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Giving Becomes Him: The posthumous fortune(s) of Pachaiyappa Mudaliar

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 March 2018

Department of History, Duke University, USA Email:


This article explores the ways in which Pachaiyappa Mudaliar (1754?–1794) has been panegyrized as the quintessential benefactor of our times in Tamil prose, poetry, and pictures over the course of the past century and a half. In the bureaucratic and legal documents of the colonial state, he appears as a rapacious moneylender and behind-the-scenes wheeler-dealer, a member of that hated class of ‘Madras dubashes’, a ‘most diabolical race of men’. In contrast, Tamil memory work since at least the 1840s has differently recalled this shadowy eighteenth-century man as a selfless philanthropist whose vast wealth financed some of the earliest educational institutions in the Madras Presidency. I track the posthumous fate of Pachaiyappa's bequest to argue that even as the founding of the public trust and its educational philanthropy departed radically from his willed intentions, a new complex of living, dying, and giving for the sake of native education was put in place in the Tamil country in the age of colonial capital and pedagogic modernity.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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I am indebted to the two anonymous readers for their thoughtful comments on earlier versions of this article, and to Rich Freeman, Brian Hatcher, and David Gilmartin. To my fellow co-editor, Filippo Osella, my deep gratitude for his feedback and encouragement.


1 Burke, Peter. ‘Afterthoughts on Afterlives’. In Afterlife of Events: Perspectives on Mnemohistory. Edited by Tamm, Marek. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 262275, here p. 264Google Scholar.

2 My thinking here is indebted to Derrida, Jacques. The Gift of Death. Translated by David Willis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995Google Scholar. I explore his arguments at greater length in my manuscript-in-progress, provisionally titled Dying to Give: Pachaiyappa Mudaliar and the Birth of Educational Philanthropy in Modern India.

3 Benjamin, Walter. ‘Convolute N [on the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress]’. In The Arcades Project: Prepared on the Basis of the German Volume Edited by Rolf Tiedemann. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999, pp. 456488, here p. 481Google Scholar.

4 On Indic notions of hospitality, see especially Khare, Ravindra S.. ‘Indian Hospitality: Some Cultural Values and Social Dynamics’. In Cultural Heritage of the Indian Village. British Museum Occasional Paper No. 47, 1991, pp. 4561Google Scholar; and Prasad, Leela. Poetics of Conduct: Oral Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007Google Scholar.

5 Kant, Immanuel. Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History. Translated by Colclasure, David L., New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006, p. 82Google Scholar.

6 Derrida, Jacques. Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond. Translated by Rachel Bowlby. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000, p. 83Google Scholar.

7 Ibid., p. 77.


8 For some recent works on this, see Chatterjee, Indrani. Forgotten Friends: Monks, Marriages, and Memories of Northeast India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Chakrabarty, Dipesh. The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Stoler, Ann Laura. Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009Google Scholar.

9 Nandy, Ashis. ‘History's Forgotten Doubles’, History and Theory 34, no. 2 (1995), pp. 4466CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in Tambling, Jeremy. Becoming Posthumous: Life and Death in Literary and Cultural Studies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001, p. 122Google Scholar.

11 Derrida, On Hospitality, p. 77.

12 Despite its importance as the earliest such institution, a serious history of this trust (the subject of my ongoing research) has yet to be written, but for some background (based largely on non-archival sources and oral histories), see Srinivasachari, C. S.. ‘Pachaiyappa: His Life, Times and Charities’. In Centenary Commemoration Book. Edited by Tiruvenkataswami, V.. Madras: Pachaiyappa's College, 1942, pp. 736Google Scholar. The founding in 1841 of ‘Pachaiyappa Mudaliar Charities’—as it was formally named—antedates the earliest attempts to regulate trusts in British India in the second half of the nineteenth century, as documented in Birla, Ritu. Stages of Capital: Law, Culture and Market Governance in Late Colonial India. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 ‘Tamilpperu Vallal Paccaiyappar’. Centamilc Celvi 37, no. 6 (1963), pp. 241–243 (‘Pachaiyappar’ is the honorific form of the given name, Pachaiyappan (and its English iteration, Pachaiyappa). As a young academic in the 1910s, Radhakrishnan had turned down a more lucrative offer to teach at Pachaiyappa's College in favour of continuing at Presidency College in Madras. In 1941, on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the trust and college, in his capacity as vice-chancellor of Banaras Hindu University, he sent felicitations which anticipated his later speech: ‘It is the one great institution in Madras built up by the generosity of a great citizen of Madras. Thousands have been benefited by the facilities afforded in that institution and many persons who have attained eminence in the public life of this country have been old Pachaiyappa boys. I have no doubt that the institution will prosper and continue to be a source of light and blessing to many thousands more in the years to come’ (quoted in Tiruvenkataswami (ed.), Centenary Commemoration Book, p. 119).

14 I have more to say about the category of the dubash later in the article, but for now note that it is an Anglo-Indian term based on a Sanskrit word that literally means ‘of two tongues’. Though frequently identified as ‘translator’, the dubash was really a transactor and a dealmaker (in our parlance).

15 Richter, Gerard. Afterness: Figures of Following in Modern Thought and Aesthetics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011, pp. 125Google Scholar.

16 Pillai, C. Srinivasa. Kancipuram Paccaiyappamutaliyar Carittiram. 2nd ed. Chennai: Madras Ripon Press, 1911, p. 18Google Scholar. Even scholarly essays written by professional historians trained in Western academic history are influenced in their discussions of Pachaiyappa by this logic of afterness (for example, Suntharalingam, R.. Politics and Nationalist Awakening in South India, 1852–1891. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1974, pp. 2732Google Scholar; and Nield-Basu, Susan. ‘The Dubashes of Madras’. Modern Asian Studies 18, no. 1 (1984), pp. 131, here pp. 14–16, 1920)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. An exception is Robert Frykenberg, who too argued, as I do here, that Pachaiyappa ‘would have been shocked’ had he encountered his posthumous persona as educational philanthropist (Frykenberg, R.. ‘Modern Education in South India’. American Historical Review 91, no. 1 (1986), pp. 37–75, here p. 51)Google Scholar.

17 Tambling, Becoming Posthumous, pp. 146–148, emphasis in original.

18 Benjamin, Walter. ‘The Task of the Translator: An Introduction to the Translation of Baudelaire's Tableaus Parisiens’. In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, Edited and with an Introduction by Hannah Arendt. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken, 1985, pp. 6982, here p. 71Google Scholar.

19 ‘For Benjamin, history is ‘time filled with the presence of the now (Jetztzeit) . . . The concept of the “now” virtually abolishes the past as past (except as the past of the present)’: Tambling, Becoming Posthumous, pp. 121–122.

20 For the concept of ‘commemorative density’, see Zerubavel, Yael. Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995Google Scholar.

21 Krishnamachariar, V.. Select Papers, Speeches and Poems connected with Pachaiyappa Mudaliar and His Religious and Educational Charities in the Early Period of their History. Madras: S. P. C. K. Press, 1892, pp. xxviixxviiiGoogle Scholar.

22 Friedman, Lawrence. Dead Hands: A Social History of Wills, Trusts, and Inheritance Law. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009, p. 4Google Scholar. See also Birla, Stages of Capital, pp. 68–73.

23 Although the original document is no longer available, English translations may be found in unpublished records of the Madras Supreme Court of Judicature. In the aftermath of the establishment of the charities, the English translation was published in a missionary newspaper, but this first public ‘outing’ of the document was accompanied by the telling comment: ‘This document clearly shows, that educational purposes were never contemplated by Patcheapah [sic]’ (‘Patcheapah's School at Madras’. The Friend of India 755 (21 June 1849), p. 393). For a published version of the will (with some minor changes) in Tamil, see Bhaktavatsalam, T.. Vallal Paccaiyappar. Madras: Tenral, 2002 (reprint), pp. 8081Google Scholar. An indifference to what his will actually willed is symptomatic of the logic of afterness in much of the public and professional writing on Pachaiyappa.

24 Mayor Court Record Series XIV: Records of the Court of Recorder, Volume 3, 1799, Tamil Nadu State Archives (hereafter TNSA). The late eighteenth century witnessed the slow transition from palm leaf to paper in the Tamil country, with many business transactions continuing to be recorded on ‘cadjan’, olai (Raman, Bhavani. Document Raj: Writing and Scribes in Early Colonial South India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. A few years before writing his will, Pachaiyappa apparently made a settlement on his junior wife, written on olai and signed on 19 September 1791 (Strange, Thomas A.. Notes of Cases in the Court of the Recorder and in the Supreme Court of Judicature at Madras; Commencing in the Year 1798, and Ending in the Year 1816, to Which Are Added, Copies of the Statutes, Charter, and of the Rules of the Supreme Court. Madras: Asylum Press, 1816, Vol. 1, p. 19Google Scholar).

25 Mayor Court Record Series XIV: Records of the Court of Recorder, Volume 3, 1799 (TNSA).

26 Srinivasa Pillai, Kancipuram, pp. 16–17. On Narayana Pillai, a prominent Madras dubash—on whom I say much more elsewhere—see Nield-Basu, ‘Dubashes of Madras’, p. 15.

27 ‘Between Chitra Pillay of Madras Inhabitant Appellant and Powney Narrain Pilla and Iyah Pilla Executors of Caunjeveram Patcheapah Moodelly Deceased Respondents’, 6 October 1797 (Mayor Court Record Series VI: Appeals Against Mayor's Court Decisions (TNSA)).

28 High Court Madras (Supreme Court), Equity Side, C series, Bundle 35, 115/2, Schedule A (TNSA).

29 High Court Madras (Supreme Court), Equity Side, C series, Bundle 35, 115/2, Schedule A (TNSA). The List, as such, finally surfaced—again—only as late as April 1949 when the Madras Record Office sent a copy to the trust. I thank the trust for sharing with me a copy of this document, written in colloquial (even rustic) Tamil with some interesting English words thrown in, such as ‘trustees’ and ‘complete’ (in Tamil orthography), and dated as per the Tamil and the English calendars.

30 High Court Madras (Supreme Court), Equity Side, C series, Bundle 35, 115/2 (TNSA). Schedule B attached to this document made ‘public’ for the first time in August 1822—at least within the context of the litigation—the list of places (‘charities’) that was agreed upon between these four individuals, most likely on the basis of an agreement that was signed on 9 January 1796 (High Court Madras (Supreme Court), Equity Side, C series, Bundle 28, 52/3, Schedule E [TNSA]).

31 Strange, Thomas A.. Hindu Law: Principally with Reference to Such Portions of It as Concern the Administration of Justice in the King's Court in India. London: Parbury, Allen & Co., 18251830, Vol. 2, p. 453Google Scholar.

32 In the Tamil region—contrary to prevailing scholarly wisdom that gives a later date, according priority to Bengali beginnings—the writing of wills by some Tamils can be traced back to the 1720s. (Mitch Fraas. ‘“They have Travailed into a Wrong Latitude”: The Laws of England, Indian Settlements, and the British Imperial Constitution, 1726–1773’. Unpublished PhD thesis, Duke University, 2011, pp. 210–211. See also Rocher, Ludo. Studies in Hindu Law and Dharmasastra. London: Anthem Press, 2014, pp. 713715Google Scholar). Pachaiyappa himself might have been inspired to his act by the testament left behind by a close associate (and Madras neighbour) Vayalur Kulandai Veeraperumal Pillai who too nominated Narayana Pillai as his administrator. Veeraperumal Pillai's will—and Narayana Pillai's role in its execution—was contested in the Supreme Court in 1801, at the same time as Pachaiyappa's, although none of the individuals in either case referred to the other (Strange, Notes of Cases, Vol. 1, pp. 91–148).

33 Pachaiyappa Hall was officially opened in March 1850 and for the next hundred years remained a landmark civic and political space in the city, and also the site for the school and college named after its ‘accidental’ benefactor. For an architectural history of the building, see Jayewardene-Pillai, Shanti. ‘Excited by Athenian Antiquities: The Pachaiyappa School, 1846–1850’. In Imperial Conversations: Indo-Britons and the Architecture of South India. New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2007, pp. 120161.Google Scholar

34 LITTRÉ: Dictionnaire de la langue française, as quoted in Guy Debord. Panegyric. Translated by James Brook. London: Verso, 2004, Vol. 1, unpaginated epigraph.

35 ‘Speech of the Hon'ble John Bruce Norton at Pachaiyappa's Anniversary, 1868’. In Tiruvenkataswami, Centenary Commemoration Book, pp. 173–174. Historian C. S. Srinivasachari attributes the painting to Richard Ramsay Reinagle (Srinivasachari, ‘Pachaiyappa: His Life, Times and Charities’, pp. 13, 18–19). I have yet to ascertain the basis of this claim but it is quite likely. Reinagle did a portrait of Henry Compton who might well have referred him to the trustees; he was a well-known London-based portrait and landscape artist in the early decades of the nineteenth century but by the 1840s, he had fallen upon hard times and might have been willing to take on this commission. The painting hung at the north end of the Hall until it was moved to its current premises of Pachaiyappa's College.

36 It is likely that a version of this earlier image is reproduced as the frontispiece in Srinivasa Pillai, Kancipuram, and in Krishnamachariar, Select Papers.

37 Srinivaschari, ‘Pachaiyappa: His Life, Times and Charities’, p. 18. In the aftermath of the creation of the trust, it is revealing that Pachaiyappa's physique is recalled in a manner that conforms to the conventional auspicious attributes and marks of the ideal body (lakshana in Sanskrit, lakshanam in Tamil) of Indic thought and aesthetics.

38 There is very little published scholarship, especially in English, on this work, or indeed on Srinivasa Pillai, himself a son of a well-known dubash, a dharmakarta (temple manager or ‘church warden’ in colonial parlance) of the famous Parthasarathi temple in Chennai in the 1830s, a co-founder of the Hindu Literary Society, and a native member of the Board of Governors of the newly constituted Madras University in the 1840s (Cf. Suntharalingam, Politics and Nationalist Awakening, pp. 36–38). I am grateful to Susan Nield-Basu for sharing her unpublished paper in which she discusses Srinivasa Pillai and his biography of Pachaiyappa (S. Nield-Basu. ‘Urban Elites and Philanthropy in Madras in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries’. Presented at the Association for Asian Studies Mid-Atlantic Region: Eleventh Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, 1982).

39 Krishnamachariar, Select Papers, p. xiv.

40 Ramaswami, N. S.. Pachaiyappa and His Institutions. Madras: Committee of Management of Pachaiyappa's Trust, 1986, ForewordGoogle Scholar. The phrase ‘earth, earthy’ echoes the distinction that Paul makes in 1 Cor 15: 47. Beginning as ‘earthy’ selves, these men through their very acts of giving become ‘heavenly’. I thank Brian Hatcher for this insight.

41 The phrase is from Tanga Palanivel. Par Pukalum Paccaiyappar (Kaviyam). Chennai: Itaya Roja Patippakam, 1993, pp. 9–10. For some representative examples of poems in Sanskrit (in Telugu script) and Tamil, see Krishnamachariar, Select Papers, pp. 49–163. See also Pillai, Kancipuram, pp. 61–128. There is no scholarship on these poems but for the larger nineteenth-century literary context in which they were produced, see Ebeling, Sascha. Colonizing the Realm of Words: The Transformation of Tamil Literature in Nineteenth-Century South India. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010Google Scholar. Like many of the figures that Ebeling considers, the poets who sang of Pachaiyappa too circulated in ‘an economy of praise, where praise was traded in the form of verses to serve pulavars, patrons, and audiences in specific ways’ (ibid., p. 29).

42 Palanivel, Pār Pukaḻum Paccaiyappar, p. 73.

43 Mukund, Kanakalatha. ‘New Social Elites and the Early Colonial State: Construction of Identity and Patronage in Madras’. Economic and Political Weekly 38, no. 27 (2003), pp. 28572864, here pp. 2860–2861Google Scholar. See also Peterson, Indira. ‘Mapping Madras in Sarvadevavilasa: Urban Space, Patronage, and Power in a Nineteenth-Century Sanskrit Text’. In Passages: Relationships between Tamil and Sanskrit. Edited by Kannan M. and Jennifer Clare. Pondicherry: Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2009, pp. 333358Google Scholar.

44 Many of these endorsements are reproduced in Krishnamachariar, Select Papers, and Tiruvenkataswami, Centenary Commemoration Book.

45 Ricoeur, Paul. Memory, History, Forgetting. Translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004, p. xviCrossRefGoogle Scholar. My discussion in this section is indebted to Ricouer's profound meditation on ‘forgiving’ and ‘forgetting’.

46 Metcalf, Alida. Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil, 1500–1600. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005Google Scholar.

47 Schaffer, Simon, Roberts, Lissa, Raj, Kapil and Delbourgo, James (eds). The Brokered World: Go-Betweens and Global Intelligence, 1770–1820. Sagamore Beach: Science History Publications, 2009Google Scholar.

48 Ibid., p. ix.


49 Neild-Basu, ‘The Dubashes of Madras’. See also Waghorne, Joanne. Diaspora of the Gods: Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle-Class World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, especially pp. 75106, 126–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

50 Peregrine. ‘The Sick Dubash’. Madras Courier X, no. 442 (Friday, 28 March 1794), p. 3. Nield-Basu's fine study has missed this poem.

51 Letter dated 29 May 1788 (Tanjore District Records, 3448, pp. 91–92).

52 Ibid., pp. 41–47; and letter dated 17 March 1788 (Tanjore District Records, 4418, pp. 81–84).


53 Letter dated 14 December 1790 (Madras Military Consultations, Vol. CXLII, 17 December 1790); letter dated 17 December 1790 (Tanjore District Records, Vol. 3449, p. 573); Madras Military Miscellany, 30 April 1792, No. 2; 5 May 1792, No. 39; 15 May 1792, No. 107.

54 Letter dated 19 July 1802 submitted to the Tanjore Debt Committee (British Library, H/278, pp. 37–38).

55 Quoted in Chakrabarty, The Calling of History, p. 46. For a pioneering, little-cited essay on this subject, see Voigt, Johannes. ‘British Policy Towards Indian Historical Research and Writing 1870–1930’. Indian Economic and Social History Review 3, no. 2 (1966), pp. 137149CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Sengupta, Syamalendu. Experiencing History Through Archives: Restoration of Memory and Repair of Records. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2004, pp. 6995Google Scholar.

56 For example, Strange, Notes of Cases; and Anon., ‘Patcheapah's School at Madras’.

57 Quoted by Schrift, Alan D.. ‘Introduction: Why Gift?’. In The Logic of the Gift: Toward an Ethic of Generosity. Edited by Schrift, Alan D.. New York: Routledge, 1997, pp. 122, here p. 3Google Scholar.

58 Derrida, Jacques. Given Time. 1. Counterfeit Money. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992Google Scholar. See also Schrift, ‘Introduction: Why Gift?’, pp. 10–11.

59 Ali, Agha Shahid. ‘Farewell’. In The Country Without a Post Office. New York: Norton, 1998, pp. 79Google Scholar.

60 Krishnamachariar, Select Papers, p. xxvii. I am indebted to David Gilmartin as well for this reminder.

61 Most recently, see Jay, Martin. On the Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010Google Scholar. Ernest Renan, of course, famously noted in 1882, ‘To forget and—I will venture to say—to get one's history wrong, are essential factors in the making of a nation; and thus the advance of historical studies is often a danger to nationality.’ (Renan, E.. ‘What Is a Nation?’. In The Nationalism Reader. Edited by Dahbour, Omar and Ishay, Micheline R.. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: The Humanities Press, 1995, pp. 143–55, here p. 145.)Google Scholar

62 Anderson, Nicole. Derrida: Ethics under Erasure. London: Continuum, 2012, pp. 102103Google Scholar.

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