Salem C. Vijayaraghavachariar, as he was popularly
known as, was born on 18 June 1852 in an orthodox
Vaishnative Brahmin family at Pon Vilaindha
Kalathur, in Maduranthakam taluka, Chingleput
district, Tamil Nadu. He was one of the twelve
children born to Sadagoparchariar and Kannkavalli
Ammal. His father, being a purohit and steeped
in religious lore, was eager to bring up his
son according to orthodox traditions.
At a very early age, Vijayaraghavachariar
was sent to the Veda Pathasala in his village
and he was brought up in a tradition of memorizing
the Vedas, by which process the foundation
of method and memory which stood him in
good stead in later years was deeply laid. His
real English education began in his twelfth
year. He joined and Madras Pachaiyappas
High school in 1868 and matriculated in 1870.
He joined the Madras Presidency College in 1871
and graduated in 1875.
He was appointed a Lecturer in the Madras Presidency
College in 1875. Later, he was transferred to
the Government College, Manglore, where, after
three years of service, he resigned his post.
Subsequently he joined the Salem Municipal College
as a Lecturer in English and mathematics. He
privately appeared for the Law examination and
began to practice in 1881.
He was a very able Advocate and a leader of
the Bar at Salem. In 1882, a short time after
he set up practice at Salem, there was a Hindu-
Muslim riot. Vijayaraghavachariar was implicated
in the riot and charges were framed against
him. He relentlessly fought the charges in the
court of law and finally came out unscathed.
His efficiency in advocacy was further brought
to the fore by his pleading for the other persons
implicated in the riot and where sent to the
He finally succeeded in getting them released.
Besides, he took objection to his being disqualified
from the membership of the Municipal Council,
Salem, of which he a member during the period
of the riot. As a result of his appeal, he was
not only reinstated in the Municipal Council,
but was able to obtain from the Secretary of
State for India a sum of RS. 100/- as a nominal
damage for removing him from the Municipal Council
during the period of the riot.
The Salem riots of 1882 made Vijayaraghavachariar
famous overnight. He was called The Lion
of South India. When the Indian National
Congress was started in 1885, Salem Vijayaraghavachariar
was one of the special invitees. He was close
associate of A.O. Hume, the founder of the Indian
National Congress. He attended the Bombay session
of the Congress and in 1887 he was one of the
members of the Committee which drafted the Constitution
of the Indian National Congress. From then on,
Vijayaraghavachariar became an ardent freedom
All the early names associated with the Congress
history were either the friends or co-workers
of Vijayaraghavachariar. His counsels and leadership
were much sought after by the Congressmen of
the early days. Dadabhai Naoroji, Bal Gangadhar
Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Dr. Ansari, Maulana
Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Lala Lajpat Rai, C.
Rajagopalachari and Motilal Nehru were all associated
with him in the early activities of the Congress.
In 1899 he was made a member of the Indian Congress
Propaganda Committee, he carried the message
of the Congress to the people of the country.
With the advent of Mahatma Gandhi, there was
a rift in the Congress ranks between the old
moderates and the new radicals. Even earlier,
the ideas of the moderates did not appeal to
him. He kept aloof from active party work for
a period after the Surat split of the Congress
and later joined with redoubled vigour to carry
the message of the Mahatma. The climax of his
political career over the Indian National Congress
Sessions at Nagpur, where Gandhijis advocacy
of Poorna Swaraj through non-violent
non-cooperation was debated and accepted.
He, with his powerful oratory, gave many a wordy
battle to C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru on the
sanity of the Council Entry Programme drawn
up by them and broke to pieces their
opposition to Mahatma Gandhi. He was also
in the vanguard of the opposition to the Simon
Commission that toured the country in 1929.
He took an active part in the Committee that
met under Motilal Nehru to frame the Constitution
for India. He appealed to the League of Nations
to intervene and arbitrate in the Indian deadlock.
His entry into the public life began with his
membership of the Salem Municipal Council in
1882. in 1895 he was elected to the Madras Legislative
Council which body he served for 6 years, till
1901. In 1913 he was elected to the Imperial
Legislative Council with which he was associated
till the year 1916. At Delhi he worked in close
co-operation with great leaders like Madan Mohan
Malaviya, Surendranath Banerjea and Gopala Krishna
His activities in the Legislative Assembly
were marked by an intense patriotism and a fearless
advocacy of the cause which he considered reasonable.
When Lord Birkenhead, the Secretary of State
for India, threw out a challenge, whether Indians
could draw up a Constitution for India, Vijayaraghavachariar
took up the challenge and drew up the Swaraj
Constitution for India.
In many aspects, Vijayaraghavachariar was very
much ahead of his times. He advocated post-puberty
marriage for women and also the right of the
daughter to have a share in her fathers
property. He advocated the much-needed change
in the Hindu law at a time when any talk about
it was a taboo. He was a champion of the Depressed
Classes. He rendered great assistance to Swami
Sharathananda in his work connected with the
Anti-Untouchability League. His multisided personality
also found expression in his participation in
the organization of the Hindu Mahasabha. He
presided over the All India Hindu Mahasabha
Sessions at Akola in 1931.
Vijayaraghavachariar was one of the two Vice-Presidents
of the Madras Branch of the Passive Resistance
Movement. Mahatma Gandhi was its President,
the other Vice-President was G. Kasturi Ranga
Iyengar, Editor of the Hindu. Vijayaraghavachariar
was pioneer of Indian Nationalism. He was a
chip of the old block that started the Indian
National Congress and was a very large chip
at that. He was par excellence a man of action.
But at the same time he did not lack heart.
He always supported the cause of the weak and
His powerful advocacy of the cause of labour
and the non Brahmins bear ample testimony to
the largeness of his heart. He was also munificent
in his donations to causes dear to him. The
Anti-Untouchability League and the Congress
Propaganda Organization in England in its early
days received liberal financial support from
him. He lived to a ripe old age of ninety-two.
Though, at the evening of his life, the diadem
of leadership in South India, passed on from
his hands to his co-practiotiner in Salem C.
Rajagopalchari, he contended himself giving
periodic advice on matters of public importance
through his regular contributions to the Madras
His long life is a crowded period of relentless
struggle against Imperialism and economic and
social distress. Though an anti-imperialist,
he had life-long friendship with some of the
representatives of Imperialism in India, viz.,
Governors and Viceroys. Lord Ripon, Lord Curzon,
Lord Pentland, Lord and Lady Hardinge, Sir Conran
Smith and Sir William Meyer were his friends
from the Imperialistic Bloc, while Eardly Norton,
the great Advocate, who argued his Salem Riots
Case and saved him from transportation to the
Andamans, was his intimate friend. With other
friends of India, C.F. Andrews, A.O. Hume, Mrs.
Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh, he was on
The voice of Lion of South India was stilled
when he passed away very peacefully on 19 April
1944. After his death, his valuable collections
were treasured in the Memorial Library and Lecture
Halls specially constructed and named after
him. The Salem public even today visit the Library,
browse among the books which he used and draw
inspiration from the life of this great savant.