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Rai Bahadur Tandalam Gopal Rao

Tandalam Gopal Rao is well known all over South India as a pioneer in the educational field. He was the youngest of the five sons of Bava Pandit who had served under the Tanjore Rajas and was born in 1832 in Ganapathi Agraharam on the banks of the Cauvery.

While young, Gopal Rao studied Marathi and Sanskrit at home and became proficient in these subjects. His elements of English were acquired under the tutorship of the Devaji Rao, but later on, he mastered the language by his own unaided efforts.

At the young age of 17, Gopal Rao entered Government Service as clerk in the P.W.D. at Tanjore, which was then directly under the District Collector. Within two years he was promoted to the responsible, though ill-paid post of Manager. In 1854 he resigned owing to lack of prospects in the Department, but was soon appointed as teacher in the Provincial School at Kumbakonam which had just then been started. As soon as the Madras University was established (1857), he passed his Matric and within two years more (1859) he completed his B.A., taking the first rank in the first class. For this brilliant success he was warmly eulogized by Mr. Forbes member of the Imperial Executive Council and Mr. Holloway, both of whom had been acquainted with his previous work in the Revenue Department.

The fame of the Kumbakonam College was due in a large measure to Gopal Rao and Porter. Gopal Rao took classes in English, Mathematics and History and his record shows that as a teacher he “was nowhere surpassed”. Mr Powell who visited Kumbakonam was impressed with his methods, and once an English Civilian attended one of his classes by special permission and expressed unbounded appreciation of his teaching of Shakespeare.

Apart from his coaching powers, there was one characteristic peculiar to Gopal Rao. His punctuality was remarkable and this feature stood him in good stead in exacting from his colleagues discipline, and an all-round efficiency. In 1868 he was appointed Headmaster of the Provincial School at Calicut which was then in a chronic state of disorganization. This school owes its restoration to normal condition to Mr. Gopal Rao whose services in this connection were appreciated by the public of the place.

One of Mr. Gopal Rao’s long-standing grievances was that though he was permitted to act as Principal of the Kumbakonam College on several occasions, he was never made permanent in that post. There was no lack of appreciation for him even in Government quarters, as despite opposition from the Director of Public Instruction, Lord Napier had made him Inspector of the 6th Educational Division in the year 1870. In this position also, Gopal Rao distinguished himself and his success was such that the D.P.I. had to admit that “the experiment of employing a native of this country as an Inspector of Schools had been tried, and had proved a decided success”. In 1879 he was honoured with the title of Rai Bahadur and in recognition of his services to the cause of Education he was also made a Fellow of the Madras University.

His death in 1886 grieved every one in the Educational field. Appreciative references as to his worth and work were made not only in Departmental circles but also in the Colleges where he had toiled and by contemporaries like Dr. Miller, Rai Bahadur Ranganatha Mudaliar and others.

Tandalam Gopal Rao had an immense capacity for work. His industry was admired, and he was often warned by his superiors not to over-work himself. In the midst of heavy duties, that he found time to compose Marathi poems is a matter for special praise. His translation of Goldsmith’s “Hermit” in Marathi verse is a feat on the performance of which we may well be proud.

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