Biography of A. Seshayya Sastri

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Indian Administrator A. Seshayya Sastri Biography

Sir Amaravati Seshayya Sastri (Tamil: அமராவதி சேஷையா சாஸ்திரி) KCSI (March 22, 1828 – October 29, 1903), or Sashiah Sastri, was an Indian administrator who served as the Diwan of Travancore from May 1872 to May 4, 1877 and as the Diwan of Pudukkottai from 1878 to 1894. He is credited with having modernized the city of Pudukkottai.

Seshayya Sastri was born in the village of Amaravati in Tanjore district, Madras Presidency in 1828 in a poor Hindu family. At the age of nine, Seshayya Sastri moved to Madras city with his uncle Gopala Aiyer. Seshayya Sastri had his schooling and higher education in Madras and graduated in 1848 in first class.

In 1848, Seshayya Sastri was employed as a clerk in the Revenue Office and rose to become Tahsildar, Naib Sheristadar and later, Head Sheristadar. In 1872, Seshayya Sastri was appointed Diwan of Travancore and served from 1872 to 1877, when palace intrigues forced him to quit.

Seshayya Sastri served as Diwan of Pudukkottai from 1878 to 1886 and Diwan-Regent from 1886 to 1894. He rebuilt the town of Pudukkottai and created the Pudukulam Lake. Seshayya Sastri retired from service in 1894. He died on October 29, 1903 at the age of 75.

Seshayya Sastri was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India in 1902.

A. Seshayya Sastri Early life

Seshayya Sastri was born on March 22, 1828  in the village of Amaravati in Tanjore district in a Vathima Iyer family. He was the youngest of six children and his father was a Vaidika priest. Sastri’s parents were poor and Seshayyah Sastri had a troubled upbringing. At a very early age, he moved with his uncle Gopala Aiyer, to Madras.
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In Madras, he learnt Tamil from a private tuition master and had his first English lessons at a school run by a Portuguese named Francis Rodriques. In 1837, Seshayya Sastri joined Anderson’s school. As a child, Seshayya Sastri mastered verses from the Bible and became a favorite with the Rev. Mr. Anderson.

In 1840, as a result of violent protests and accusations of proselytization against Anderson, an Education Board was setup by the Madras Government and a preparatory and a high school established by the board. Seshayya Sastri joined the preparatory school in 1841.

The school was later upgraded to a high school and Seshayya Sastri studied in the school till 1848 when financial difficulties forced him to quit. The headmaster of the school was the legendary E. B. Powell who took a special liking for the boy. Sastri’s classmates at the school were the illustrious Ramiengar and T. Madhava Rao.

In 1848, he joined Pachaiyappa’s school and studied with the aid of a regular stipend from the Government. Meanwhile, Sastri’s uncle Gopala Aiyer died in 1847. The very same year Seshayya Sastri married Sundari, a native of Konerirajapuram and became a householder.

Seshayya Sastri rigorously practised oratory and drama along with his close friend Ramiengar. He graduated on May 29, 1848 in first class. In September 1848, Sastri was employed as a clerk in the Revenue Office.

A. Seshayya Sastri Career

Seshayya Sastri’s performance as a clerk won him a place in the Roving Commission. Later, Seshayya was transferred to the Currents Department and was eventually appointed Tahsildar of Masulipatnam in May 1851. Sastri was promoted as Naib Sheristadar in 1853 and Head Sheristadar on November 5, 1855.

Seshayya served in the Imam Commission from November 1858 to 1865, when he was appointed Deputy Collector of Tanjore. Sastri took charge in April 1866 and served for a year till he was appointed Vice President of the Tanjore municipality. In 1869, Seshayya was appointed Head Sheristadar of the Board of Revenue. In May 1872, he succeeded his classmate Madhava Rao as the Dewan of Travancore.

As Dewan of Travancore

During the tenure of Seshayya Sastri as Dewan, the Varkala Tunnel connecting two lakes in Varkala, forty kilometres from Tiruvananthapuram city was opened for traffic. The first systematic census of Travancore state was taken on May 18, 1875.

Seshayya Sastri became Dewan at a time when Travancore was gripped by political intrigues. Sastri’s predecessor Madhava Rao had tried to overrule the king and was dismissed.  Sastri, too, was dominant and uncompromising as Madhava Rao and had frequent clashes with the king.

Notwithstanding this strained relationship, Kerala Varma, the ruler of Cochin, wrote a letter to Seshayya Sastri warning him about the designs of Maharaja Ayilyam Thirunal but the letter fell into the hands of the Raja of Travancore.
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In August 1877, Seshayya Sastri resigned as Diwan of Travancore and retired to Trichinopoly where he was appointed Vice-President and Secretary of the Mansion House Famine Relief Committee. In January 1878, Seshayya was nominated to the Madras Legislative Council and served till August 1878 when he took charge as the Diwan of Pudukkottai.

As Dewan of Pudukkottai

In 1878, when Ramachandra Tondaiman was the ruler of Pudukkottai, Seshayya Sastri was appointed Dewan. He brought forth a number of reforms. He remodelled the town and rebuilt it incorporating modern principles of town planning.

The Pudukkottai administrative office building was constructed during the tenure of Seshayya Sastri.  The famous Pudukkulam Lake in Pudukkottai was a creation of Seshayya Sastri. Under Seshayya Sastri’s advice, Ramachandra Tondaiman renovated many temples in the state.

At the suggestion of his Tanjore-born wife, Ramachandra Tondaiman adopted the name “Brihadambaldas” with consent of Dewan Seshayya Sastri.  In 1886, Ramachandra Tondaiman died and Martanda Bhairava Tondaiman, then a minor, succeeded to the throne of Pudukkottai.

Seshayya Sastri, who was the Dewan, ruled Pudukkottai as Regent till Martanda Bhairava Tondaiman came of age. His tenure as dewan came to an end in 1894 and he returned to private life.

A. Seshayya Sastri Later life

In 1902, Seshayya Sastri was knighted for his services to the Crown.
Seshayya Sastri died on October 29, 1903.

A. Seshayya Sastri Honours

Seshayya Sastri was made a fellow of the University of Madras in 1868 and on January 1, 1878, made a Companion of the Order of the Star of India in the New Year Honour’s List. In 1901, Seshayya Sastri was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India in the King’s Birthday Honour’s List.

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