Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer

by V.N. Gopalakrishnan, Mumbai


Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, popularly known as ‘Sir CP’ or simply CP was an able lawyer, efficient administrator and astute politician. He was the Dewan of the erstwhile Travancore princely state from 1936 to 1947. Under his Dewanship, Travancore became the first princely state to abolish capital punishment, first to introduce free and compulsory education, first to introduce universal adult franchise and the first to be connected to the rest of India by air.

Sir C P Ramaswami IyerIn 1931, when crown prince Sri Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma was barred from succeeding his deceased uncle Sri Mulam Thirunal as the Maharaja of Travancore, C.P Ramaswami Iyer spoke on his behalf to Lord Willingdon, the Viceroy of India. The Viceroy agreed to crown prince Chithira Thirunal on the condition that Ramaswami should function as Adviser. While approving the accession of Sri Chithira Thirunal to the throne, the Viceroy had insisted that Sir C.P should function as Legal and Constitutional Advisor to the Maharajas and the formal announcement was proposed on the occasion of the investiture ceremony. Thus he served as the Legal and Constitutional Adviser to the prince from 1931 to 1936. Sri Mulam Tirunal was the first ruler in India to establish two legislative bodies in a princely state under the guidance of Sir CP. The proposed bicameral legislature comprised of the Sri Mulam Assembly (First Chamber) and the Sri Chithira State Council (Second Chamber) and Sir C.P. was the President of both. In 1936, Sri Chithira Thirunal personally requested Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer to serve as the Dewan of Travancore which he accepted and served for ten years.

On November 12, 1936, at the instance of Sir C.P, Sri Chithira Thirunal issued the famous Temple Entry Proclamation which gave Hindus of all castes and classes, including Harijans or untouchables, the right to enter Hindu temples in the state. Mahatma Gandhi and other social reformers praised the Maharaja and the Dewan for this proclamation though the conservative Hindus opposed it.

Sir CP was the first person in India to suggest a plan for interlinking the rivers in the country and is also credited with the establishment of several hydro-electric power projects. He established the Pallivasal Hydro-electric power project on the Periyar River and initiated the Pechipara Hydro-electric Scheme and the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary project. In 1940, under his Dewanship, Travancore became the first state to nationalize road transport in India. The first cement highway in India between Trivandrum and Kanyakumari covering a distance of 88 kms was constructed during his tenure. He also carried out a great deal of pioneering work for the Vivekananda Rock at Kanyakumari.

Sir CP started the University of Travancore (subsequently named as Kerala University) in 1937 with the Maharaja Sri Chithira Thirunal as the Chancellor and himself as the Vice Chancellor. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Travancore in 1939. He also renovated the Padmanabhapuram Palace built during Marthanda Varma's time and expanded the Trivandrum Art Gallery.

Sir CP was the first to introduce the midday meal scheme in the form of the Vanchi Poor Fund in Travancore to encourage poor children to attend school. Capital punishment was abolished and universal adult franchise introduced in 1940. He also appointed Mrs. Anna Chandy as the first District Judge who later became the first Indian woman High Court Judge. He established the Travancore Bank which eventually became the State Bank of Travancore.

During his tenure as Dewan, Travancore made rapid progress in industrial development. He invited the Indian Aluminium Company to set up its first plant in Alwaye to manufacture aluminium cables. He established the Fertilizers and Chemicals of Travancore, the first fertilizer plant in India with American collaboration. He also established the Travancore Cement Co., the Travancore Titanium Co. and the Travancore Rayons Limited. The state revenue increased four-fold during his tenure as the Dewan.

Ramaswami was born on November 13, 1879 to C. R. Pattabhirama Iyer and Seethalakshmi Ammal in the Madras city. Pattabhirama Iyer, a prominent judge was the Chairman of the Committee which sponsored Swami Vivekananda's voyage to USA to attend the Parliament of Religions. The ancestors of Ramaswami were hailing from Chetpet town in the North Arcot district of Tamil Nadu.

With the pocket money given by his father, young Ramaswami would buy books and had a well-stocked library even as a student, which he made available to his friends. This library grew to become one of the largest libraries in Madras owned by a single individual. When Ramaswami was in the 8th standard, his father bought a set of 20 volumes of “Chambers Miscellany” in order to ensure that his son achieved mastery over the English language. It is said that Ramaswami completed all the volumes in less than two years!

Ramaswami studied at the Wesley Mission School at Madras. On completion of his schooling, he joined the Presidency College in 1894 for his intermediate course. At the age of 16, Ramaswami was married to nine-year old Seethamma in 1895. Ramaswami obtained a double first class in the B.A exams and stood first in English and Sanskrit. He also bagged the Christian College Medal for English language and the University Medal for Sanskrit. Though Ramaswami desired to become an English professor, his father wished that he should become a lawyer and thus he chose a career in law. He graduated with distinction from the Madras Law College in 1901. He used to spend his college vacations with Sir K. Seshadri Iyer, the Dewan of Mysore and got inspiration from him.

After completing the law course Ramaswami did not enroll himself as a lawyer. He felt an urge to abandon the legal profession and join the Servants of India Society founded by Gopalakrishna Gokhale. He went to Poona where he met Gokhale who agreed to admit him as a member of Society. He also developed an admiration for Annie Besant and collaborated with her in organising the Home Rule League. Ramaswami came into contact with Jawaharlal Nehru when both were Joint Secretaries of the Home Rule League. Ramaswami later served as its Vice President and edited New India. When Annie Besant was elected as the President of the Indian National Congress, Ramaswami became the Secretary in 1917.but distanced himself from the Party after disagreeing with Mahatma Gandhi over the Swadeshi and Non-Cooperation movements.

Ramaswami Iyer practised law on his own and at the age of 31, he became the undisputed leader of the original side of the Madras High Court. During his tenure as a lawyer, he fought and won over 300 cases! He was offered the post of a judge of the Madras High Court, but he turned down the offer. However, Lord Willingdon, the Governor of Madras nominated him as Advocate General of the Madras Presidency during 1920 to 1923. He was also selected as the President of the First All Indian Lawyers Conference held at Allahabad.

Ramaswami served as the Law member of the Executive Council of the Governor of Madras from 1923 to1928 and as the Law member of the Executive Council of the Viceroy of India from 1931 to 1936. In 1926, Ramaswami was made a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire (KCIE). He was the Indian delegate at the League of Nations in Geneva in 1926 and 1927. In 1932, he attended the Third Round Table Conference at London and his maiden speech at the Round Table Conference was candid. He also served in many international organisations and on the boards of several Indian universities. He was the sole Indian delegate to the World Economic Conference in 1933 and the following year, he drafted a Constitution for the State of Kashmir. In 1941, he was made a Knight Commander of the Star of India (KCSI).

Sir CP was determined to implement the American Model reforms and support the cause of an independent Travancore. In October 1946, a mass uprising broke out in Vayalar and Punnapra regions of Alleppy in reaction to Ramaswami Iyer’s speeches for the creation of an "American model" of executive in Travancore. But he ruthlessly suppressed the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt which according to Prof. A. Sreedhara Menon's Kerala History, around 1,000 people died.

On June 3, 1947, British government accepted the demands for a partition of India and the Princely States were given two options of either staying independent or merging with the dominions of India or Pakistan. Supported by the Dewan, Maharaja Sri Chithira Thirunal issued a declaration of independence on June 18, 1947. As Travancore's declaration of independence was unacceptable to India, negotiations were started with the Dewan. According to his family sources, the Dewan was not in favour of independence but only greater autonomy to Travancore. A favourable agreement had been reached between the Dewan and the Indian Union representatives by July 23, 1947. Accession to the Indian Union could not be carried out because it was pending for approval by the Maharaja of Travancore. However, an assassination attempt was made on the Dewan on July 25, 1947 during a concert commemorating the anniversary of Swati Thirunal. Dewan survived with multiple stab wounds and hastened the accession of Travancore to the Indian Union soon after his recovery.

After he resigned as Dewan of Travancore, Ramaswami Iyer left for London in 1948 and he returned his titles of KCSI and KCIE through a letter to Lord Mountbatten, the Governor General of India. He also visited Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Mexico as a tourist. He visited USA and met US President Harry S. Truman and other intellectuals. In 1952-53, he visited Australia, New Zealand and USA either as their government guest or as a visiting professor. During the 1950s and 1960s, Ramaswami Iyer served as a Vice-Chancellor of both the Annamalai and Banaras universities at the same time, thereby becoming the first Indian to do so. He received honorary Doctorate degrees (D.Lit or LL.D) from five Universities and was liked to be known as Dr. C.P.

Sir CP was the patron of the Trivandrum Club and the Travancore Athletic Association. He was the Chairman of the Travancore State Sailer Soldiers and Armies Board, member of the Indian Rubber Production Board and President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar was also a renowned author. Some of his works are: Indian Universities: Retrospect’s and Prospects; Religion, Man and Other Essays; Biographical Vistas; Pen Portraits; Fundamentals of Hindu Faith and Culture; Cultural Freedom of Some Eminent Indians; At the Crossroads, Phases of Religion and Culture; World Religions-A study in synthesis; World Culture and India; Treatment of Landscape in Eastern and Western Poetry etc.

In 1953, Ramaswami Iyer was appointed as a member of the Press Commission of India. He served as a member of the University Grants commission in 1955 and visited China as the leader of the delegation of Indian universities. He also served as a member of the Punjab Commission, the National Integration Committee on Regionalism, Chairman of the Hindu Religious Endowments Commission and President of the Inter-University Board of India and Ceylon in 1965. In September 1966, Ramaswami Iyer left for England to conduct research on a planned book titled A History of My Times at the India Office library. On September 26, 1966 while speaking to a reporter, he collapsed and died at the age of 86. Thus the remarkable career of Sachivottama Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer came to an end.

Sir CP has been criticized as an authoritarian and anti-Communist but despite his animosity with the Communists, he opposed as "unconstitutional" the dismissal of the elected Communist government of Kerala in 1959. He was also criticized for liquidating the Travancore National and Quilon Bank but Prof. Sreedhara Menon has lauded the action stating that but for his timely action the public would have lost their deposits in the banks. He was criticized for deliberately sealing the office of Malayala Manorama, the leading daily of Kerala. However, H.H Sree Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma, the Maharajah of Travancore publicly praised Sir. C.P while stating that “he should not have been mistreated”.

Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar-A Biography" by Dr. Saroja Sundararajan is the first full-length biography of a man of vision who dominated the legal, political, administrative, social, educational, philanthropic, literary and intellectual arenas, spanning more than six decades of the twentieth century.

After his demise, his family members established the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation on October 14, 1966 at his ancestral home with the objective of serving the interests of the community at large and promoting Indian culture through research and development. C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Institute of Indological Research was established under the aegis of the Foundation in 1981 to facilitate research and promote the study of Indian art, history and culture, and to organize seminars and conferences on various aspects of Indian culture and history. The Institute is affiliated to the University of Madras for Ph.D. degree in History and Environment. The Journal of Indian History and Culture published by the Institute is an annual publication which encompasses all the various types of historical research.

(Author is Director, Indo-Gulf Consulting, a PR consulting firm. He can be contacted on





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