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Dewan Bahadur T. Venkataswami Rao

Venkaswami Rao was born in 1829, of a Desastha family in Tanjore. He was the fourth of five brothers, all of whom were talented; the eldest, Ramachandra Rao was a Marathi scholar and poet of repute; the next Krishna Rao belonged to the first batch of Deputy Collectors, contemporary with the late Dewan Bahadur R. Raghunatha Rao; the third was given in adoption to the Dabir family and was a fine musician and critic, and the last was Rao Bahadur T. Gopal Rao, an educationist of All-India fame.

The early education of Venkaswami Rao was under the famous “English” Devaji Rao of Tanjore to whom may be attributed his proficiency in English and the purity and simplicity of his style. He entered Government service at the early age of 18 in the Collectorate of Tanjore and rose to be the Head Sheristadar in the same District, which post he held for about 13 years.

His knowledge of District administration in all its branches, land revenue, salt, abkari etc., was intimate and dependable; in official correspondence his language was terse and restrained; and in official life, he was reserved yet courteous to juniors and free and frank to his seniors. As such he was promoted to the Revenue Secretariat as First Assistant, in which post he won the confidence of successive Governors of Madras.

During his active service, the Government of India appointed him as a Member of the Salt Commission of 1876. He there recorded a minute of dissent from the majority of the Commission which recommended that the existing monopoly be superseded by a system of excise. He clearly pointed out that the latter scarcely conceded the principle of free trade and afforded no proper guarantee for the supply of a wholesome necessity at a moderate price to the public. The soundness of his opinion has been proved by subsequent events and the monopoly has had to be established by the side of the excise system as a corrective.

The special work for which he was deputed next was the compilation of the Tanjore District Manual, which stands as a monument of his untiring industry and extensive research. Subsequently in 1885, he acted as Secretary to the Committee appointed by the Madras Government to revise the Rent Law of the Presidency. His memorandum reviewing Clarke’s Resettlement of Tanjore was also a notable contribution. On the occasion of the Empress Durbar on 1st January 1877, he was given a medal, and just before his retirement in 1887, the title of Dewan Bahadur was conferred on him. By a special resolution, the Government recorded their appreciation of his ability, zeal and constant devotion to his duties displayed by him during his long period of service in the Revenue Department.

Though he lived for 21 years after his retirement, he could never be idle. He successively conducted as Dewan, the administration of two large Zamindaris, Kalahasti and Ramnad and in 1897 retired into private life owing to failing health.

Venkaswami Rao used to play on the Veena, his favourite Ragas being Bhairavi, Mukhari, Sankarabharana and Ananda Bhairavi. He had a sound knowledge of Music and retained Maharashtra Vidwans like Devagoswami, Jagannatha Bhutgoswami, Venkatessayya and others as guests and apart from enjoying their play on Swaragath, Balasaraswathi and Veena, he would suggest the adding of certain passages, some new tunes etc., which was greatly appreciated by them and adopted with benefit. He used to play on the Swaragath also and in his youth is said to have played on the Violin.

He was punctuality incarnate and his daily habits were so regular that one could say what he would be doing at any particular time of the day. He was very careful about his diet, and had a good knowledge of the effect of every kind of food on the constitution as also the medicines and treatment then prevalent owing to his long personal experience.

He was fond of and very kind to children but kept them in good discipline. He was both respected and loved by all who came in contact with him.

He was loyal to the Government, almost to a fault. He first made a Will at Tanjore and lest that act should deprive the Government of Probate Fees, he rewrote the Will at Madras and a fee of Rs. 1,500 was paid for taking out the Probate of his Will. His Will is a monument of his great care and foresight in preserving the property as best as may be under the circumstances.

He lived to the age of 78 and passed away in peace on 4th June 1908 at an auspicious time.


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