Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair was born on 11 July
1857 in the Chettur family near Palghat on the
Malabar Coast. His father was Ramunni Panickar,
a Tahsildar in the Madras Government Service,
And mother Chettur Parvathy Amma. Chettur is
a well-known Nair tarwad or matriarchal family,
another well-known Nair tarwad in that area.
They had one son, R. M. Palat, Bar-at Law, Ex-Minister,
Madras, and five daughters.
The eldest daughter Parukutty Amma became
the wife of Justice Sir Chettur Madhavan Nair;
Madhavi Amma married M. A. Cahdeth, M. A. (Cantab),
of the Indian Educational Service; Kallyani
Amma married Sri M. Govindan Nair of the Indian
Police; Lakshmikutty Amma became the wife of
Captn. T. K. Menon, I.M.S.; and Saraswathi Amma
of Sri K. P. S. Memon, I. C. S., who became
famous as Indias Ambassador to Russia.
Lady Sankaran Nair predeceased her husband in
1926 during a pilgrimage to Badrinath.
Sir Sankaran Nairs early education began
in the traditional style at home and continued
in schools in Malabar, till he passed the First
in Arts examination with a first class from
the Provincial School at Calicut. Then he joined
the Presidency College, Madras, and while there,
won the much coveted Elphinstone Essay Prize.
In 1877 he took his Arts degree, and two years
later secured. Though he began his studies for
the Masters degree, the death of his mother
brought family responsibilities on his uncle
and father career he had the guidance of his
uncle and father at home.
At school and college he benefited by instruction
from devoted teachers like C. M. Barrow, M.
A. (Oxon), Edmund Thomson and W. A. Porter.
For the legal profession he got himself apprenticed
to Mr. H. Shepherd, one of the best Advocates
in Madras in those days. He read widely and
apart from the academic and professional books,
he set much value by the Bhagavad Gita, Narayaneeyam
and the works of Sri Sankaracharya for the guidance
and inspiration which he derived from them.
In early life his travels were restricted to
Malabar and Madras, but later he had occasions
to visit England and Ceylon, besides touring
all over India.
Sir Sankaran Nair started as a lawyer, enrolling
himself on 24 March 1880 in the High Court of
Madras. He soon made his mark. In 1884, while
only twenty-seven years old, the Madras Government
appointment him as a member of the Committee
for an enquiry into the state of Malabar. He
was appointed Government Pleader and Public
Prosecutor in Madras in 1899. Them, till 1908,
he was Advocate Judge in the High Court of Madras
and held the post till 1915.
In the meantime, in 1902, Viceroy Curzon appointed
him Secretary to the Raleigh University Commission.
Subsequently, he was the Madras member of that
Commission. In recognition of his services he
was awarded the title Commander of the
Indian Empire by the King-Emperor in 1904,
and in 1912 he was Kinghted. He became a member
of the Viceroys Council in 1915 with the
charge of the Education portfolio. In 1917 he
was nominated a member of the Indian University
Commission led by Sir Michael Sadler and helped
to get the report accepted in the face of some
difficulties. It recommended substantial changes
in the system of University educational in India.
When he was a member of the Viceroys Council,
he wrote in 1919 two famous Minutes of Dissent
in the Despatches on Indian Constitutional Reforms,
pointing out the various defects of British
rule in India and suggesting reforms. For an
Indian to offer such criticism and make such
demands was incredible in those days. There
was a sensation when they were published. Sir
Sankaran Nairs frankness, courage and
patriotism inspired the admiration of all. On
the top of these came his resignation from the
Viceroys Council as a protest against
the atrocities of the British authorities in
This was further proof of his intense patriotism
and courage of conviction. It stands to the
credit of the British Government that it recognised
the truth and fairness in Sir Sankaran Nairs
minutes and accepted most of his recommendations.
Not only that, through he resigned in protest
from the Viceroys Executive Council, the
same year he was appointed a Member of the Council
of the Secretary of State for India in England.
He held that post almost till the end of 1921.
In the academic field, he was a Fellow of the
Madras University in 1889, and also a Member
of the University Syndicate for a number of
years. In 1908 the University invited
him to deliver the Convocation Address, and
in 1932 conferred on him the honorary degree
of Doctor of Laws.
He played an active part in the Indian National
movement which was gathering force in those
days. In 1897, when the First Provincial Conference
met in Madras, he was invited to preside over
it. The same year, when the Indian National
Congress assembled at Amraoti, he was chosen
President. In a masterly address he referred
to the highhandedness of foreign administration,
called for reforms and asked for self-government
for India with Dominion Status. It was characteristic
of Sir Sankaran Nairs courage that he
concluded his great speech with the words Let
nil desperandum be our motto. During this
period his advice was often sought for national
In 1900 he was a Member of the Madras Legislative
Council. His official life from 1908 to 1921
interrupted his activities as a free political
worker. In 1928 he was the President of the
Indian Central Committee to co-operate with
the Simon Commission. The Committee prepared
a well-argued report asking for Dominion Status
for Inida. When the Viceregal announcement came
granting Dominion Status as the ultimate goal
for India, Sir Sankaran Nair retired from active
He was a journalist and an author, he was the
Founder-Editor of the Madras Review and Co-Editor
of the Madras Law Journal. He wrote articles
for these and for the Contemporary Review. He
wrote a book, Gandhi and Anarchy,
which raised a keen controversy, because he
disagreed with Ganghijis opinion.
In other spheres also he was active. Thus he
was sometime President of the Madras Cosmopolitan
Club, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals, the Depressed Classes Mission Society,
and the Madras Social Reform Association. In
1924 he was elected President of the All India
Social Conference at Bombay. He was an influential
member of the Hindu Mahasabha and in 1931 was
chosen to preside over the special Conference
of the Sabha in Delhi.
In all these different fields he expressed his
ideas with courage and candour. Thus in the
matter of social reform he criticised fissiparous
orthodoxy and meaningless caste restrictions.
He opposed untouchability and child-marriage,
championed the uplift of the depressed classes
and marriage of windows. He was a true Hindu
in the sense that he believed that religious
should bring people together in harmony, with
the common basic principles of humanity and
His enthusiasm for social work made him ask
for the improvement of educational in India.
He wanted every village to have at least a primary
school and more facilities for womens
education. According to him English education
would help national integration. But the Indian
educational system was to be made more Indian,
that is better suited to our needs and culture.
Without doubt he was an ardent nationalist.
He was not, however, a fanatic nationalist who
was blind to what was good in other people.
Thus he admired the British democratic institutions,
patriotism and industry. At the same time he
courageously pointed out in his speeches and
writings the harmful effects of the British
rule on Indian economy. The excessive defence
expenditure, the heavy taxation, the unfair
land revenue, all these he attacked. India could
be self-sufficient, but Britain was exploiting
her. As a remedy for all these, he demanded
Dominion Status for India. In politics he was
a liberal and a moderate.
Sir Sankaran Nairs appearance was impressive,
as were his attainments. He was all tall, fair
and well-built, his was an unostentatious, well-regulated
life. Deeply religious, he was a careful student
of the Hindu religious classics and worshipped
Lord Subramanya as his personal deity. Very
courteous, he was very courageous, frank and
In his epoch he reached the top in all spheres
of activity which he entered. In the legal field
he emphasised the first principles and the need
to interpret law in the spirit of the changing
times. Veterans recognised him as one of the
best Judges in Madras, specially on the criminal
side. He was ahead of his times in social reform
and here his contribution was substantial.
He was a great patriot. He sought to improve
the conditions of fellow countrymen, championing
education, encouraging unity and demanding a
just economic policy. He inspired others with
the devolution of power into Indian hands. Sir
Sankaran Nair was one of the great architects
of modern independent India.