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May 01, 2012 05:39 AM
by Ramanujachary


Dr N C Ramanujachary

Col. H S Olcott (1832-1907) arrived at Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1879, along with Madame H P Blavatsky (1831-91) for strengthening the theosophical movement by collecting more and more esoteric information on occult sciences. To draw attention of the scholars and to generally diffuse the findings, they started a monthly magazine by name `The Theosophist' in 1879. Madame Blavatsky's book `Isis Unveiled' was available by then and it created lot of enthusiasm among the Indian scholars. One such who were enthralled by the contents of the book and its deep probe into eastern wisdom was TSubba Row (1856-90), a practicing lawyer at Madras (now Chennai). He entered into correspondence with Madame Blavatsky to mutual advantage. His first article `The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac' was contributed to the journal in 1881 and was received by the readers with great acclaim. This article is an attempt to trace the story of manifestation on this globe, drawing references to Mantra and Tantra-sastras. Procuring vital information and related books through Blavatsky, Subba Row pursued his studies in Chaldean, Egyptian and Kabala systems of philosophy.

T Subba Row was a student of the Madras Presidency College with remarkable academic achievement. For his extensive memory, he was acclaimed as `Devil Subba Row' in his college days. This accomplishment helped him both in his scriptural studies and the later professional career.

Subba Row was eager to meet Blavatsky and he expressed the desire, through a letter addressed to her, that she should accompany Col. Olcott as well, when he planned to visit Madras. This desire was fulfilled in April 1882, when both the founders, of the Society, landed by ship at the port of Madras. Subba Row made elaborate arrangements to meet them, welcome and place them comfortably in a bungalow owned by Dewan Madhavarao in Mylapore. Eventually a branch association of the Society was formed at Madras, with Subba Row as secretary and one Dewan Raghunatharao as its President. He was formally admitted to the membership of the Society on April 25, 1882 in a `solitary and sublime' function, the reason for which Olcott says he does not even know. The same year the Society instituted a T Subba Row medal in his honor, to be awarded every year for scholarly work. 

>From that time till the end of his life, Subba Row was in close contact with them and assisted the work of the Society as a member of the council and as counselor for some years. His association in administrative matters with Olcott and in philosophical matters with Blavatsky was well recorded in the history of the Society. Olcott did openly state that his decision to establish the world headquarters of the Society at Madras was greatly because of Subba Row's presence here. His knowledge in occult sciences and eastern doctrines of philosophy were matters of deeper and vital consideration. Subba Row spent lot of his time in study of Occult Science texts and palm-leaf manuscripts. His erudition and memory were of admirable amazement to Olcott. Besides writing reviews, some years editing the magazine `The Theosophist' during Blavatsky's absence in India made his knowledge of the orient philosophy available to the commoners. He encouraged the writing of `The Secret Doctrine' by Blavatsky and made available his own knowledge of the eastern wisdom. She too often quoted him while elaborating some abstruse theories. However he could not assist her till the end since he held an opinion that she was revealing too much to the profane. Olcott attempted to bring a sort of reconciliation between the two but did not succeed because of the stern stand taken by Subba Row. Eventually, the incidents leant towards the resigning of Subba Row from the primary membership of the Society. Even after this unfortunate incidence, Subba Row continued his association with the president, Olcott, and the friendship between them lasted till the end. He made his studies deeper and ventilated his ideas on spiritual matters liberally. He had some foreign members of the Society especially interested in his instructions and ideas. Subba Row used to visit them in the evenings, after his tennis play at the Cosmopolitan Club, and spend hours discoursing with them, answering questions and bringing up certain niceties and twists of philosophic inquiry. The only Indian who had the privilege of attended them was S Subramanya Iyer (later Judge and Sir).

Olcott invited Subba Row to deliver a series of lectures on Bhagavad-Gita during the annual convention of 1886 which he did most eloquently and deeply highlighting the concepts of Taraka Raja Yoga in aid to the study. Incidentally, Subba Row happened to be the first theosophical speaker on the sacred text `The Bhagavad-Gita'. His talks were well appreciated by the scholars, and they continue to inspire the students of philosophy even now. Pundit Bhavani Shankar was one of the listeners to take up the study of the text in greater detail and diffuse the lively ideas therein the rest of his life. 

Subba Row organized the lecture tours of Olcott in South India; particularly the Tamil speaking areas and the success of these helped the expansion of theosophical ideas of living in the land. Subba Row writes in his reports that Olcott had grandeur welcome at all places, than that usually received by the royal kings of the day. 

Olcott desired that Subba Row should write more articles essays and treatises on philosophy but the later was very `indolent' to writing. He would talk for hours without the listeners feeling tired or dissipated. In fact, Subba Row was a leading lawyer and did not find adequate time to pursue his oriental studies in the pace he wanted that to be. He was fascinated to write a comprehensive treatise on Prasthana Traya (the Brahma sutras, Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita) on his retirement from profession. His desire to acquire a farm-land, build a solitary place for himself did not material because he was called back by destiny. He died at a very young age of 33, leaving his young wife, numerous relatives and friends, admirers to great despair. His death was caused by a mysterious disease, though treated by Allopathic, Ayurveda doctors. Olcott, at his request, gave mesmeric passes to him and he could only relieve him from acute pains but not the end. Olcott wrote a longish obituary note conveying the death to the theosophical world, where he summarized many facts of his life not known in public. Their association was more friendly and intimate.

From: Dr N C Ramanujachary, Besant Gardens, The Theosophical Society, 
Adyar, CHENNAI 600020


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