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Raja Sir T. Madhava Rao

On the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the Mahratta Education Fund, it is a pleasant duty for us to pay our humble tribute of regard and reverence to those souls that have contributed to maintain the best ideals and traditions of our community. Among such men, Rajah Sir T. Madhava Rao easily occupies the first place.

Born in November 1828 at Kumbakonam in a family whose members had successively held the Dewanship of Travancore, Madhava Rao had inherited those peculiar traits which served him well in later life. His grandfather, Gundopunt, had occupied responsible positions both under native chiefs and the British power. His sons Rai Raya Rai Venkat Rao, and Ranga Rao, after a spell of office in the Board of Revenue, were also called upon to enter Travancore service where eventually they rose to the Dewanship.

Madhava Rao was the youngest of the sons of Ranga Rao. He lost his father in his eleventh year, and his mother passed away while he was 12. He there upon came under the protection of his eldest brother, Vasudeva Rao, who supervised his studies. Madhava Rao passed through his educational career at Madras. He took full advantage of his opportunities at the High School which was just then opened under the Headmastership of Eyre Burton Powell. At the end of six years study (1846), he left the High School as proficient of the First Class.

The next year he entered the Accountant General’s Office from where within two years’ time he was called to take up the Tutorship to the Princes of Travancore. His services in this capacity were so well appreciated that he was soon made Deputy Peishkar. The Revenue line gave him ample scope to show his administrative powers. He organized the department in a way that  brought him applause from high quarters. The subsidy due to the British Government was in arrears, and even the salaries due to officials had not been paid for months. Revenue had to be rehabilitated, and a lot of corrupt practices had to be put down. With consummate ability, Madhava Rao showed  what an Officer in his position could do within his area. Just then a series of complaints had gone to the Governor – General as to the State of Government in Travancore, and the State itself was threatened with annexation. The Resident, General Cullen, saw in Madhava Rao the person who could rescue the State from such a pass and made him Dewan in 1858.

In this role, Madhava Rao fully justified all expectations. He ruled with a beneficent but firm hand. Wrong-doers felt that their power was at an end and that during Madhava Rao’s term of office there would be even-handed justice all round. Robbers were apprehended and evidences were not wanting that there was a general feeling of safety among the citizens.

After the death of Maharaja Marthanda Varma, Maharaja Ayilliam Tirunal, one of the protégés of Madhava Rao succeeded to the Gadi in 1860. During his regime the conditions of administration were favourable. The Dewan had a firm grasp of the principles of political economy. He boldly abolished the State monopolies of pepper and tobacco, but made up for the loss of revenue by imposing duties on these products. There was thus a growth of revenue which not only enabled Madhava Rao to pay off all arrears but to liquidate a portion of the public debt. Apart from these financial reforms, Dewan Madhava Rao undertook several minor improvements. He reduced the land taxes which were heavily felt in the district of Nanjnad. He organised the High Court, established a College for Higher Education and improved the Medical and Sanitary Services. The title of Maharaja was conferred on His  Highness in 1866 and in the same year a Knighthood was awarded to Madhava Rao.

One of the most difficult matters dealt with by Madhava Rao was the sensational problem relating to the “Upper cloth”. The newly converted Shanar women contended (on the basis of the Queen’s proclamation of 1858) that they had the right to appear with the upper cloth worn by the highest classes. This was resented by the Nairs and the other higher castes who also took their stand on the same proclamation wherein the Queen had graciously promised to respect longstanding customs and traditions. To meet such a difficult situation Madhava Rao issued a circular that they could appear with a “Kuppayam” (jacket) on, like the Syrian Christians. But instigated by the Christian missionaries, the Shanar women would be content with nothing less than wearing the apparel of the highest castes. Being convinced of the justice of his stand, Madhava Rao was firm in the attitude he had taken up and ultimately convinced even the Government that he had adopted the wisest course possible.

He also came into conflict with the Madras Government of a matter relating to the trial of a British subject named John Liddel. The Advocate General, Mr. Mayne asked for the release of this gentleman after conviction on the ground that a Native State like Travancore had no jurisdiction over an European. This question was ably argued in a series of letters, until finally the advocate – General agreed to revise his opinion.

Sir T. Madhava Rao succeeded in the course of 14 years in converting Travancore which had passed into a state of anarchy into a “Model State.” Therefore his memory is still cherished in Travancore with love and gratitude and his Statue has been erected by public subscription in Trivandrum.

When he relinquished his high office in Travancore, Sir T. Madhava Rao was only 45 years old. He declined the offer of a membership of the Viceroy’s Legislative Council for fear that the climate of North India might not suit him. He was requested to give evidence in England with regard to fiscal matters; but this journey too he could not undertake. In 1873 the Government of India recommended his name to the Maharaja Holkar of Indore who wanted a competent officer to administer his State. This was promptly accepted and a Dewan, Sri Madhava Rao remained in Indore for two years.

Meanwhile owing to the deposition of Mulhari Rao, Gaekwar of Barada, Sir Madhava Rao’s services were requisitioned as Dewan Regent of Baroda. Baroda was then in a state of chaos and confusion. Public order had to be restored and much waste in expenditure cut down. With his ripe wisdom and experience of Native States, Sir Madhava Rao achieved a miracle and restored peace and order in a short time. In recognition of his remarkable ability he received the title of Raja on the 1st January 1877, when Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India. After a rule of 7 years, Raja Sir T. Madhava Rao went into retirement in Madras.

During his retirement, he occupied himself with a deep study of Marathi literature and composed a few Marathi poems which are still popular. Once he was also made Chairman of the Reception Committee of the Indian National Congress, showing that he had won an All-India reputation. He passed away quietly in 1891, full of years and honours.

By universal assent Raja Sir T. Madhava Rao was one of the greatest Statesmen that India has produced. His simplicity of life was only matched by his eagerness to be of service to the poorest of his friends. His ever-present motto was “Whatever you do, do it with all your might”. This was the secret of his success and it is our earnest wish and hope that the present generation should take this lesson to heart and produce men as great as, if not greater than Rajah Sir T. Madhava Rao.


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