the British Government was being worked up in the Madras Presidency by Nilakanta Brahmachari (the first accused in the Tinnevelly conspiracy case of 1911). He had been going round Southern India both in 1910 and in previous years in company with Shankar Krishna Aiyar, preaching swadeshi and sedition, and induced various persons in the Presidency to take a blood oath of association for the purpose of obtaining swaraj. In June 1910 Shankar introduced Nilakanta to his brother-in-law, Vanchi Aiyar. Vanchinathan was born in 1886 in Shenkottai to Raghupathy Iyer and Rukmani Ammal. Raghupathy Iyer worked with the Travancore dewaswom. Vanchi’s actual name was Shankaran. He did his schooling in Shenkottai and graduated in M.A. from Moolam Thirunal Maharaja College in Thiruvananthapuram. Even while in college, he married Ponnammal and later obtained clerkship in the Travancore forest department.

On the 9th of January 1911 Vanchi Aiyar took three months' leave and visited Pondicherry, where he associated with V. V. S. Aiyar and indulged in revolver practice under his instructions. Evidence was given in the Tinnevelly conspiracy case that Vanchi had told one of the witnesses that English rule was ruining the country, that it could only be removed if all white men were killed, and suggested that Mr. Ashe should be first killed as being the head of the Tinnevelly district and an officer who had taken a leading part in the events of 1908. Vanchi returned to Tinnevelly and closely shadowed the target, he was in a bad state of mind, and his infant daughter had died recently. The original intention was to kill Ashe on 11th June 1911, synchronizing with the Coronation of George the V. But Ashe was not to be seen on that day. He thus escaped death but just by a week. The fateful day arrived on 17th June, 1911. By then Ashe had been promoted as acting collector of Tinnevelly.

Chalapathy adds - In a sense, Ashe was an unlikely target of the conspiracy. There were no casualties in Tuticorin, while four persons were shot dead in Tirunelveli. In any case, Wynch, as the Collector of the district, was in charge. Even in the press it was Wynch rather than Ashe who was the target of criticism. Ashe was criticized in the press but not so much as Wynch. Another railed figure in the whole affair was A.F. Pinhey, who sentenced VOC to two terms of life imprisonment. But was there another reason? Perhaps… read on…

On June 17, 1911, Ashe boarded the 9-30 a.m. Maniyachi Mail at Tirunelveli junction. With him was his wife, Mary Lillian Patterson, who had arrived from Ireland only a few days earlier. They had married on April 6, 1898, in Berhampore; Mary was about a year older than Ashe. They were on their way to Kodaikanal where their four children, Molly, Arthur, Sheila, and Herbert, lived in a rented bungalow. The whistle blew after they were seated in their first class compartment. Just then a skeletally thin man, later identified as Vanchi Iyer dressed in a green jacket, white dhoti and forehead smeared with vibhuti jumped into the compartment and shot Ashe point blank with a Belgian made browning. Ashe died soon after in the lap of his wife. Chased out by bystanders and police, the young man shot and killed himself in the platform lavatory. The police found a note in his pocket.

The mlechas of England having captured our country, tread over the sanathana dharma of the Hindus and destroy them. Every Indian is trying to drive out the English and get swarajyam and restore sanathana dharma. Our Raman, Sivaji, Krishnan, Guru Govindan, Arjuna ruled our land protecting all dharmas and in this land they are making arrangements to crown George V, a mlecha, and one who eats the flesh of cows. Three thousand Madrasees have taken a vow to kill George V as soon as he lands in our country. In order to make others know our intention, I who am the least in the company, have done this deed this day. This is what everyone in Hindustan should consider it as his R. Vanchi Aiyar, Shencottah

Quoting Chalapathy again - A massive manhunt followed the assassination, this being yet another collector’s assassination after Arthur Conolly at Calicut many decades ago ( there were a few more). Raghupathy Iyer even refused to perform his last rites. The investigation showed that Vanchi had been a forest guard in Punalur and had been to Baroda (now Vadodara) and Pondicherry (now Puducherry) in the recent past. In Senkottai, Ottapidaram and Tuticorin, seized correspondence indicated the existence of a secret society, complete with blood oath and Kali puja. Also found was extremist literature, especially two pamphlets printed in the Feringhee Destroyer Press, calling on Indians to kill Europeans. Investigations also indicated that the assassination had a direct link (did it?) with the political events in the district in 1908. Madasamy, widely believed to be Vanchi's accomplice and who was seen running away after the assassination, was never traced.

In the April number of Madame Cama's paper called Bande Mataram which was published in Paris about the end of May, there was some indication in one of the articles that a crime of this nature was in contemplation. It concluded with these words: "In a meeting or in a bungalow, on the railway or in a carriage, in a shop or in a church, in a garden or at a fair, wherever an opportunity comes. Englishmen ought to be killed. No distinction should be made between officers and private people. This article and the letter found on the murderer seem to show that the murder was designed to take place on the day of the Royal Coronation ceremonies. Madame Cama and V.V.S. Aiyar correspond regularly, and she would have no difficulty in sending him the automatic pistols which she is rumored to have done on two occasions in the last two years.

Fourteen persons were arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder Ashe. Two others committed suicide - Dharmaraja Aiyar took poison, while Venkateswara Aiyar slit his own throat.

Because an Englishman was killed, a three-judge bench, led by the Chief Justice, conducted the trial. White, Ayling, and Sankaran nair were the judges. Anyway the case went on for many months and while Ayling and white delivered an unanimous judgment against all accused, Sankaran Nair set himself apart with a brilliant brief which is used by students even today and considered a masterpiece. Justice Nair came to the conclusion that the charge of murder had not been legally proved against the accused, but he held that the charges of waging war against the King were proved against Nilakanta and another but not the rest. Finally, the Court, by a majority decision, awarded Nilakanta seven years’ rigorous imprisonment and Sankar¬a¬krishnan four years. The remaining accuseds were sentenced to varying terms of lesser imprisonment.

The Travancore kingdom had unwittingly entered into the high profile case. The plotters and killers were from Travancore. Vanchi Iyer worked for the Travancore forestry department, his father worked for the temple Dewaswom. The ruling family wanted to be sure that they were not sullied or implicated in anyway, I suppose. Anyway the high court deployed barrister CP to Shenkota, I presume to find out some of the details and exonerated any involvement of the state in the sordid affair. The trip is still a mystery. How did Shankaran Nair confirm in his judgement that…. The murder of Mr Ashe was a direct consequence of this bitter hostility. [T]hat Mr Ashe's conduct at Tuticorin with reference to the conviction of Subramania Siva and Chidambaram Pillai and with reference to the [Swadeshi] Steam Navigation Co. was one of the main causes of the murder". Did something else happen in Shenkottai? Anyway the judgment had connected Vanchi to the events of Tinnevelly and patriotic fervor. And with the excellent fashion in which CP handled the issue, he became a trusted fellow in the eyes of the Travancore Raja Moolam Tirunal. His future was set in Travancore….and how… we will see in forthcoming articles.

Now enters the next important man in the case. It was none other than Subramanian Bharati, who was also holed up in Pondicherry. Bharatiyar as he is more popularly known, was born in Ettayapuram, a palace I covered at length in my article about Kattabomman, and a place of much ,musical repute. After a trip to Benares, his spiritual and nationalistic fervor increased. By 1904 he was a active journalist espousing the causes of the downtrodden and writing against authority. He was soon aligned to the Tilak brand of militancy and sometimes engaged with VOC at nearby Tuticorin. When Ashe took up the cudgels against VOC, Bharati testified in support of VOC. This put him also into the bad books of the British and soon, faced with imminent arrest, he fled to Pondicherry. He continued his strident tone in an immense volume of literary output from Pondicherry. While there he got involved with Aurobindo & VVS Iyer and teamed up in many anti British activities. It so happened that two of the pamphlets he authored were found in the house of Vanchi Iyer after security guards ransacked it for evidence. The government suspected Bharati and VVS Iyer of having had a direct hand in the planning of the murder. Officials of the Secret Police Service were posted near the house of Subramania Bharathi to watch his movements. Though not directly connected with the Ashe murder, the police perhaps believed that he knew what was going on.

The French police report stated - Lettres du C.I.D.I.F. - Lettre n°37 - In 1911, shortly before the murder of Mr Ashe on 17th June, two seditions pamphlets entitled ‘ A word of advice to the Aryans’ and ‘oath of administration into the New Bharata Association’ were distributed in the Tinnevelly and Madras district, and it has since been ascertained that they were published and printed by Subramania Bharathi in Pondicherry. He also issued about the same time two other seditious tamil pamphlets entitled “Kanavu“and “Aliropangu“. All four pamphlets have been proscribed by Government. He is one of the principal members of the anarchist gang and is a constant companion of V.V.S. Aiyar.

Arron Raman states it well - Deprived of an outlet for his political writings, Bharati turned inwards. The years of exile in Pondicherry from 1908-1918 that constituted the third main phase of his life define Bharati for posterity; when his genius burst forth in song, poetry and prose. Some of the greatest works to flow from his pen happened between 1911 and 1913. …Despite days filled with activity, it seems likely that his confinement within Pondicherry, the ever-present surveillance by British agents, gnawing poverty and also ostracism from the orthodox sections of his own community combined to place enormous psychological stress on Bharati. He had always possessed a latent ascetic streak, and he now began to keep company with local siddhars—mendicants. From them he took to the habit of using psychotropic substances that weakened his already frail constitution.

In November 1918, in an act of final desperation, he broke exile and entered British India at Cuddalore. He was promptly arrested and lodged in Cuddalore jail from where he wrote to Lord Pentland, the Governor of Madras, seeking his release: “I once again assure your Excellency that I have renounced every form of politics and I shall ever be loyal to British Government and law abiding.” He was imprisoned in the Central prison in Cuddalore in custody for three weeks from 20 November to 14 December.

It is at this juncture that CP Ramaswamy Iyer intervened together with A Rangaswamy Iyer and Annie Besant and got Bharatiyar released from jail on 14th December. He had spent less than a month in custody, but the collective events of the previous decade had impacted the poet. He returned to Tirunelveli and spent his next years in Kadayam. From a letter that he wrote to Iyengar soon after his arrival, it is clear that Mrs. Annie Besant, Dr. Subramania Iyer, and CP Ramaswamy Iyer had helped to secure Bharati's release. It was a few days after the end of the First World War.

And that was how the Swadeshi movement affected the people we talked about. But a look at the entire story still does not show why Ashe was selected as the target. A Christian reverend Dr Ravikumar Stephen provides this interesting but ‘rumored’ tidbit and I have no idea if it is the truth, for it does seem a bit farfetched to be a motive for a capital crime.

Ashe's wife Mary was a social worker. One day during her visit to Shencottai, along with her husband, spotted a Dalit (socially marginalized) women suffering in labor pain. She arranged a bullock-cart for this dalit lady and the bullock-cart carried her through the Agraharam (street where Brahmins alone can reside), the shortest route to the hospital. The Brahmins demanded an apology from Ashe for supporting his wife in sending the dalit woman in a bullock-cart through the Agraharam and the Brahmins believed that the act of Mrs Ashe brought sacrilege to them. Ashe refused to apology and justified the act of his wife. This infuriated the Brahmins and led to the plan to assassinate Ashe.

The new Indian express article adds - Vanchinathan was peeved by the collector's interference in the local affairs. Ashe expressed his dismay over people of a dominant caste refusing to let a pregnant woman, belonging to a lower caste, being taken through their street for medical treatment, said Josephine Jeyashanthi, Professor in the Department of Tamil, Loyola College.

Was that what Sir CP went to investigate at Shenkottai? What was his report? Nothing is known about the trip, all we know that it was a sensitive and secret issue being investigated by the High court. It is unlikely that the above angle warranted it, but then again, they may have wanted to crush the Swadeshi movement and get rid of minor issues like caste rivalry. Anyway we do know that Sir CP was instrumental in getting Bharatiyar quickly released from a British jail.

And so, Ashe died from the bullet; Vanchi died from another bullet from the same gun that Madame Cama perhaps sent from Paris, Bharatiyar died some years in Triplicane, Sir CP was stabbed by another Iyer Mani after the Punnapra Vaylar episode. VVS Iyer died mysteriously while saving his daughter from drowning at the Papanasam falls. Madame Cama lived in Paris until 19355 and after a stroke, returned to Bombay and died soon after. All tragedies that befell people who should have been leading peaceful lives…

Chalapathy concludes - Mary and her children returned to Exeter, her hometown, in April 1912 on a decent government pension. She never remarried. Their four children were aged 12, 10, eight and six at the time of Ashe's death. Arthur went on to become a colonel in the Indian Army and retired in 1947. It is curious that he should have chosen to work in a country that had claimed his father's life. Robert said his father had a deep love for India even though he or his family never visited Maniyachi or Tirunelveli. Herbert died in combat during the Second World War. The girls remained unmarried. Janet thought that their spinsterhood had much to do with Mary. Apparently, Mary, who died in 1954, never let people forget the tragedy she had suffered, of seeing her husband being shot at point-blank range right in front of her eyes.

Ex Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi renamed the Maniyachi junction after Vanchinathan. But railway tickets apparently do not bear the name of Vanchi and not many trains halt at the station

As for me, I used to live for a couple of years not far from where Bharatiyar lived, in Triplicane on Pycroft’s road or Bharatiyar salai, but now sit back and enjoy some of Bharatiyar’s poetry – like the simple one below…

theertha karayinile therku moolayin..shenbaga thotathilee..paarthirunthaal varuven vennilavilor..
paangiyodendru sonnaall..vaarthai thavari vittai adi kannamma..maarbu thudikkuthadi..paartha idathilellam unnai polave…paavai theriyuthadi

and extend a small thanks to Sir CP for getting him released from jail..


All too human at the core – Aroon Raman in Hindu
Frontline – An Irish link – AR Venkatachalapathy
Vanchi Assassinates Ashe –Bharatiya vidya bhavan
Aurbindo ashram documents – The political situation in Pondicherry 1910-1915
The press in Tamil Nadu and the struggle for freedom, 1917-1937 - By A. Ganesan
Ashefamily website

pics - Hindu,Deccan Herald - thanks


Pk said...

Intriguing writeup. Lots of interesting information. On a side note, Vanchinathan brings SSR (Tamil actor) to mind and Bharathiyar brings Sivaji Ganesan to mind.

Kamini said...

Another fascinating account. I like your description of CP as a "volcano"! Very apt!

windwheel said...

I found this post both fascinating and cryptic.

This is the part I don't understand-
'Was that what Sir CP went to investigate at Shenkottai? What was his report? Nothing is known about the trip, all we know that it was a sensitive and secret issue being investigated by the High court. It is unlikely that the above angle warranted it, but then again, THEY MAY HAVE wanted to crush the Swadeshi movement and get rid of minor issues like caste rivalry. Anyway we do know that Sir CP was instrumental in getting Bharatiyar quickly released from a British jail.'

By 'they wanted to crush the Swadeshi movement' presumably you mean the British wanted to do so. But why would the British want to get rid of 'minor issues like caste rivalry'? I thought their policy was to encourage such things.

The agraharam incident is on a stereotyped pattern of the sort that gave rise to routine complaints at the kutcheri. In general, the complaint would be framed by a local advocate who would put in telling details to work maximum mischief and to try to put the Magistrate or the Collector in a pickle. The British however were equally shrewd, rather they were more so, because they would pretend to sweat over these silly lawyers' tricks and give some concession. But this was only so as to turn the tables on those sly foxes by abruptly pulling the rug from under their feet.
'Yes, very true, your Religion has indeed suffered an insult and such and such Law Book from one thousand years ago does indeed endorse your opinion. But, tell you what, why don't we send in the soldiers to just rape and kill the whole bunch of you? After all the Commanding Officer of the local Regiment isn't bound by your particular Religion. Indeed, since the man comes from Ulster, his Religion appears to condone killing as many of you niggers as possible. After you are dead, by all means file a complaint and we'll examine the matter in due course.'

If the incident really occurred, the bullock cart driver must either have had confidence that he would be safe from reprisal because the Mem Sahib would protect him or that it was he himself who wished to offer this slight to the Agraharam dwellers because he knew it would increase his own standing.

windwheel said...

The reason I say this is as follows- if the bullock cart driver defies the Mem Sahib and takes her by another route he gets nothing worse than a scolding. From the British point of view he has done his duty in an exemplary manner and deserves a reward especially because he suffered the indignity of a tongue lashing from the White woman.
If, however, he takes the wife of an ICS officer by an unsafe route (for example if the agraharam dwellers included some notorious rogues or stick fighters sure to create trouble) he will incur the wrath of the Raj to no good purpose. His own community won't stand by him. Some local gangster will slit his throat and claim credit for this 'service to Religion' by surrendering to the police and receiving a mild sentence in a nice comfy Jail thus making his reputation and conferring 'Godfather' status upon himself.

In this instance, clearly, the bullock cart driver apprehended no consequence dangerous to himself in taking the agraharam route. But this means the situation on the ground was such that the District Magistrate was already on the look out for some means to cut the agraharam dwellers down to size. They are bound to have over-stepped the mark with respect to the dominant community in the area by making some absurd demand or getting too big for their boots. In other words the whole thing was an excellent tamasha as if sent by God to cut those fellows down to size.

Bharatiyar is an example of a man chased out of his agraharam because of his unorthodox and quixotic behaviour. The Tamil film on him from the 90's treats him as a crack-pot. It is hilarious that he thought he was conferring some great favour by chanting some Sanskrit shlokas and investing a person from another community with the 'sacred thread'. Tamil Nadu is not Kerala- some Brahmins may have gotten puffed up with pride from time to time- but they have absolutely no claim to superior status. They are one community amongst many. The title of dominant caste may be disputed from district to district, but Brahmins were only dominant in certain small neighbourhoods. The leader of the 'Iyer' sect in T.N- H.H. late Sankaracharya used to go on gently reminding them not to get big headed. Iyers are untouchable to Nambudris- though I think there is some caveat that they can serve a Nambudri monk if no one better is available- and, the Sankaracharya told us, inferior in scholarship to the Bengalis (I think the British were trying to create suspicion of Bengalis because they were more advanced and progressive)

I think this post shows a comic side to the Tamil Iyers. They got a boost because of the Christian missionaries who opened Schools. The poorest class amongst them managed to get ahead by eagerly grasping on to the uplifting hand of English education. Many were very good men- Srinivas Sastri, poor fellow had only one shirt. One day it was rainy and his shirt had not dried and so he came to school in his angavastram only. The English headmaster fined him eight annas. Sastri- 'the silver tongued orator'- tearfully pleaded that if he had eight annas he would have bought a shirt- which cost six annas. The headmaster had to enforce the rules but his conscience troubled him. That night he was praying to Lord Jesus for guidance. His wife saw this and became angry- 'remit the fine and stop bothering God'- she admonished him. Later, it was the Headmaster who had tears in his eyes when 'one shirt Sastri'- now a privy councillor- came to embrace him.
This sort of light comedy, I think, is more suited to the Tamil Iyers. All this business of pistols and conspiracies and sudden enthusiasm for Durga worship strikes the wrong note.

Incidentally, I remember being told that VVS Aiyar was a Police informer or approver of some sort. Who knows? perhaps it is true. Revolutionary politics does tend to get very sordid very quickly.

sumal said...

Great research, sir. You brought the entire episode so very clearly.Can you tell me what happened to Vanchi's descendants and VVS Aiyar's daughter

Maddy said...

thanks PK..
glad you enjoyed it..

Maddy said...

thanks Kamini.
in fact I read more on CP to analyse other events. at the end he remained a fantastic character with a lot of good and bad about him..a very special man..

Maddy said...

Thanks sumal..
Vanchi was about 20 when he died, but he had a child wife Ponnammal. I belive she got a pension finally.His father had disowned him even before the event.I am not sure what happened to Iyers daughter subhadra..

Maddy said...

thanks windwheel..
in fact i continued research on this story even after posting this and read 3 books, one by Prof Kusumam, one by Indira Devi and a third detailed article. I will get to the full details another day for there is more to the story than meets the eye.

but the point I was trying to make was.

1. the entire conspiracy was actually put to effect in the Travancore state & the British were hopping mad with the Raja. The Raja wanted CP to represent them at Madras, but CP was not keen.
2. CP did get involved on a later fact finding trip.
3. The travancore state was hardly involved as matters evolved and it finally became a bigger conspiracy involving the persons in Pondicherry, for they were capable of future problems to the British
4. So the small event of the agraharam was a no issue and the dragnet to get the guys in Pondicherry was the main purpose.
5. I would assume that Mary Ashe was very upset with the turn of events and well, she kept mum the whole life.
6. It was Vanchi who proposed Ashe's name as the first to be assasinated right at the beginning.he perhaps had a personal axe to grind.. Not much is known about it other than the bullock cart rumor.
7. perhaps the bullock cart was the catalyst.. But the Bharat mata movement did support multi caste activities like eating together etc, so I cant figure out how the bullock cart issue would have tripped Vanchi

Happy Kitten said...

It is only when you read history... (and never so detailed if it was not for your blog) that one can conclude that nothing changes in this world of ours. The British may not be ruling the world at present but in it's place we have others and caught between are ordinary people; some are only doing their job while others are only defending their rights.

Chandrakumar said...

Thanks for this detailed article explaining the background of Ashe's murder and I really enjoyed reading this. Appears to be thoroughly researched and the thing that really intrigued me was the underground movement rooted in Pondicherry that was willing to go to this extreme!

Maddy said...

thanks HK..
yes, it is a complicated world...and it has always been a fight between those who have sonmething and those who have little or none, be it money or knowledge.. sometimes you learn something with great difficulty and some clever person copies it...

Maddy said...

thanks chandrakumar
welcome to my blog..
It was rooted in pondy for a reason, that it was not british soil and was french, who were anti british..then again the whole thing actually had little to do with pondicherry, which i found out after much more study. it was more a home grown conspiracy from shencotta in travancore!!more on that later

sumal said...

Can you write an article on the children of famous freedom fighters like Subramania Bharti,Sardar Patel, Veer Savarkar, Gokhale etc

sumal said...

Sir, Can you write an article on the children of freedom fighters like Sardar Patel, Veer Savarkar, Bharathiar etc. Similarly an article on defunct magazines like Mirror(Blitz group), Illustrated Weekly of India etc

Maddy said...

Thanks Sumal.
the former does not interest me too much, the latter perhaps..Let me get started.

Abhed Kiran Ravikumar-Pillai Kandamath said...

This is, in fact, Sir CP Ramaswami Aiyar's first stint in Travancore and won him great praise from the Maharajah HH 'Padmanabhadasa' Sir Rama Varma VI-'Sree Mulam Thirunal'.As you would now, he was to help the heir apparent Rama Varma VII(Later Maharajah Padmanabha Dasa Sir Balarama Varma III-''Chithira Thirunal) in his ascension to power solving the crisis as the Constitutional Advisor to Travancore and later went on to became the Dewan.With the view of the recent circumstantial changes at Sree Anantha- Padmanabhaswamy Temple in mind, Sir C P crops ups again as he drafted the special covenant with the newly-formed Govt. of India that gave special status to Travancore's ruler thereby safeguarding the values and assets of the state.

The initial reason why there was lot of speculation from the Madras Government (and I believe the same applies to the secrecy of Sir Aiyar's fact-finding mission to Shencottah) is that there would have been legal difficulties for the Madras Jurisdiction in pursuing the case since Iyer(Vanchi)was a citizen of Travancore,Shencottah then being a Taluk under Trivandrum Division.Also,there was a prospective fear of Nationalism spreading among students centered around Trivandrum.Previously they had only seen Liberal Activists,one being Barrister G P Pillai who worked both arenas-the city of Madras and Trivandrum.

And by the by, Sir Ramaswami Aiyar was not a Barrister but a Vakil who enrolled in Madras in 1903.He declined the offer of Judgeship and was elected member of the legislative council of Madras in 1919.By 1923,became the youngest man to be made the leader of the presidency's Bar-The Advocate General.The career graph stilts up from then on...

The elevation in career would seem so far-fetched.His academic brilliance and intellectual capability and sweetness of personal charm could be the only reason since he gavce ample support to many nationalists as well. He stood surety for Aurobindo Ghosh's newspaper when security proceedings were started against it.

I feel VVS Iyer's sudden mysterious death is still very intriguing and have heard many conspiracy theories about it.

Great article,indeed!

Maddy said...

thanks abhed kiran-
i wonder what they call you in UK..
since i wrote this, i got 2 other books that deal with the case in great detail. i have been planning a follow up article.

Abhed Kiran Ravikumar-Pillai Kandamath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maddy said...

thanks Abhed..
I asked because i spent a few years in UK.. no clue about CP's incident with Mountbatten..maybe you can tell us..
call me maddy - that's how i was called since college days - name is U Manmadhan

Abhed Kiran Ravikumar-Pillai Kandamath said...

Whereabouts were you in the UK?
And about the incident- Lord Mountbatten had an deadpan humour much like Prince Philip now.Its seems to be a Battenberg tradition. HE said something along the lines of 'there is a lot of your family here' at a Civic Reception when C P rebuffed by saying that his lot were a forerunner to that of the Battenbergs but unlike them, his family lost nothing in adopting a new surname.CP didn't take much to British humour and Mountbatten also seems to have taken light-heartedly.

Abhed Kiran Ravikumar-Pillai Kandamath said...

And I'm not sure if what I've said should remain in public domain. The Windsors are not so keen on Prince Philip's or for that matter his uncle Mountbatten's jokes, circulating as it could potentially affect Foreign Policy!

Maddy said...

Thanks Abhed..
I used to live in Stafford, working in Stone.
That sure was an interesting comment

Unknown said...

I think the Agraharam bullock cart incident is a pure fabrication by the missionaries to discredit those involved and their aim. Jeyamohan had written a fantastic article on this murder case. Pls check his website ( and search for Vanchi.

Unknown said...

Thanks for Sharing the Covered truth......

Anonymous said...

Dear Maddy,

If your accounts are true and you have credible enough sources to support it, could you please update wikipedia on vanchinathan? I think that would be a great help.


maxhavan said... Maddy stumbled upon this .....the finale resting place of the conspirator of Ashe's killing

Maddy said...

Thanks maxhaven, sivakumar, rajesh
for your valuable comments

ksraj said...

i read sometimes back that it was bharathithaasan who got Madasamy to escape from India ( pondichery) He secreatly put him on a boad , sailed him to a nearby waiting ship.

Prem said...

I think the agraharam incident had to be true. You can decide based on this:

Maddy said...

Thanks Prem..
Makes some sense, I recently read Chettur Sankaran Nair's biography where it is stated that the judges concluded that there was no war waged on the king, was mostly a personal issue and that it was a non political case. So there is more to the story perhaps.

Ramachandran said...

Maybe CP tried to help the lawyers of the accused, on the mission.One of the lawyers,T M Krishnaswamy Iyer,later, became the Chief Justice of Travancore Highcourt.

Ramachandran said...

One more point to establish the agraharam incident a fiction:Savarkar's associates were against untouchability.

Ramachandran said...

One of the six members of the Communist League,formed in 1931 in Travancore was R P Iyer.Nothing much is known about him.N C Shekhar,who was a member in it(he was one among the first four members of the Communist Party along with EMS),writes Iyer was the younger brother of the Trichy Asst Collector.He,a graduate, was the main speaker of the Communist League.If Iyer had stayed back in Trichy,it would have harmed his brother,and hence he left the place.

Ramachandran said...

Here is the list of the 14 people arrested in Ashe murder case:Neelakantan,Sankarakrishna Iyer,Madathukadai Chidambaram Pillai(related to VOC),Muthukumaraswami Pillai,Subaiah Pillai,Jagannatha Iyengar,Harihara Iyer,Bapu Pillai,V Desikachari,Vembu Iyer,Savadi Arunachalam Pillai,Alagappa Pillai,Vandematharam Subramanya Iyer,Pichumani Iyer.So,all the accused were not brahmins,but half of them belonged to V O Chidambaram Pillai's community,the backward Vellala Pillai.One of them was Chidmbram Pillai's relative.Hence,the motive was,the British action against V O Chidambaram Pillai.
I read, a small Christian group recently worshiped the idol of Ashe near Nagercoil-a shameless deed indeed!

Ramachandran said...

Sir C Sankaran Nair,in his separate judgement quoted the poem,FREEDOM by Subramania Bharati:
Endru Thaniyum Intha Suthanthira dhaham
Endru Madiyum Engal Adimayin Moham
Bharati wrote it after the arrest of VOC and it has been used in the movie,KAPPALOTTIYA THAMIZHAN.
The police had seized pamphlets written by Bharati in Pondicherry,from the House of Vanchi Iyer.

Maddy said...

Thanks ramachandran
All these details greatly enrich the story, thanks a lot..

திரு...... said...

The post by ramachandran is clearly skewed and is designed to insinuate a false notion.. by stating he read !! @ somewhere about !! Some Christians group worshipping Ashe idol.. which even by imagination is far fetched....
And also stating the Pillais were a backward community!!!, they are just one step down from brahmins in the social ladder...

You can see clearly how wily they vilify anything which puts the brahmin in a bad light..
There is also some French research about the agraharam incident which may throw some light on that..