Kannan Bombayo – The Jumping Devil

NP ‘Kunchy’ Kannan and his incredible life story

Back in those days, kids and adults went to see the circus, and the events under the big top fascinated us, be it the flying acrobats, the ferocious animals, the rubbery contortionists or the funny clowns. Many of the performers were youngsters from North Malabar, Tellicherry to be precise, so also the circus managers. But there was one whom we never saw, who had once enthralled thousands in the western world, setting a golden trail for others to follow. That was the diminutive NP Kannan, known in the west as Kannan Bombayo (Kannan from Bombay) – described as the jumping devil, the unrivaled wire rope jumper, the greatest funambulist ever, and the somersaulter extraordinaire! He was a byword in the lips of European and American circus goers, though hardly anyone had ever seen him perform in India. Well, when you read his story, you may wonder why fate was so unkind to him. Some said Hitler watched his performance at Berlin, and called him the ‘Indian jumping devil’, while others mention Roosevelt watching him from his wheelchair, performing in America. What do you think? Let’s find out.

Kalari’s were the arenas where young men practiced martial arts in medieval Malabar to become fighting machines. Malabar was famed for its 108 Kalaris and ballads testify to the feats of the many fighters, dueling in their time. When the British disarmed the region after the Pazhassi revolt and the Moplah disturbances, most of the Kalari’s of Malabar sunk into decadence, and the fighting techniques gradually degenerated into a performing art form, which people today term the ‘Kalaripayattu’. Up north in Tellicherry, however, young boys, mainly of the Thiyya caste continued to practice in Circus Kalaris and when they proved popular, found gainful employment in those traveling circuses. Nisha in her lovely book and research paper brings those ancient circus schools to life and introduces the master Keeleri Kunhikannan, the guru who trained our protagonist.

As the story goes, Keeleri Kunhikannan, after intensive training in various physical disciplines, returned to Tellicherry and decided that gymnastics and circus arts should be taught to aspiring youngsters. Whether he picked his skills from a European circus in Madras or from Chatre’s circus in 1887 is not clear, but he decided to start a school and later send his graduates, to Chatre’s Grand Indian Circus. Chatre’s circus itself came into being after Chatre watched the 1879 performance of the Royal Italian Circus led by Giuseppe Chiarini in Bombay. Chiarini who was touring India went bankrupt and it appears that Chatre purchased the Italian’s equipment. Keeleri eventually started his circus school, adjoining his house, at Chirakkara near Tellicherry, Kannur in 1888. The name of this institute was the ‘All India Circus Training Hall’.

Somewhat of a rebel and a non-conformist, Keeleri joined the Bhrama Samaj, but when his own community decided to outcaste him, he converted to Christianity and is said to have favored students from the fishermen’s (Mukkuva) community, for his new school. The students, both men and women, were trained to master skills such as the horizontal bar, varma chattam (frog), trapeze, rope dance, weightlifting, rings, foot juggling, pole, and wire items in this circus kalari. They went on to become famous names in many a circus company and soon, it became clear to aspiring youngsters that this was a route to stardom and riches. As Nisha puts it, these circus rings witnessed the heroic transformation of their lives.

Sreedharan Champad tells us - Kunchy Kannan was born in 1907 as the son of Eerayi Korumban, a lowly farmer at Chirakkara. One day Keeleri walking by, heard a child’s sobs and when he looked up, he saw the little child Kannan sitting on the high branch of a jackfruit tree. Tearfully the child told him that the fragrance of the ripe fruit had lured him there, and that he was afraid to climb down. Keeleri smiled and asked Kannan to jump into his hands, which he did. The boy NP Kannan was taken straight to the circus Kalari and a glorious acrobatic career began, at the age of seven.

Dominique Jando feels that the boy’s brother-in-law, OK Chandu was perhaps the one who taught him the tricks on a coir rope, which was quite elastic but required tightening often. Kannan, just five feet tall, soon became an expert at it, doing his rope summersaults (normal, twisted, and double back) high up with the rope about 13 feet above the ground. He made his acrobatic debut in 1917 at the Sheshappa Circus owned by Sandow Sheshappa, but it was in 1922 that he started the bouncing rope act at the Whiteway circus, presumably at Trichur. Kannan continued on for many years with the Whiteway Circus. In addition to performing, he managed parts of the troupe as well. Not quite content, he transferred between other circuses and some years later, left Indian shores. Most of the story of his short but brilliant life abroad, is brought to light in the riveting Canestrelli book. The Canestrellis were (and still are) an old and extended Italian circus family, with origins dating back to the mid-nineteenth century; they created their own circus in Padua circa 1903.

Kanna’s fate was decided when the Canestrelli troupe touring Asia with the Harray Handy Circus and later the Isako’s Royal Circus, finished their acts in Malaysia and returned once again to India for their final performances New Delhi, after which they would depart from Colombo to Czechoslovakia in March 1931. They had a 6-week gap, and it was decided to go and to perform with Keeleri’s Circus in Kerala during this idle time. It was during that visit that they met Kunchy Kannan, the tumbler and summersaulter. Ottavio Canestrelli states - A frail, yet resilient young man, Kunchy was an outstanding tumbler and proficient in the extremely difficult round off double back somersault. He was also chief instructor of the circus apprentices and in charge of a group of some thirty children who were being trained for all kinds of acts in the Keeleri Circus. However, Kunchy’s foremost talent resided upon the bounding rope.

Kannan struck a friendship with Ottavio’s younger brother Federico and when it was time for the Italians to leave, mentioned his desire to accompany the troupe to Europe. Ottavio thought about it and decided that it could work out as a decent business proposition and the Indian jumping rope act could become popular. Thus, it was all firmed up and as Kannan already had his passport, the travel was not an issue. The voyage was uneventful, and the team stayed at Venice for a while and later proceeded to Bratislava to join up with the Kludsky Circus.

Canestrelli went on to modernize Kannan’s rope act, he had the coir rope substituted by manila and elastic, the bamboo cross poles at either end were changed to more stylish steel tubes. After a nine-month practice session on the new apparatus with safety belts, Kannan was finally ready for performances, with the rope strung at a 12’ height. Kannan’s act was added during the last two months at Kludsky’s circus and was well received and soon became a sensation, so much so that the Canestrelli team received much acclaim and got the attention of America’s foremost entertainer – John Ringling. They signed a contract with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus, then considered the greatest show on earth. Before traveling to America, another important event occurred, the group traveled to pick up and train Canestrelli’s sister-in-law Filomena Lentini for the ladder act.

Kannan Bombayo, the making of the name

Pat Valdo, the art director of Ringling Circus wanted Kunchy Kannan to be given a nickname palatable to the American audience and Ottavio chimed in with Bombayo – which was quickly accepted as it ‘sounded "Indian" enough to an American ear, and was easy to pronounce’. He was introduced with much fanfare, his exceptional skill impressed all the administrators and the press and publicity departments and even before the show opened his name created a buzz.

Dominique Jando explains - Kannan Bombayo was one of the featured highlights of the new show, which also included The Codonas, Dorothy Herbert, the original Wallendas, and Hugo Zacchini —not too bad a company for an American debut! Kannan Bombayo was featured in the center ring and given a spectacular entrance, a true production number in which the Canestrelli family participated, including Ottavio who opened the proceedings parading a giant python named Satana (which he had acquired in Singapore at the beginning of his South-East Asian tour), before Kunchy’s own entrance mounted on an elephant, with another python looped around Kunchy's shoulders.

Marriage to Filomena

It was in America that Filomena and Kannan fell in love and decided to get married. Kannan converted to Christianity and the 22-year-olds were married in San Antonio, Texas on September 19, 1932. Canestrelli adds - Their marriage happened to coincide with the annual meeting of “Circus Fans of America,” and this grandest of all circus fan clubs honored Filomena and Bombayo with a gigantic Mexican-style party, complete with Mexican music and hot tamales. They threw the party outdoors and used the personnel coaches of the circus train as a sidewall.

Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus

With the 1933 season beckoning, a segment of the Barnum Bailey team which included the Canestrellis and Kannan Bombayo, found themselves transferred to the Ringling sister unit, i.e., the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, where Kannan was soon to star as a solo performer which his own advertisement poster. It was even grander and his entrance on an elephant and accompanied by a parade of showgirls in oriental costumes. It also included an act featuring Bombayo, ‘The Man from India’, leaping over elephants.


Kannan’s success stories from America reached the circus owners in Europe and soon the prestigious Bertram Mills circus, signed Kunchy and Filomena. It has been mentioned that on the opening night, Kannan Bombayo performed in front of Prince George, the Duke of Kent. The performances were top-notch and spectacular, so Cyril Mills signed Kannan for the 1935 Bertram Mills touring season as well.

The terrible accident

Kannan was back in the US and getting ready to complete his last touring season with Hagenbeck-Wallace, but by then the old team had split, with Ottavio transferred to the AIG Barnes unit. Kunchi performed with his wife Filomena and with Ottavio gone, the catcher under the rope was Lalo Codona, who was not quite used to some of the intricate details in Kannan’s repertoire. It appears that Kannan often hesitated for a moment just before throwing his double somersault— something which could mess the trick’s tempo and result in bad consequences. And, well, that happened once, Kannan missed his double summersault, and Lalo, taken by surprise by the missed timing, was unable to catch him or break his fall. Kunchy fell on his back and lay stunned for a while, but got back eventually. Unfortunately, he suffered a lung contusion that was neither detected, diagnosed nor treated.  Kannan continued with his rigorous exercises and training, not taking any rest, exacerbating the illness and soon his weakened lungs made him prone to frequent lung infections.

Back to the UK

Back in the US, Kannan performed for the Al Sirat Grotto Circus in Cleveland, Ohio, his final US 1935 performance, and the couple moved back again to London to tour for the Bertram Mills Circus. Happy tidings were at hand, the couple was blessed with a little boy, whom they named Charlie. He would also perform in Paris for the legendary Cirque Medrano, where he was a big hit. Here, he reunited with Lalo Codona, the catcher, but I suppose such was the admirable camaraderie in the circus community, they paired for Kannan’s act. Reporting the act, the famous French circus chronicler Serge admiringly dubbed Bombayo "le félin du câble" ("the feline of the wire") in the magazine Coemedia.

The 1935 Evening Telegraph report on the Arbroath night stated – Bombayo the Hindu, a wiry little chap in a unique tight rope act with a dash of acrobatics thrown in! The Fife free press covering Kircaldy mentioned – On the slack wire, Bombayo, the Hindoo performed amazing feats of evolution and balancing, culminating in a remarkable double summersault. This is an act which requires accurate timing and judgement and yet, Bombayo made it appear almost easy to execute! Other papers mentioned how he received repeated rounds of applause for his breathtaking acts, which made a viewer dizzy.

The 1936 western mail stated thus about the night at Plymouth – There was young Bombayo, the Hindoo, who leaping on his tight rope, turned a double summersault in the air and landed steadily on his feet on the rope again. He is claimed to be the only person in the world who can do this trick. He jumped up and down on his rope 10 ft above the arena, like a jack in the box!

The Mercury and Herald stated that his acts (in 1937) provided the last word in tight rope performances while The Daily mail of August 1937, reviewing the Bertram mills opening night at Hull stated – A neat little aristocrat is Bombayo, the Hindoo, in his dress of gold and his tiny golden slippers. With slow controlled grace which comes close to invitation, he bounces about on a tight rope….Wonders in equilibrium demonstrated by Bombayo – said the Belper news.

The most interesting press report was an article in the Leeds Mercury July 1937 – Caravan cookery – Real Indian Curry – I (Shirley Oliver) found Mrs. Bombayo cooking a curry for her Hindu husband and her little three-year-old son. She was putting all sorts of exciting things into olive oil, butter, onions, a little carrot, fresh peas, sliced potatoes, apples, and a little meat. Plenty of curry sauce and some hard-boiled eggs were added. The rice was served separately ---- each grain was separate., Grated coconut was served in a separate dish with the curry.

Bombayo and dignitaries – Hitler, Roosevelt, Mussolini

It is said that Hitler saw his act at the Berlin Wintergarten performance, but there is little corroboration, though his performance did take place in 1936. The black and white photo with Filomena under the rope is taken by Willy Pragher. All we do know is that Hitler and Goring used to watch circuses, and whether he made the comment ‘flying devil’ is unclear. Hitler was, according to a CIA report, particularly fond of tight rope acts and even contacted or rewarded acrobats, who he felt were good. So, it would not be surprising if he noticed Kannan, examined his shoes as rumored and gave him an autograph titling him ‘the jumping devil’. Similarly, the meeting with FDR - Roosevelt sounds unlikely as FDR’s connections with the Ringling Bros was in 1942, so much later. Another article said Mussolini saw him off in his final voyage to India, but that is also uncorroborated and seems unlikely.

Serge who interviewed him in 1937 wrote - When I approached him, in a large international circus where he was playing star, he first offered me his smile, his mysterious smile. He was leaning against the side of the red curtain which, in a few minutes, was going to swallow it up. He wore a sumptuous Hindu costume of white silk, trimmed night blue and studded with brilliants. He had covered his shoulders with an immense, silky cape, which gave him the appearance of a conspirator, come from the sun. An Indian turban completed the ensemble. I saw his pupils and, unwittingly, I suddenly realized that this man was sentenced to death. So suddenly, for no apparent reason, Bombayo the Indian broke all his commitments, tore up his contracts, packed his trunks and sailed for his native India. We thought he was going to come back. But he alone knew. A great langueur had taken hold of him….

Nevertheless, Kannan spent 1938 performing at a number of theaters in Scandinavia and Germany.

Time to heal

Though the name Kannan Bombayo still spelled magic in the circus community, he was a weakened man and had contracted Tuberculosis, which in those days was a terminal disease. Filomena hid it from him, and eventually Kannan understanding that he had to rest and recuperate, canceled a program with Circus Busch.

Filomena and Kannan then went to Naples to rest at the Lentini family home, but I guess it was all too late, nothing much could be done, and Filomena decided that it was time to take her husband back to India, so that he could die in his motherland. So sadly, in February 1939, Kannan, Filomena and their five-year-old Charlie set sail for India.

The last days

Kannan Bombayo was never to see his homeland again. He died near Athens, two days before reaching Bombay, on February 18, 1939. As was the practice, the ship’s captain suggested a sea burial, but Filomena contacted Ottavio and the decision was made to conduct his last services at Bombay.

It is more appropriate to quote Ottavio now - Unbeknownst to Filomena, many fans, friends, and relatives were preparing an enormous surprise welcome at the dock in Bombay for Kunchy Kannan; the first great circus star out of India. On hand to welcome him were over a hundred people, including city officials, former pupils, great performers from all over India, newspapermen, photographers, and, of course, Professor Keeleri Kunhikannan, the proud uncle who had launched Kunchy’s career many years earlier. The dock was alive with excitement as the crowd waited to greet Bombayo. People were holding welcome banners, flowers, and a band played Indian melodies. But there was no Bombayo. Still adjusting to the tragedy, Filomena sought out Professor Keeleri as soon as she could find him. With tears in her eyes, she related the story of Kunchy’s accident, the tubercular condition, and the fact that he had died on board the ship two days earlier. She said this as she held on to the hand of their six-year-old son. It was a tremendous blow to all when Keeleri announced this to the welcoming party. Many began to weep, and some fell on their knees to pray. When they learned that Kunchy had changed his religion, many of them became superstitious and believed his death to have been the result. The party quickly broke up, and the body of Bombayo was brought off in silence. Kunchy Kannan had indeed come home, but in a way that no one anticipated.

Bombayo’s body was apparently cremated at the Sabari Crematorium and his ashes were then buried, presumably at Sewri.

Filomena after Bombayo

A July 1940 report shows that Filomena (now presented in the circuit as Mrs Kannan Bombayo) was performing as a ringmaster for the Rosaires Circus - the program under her direction comprising two individual and one group riding acts, roller balancing, two pony numbers, flying rings; performing bear, pooch and lion acts presented by a parson's son, Martin Hawkes; trick cycling and clown entrees….

As Jando puts it - Filomena and Charlie spent a couple of weeks with Keeleri Kunhikannan, and returned to Italy. She then went to England, where she remarried. Kunchy's son, Charlie, died at a young age …. She had another child to whom she gave her former married name, Kannan.

A few others picked up and presented his routine, after his passing - As you will recall, Kannan Bombayo not only did the backward summersault but also the forward double somersault. His sister-in-law, the ‘Italian circus queen’, Tosca Canestrelli seems to have mastered the trick after Kannan’s death.

Bombayo’s days were different from those today. In a period where opportunities were scarce, Kannan accepted huge challenges and decided to prove to the world that he was ‘the king of the ropes, which he did. He was fortunate to have his Canestrelli sponsors, but the hard work was his. Sadly, his days were cut short by that unfortunate fall, and while he lorded of the ropes for just seven years, is still remembered as one of the greatest circus artists of the twentieth century.


The Grand Gypsy – a memoir – Ottavio Canestrelli, Ottavio Gesmundo
The Jumping Devils: A tale of circus bodies – Occasional NMML paper – PR Nisha
Jumbos and Jumping devils, A social history of Indian Circus – PK Nisha
An Album of Indian tops – Sreedharan Champad
Kannan Bombayo – Dominique Jando (Circopedia)
Histoire du Cirque (Paris, Librairie Gründ, 1947) - Serge

I would like to specifically acknowledge with thanks, the original works of Nisha, Ottavio and Dominique, without whose inputs, this little article would not have taken shape.

Pics – All images courtesy Dominique Jando -http://www.circopedia.org/Kannan_Bombayo, acknowledged with much thanks


The De La Hey case

The murder at Newington School, and its aftermath

I had only a vague idea about this infamous case, and it was never my intention to delve into it. Nevertheless, I was pulled into it by chance as I was studying the collection of Kavalappara papers and saw a mention of a Parvathy Nethiyar withdrawing her ward from the Newington School in Madras in 1916. A bit intrigued, I googled the school, only to realize that this was the one that featured the De la Hey murder of 1919. Then, I picked up the biography of Lakshmi Sehgal, to complete my previous article on the Azad Hind bank and Yellappa. Again, chance intervened, and there on page six was the De la Hey case and its effect on her. Now interested, I collected and perused quite a bit of material on this case, which involved a cricketing principal, his wife, the minor wards of many the ‘Polygar’ Zamindars of Tiruneveli region. It involved many people familiar to readers of my articles, such as Lakshmi Sehgal, her father S Swaminadhan, Mrinalini Sarabhai, KP Keshava Menon etc. The story is quite engaging and believe it or not, is one of those cases which still remain cold.

If you recall, when the EIC and the British rose to ascendancy in India, they governed their possessions directly, and indirectly controlled some princely states and minor Zamindar’s (large estates). The EIC established what was known as a court of wards to protect minor heirs of these Zamin’s. The idea was that these estates would be managed by the British on behalf of the heir, who would also be educated and nurtured through the offices of the Court until their maturity. One could spend hours arguing if they did it honestly or not if they really babysat or looted. Anyway, the plan was to bring these kids up as proper young men and for this purpose, Rajkumar colleges were set up in North India. In Madras, the institution which catered to the minor’s education was the Newington College, on Mount Road, near today’s Gemini flyover. Colloquially it was known as the Minor Bungalow since these young wards were called Minors.

The Newington at Teynampet, struggled to find talented pupils and plodded along, though you will come across a few educated Zamindars among its alumni. A couple of European tutors came to administer this institution and the most important ones were Cameron Morrison (who also wrote a geography textbook), Clement De La Hey, and Mr Yates.  Sir John Sinclair (Lord Pentland) a patron of the institution, tried hard to structure and support it, even laying a foundation stone for a better outfit in 1919, but as we will soon see, the new Rajkumar style school never came up and the old one was abruptly closed. Morrison retired and left back home, after 25 years of yeoman work. The ruins of that Minor bungalow, are situated across the congress grounds on Anna Salai, in the DMS complex.

Clement de la Hey arrived in India 1901/02 as a Newington tutor and remained. There are numerous reports of him receiving dignitaries touring the school, as well as participating and captaining cricket matches and picking many a wicket as a bowler, visiting estates and other locales with his wards (e.g., Rangoon), participating in hunts etc. After a couple of trips to Canada and reaching an age of 40, he decided to get married (during a visit to Britain in July 1918) and subsequently, brought his 26-year-old wife Dorothy Mary Phillips, home to Madras. Soon the couple became parents to a little boy, Antony.

The Newington College was not only an educational institution but also the home to most of the minor male wards, as well as the De La Hey’s. At the time of the incident, there were in addition to the De La Hey family, their Ayah Harriet and attendant Ponnuswamy, nine young - minor Zamin’s as well some of their manservants. The Maravar wards were from the Tinnevelly palayam’s of Singampatti (aged 16), Kadambur (aged 18), Urkad (brothers aged 17 and 12), Thalivankottai (aged 13), as well as the Andhra Zamins of Berikai (aged 18), Chundi (aged 19), Pedamerangi (aged 14) and Saptur (aged 18). Two teachers Dharma Rao and Rangaswamy Iyer taught the children Telegu and sciences, during the day sessions. The kids went on study tours, practiced hunting and shooting, and play games like cricket, tennis etc. While the Tamil speaking Singampatti, Kadambur and Urkad youngsters formed one cluster, the Thalivankottai (though Tamil, he was kept away by the former group as he was an adopted son of the Zamin), Berikai and Chundi boys formed another. Of the lot, Kadambur was not so well off, while Singampetti, the richest, and connected to the Urkad family was also linked to the powerful Setupati’s of Ramnad.

Connecting Singampatti, Urkad, and the Kadampur boys was a potential alliance with an Urkad girl named Doraichi (sister of the Urkad brothers) who lived nearby with a British guardian. She was originally supposed to wed the Kadambur boy, but he had turned her down after hearing rumors from the Thalivankottai boy, of some ‘immoral conduct’. The Singampatti boy was now being groomed up to take her hand. Among the boys, the only one interested in studies was the Kadambur lad, but he had been having issues with Clement De La Hay who was not too keen to recommend him to a school in Britain or allow him to study Sanskrit. The Kadamabur lad’s name was Seeni Vellala Sivasubramania Pandia Thalaivar and the Singampetti lads was TN Sivasubramania Sankara Theerpathi.

Another issue at hand was the poor performance of the school, which had been failing to attract good quality students. Lord Pendleton as well as the Ramnad ruler were in the process of setting up a school in the lines of the Rajkumar school and as it appears the plan was not to continue with Clement De La Hay, who had been given notice. As the rumors put it, he called the Ramnad Raja a ‘bloody nigger prince’ which the strong-willed raja took an affront to. Meanwhile, Morrison had gone on furlough to Britain, leaving De La Hey as the officiating principal. Interestingly, Clement’s sister Dorothy took over as the principal of the first women’s college, the Queen Mary’s, not too far, off Mount Road.

The Murder

On the evening of 15th October 1919, Clement returned late from the club and went up to his rooms. The other wards roomed on the second floor while Kadambur had his room on the ground floor (which was also storage for sporting goods and guns) and close to the tennis court. Around 12:30 a.m. a gunshot was heard by Dorothy, who lying in the next bed with her baby, woke up with a start. She then screamed for help after seeing Clement who was lying in a pool of blood in his bed, with the right side of his head blown off by a shotgun blast. The mosquito net had a large charred hole, to show that the gun was fired at close range. She also heard a thud soon after.

With that started the media furor over what came to be known as the Newington Scandal, the Kadambur Murder, or the De la Hey case. The case remained in the news for over a year, was heard, and decided in Bombay four months after the event. So, what happened, and who killed Clement?

The police concluded that the killing was the result of a late evening plan hatched by the Kadambur and the Singampetti wards. They were both taken into custody and the news media quickly indulged in sensationalist reporting. They published reports of the incident, one or two even going so far as to print that the Kadambur boy had admitted to shooting the principal (who had seemingly called him a black Tamil negro), hurting his sentiments and that he had written to his mother of his guilt and asking her to pay Mrs De La Hey a sum of Rs 10,000/- as compensation. Another report mentioned he turned De la Hey on his back to get a better shot. Singampatti’s father, well-connected in the Madras circles, swung into action, intent on freeing his son from custody. A renowned lawyer from Tellicherry, T. Richmond was retained as counsel for his son and in a few days, on the 24th, the Singampetti boy turned an approver implicating Kadambur as the murderer and himself as an unwilling bystander and witness. After the inquest, he was conditionally pardoned, leaving Kadambur in the dock.

It was then that S Swaminadhan, a leading criminal lawyer of Madras stepped in, to defend Kadambur, assisted by Ethiraj. Galvanized into action, they protested about the unfair and incorrect press reporting (KP Kesava Menon provided an affidavit attaching copies of all the nefarious reports) and the action of the Madras court, who after being pressured by the European residents, were trying to speed up closure with a guilty verdict on their client. They demanded that the case be heard elsewhere since the jury would be misled and influenced by the false reporting. Swaminadhan apparently rushed to Delhi to see the Governor-General and get a recommendation to transfer of the case. To cut the story short, the case was upon mutual agreement, shifted to Bombay, where surprisingly, the chief Justice Norman Macleod of the high court decided to preside himself, dressed in all his fine and pompous livery.

Meanwhile, Dorothy, Clement’s wife left India with the Madras court’s approval, stating that she feared for her life, nearing a nervous breakdown. This led to a number of rumors around her character, especially her relations with the young wards, while Clement was busy with his passion – cricket. The public felt that the British and the prosecuting counsel, sure that many skeletons would tumble out of the cupboard, had packed her off quickly to England.

The prosecution was confident that the case will be quickly done with, that Kadambur would be sentenced and jailed. They had not expected the wily Swaminadhan to get the case transferred to Bombay. To ensure that Kadambur was properly defended at Bombay, Swaminadhan & Ethiraj teamed up with RDN Wadia, a hot-shot Bombay lawyer. The prosecution team from Madras headed by Weldon arrived at Bombay with their entourage of clerks, translators, and assistants, as well as South Indian vegetarian cooks, with all the minor wards carefully prepared as witnesses, in tow.

Swaminadhan’s strategy was to attack the character of the state witnesses since the police had been insipid in their investigation, and little evidence had been unearthed. Neither had the police done a proper investigation nor had they built up a water-tight case. The motive, modus operandi, and timeline offered were at best, vague. The prosecution case relied fully on the approver’s statement and augmented it with corroborating statements of other minors. The defense decided to prove that both the approver as well as the supporting witnesses were lying and thoroughly untrustworthy. The cross-examination presented as a textbook example, by R K Soonavala, is a delight to read – Wadia, a skilled cross-examiner tore into the witnesses, i.e., the approver Singampatti and the minor wards and exposed the fact that they were being untruthful, and demolishing the prosecution’s case.

Mrs De La Hey’s testimony

Mrs De La Hey deposed on 20th Oct – On the night of the 15th instant, I went to bed at 9-30 p.m. The beds were one behind the other. I was in the bed nearest the bedroom. My husband was a sound sleeper but he could be waked up easily. He was asleep before I was. A terrific noise awakened me. I called to my husband but there was no reply. A moment later I heard a noise of something weighty being thrown outside. I then turned round and saw the curtain on fire, smoldering. I got up at once from the left side of my cot. I tried to awaken my husband. The curtain lit up. I saw him and knew what happened. I yelled. Immediately minor Berikai came down.  After him came in Chundi. Then I went to the office room. Then Singampati, Kadambur and Saptur came down. I noticed that Kadambur had only got his veshti on. Singampati was covered to the throat. I can absolutely swear to his being there. I cannot swear that he was covered to the throat. That was my impression. I noticed nothing particular about him. Singampati did not look at all natural and appeared totally frightened. Kadambur had his hands behind his back and stared at me all the time.

Prosecution case

Talavankode testified that Kadambur and Singampatti had conspired the previous evening, with Kadambur determining to shoot De La Hey dead (as he had been ridiculed by De La Hey) as well as anybody who interfered during the attempt. Talavankottai told Chundu and Berikai about this (Urkad Jr was also present), but none of them wanted to inform De La Hey of the plan as they feared Kadamabur. At 930 Talavankottai saw Singampatti and Kadambur with cartridges in their possession as well as two guns to Singampatti’s bathroom. After the shot was fired, a bleary-eyed Berikai lying in his cot, saw Singampatti and Kadambur come running up.

According to the approver and the witnesses, as well as the conclusion at the inquest, the following timeline was established. Berikai, going down, saw Dorothy crying, who then asked him to call the police. They came and found the 12-bore shotgun (usually stored in Kadambur’s room) at the porch, in which one chamber had a fired cartridge, and the other had a loaded but fouled cartridge. Thalivankottai, Urkkad brothers, and Chundi confirmed that the plan was hatched between Singampatti and Kadambur in the billiards room, that evening. Berikai mentioned that Singampatti had thrown his gun down three floors. The next day the second gun, loaded and some loose cartridges were found in the yard, but the gun had no damages after being thrown down from a height of 40’ (this was certified as impossible by a gun expert during the cross, proving that the guns were planted outdoors to match storyline).

Singampatti’s statement was not recorded at all, and eventually, he turned approver stating that he was pulled along by Kadambur, that he was to stand at the door while Kadambur shot De La Hay and that if anybody intervened, they were all to be shot and killed. Accordingly, they pocketed some cartridges and proceeded to the De La Hey bedroom, where Kadambur shot the man dead and they then ran upstairs and got rid of the guns, Singampatti throwing his over the balcony. He said he did not go down until the police came (but Mrs De La Hay had mentioned he had come and Singampatti later added that she was mistaken). SIngampatti also mentioned that Kadambur had shot De La Hey the same night, since others heard of his plan and if the act was not quickly committed, De La Hey would know of the plan the next day. Kadambur had also informed Urkad Sr who was happy with the idea.

Defense strategy

Wadia’s cross-examination exposed many inconsistencies and untruths. It also brought out the letter exchange between Kadambur and Singampetti in Tamil, and his father’s visits, which allude to Kadambur being set up by Singampetti Sr as the fall guy while Singampetti became an approver. He also exposed the possibility of the Urkad senior as an involved party, since the Urkad was the nephew of the Ramnad raja, who may have had the racial grouse against De La Hey, and the fact that Kadambur had declined to marry his sister. It also came to light that Singampatti Sr had assured Kadambur, during his jail visits at Madras, that Kadambur would be released later.

Another major problem was the prosecution’s inability in establishing a clear motive. Was it that one of the young Zamin’s was upset at a racial slur, was it so that the Ramnad Raja, upset with the slur, was it that Kadambur was unhappy because De La Hey had written to his mother, was it something to do with the boys and Mrs Hey, or was it because Ramnad did not want De La Hey to become the head of the upcoming Rajkumar school? Or for that matter, was it because De La Hey was against the home rule, or was it an act in haste by one of the temperamental Marava lads, whoever it may be, due to their inherent violent and irritable disposition?? None of these seemed serious enough to warrant murder. Wadia also touched upon the relation with Dorothy de La Hey, and Urkad Sr stated that he had ‘visited’ her often. Her departure in a cloud of suspicion, and her decision not to return to clear her name or be a part of her husband’s murder trial, stained her character indelibly.

Wadia during the cross implied that the conspiracy and shooting were planned by Urkad and Singampatti, with Singampatti as the shooter, since he was a good shot. Chundi mentioned that he saw somebody going up the stairs with a gun, a tall person with curly hair, purporting it to be Kadambur, but as it turned out, the description matched that of Singampatti. It also became clear that Kadambur was nervous with guns, that the one-shot kill had to be done by somebody steady and skilled, perhaps Singampatti. With crafty questions, Wadia proved that Urkad jr, Thalivankottai, and Singampatti were being untruthful. He also proved that Berikai could not have seen what he did, as he was not wearing his glasses and since it was quite dark. He also established that most or all of the witnesses, had a grouse against Kadambur, because he had exposed their misdeeds in the past.

In the end, Norman Macleod summarized succinctly and the jury ruled wisely, acquitting Kadambur of all charges.


Swaminadhan had a rough time after his victorious return to Madras. Until then he and his family were leading a happy life in the upper circles, hobnobbing with the British. His daughters Lakshmi and Mrinalini (and sons Govind and Subram) were studying in British schools, but after the case, found themselves shunned by the British who wanted no part with them. We will now follow the story through Lakshmi Sehgal’s and Mrinalini Sarabhai’s words. For those who do not know, Lakshmi Swaminadhan moved to Singapore, got involved in the Indian Independence League and Indian National Army activities, teamed up with Subhash Chandra Bose during the 2nd World War, and fought the British, herself leading the Rani ‘all women’ regiment.

Lakshmi Sehgal - The first jolt, however, came when my father (who, in spite of being a brilliant student of civil law, had built up a roaring criminal practice) took up the sensational Kadambur murder case - My father knew that before the Madras High Court bench, consisting of two English and one Indian judge, the young man would get no justice. So, my father made a special appeal to the Viceroy and had the case transferred to the Bombay High Court, the only one in the country where the full bench had an Indian majority. Here my father was able to use all the arguments in his arsenal to get his client totally acquitted…. For my mother and us children, however, the repercussions were different. Many of my mother's English friends refused to greet her and in school, I was accused by the English teachers of being the daughter of a man who by unfair means had saved a native who had brutally murdered an innocent English gentleman. Here I should mention that after finishing my SSLC I joined Queen Mary's Women's College, the principal of which was Miss Delahey, the sister of the man who had been killed. She could easily have refused to admit me but did not do so, and in no way did she show any resentment towards me…The Kadambur case marked a turning point in our lives. Gone was our admiration for the honesty, justice and fair play of the British. From that day on we were determined be genuine Indians and not imitation Britishers. We were taken out of the convent and put into the government high school. We stopped wearing English frocks and got into our more comfortable and attractive pavadai and blouse. We also spoke more in Malayalam and Tamil rather than the now-disliked English. This period also coincided with the appearance of Mahatma Gandhi on the national scene. We stopped wearing all foreign clothes and using other articles made outside our country. At this stage, my mother became an active member of the All-India Women's Conference and the Women's India Association of Madras.

Subbarama Swaminadhan passed away in 1930, and after a failed marriage, Lakshmi moved to Singapore where she eventually joined the INA in the fight against the British (another story, for another day). Mrinalini became an acclaimed dancer and married Vikram Sarabhai, a pioneer in India’s space exploration. I had written about Vikram and TERLS, some years ago.

Mrinalini devoted two pages to the case in her biography, she writes (I am adding just a few extracts) – The murdered man was very unpopular with his wards because of the harsh manner in which he meted out severe punishments to young zamindars. His obvious contempt for all Indians led to his tragic death. The record showed that the foulest language was used against the wards by De La Hay and he had had the audacity to call a leading zamindar, held in high esteem by the government, ‘that bloody nigger prince’…... A High Court judge in a casual conversation with the member about the case came to know that no arrangements had been made by the Court of Wards for the defense of other accused, Kadambur, and that the Court had no intention of having him defended. He suggested that they engage  Swaminadhan, the best lawyer in Chennai. My father took up the case and when he interviewed Kadambur, the boy swore innocence and showed great courage, a trait my father admired. Soon after, my father received a summons from the ‘higher ups’, to try and persuade him not to proceed with the case.

My father refused the summons but invited them to visit him at his office if they needed any counsel, while objecting strongly to his ward Kadambur being treated as a common criminal… Singampatti, who had become an approver, repeated parrot-like a cooked-up story and the preliminary enquiry was concluded with undue haste. After the court closed, my father visited Kadambur in jail and found he had been sent a letter in Tamil from his friend Singampatti begging forgiveness for his false statement in court, which he said he had been pressurized into writing by his father. My father immediately took the letter to the registrar of the High Court. However, as he felt that his client would not have a fair trial in Chennai, he asked for the case to be transferred to Mumbai though the Court of Wards threatened him against this decision. Things had come to a serious pass and even my father’s life was in danger……My father’s wise decision to transfer the case to Mumbai saved Kadambur.

A little bit about the Singampatti region – It is home to the fabulous Manjolai hill estates and the family has been closely linked to the Travancore royals over the years (Many will also recall the Ilayaraja song – Majolai kili thano). Situated at an altitude of 5000’ above sea level, the Manjolai hills still remain an unexplored region and are known as the poor man’s Ooty. The Singampatti zamindars leased those hills later to the Bombay Burmah Trading Corp, who set up a tea plantation. It is said that the lease was concluded to pay for the legal costs of Singampatti in the De La Hey case.

So, what do you think happened after the 1920 acquittal of Singampatti and Kadambur? Well, the estate of Mrs De La Hey sued the two boys in Nov 1920 for a Rs 10 lakhs compensation. The boys rejected the summons as they were still minor. Dorothy’s team tried again and it can be seen that Stanley Wadsworth, her barrister, managed to secure a Rs 60,000/- compensation from Singampatti, to settle the case, in 1922. Though this may imply that the Singampatti was culpable, the motive has not yet been ascertained, nor was the case investigated further or closed.

Dorothy de la Hey married again and emigrated to South Africa with her son Anthony. The case and public interest in it died over time, though the old-timers of Madras mention it often. It had an interesting outcome though, for it was after Swaminadhan’s efforts in this case, that criminal cases in India were tried by a majority of Indian judges. Swaminadhan’s son Govind, following his footsteps, became a brilliant lawyer, and we read of his involvement in the Alavander Case. The Lakshmikanthan case, another interesting story where Govind was an advocate, will be a future project.

News reports on the De La Hey case – Pioneer Mail, The Englishman, Straits times, Madras Weekly mail, Andhra Patrika etc
Children and Childhood in the Madras Presidency, 1919-1943 – Dr Catriona Ellis
Advocacy: Its Principles and Practice - Rustom Kavasha Soonavala
College of Vice – R P Aiyar (In the Crimelight)
Home office files – Transfer of case to Bombay, Proceedings Dec 1919, #118-124
Madras Musings – Vol X, 22 & 23 Gunshot at midnight, who killed De La Hey? – Randor Guy
Famous judges, lawyers, and cases of Bombay – PB Vachha
Revolutionary life – Lakshmi Sehgal
The voice of the heart - Mrinalini Sarabhai


The Azad Hind Bank, Rangoon

And the role of the indomitable A Yellappa

As I had detailed previously, the forerunners to the INA were mostly nonresident organizations comprising volunteers, based in SE Asia, mainly Singapore and Malaya, which was later centralized in Rangoon (today's Yangon). Established in wartime, it was a setup where everybody tried and did their best, given limited resources, experience, training. In reality, it extended beyond its leader, and many individuals pillared the patchwork organization which took on the British, with lukewarm support from the Japanese, while many overseas Indian laborers emptied their pockets for that cause, only to be forgotten after the war.

The Indian Independence League was one of those political organizations based in Singapore, started by Indian nationalists, exiles, and expatriates, encouraged by the Japanese at the start of WW II. When the war commenced, the soldiers under Mohan Singh and the IIL were combined to form the INA, were initially governed by Rash Behari Bose in Japan, and later handed over to NSC Bose who arrived from Germany. Bose assumed leadership of the IIL and the Indian National Army in July 1943 and announced the start of the Provisional Government of Free India, colloquially known as the Azad Hind, on Oct 21st, 1943. In January 1944, after the Japanese had overrun the British forces in Malaya and Burma, the headquarters of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind was moved to Rangoon, then a locale which was home to a huge Indian population, comprising Indian trading communities (Memons, Marwaris. Sindhis, etc), and many Bengalis, Tamilians, and Malayalis. The British had already fled Burma together with many million Indians, through the jungles towards Assam, and those remaining comprised a frightened and motley group of wealthy Indians, mainly Tamil Chettiars, who remained due to their locked-up capital in the agricultural economy of Imperial Burma, so also others who felt they could manage.

One of the most important tasks at hand was to arrange finance for the INA’s Chalo Delhi campaign after having declared war against the British. Bose certainly knew that the Chettiars and the traders who remained had access to large amounts of money and it was now planned to access as much finance as possible from these Indians since the Japanese were not coughing up. The Azad Hind Bank was conceived to collect and manage all such funds collected to run the INA. In the past, I had written about the Indian Independence League (IIL) organization and a few heroic individuals like Ras Behari Bose, AM Nair, Cyril Stracey, Nedyam Raghavan, and TP Kumaran Nair. There are many more individuals who died in their fight to overthrow the British from India, and one person whom we will get to know today is Attavar Yellapa and his entanglement with the Azad Hind Bank, both mentioned only in passing by researchers who studied the INA.

The oratorical skills of Bose and his speech to the Indians of Rangoon, appealing for 5 million rupees, signaled the start of a windfall. He said in 1943 – I cannot understand why those who do not want to give their lives are even grumbling to part with their possessions. What is money after all, compared with life, money is nothing. Just four Indians helped him triple that estimate, while many others followed with smaller contributions. Abdul Habeeb Yusuf Morfani - Habeeb Saheb a Gujrati Memon, donated all his assets (1 crore and 3 lakhs), all he wanted, it seems, was a flower garland draped around Bose’s neck.  Habeeb walked up to the platform and emptied a basketful of diamonds and jewelry onto a silver tray, then topped it up with many property deeds, and handed it over to Netaji with a smile. A lady in the audience, Hiraben, and her husband Hemraj Betai followed up with some 50 lakhs, so also other donors like SA Krishnan of Burma Oil. Iqbal Singh Narula donated Netaji’s weight in silver.

All in all, the Azad Hind bank was able to raise over 215 million rupees from Malaya and Burma (over 150 million came from Indians in Burma) in a quick time and a formal banking institution was announced in April 1944, a time when the INA was crossing the Indo-Burma frontier alongside the Japanese forces. But it was a difficult task to get the Japanese to agree and the many days of wrangling between the Japanese and Bose are detailed in SA Ayer’s book. Bose was clear that the bank would be run by Indians and not Japanese, and after heated debates, eventually got the Japanese to agree. The Japanese were unclear if it would be a success, after witnessing the debacle faced by the Burmese national bank and also considering obstacles in running a new bank in wartime Burma, sans experienced personnel.

As Ayer states - So, it was one long tug-of-war, spread over three days of nearly three hours each day, and Bose prevailed after announcing that it would be a publicly subscribed bank and that he had obtained far more than the necessary 5 million seed capital. Bose added that any loss will be written off by those who pledged their life’s earnings - I do not visualize any disaster; if any threatens, I am confident of preventing it. Have a bank I must, and that too within a few days, before I leave for the front. I must open the bank and then go to the front.

Ayer adds without detailing it - How one man, Yellappa, and the other four patriotic Indians worked like Trojan’s night and day for a week and converted a vacant building (at Jemal Rd close to the INA HQ) into a full-fledged bank with an authorized capital of rupees fifty lakhs is a romantic story that deserves a chapter all by itself. After the bank was opened in Rangoon, branches were opened in Singapore and Malaysia, and a few other places and it collected not only money but also channeled donations of gold, cooking vessels, clothes, and whatnot.

Let us now get to know A Yellappa and how he got involved in the thick of these things. He was a truly incredible character. He was Bose’s go-to man if he wanted something organized, be it resources for his marching armies, barracks for his Rani regiment, or whatever. Thus, Bose turned to Yellappa to get the bank up and going. SA Ayer was appointed as the Chairman of the Azad Hind bank, and Dinanath, its director and a registered office was opened at 97 Park St. The bank functioned for approximately a year and was wound up by the Brits in May 1945, after the war, with a 35-lakh credit in its accounts.

Malar Jayram Rai tells us about his early life (Deccan Herald, April 27, 2021- Remembering a Tulu Patriot) - Yellappa was born on May 4, 1912, as the eldest son of Attavar Balanna and Venkamma. Yellappa was initially schooled at the St Milagres School. He obtained his BA (Honours) degree with distinction from St Aloysius College Mangalore (previously affiliated to the Madras University). Seems there was a story behind Yellappa’s journey to London to study law. When he was in Madras searching for a job, he met with an accident involving a British officer. The Brit paid him a large compensation. Yellappa used this amount to travel to London and study law. He passed out as a barrister from the Lincoln’s Inn London in 1940 and left for Singapore to work for a legal firm there. Later on, he became the president of the IIL. Singapore’s branch was the largest, and it had over 60,000 members.

Fay adds that he was the person who roped in Lakshmi Swaminathan - Yellappa was a barrister from the south Indian state of Coorg who had come to Malaya before the war to work for a firm of English solicitors. He had no interest in politics and disliked the Japanese, a dislike Lakshmi mentions, he never lost. But he had recently begun to devote a good deal of time to the Indian Independence League and was now chairman of its Singapore branch. Lakshmi knew and respected Yellappa. When the League opened a women’s section, and he asked her to join, she agreed. So, she did a little broadcasting again, a little writing (a piece on Gandhi’s wife, a piece on the Congress leader Sarojini Naidu), a little relief work among the refugees from upcountry.

We talked about the IIL previously, and well, it was Yellappa who arranged to present Lakshmi Swaminathan and a female guard of honor when Bose arrived in July 1943. When Bose announced his desire of creating an all-women Rani of Jhansi regiment, many were surprised. The Japanese would have none of it and created all kinds of obstacles stating that it was silly to field a women’s army.  They would not allocate any training grounds or barracks to the RJR. As Hilde V explains - In the end, the Ranis did receive quarters, weapons, uniforms, and training, but the cost of the RJR was borne entirely by donations from Indians living in Burma, Singapore and Malaya to the Azad Hind government, while the Japanese financed only the male forces of the INA.

Vera continues - The chairman of the Singapore branch of the Indian Independence League, Attavar Yellappa, a barrister, consequently took upon himself the task of finding a home for the Regiment. He persuaded some of his wealthy Nattukottai Chettiar banker clients to fund the refurbishment of a dilapidated building, formerly serving as a refugee camp and currently belonging to the IIL. The property was enclosed with a high fence to shield the female soldiers from the curious eyes of Singapore citizens, and several new barracks were erected. The standing buildings were fitted with new plumbing, and bathing facilities were installed. After three weeks of around-the-clock activity, the Singapore Central Camp, the Ranis’ first training centre, was almost ready for the first contingent of volunteers to move in on the birth anniversary of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. Yellappa got INA Headquarters to provide rifles and two havildars. Experienced ex-Indian Army men, the two went about their work with never a hint of the astonishment they must have felt

Meanwhile, Yellappa was involved in smoothing things over after the INA was formed with the soldiers who deserted the British Army. Volunteers who joined from Singapore and Malaya were mainly South Indians, who could not follow a word of Urdu or Hindi. Yellappa seemingly coordinated all this with his IIL personnel who managed to level the relationship between the officers and the recruits.

Anyway, we see him next setting up the Azad Hind Bank in Rangoon together with the new Azad Hind finance Minister AC Chatterjee who was entrusted with the task of organizing its operations. Shares were subscribed to the tune of Rs.5 million rupees with a paid-up capital of Rs.25 Lakhs after getting it registered in Burma. The Articles of Association were also drawn up and the seal of the Registrar of Burmese Govt was arranged. The bank was thenceforth involved not only in some commercial operations, short-term loans to the Burmese government but also in many matters related to the new Azad Hind Government. All money raised by the Azad Hind through donations, gifts, taxes and auctions were channeled through this bank. As previously mentioned, SA Ayer was the chairman and its directors were: Dinanath, Hemraj R Betai, SM Rashid, AF Madha and Col. SC Alagappan. Later N Raghavan was responsible as Chairman, acc to a Red Fort deposition by Lt Nag and Maj. Murthy was its accounts officer.

The Finance Minister of the Provisional Govt. was given the power to oversee and control the bank’s operations. The funds collected from the Indian public amounting to over Rs 20 crores were deposited with this bank and the bank functioned as part and parcel of the Provisional Govt of Azad Hind. Dinanath in his later deposition stated that over 15 crores were collected in the year it operated in Burma and 5 crores in Malaya. His deposition provides a good idea as to how the bank functioned. The Azad Hind Govt. needed large sums of money to finance its military and civilian operations and decided, therefore to levy taxes on Indian nationals with the help of a committee of experts who assessed the wealth and income of Indians in Burma, Malaya, and other places and fixed appropriate scales of taxes payable by different categories of assesses. Collection of these taxes was the responsibility of the Azad Hind Bank. In course of time, the resources of the Bank increased by leaps and bounds, and donations and gifts to the Azad Hind Government were pouring in on an ever-increasing scale. According to Bose biographer Getz, there were about two million Indians in SE Asia then and he states that Giani believed they collected 15 million Str $ in 1944. Netaji even offered starving Bengalis 100,000 tons of rice, but it went unfulfilled. Bose started to repay some German loans but the INA still needed Japanese support and patronage to exist and continue.

Sean Turnell adds - The Azad Hind (or ‘Free India’) Bank also had a branch in Rangoon during the Japanese occupation years. This bank, which was also sometimes known as the ‘Indian National Bank’, was established to fund the operations of the Indian National Army (INA) – the Axis-aligned force of Subhas Chandra Bose. The Azad Hind Bank had similar branches throughout Asia in countries under Japanese rule, but its operations were largely limited to that of supporting the INA. In Burma, the Azad Hind Bank was relatively successful in applying ‘patriotic pressure’ upon those Indians remaining to hand over valuable and fungible assets (not the increasingly worthless JM rupees) including gold, jewelry, and Indian rupees.

S - Subhey in his reminiscences notes - The money collected by the Azad Hind Government was kept in its bank known as the Azad Hind Bank. It received donations in cash and kind which included foodstuff, metalware, and all such things that could be of use to the Indian National Army. The returns of donations received in November 1943 showed 53,43,956 dollars in cash and 86,310 dollars in jewelry, etc. In July 1944 the total was 1,53,54,104 dollars. The Azad Hind Bank was established in Rangoon in April 1944. Mr. Dina Nath, who was one of the Directors of this Bank states that "the Provisional Government of Azad Hind had also decided to finance industry and commerce in the territories under its jurisdiction. The Bank had an authorized capital of 50 lakhs of rupees and a paid-up capital of 25 lakhs of rupees, the rupee being equivalent to the Japanese dollar. More capital was not encouraged as investment facilities were limited. The transactions of the Bank extended from China to all the countries in South-East Asia, where the Azad Hind Government had been purchasing goods and equipment.

The Azad Hind currency, which was issued in various denominations, bore the signatures of Netaji Subhas Bose on one side and the picture of the Taj Mahal on the other. The bank had a Board of seven directors with Mr. S. A. Ayer, Propaganda Minister of the Azad Hind Government, as Chairman. Branches of the Bank in Singapore, Nicobar, and the Andamans were contemplated. To finance the Indian National Army, a separate committee, called Netaji Fund Committee, was set up. Voluntary donations for this fund were received from Indians in South-East Asiatic countries.

Thus, within a brief period, the Azad Hind Government was established on a sound financial basis. It had resources of some 20 crores of rupees in addition to the produce of Ziawadi area. Ziawadi was a property, about 50 square miles in area, with 15,000 inhabitants who were Indians. It had on it a sugar factory and various other means of production, agricultural or otherwise, and every branch of Administration of that territory was carried out by men appointed by the Indian National Army and belonging to the Azad Hind Dal.

Peter Fay– Forgotten army - Indians, too, suffered from the shortages. As prices leaped upward, encouraged by the Japanese practice of printing money to finance military purchases, many grew reluctant to give and some refused to give at all. At the beginning, however, the response was generous; so generous that Yellappa was able to set up, in a bungalow just off Jamal Avenue, an Azad Hind Bank. Capitalized at several million rupees, it quickly became the preferred bank of deposit for the Indian community, and paymaster to Netaji’s government and army. It appears that the bank was housed in a building owned by Bhagwandas Bagla a millionaire timber merchant and a Marwari, who simply donated his home for the cause, so also the home where Bose subsequently lived.

Let’s get back to Yellappa, who as an advisor was also responsible for supplies and logistics, and had to stay back to handle supplies, instead of accompanying Bose to the Northern borders. It was Yellappa who organized the massive Netaji weeks and collection drives to get the money from the Mudaliars and Chettiars. There were concerts, films, sports events; Yellappa, the chief organizer, produced events of every kind. But later he was sent North by Bose to organize the evacuation of INA patients as British forces were advancing quickly.

Yellappa’s final days are recounted by Lakshmi Swaminathan, April 1945 – She mentions that she was relocated to a Parsi’s home in Kalw to tend to the injured soldiers coming from the front. Yellappa and Bose visited them to check that all was well. As preparations were being made to get the injured back to Rangoon by bullock carts, the Brits bombed the village and Yellappa caught some shrapnel in his leg, which got infected in the monsoon weather. Delirious with pain and with just two morphine injections left, Lakshmi and her friends carried Yellappa on a makeshift bamboo stretcher for 6 hours to a village where they stopped, since it was home to a few Punjabis. When Gurkha and Karen guerillas reached their location, Lakshmi and others were disarmed and marched off as prisoners, to a nearby British camp and handed over to Col Peacock. They had to leave Yellappa and his assistant Mutthu in a hut, and a week later Lakshmi learned from Col Peacock that the Gurkhas and Karens had chanced upon them and observing smoke rise from their hut had lobbed two grenades into the hut, which then caught fire. Muthu running out was gunned to death and Yellappa had already been burnt alive. That was his sad end.

In the aftermath of the plane crash involving Bose, all that was recovered was 11kg of blackened ornaments. A lot of mystery remained about the money in the Azad Hind Bank. When Bose left, bullion worth ½ billion for exigencies was left behind in its vaults (Sugatha Bose). Many people went after the money trail and the British reported that 35 lakhs were recovered, while a considerable amount vanished. That of course is another story, and many others are sleuthing to retell it. The donors – all those Chettiars and small-time businessmen, as well as poor laborers, and their yeoman support during the war years have been forgotten, and most do not even know of people like Yellappa, while tomes have been published on leaders.

Two Historic Trials in Red Fort - Ram Moti
Unto him, a witness - SA Ayer
Ormakurippukal – Captain Lakshmi
Forgotten Army - Peter Fay
Women of the Raj - Joyce Lebra
Subhas Chandra Bose: A Biography - Marshal Getz
Reminiscences of an INA Soldier – U Sunder Rao
A hundred Horizons – Sugatha Bose
The Story of I.N.A – S Subhey
Remembering a Tulu Patriot – Deccan Herald, Malar Jayram Rai 

pic - Sourced from SA Ayer's - Unto him, a witness


The Intriguing Bharani Festival at Kodungallur

Where abusing an erotica loving goddess, is the tradition

Kodungallur is home to a Bhagawathy temple (Kurumba Kavu), where devotees throng every summer in a macabre celebration termed ‘Bharani’ when they sing songs filled with the choicest erotica and used to conduct unique sacrifices. Also noteworthy is the fact that at a time when lower castes were not allowed into other temples, this temple allowed all castes to throng in, and pollute the temple – for the Kavu Theendal. The idol is considered by some to be a manifestation of the famous Kannagi of Madurai and the temple supposedly has a sealed secret chamber in the Eastern side of the sanctum sanctorum, housing her remains. Kannagi, as you may recall, was a woman of virtue who brought havoc to the town of Madurai when a Pandyan king unjustly had her husband sent to the gallows. What connections can we dig out from the myths, fables, and legends around the temples and this erotic festival?

Kodungallur, Muziris, Vanchi, Tiruvanchikulam, Cranganore, are all names connected with a region (near today's Kochi) where Romans, Greeks, Thebans, and Arabs, eons ago, intermingled with the locals, in pursuit of free trade. It was also the capital town of the Chera dynasty, reigning over the kingdom of Malayala, or Cheranad. This was the locale where many asylees fleeing persecution from the west, as well as missionaries seeking to grow their folk arrived, such as the Syrian Christians, Jews, Moslems, and so on. Mixing with traders, they thrived for a period and interacted, amidst a tradition of peace and cosmopolitism.

The Cheras had incidentally displaced Buddhist and Jainist traditions in the region and Brahmanism was on the rise during the Sangam age (2nd – 3rd century CE). Fair-skinned brahmins from the North were coming in, creating a new feudal culture together with armies of warring Nairs. Chola and Pandya invasions followed and the Perumals of Makkotai took over Chernad in the 9th Century. After its decline by the end of the 12th century, individual kingdoms and suzerains came into existence and the well-known swaroopams or minor dynasties came into existence. The twin pillars of Vaishnavism and Saivism were soon to follow. Nevertheless, this legend takes you to a period just before the Hindu culture replaced Jainist and Buddhist traditions and ended up either destroying or converting their many viharas, into Hindu temples. But the departing Jains and Buddhists left behind remnants of their culture and the Bhagavati cult in today’s Kerala is considered one such.

Gananath Obeyesekere explains the transition in the 8th-13th centuries - First, Buddhists were pushed out of South India and settled on Sri Lanka’s west coast. Second, in South India itself the original Pattini cult was absorbed into the popular Hindu cults of Kali, Durga or Bhagavati. Third, another group of immigrants from Kerala settled on the east coast of Sri Lanka and were Hinduized. Their version of the goddess is that of a Hindu deity, but, unlike the situation in South India, the goddess is kept separate from the Kali cult and retains much of the quality of a folk deity, as in the Sinhala areas.

The story of Kannagi also dates back to the Sagam period and the heroine is intimately connected to the festival, so it is important to recap her sad tale. Kannagi, a virtuous woman residing at the port city of Puhar (North of Nagapatinam) in the Chola empire, is the central character of the epic Silapathikaram.  She is a chaste woman who remains with her husband despite his extramarital relationship with a courtesan Madhavi, and the beautifully narrated epic takes you through her travails and the attempts at reunification after Kovalan has a lover’s tiff with Madhavai. Kannagi and Kovalan then leave Puhar for the Pandyan ruled Madurai and here a ‘not so well off’ Kovalan is falsely framed (by a local goldsmith, of having robbed the queen’s anklet, when in reality, the one Kovalan was trying to sell, was one of Kannagi’s own anklets) for theft and sent to the gallows by an unjust Pandyan king. Kannagi, sad and furious at the gross injustice done, produces the second matching anklet to prove her husband’s innocence, then rips off her left breast and throws it at the city with an angry curse, setting it alight and destroying it. The Pandyan king dies in shock and the lamenting single-breasted (Ottamulachi) Kannagi then drifts on towards western ghats to Cheranad, towards the banks of the Vaigai river, and to the location called Chengunnu where she teams up with the celestial Kovalan and flies away to the heavens. The hill tribes witnessing the glorious sight, report this to their Chera emperor named Chenkuttavan. Deciding to honor her, he brings a memorial stone from the Himalayas and consecrates it at the temple in Tiruvanchikulam. This is the myth and legend associated with the Silappathikaram (Broken anklet).

This mythical poem penned by the Jainist Ilango Adikal, brother of the ruling Perumal Chenkuttavan (drawing from previous similar tales written by others- Ilango Adigal based his work on an earlier tale, a popular ballad called Kovalan Katai (The story of Kovalan)), had quite a following, so much so that and a cult named Kannagi or Pattini spread soon after in South Kerala and Lanka. Somehow it merged with the Kali or Bhagavathy goddess traditions prevalent in the region. There are many related arguments between historians, such as the dating of Chilappadhikaram itself - whether it belonged to the 2nd-century Sangam era, or the Kulashekaras of the 7th century when the Jains were evicted. There are many more areas of dispute such as the fact that early Bhagavathy kavu worship was already existent. Detractors of the Kannagi myth state that the idol at the temple has eight arms and is not mutilated, and that other Pattini idols possess both breasts. Many more questions arise, why situate a memorial of Kannagi in a temple? How can Hindus tolerate mortal remains in a temple? For that matter, was it a Hindu temple? Then again, was the chamber sealed after this Buddhist or Jainist shrine became a Hindu temple?

Induchudan who penned a detailed monograph on the temple, opines that it was originally a Siva temple and that the remains of Kannagi (memorial stone/menhir/idol?) were placed in a megalith or rock-cut cave close to the temple, for it was a practice of that time to bury important persons near Siva shrines. He also believes that the Chengunnu location can be placed at Tiruchenganrur, two miles distant from the Kondungallur temple. This then became the Kurumba kavu due to the involvement of the Kururmba hill tribes of Kurinji. The Kurumba’s or Kuravas worshipped the Kannagi shrine just like they worshipped the Vetachi (huntress).

Let’s take a look at the rituals and festivals now associated with this goddess, be it Kali or a manifestation of Kannagi. It occurs in the Malayalam month of Meenam (about March or April). Starting with the act of Kavu Theendal, a man of the goldsmith caste (thattan) goes around the temple 7 times on the Bharani asterism, in the month of Kumbham, and rings the temple bell, signifying the start of the pollution at the sacred premises. After flags are hung on the tress, the temple doors are thrown open to all and sundry, and celebrations start.

As Gopala Panikkar states succinctly - Rice, salt, chillies, curry-stuffs, betel leaves and nuts, a little turmeric powder and pepper, and, above all, a number of cocks form an almost complete paraphernalia of the pilgrimage. These are all gathered and preserved in separate bundles inside a large bag. When the appointed hour comes, they throw this bag on their shoulders, conceal their money in their girdles, and, with a native-fashioned umbrella in the one hand and a walking-stick in the other, they start, each from his own house, to meet the brother pilgrims at the rendezvous.

Cock sacrifices start approximately a week earlier when the Nairs from the North and the South of Kodungallur arrive and many cock heads are slit and their blood split on two stones situated outside the temple. One should take note of the fact that the ceremony commences with the sacrifice of two cocks brought in from the families of the Tatcholi Othenan (you can read my article on him here) the renowned fighter (17th century) and Karampilly Kurup in North Malabar. This is later followed by cock sacrifices by other castes such as the Tiyyas, Izhavas, and the Pulayars.

The Adigal priests now take over, and the Kodungallur Raja comes to witness the celebrations. Crowds throng the temple, both locals and hill tribes. Led by the velichappad or oracle, they surge in and pollute the temple enmasse. Sweet molasses payasam is served to the worshippers while the cock sacrifices continue, and pepper and turmeric is thrown around the premises. In addition, the Palakkal Velan is also invited to pollute the premises, and all types of devotees throw their offerings over the walls, while a lamp is lit at the North door to represent Bhadrakali’s victory over Daruka. So much for the Kavu Theendal.

Checking now for Kannagi connections, on can directly identify the villain in the celebrations, which is the goldsmith, who is called upon first, to pollute the temple. Interestingly the Pandyan king had in the original tale, tried to appease Kannagi, by killing some 1,000 goldsmiths of Madurai, perhaps this is what the cock sacrifice signifies. Others mention that blood sacrifices are all part of Kali worship. The priestly classes attached to it are not Brahmins, but a peculiar sect called Adigals, of whom there are but three families in the whole of Malabar. If you recall, Ilango was an adiga, thus indicating the Jain link. Also, Kavundi Adiga in the Siliappdhikaram was a Jain nun. Unlike every other Kerala temple where Nambuthiri’s (and Tulu Moosads) are the sole priests, here we come across Adiga’s. As they got involved in these forbidden rituals, they were degraded, caste-wise. There is a Lankan connection as well, signifying a Buddhist link, for it is mentioned that Gajabahu, the Lankan king was present during the Kannagi consecration, and we can also note that Manimekhalai, the daughter of Kovalan and Kannagi, is believed to have come to Vanchi to become an ascetic. Take note here that the Kannagi connections are more popular with the masses between Cochin and Travancore, not necessarily in Malabar, for some reason, according to C Achuytha Menon (Kali worship in Kerala).

The devotees during their pilgrimage march and upon arrival sing obscene songs (their pattu). These songs typically describe the sexual organs of the male and female and narrate sexual acts in the most graphic fashion you can imagine, all raw and in crude words. They are sung along the way and even in the temple premises, though not inside the sanctum (sreekovil). Both men and women sing these songs, though the numbers of women partaking are somewhat lower. No orgies or vulgar acts take place though suggestive actions are exhibited by the singers, nor are any women in the throng subjected to any groping or other acts (These days it is a bit different – A researcher attending the festival says her bottom was pinched).

Why all this is done is not very well explained, though some opine that it depicts orgies conducted at Pukar during an event called the “chandolsavam” or the moon festival, mentioned in the epic. The imbibing of liquor during the march shows an apparent connection to Indra, as at some time agriculture perished, famines occurred and so Indra had to be appeased for rains. This was signified even when Chenkuttavan was consecrating the idol, for he consumed Madhu, symbolically.

Some others however opine that the always angry Bhagavati goddess being an unmarried virgin, likes to hear such songs and fantasize, and so they sing to calm her lust this way. This is also needed to calm the rage within the goddess and appease her since she controls the land, its produce and the onset of any sickness. Some scholars opine that the Bharanippattu (theripattu – lewd songs) began when lower castes were instigated by the Namboothiris to sing lewd songs in order to drive out the Buddhist or Jain monks away from Kodungallur. Researchers ask us to note that upper castes had set a moral standard for male-female relations or sex and that these songs are simply about human organs, lust and desire, nevertheless sung in public and in devotion to the goddess.

There is yet another story related to the singing. It appears that Kannangi was propositioned by an amorous Nalachan while Kovalan was alive and sleeping. Legend has it that she asked him to come to Vanchi for a tryst at a later date. After all the events, the burning of Madurai and so on, and Kannagi’s arrival at Vanchi, it appears that Nalachan came to Vanchi, only to be turned into a stone by the angry Kannagi. But she remembered her promise to satiate him and it is for this reason that devotees were encouraged to sing these songs in order to satisfy Nalachan’s desire.

A tantric angle is also offered by Shweta, a researcher – She explains that the Kodungalloor temple is believed to follow an amalgamation of Samayacharam and Kavalcharam traditions of worship. One of the most important systems of pooja within these two traditions is the Panchamakaram pooja. Under this, there must be five offerings for every worship - malsyam, mamsam, maithunam, mudra and madyam (fish, meat, sex, grain and alcohol, respectively). Most of these offerings are represented symbolically and the theripaatu is the symbolic representation of maithunam - the offering of sex. Her explanation for the theripaatu was that, talking about sex, simulating it, often tricks the body into setting up an energy flow. Talking about it and chanting it in a rhythmic way, in a collective, helps the body release the same energy.

A rough translation of one of these profane songs follows – Tanaro tannaro taka, Tanaro tannaro, If you have to f$%k Kodungallur Amma, (the goddess), one has to have a co$k like a flagpost, Tanaro tannaro taka, Tanaro tannaro… Now, as I don’t have a co$k like a flag post, I had to borrow one from Bhima, the giant ….There are many more, just head over to youtube for samples..

The singing itself is carefully organized, where each group has a leader or foreman, who sings each line and the others repeat vociferously. Thus, many obscene songs, interspersed with local ballads, characterize the pilgrimage route to Kodungallur and the return after the festival. While some may find this all vulgar and indecent, revolting to every sense of decency, it is perhaps a catharsis to the repressed, a way of letting it all out during the pilgrimage. Many liters of arrack are consumed and as we saw, they then offer the cock sacrifices, turmeric powder, and principally a lot of pepper, so also some other objects of lesser importance. In the temple, manjal prasadam (turmeric powder blessed by the goddess) is given to the devotees, by young maidens, who are, as you can imagine, subjected to volleys of vile and vulgar abuse.  Tulabharam, i.e., weighing a person against items of offering to the goddess to thank her for recovery from a disease, for example, is common. The items are plantains, rice, and principally pepper. I can only guess wildly that pepper was the principal item of export in Vanchi or Muziris in ancient times and so this became a favorite offering.

Now, this was how it was once upon a time; I am not so sure how it is regulated these days! As far as the cock sacrifice is concerned, the popular idea is that the greater the number of cocks sacrificed, the greater is the efficacy of the pilgrimage. So, groups of devotees use to vie with one another in the number of cocks that they carry on the journey, and in the procession are many oracles both male and female, brandishing their curved swords.

Gopala Panikkar explains how it was once, for it is banned these days- The sacrifice is begun, and then there takes place a regular scramble for the sanctified spot reserved for this butchering ceremony. One man holds a cock by the trunk, and another pulls out its neck by the head, and, in the twinkling of an eye, by the intervention of a sharpened knife, the head is severed from the trunk. The blood then gushes forth in forceful and continuous jets, and is poured on a piece of granite specially reserved. Then another is similarly slaughtered, and then as many as each of the pilgrims can bring. In no length of time, the whole of the temple yard is converted into one horrible expanse of blood, rendering it too slippery to be safely walked over. The piteous cries and death throes of the poor devoted creatures greatly intensify the horror of the scene. The stench emanating from the blood mixing with the nauseating smell of arrack renders the occasion all the more revolting.

As the Bharani festival day draws to a close, the devotees start their trek back home. The temple doors are shut and for the next seven days, the agitated goddess rests. The temple is cleaned and as the belief goes, according to Panikkar - For the next seven days, the whole place is given over to the worst depredations of the countless demons over whom this blood-thirsty goddess holds sway. No human beings can safely remain there, lest they might become prey to these ravenous demons. In short, the Bharani day inaugurates a reign of terror in the locality, lasting for these seven days. Afterwards, all the dirt is removed. The temple is cleansed and sanctified, and again left open to public worship.

After the festival, the devotees go home, distribute the prasadam and go about their normal activities, calmer now that much of the pent-up frustrations have been vented. As one can imagine, there are other connections also mentioned, such as the similarity of the Pattini cult to the goddess Isis of Egypt. They find parallels between the story of Isis and Osiris to the Kannagi story, the 14-day lunar cycle between the time Kannagi saw the celestial Kovalan compared to the 14 pieces of Osiris and the fact that he was the lunar god.

But as Induchudan explains, the temple is not just a Kannaki temple. The main kavu is for the Bhagavati with normal rituals, while the Kannagi remains are in the secret chamber which connects to the main temple through a secret tunnel. During the Bharani Festival, a red cloth, one of the goddess's symbols worn by devotees and given in offering to the goddess, separates the chamber between the tomb and the Kali sanctum. One should not cross this limit, and if they do it, they go blind. When the Pattini cult was extant according to Induchudan, new members were initiated and reborn after passing through this tunnel, and Atikals performed the services. The Kavu thindal is performed for the Kannagi and the oracle or the velichapadu always carries the sword and wears an anklet, the chilambu.

An interesting aside to all this is that the Zamorin once went to watch the Bharani at Kodungallur, and it was during this event that the Dutch attack took place and the famed Cheraman sword was partially destroyed.

The Secret Chamber – V T Induchudan
Re-reading Caste and Gender: A Study of the rituals of Kodungallaur Sri Kurumba Bhagavathy Temple of Kerala- S Sudheesh & Athira Prakash (IJTSRD 2018)
Scandalizing the Goddess at Kodungallur - M. J. Gentes
Malabar & its folk – TK Gopala Panikkar
Sanitizing the profane – Shweta Radhakrishnan
Religion, Ritual and Liminality: A Study of the Kavu Theendal Festival at Kodungallur – Dr Seetha Vijayakumar

pics - Wikimedia - providers acknowledged