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An Appreciation of T Subba Rao by S. Subramanian

Aug 19, 2012 06:32 AM
by MKR

This is found as an introduction to T. Subba Rao's lectures on Gita.
Contains some very interesting information not found anywhere else.




MY acquaintance with T. Subba Row began at the end
of 1884, when I came here to Madras and settled down
with the intention of practising in the High Court.
It was at the Theosophical Convention of 1884 that I
first met him, and from the very first moment became
so deeply attracted to him as to make it difficult for me
to understand why it was so. My admiration of his
ability was so great that I began to look upon him
almost from that time as a great man. He was a very
well-made robust man, and strikingly intellectual.
When H. P. B. was here, he was known to be a great
favourite of hers. It was said that he first attracted
her attention by a paper called " The Twelve Signs
of the Zodiac ", which was afterwards published. At
the Convention, there was much talk on various
topics, and he always spoke with decision, and his
views carried great weight. But he spoke little and
only what was necessary. There was then a small
committee of which Colonel Olcott was the Presi-
dent. Subba Row was one of the members of this,
and R. Raghunatha Row, P. Srinivasa Row and
myself were also among its members. This committee
used to meet on Sundays, but there was very little
business to be done.

Very shortly after my coming to Madras, one
day I was taken to a room, which is now the
office of Mr. Schwarz, to see the pictures of two
Masters. The big hall had not been built. H. P. B.
and Subba Row were the only persons present, and I
do not remember, after such a long lapse of time, what
actually took place. I understood that I was admitted
into the Second Section of the T.S. which had then
been founded. The only thing that I knew of in
connection with it subsequently was the circulation
of new manuscript papers bearing on the question
of Rounds, etc. Dr. Franz Hartmann, who was also
a member of the Society, stayed at the Headquarters
and began to give trouble, and I believe that owing
to those troubles and to the departure of H. P. B.,
the Second Section practically ceased to exist, so far
as India was concerned. But upon this point I am
not quite sure.

As practitioners in the same Court, Subba Row and
myself used to meet daily in the Court House. I
was, therefore, a very close acquaintance of his,
and he reciprocated my friendship to an extent
which was to me a matter of deep gratitude. He
used to drive in the evenings on holidays, and when
there was no occasion to go to the Headquarters.
He talked about various things to me, but never
about occult matters. He was so reticent on this
question, that for the whole period he survived, some
six years after I became acquainted with him, he
never once mentioned to me the Masters or the two
Masters connected with our Society. I think he
even avoided answering questions regarding their
existence. So far as I know, the only persons he
would speak to about Occultism were Mr. C. W.
Leadbeater and Mr. A. J. Cooper-Oakley, who were
both very great friends of his. Cooper-Oakley was
a sort of chela to him. Though he would not say
anything about the Masters, it was believed that
he was a disciple of Master M. Dewan Bahadur
R. Raghunatha Row, who was much his senior, and
a much respected man, used to call Subba Row
jocularly " Master ".

In December 1886, his discourses on the Gltd were
delivered on four mornings of the Convention of that
year. There was much difficulty in persuading him
to deliver the lectures. I was one of the three or
four who put pressure upon him to deliver the
lectures. A part of the condition of his under-
taking to do so was that I should attend the session
of the Indian National Congress, which was to take
place in Calcutta that year. He persuaded me to
go there, and I said I would do so, if he promised
to deliver the discourses on the Gita. As I expected
that the lectures would be most valuable, and as
I could not be present, I arranged with a shorthand
reporter to take notes of those lectures, and I paid
him, if I remember correctly, Rs. 150. It was from
these notes that the lectures were first published
in The Theosophist.

Everybody admired his great capacity and power
of expression, not to speak of the depth of learning
displayed by him in the course of these lectures. One
gentleman, by name Bhashikachariar, who was a
Sanskrit Pandit of great ability, and who, I think,
presented a large number of books to the Adyar
Library, was lost in admiration at the end of these
lectures. I believe, on the last day, he went
and embraced Subba Row in token of his admira-
tion, and actually asked him how he managed to
gather so much learning about such a difficult
subject. After the appearance of the lectures in The
Theosophist, it occurred to me that their publication
in book form would be useful, and unless my memory
fails, the first edition was published at my request by
Tookaram Tatya of Bombay, an enthusiastic Theo-
sophist, and I contributed towards the expenses of the
publication. I remember forwarding copies of this
reprint in book form to Professor Max Miiller. But
the Professor did not think it worth while to acknow-
ledge even the receipt of the pamphlet. In all
probability the fact that it came from a Theosophist
was the reason of this.

I think the lectures, as they stand now, are as he
actually spoke them on the four mornings. The
shorthand report, when submitted to him, required
very little revision. I was informed that each morning
he came with a small slip of paper containing some
very few notes, and it was with the aid of these notes
that the whole discourse was given without hesitation
or interruption. A second edition of these discourses
was intended to be issued many years afterwards,
and, I believe, that Tookaram Tatya's son claimed the
copyright and objected to the Society issuing a
second edition. Mr. B. P. Wadia consulted me, and
I then showed him that the claimant had no right,
but I do not know whether a second edition was
issued by the Society or not.

Subba Row's observations on the sevenfold classi-
fication, and his preference for the fourfold classi-
fication touched upon in the first lecture, led to a
controversy on the subject, and to H. P. B.'s replies
on the matter. It was said that Subba Row's criticism
on the subject gave offence to H. P. B., who was then
absent in Europe. Partly due to this controversy,
Subba Row's visits to the Headquarters became less
frequent. About the same time a certain American
Theosophist made an attack on him, either in
private letters or in the columns of the Path, charging
him with Brahman narrowness in not freely communi-
cating to European Theosophists knowledge and
information he had about the Masters and kindred
subjects. One afternoon, after he had played
tennis and was sitting discussing with Dr. Cook,
another Theosophist, who was a great friend of his,
Subba Row expressed his intention of resigning
his membership in the T.S., and he actually did
so a few days later. I forgot to say he was
an able tennis player, and he almost invariably
drove straight from the High Court to the Cosmo-
politan Club and played on the tennis ground there.
He was almost the best Indian player and quite
equal to Dr. Cook, an expert in the game.

After his resignation of membership in the T. S.,
Subba Row, after tennis, used to go Dr. Cook's
house, which was adjacent to the Club. Mr. and
Mrs. Cooper-Oakley used to join them there,
and there were talks in which Subba Row was
the chief speaker. I was the only Indian present,
and I considered it a privilege to be at those
talks. Mr. Oakley made short notes, after the con-
versation was over, and he was good enough to let
me have a copy of them, which I still have. A
great many interesting things said on those occa-
sions, of course, find no place in the notes, which,
nevertheless, show his great knowledge about
religious and occult subjects.

He occasionally made statements, which were
enigmatical, and among them one which took many
years for me to understand. This statement was
that : " There are three Shankaras to seven Buddhas."
As I knew so little about Races, Buddhas and Manus,
I did not understand what this statement meant,
then ; but I have since come to the conclusion that,
when he spoke of the three Shankaras he was
referring to the three Kumaras, who are the Disciples
of the Lord.

Though he showed great friendship to me, as I have
already stated, he never thought of giving me any
help in spiritual matters. There was then no one
at Adyar occupying the position of H. P. B. or A . B.,
and one got no assistance from the Colonel about
meditation and the like. I used to press Subba Row
to give me some directions. But he would not do so,
until a year before his death. I think it was in
March, 1888, in this very hall, where I am dictating
this, that I spoke to him very strongly about his
refusal to help even true aspirants ; and this re-
spectful rebuke drew forth from him the remark :
" What can I do for you, when you have not been
performing even your Sandhya properly ? However,
begin now with repeating Gayatrl during the morn-
ing twilight, and perform your Sandhya properly." I
followed his advice, repeating the Mantra one thousand
and eight times every morning, for many years. Two
months before his illness which ended in his death, as
we had finished playing tennis and were sitting
down, he put me a question : " Had you a dream
last night?" My reply was: "I remember no
dream." I asked him why he put the question to
me. He replied : " I saw something about you, and it
appeared to me that you have a better soul than I
thought' Then I asked him how it was that he had
the dream or the vision, and not I. He said : " Prob-
ably because I put you on the wayâ referring to his
prescribing the Gayatri Discipline, and he added :
" You have just begun to scratch the power." I
then asked him to give me some further directions.
He said : " We will see next year." To my great
misfortune, I never saw him after this. I went away
for the hot weather vacation, and he was shortly after
taken ill in Madras and died. During his illness, he
was treated by a European member of the medical
profession, who was considered the ablest medical
man then in the city. Dr. Rangappa, who was an
Indian doctor, and who also treated him, told me
that Subba Row's illness was "pemphigus ", brought
about by intense thinking.

I remember Subba Row himself telling me
that after he took his B.A. degree, which he did
with great distinction, being in the first class, and
first in the Presidency, his mind had turned to
spiritual matters, and for some nine years he never
could sleep, and he used to 1'ack his brain night and
day over spiritual subjects. He also tried some
Hatha Yoga practices. He said that relief came to
him one day when an " old man " appeared to him
astrally I take it and told him : " Do not go that
way, but this way." Those were the words, and
from that moment he knew what was wanted in his
case. This old man he spoke of was a dark
Dravidian, who had been working in this country for
fifty years. Of course, Subba Row gave no further
explanation. Possibly, it may have been the great
Adept known to Indians as Dattatreya, who enjoys a
veneration unequalled even to-day. He referred to
Dattatreya, on one occasion, as Trimurti-Atmakam,
which meant, I take it : " In Him the Power of three
Logoi has found expression." In the note to one
of the articles in The Theosophist signed, T S.R., he
refers to this Dattatreya, as the type of one of the
three classes of Adepts. The representatives of the
other two are Durvasas and Chandra. On the top of
Baba Budan Hills in Mysore, there is a Shrine of
Dattatreya and of his mother, Anasuya, which
attracts pilgrims from Maharashtra, every year.
" This Dattatreya," Subba Row said, " was the
Maharshi who helped an Emperor of his time,
Kartikeya by name, to carry on his great govern-
ment." On one occasion Subba Row said that a
Muhammadan priest who looked after a Muhammadan
tomb on the Hills succeeded in invoking Dattatreya,
and when the Maharshi appeared, the fool of a
Muhammadan prayed for a boon in the shape of a
lace turban, instead of liberation, which the Rshi
might have managed to secure for him. It seems
that this Maharshi appears in the shape of a big tree
to these who invoke him. Anasuya, his mother, is
one of the great Indian female Adepts. She was
the patni or wife of Rshi Atri, and Dattatreya means
the son of Atri. Subba Row himself on one
occasion spoke of the necessity of founding an occult
organisation with Dattatreya as its head, in order
to train Indian Sannyasis for Theosophical purposes.

After his death, I thought it was my duty to collect
his few contributions to Theosophical literature inade-
quate, indeed, to represent his learning and the result
was the publication of the volume entitled The Esoteric
Writings of T. Subba Row. It was issued by Tooka-
ram Tatya, to whom I paid Rs. 500 in connection
with the publication. This was the result of a very
careful search by myself in the volumes of The Theo-
sophist up to the time of Subba Row's death. After
all, it is a very, very meagre contribution by him of
the learning he had on certain subjects, having regard
to his wide knowledge and great erudition.

His admiration and reverence for the teachings
contained in the Hindu sacred writings connected
with Vedanta and Raja Yoga were as unbounded
as his knowledge of them was accurate. He once
observed that a most profound treatise on the Sacred
Science could be written based altogether on the
Prasthana Traya, or the Three Bundles of nourish-
ment provided for those who wish to tread the
" razor path ", namely the Upanishats, the Brahma
Sutras, and the Bhagavad-Gita. That he himself
could have written the book, those who knew him
will not doubt. But I felt certain that he would not
render that service, for the simple reason of his
extreme disinclination to put pen to paper and write
on such a subject. As a proof of this disinclination,
I may refer to what Bhavani Shankar told me in
relation to Subba Row's paper on the Idyll of the

White Lotus. Bhavani was a great friend of Subba
Row, and used to be sent by H. P. B. to Subba Row
to get him to write articles for Thi Theosuphist.

Bhavani got Subba Row to promise to write a
review of the Idyll, copies of which had just then
come to this country. Bhavani paid a number of
visits to Subba Row to obtain this promised review.

But every time he was put off with some excuse or
other and was told to come later on. On the occa-
sion of his visit, the last but one in connection with
this matter, Subba Row attempted to send him away
without the paper, as he had done often before. But
Bhavani told him that he was determined to sit in the
house and that he would not leave, until he got what
had been promised. Subba Row was incapable of
being unkind or rude to anyone, and so got pen and
paper and wrote the first part of it straight away,
without a scratch or a correction from beginning to
end. The second part was written on a subsequent

His memory was most remarkable, and he could
repeat passages from some of the sacred books, as if
he had committed them to memory, though he had but
read them once or twice. Of course, his study of them
was critical, and his quotations in conversation from
them were apt and forcible. For example, one after-
noon, after tennis was over, some question arose
about the nature of Atman. Subba Row cited at
once the passage in the Mdndukya Upanishat explain-
ing what Atman was. This Upanishat was a
favourite authority with him, and the four-fold divi-
sion which he laid stress upon in his Gltd lectures was
the one explained in this Upanishat. He spoke very
highly of Gaudapada's Karika on this Upanishat,
and he thought there was but one other writer who
could at all come up to the standard of Gaudapada,
and that was Plato. In the course of a casual
conversation in which some point arose connected with
Buddhist philosophy, Subba Row referred to this
verse in this Karika where the term Adi Buddha
occurs. It was Subba Row's high opinion of this
Karika that led me to employ Mani Lai Dvivedi to
publish an English translation of the Karika with
Shankara's Commentary.

Subba Row's acquaintance with Mantra Shastra,
theoretical and practical, was apparently profound.
It was he who taught Bhavani the Gopala Mantram.
Others had also obtained from him instructions
regarding the use of some great Mantras. One or
two instances showed he knew how to invoke
elementals, in order to produce phenomena.

I forgot to mention that Subba Row's death was
most untimely. He was, I think, only about
thirty-three, when he passed away. He had hoped to
live very much longer. I heard him say once that after
making a little money, he intended to retire to the part
of the country where he came from and go on " making
Tapas," till his eightieth year. He asked me once to
obtain a reading of his horoscope from an astrologer
in Pondicherry, and that astrologer foretold that
Subba Row would not live longer than he actually did.
His school career was quite a brilliant one. He
began his English education in Coconada, and exer-
cised great power over his school mates. Subba Row
was removed by his parents to Madras, where he joined
the Presidency College, and as I have already stated,
took his B. A. degree, ranking first in the presidency.
That Subba Row was a precocious boy, may be
judged from the fact that he took his very high place
in his B. A. examination, when he was, probably,
under twenty, and his B.L. within a year or two
afterwards. About 1885, when he was already
practising in the High Court, as a Vakil, the Provin-
cial Civil Service competitive examination was first
established. Subba Row was one of the candidates,
who appeared for that exraination in that year. He
scored the highest number of marks and was placed
first in the list of successful candidates. The time
allowed for the preparation of the subjects by the can-
didates was comparatively short. Though practising
in the High Court all the time, he got up his subjects,
through intense application and study. Geology was
one of the subjects which he took. Though alto-
gether new to him, he prepared the subject, it is said,
in a few weeks, studying the geological speci-
mens, which were in the Government Museum at
Egmore, spending there many hours. Mr. Michie
Smith, Professor of Physical Science in the
Christian College, afterwards in charge of the
Kodaikanal Observatory, was so struck with the
thoroughness of Subba Row's knowledge of the
subject, as he found it during the viva voce
examination, that he let him off with very few
questions. Unfortunately for Subba Row, the office
which ought to have been given to him was given to
Varada Row, who took a lower place in the examina-
tion. This was a piece of injustice, of which Sir
M. E. Grantduff's Government was guilty, and it was
committed as a matter of favouritism to Varada Row's
father, T. Rama Row, who was then a member of the
Legislative Council and a friend of the Governor.

Rajah Sir T. Madhava Row thought so highly
of Subba Row that he invited him to take service
under the Gaekwar. Subba Row did so, but returned
to Madras, passed the B.L. examination, and was
admitted a Vakil of the High Court. Needless to
say, his reputation at the Bar grew, and had he been
spared long enough, he would have risen to the Bench,
and discharged the functions of his high office in a
way that would have brought credit to the acknow-
ledged judicial capacity of Indians.

It was when he was employed in Baroda that his
mind turned towards spirituality and occultism. For
some nine years he pondered over these and sowed
the seeds of that nervous prostration which led to
the terrible disaster that brought on his death two
months after his illness began. It is certain he knew
the Master " Jupiter " intimately. C. W. L. once said
that on the occasion of the visit he paid to that
Master, Subba Row accompanied him.

Subba Row was not fond of company except that of
a few well known to him. On Sundays and holidays, he
used to come to the T.S. Headquarters, where he spent
his time in conversation with C. W. L., Cooper-Oakley,
and others. He often went to the Government
Oriental Library and spent hours in pouring over
cadjan Sanskrit manuscripts.


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