|Sir S. Subramania Iyer
was popularly known as 'Mani Iyer'. Just as Dadabhai
Naoroji elicited the title 'Grand Old Man of India'
by his services to his countrymen, Sir S. Subramania
Iyer earned the title 'Grand Old Man of South
India' by rendering yeoman's service to the people
of the Madras Presidency.He was born in the District
of Madura on 1 October 1842. His father Sooravali
Subbier belonged to a middle-class Brahmin family.
Subbier remarried after the death of his first
wife and Subramania Iyer was the child of the
Subramania Iyer had his early education in an
English Mission School. Later he joined the Zilla
School in Madura which was established in 1856
with Mr. Williams, a tutor from the Presidency
College, Madras, as its Headmaster. Subramania
Iyer came under the influence of this Headmaster.
He passed all the examinations in the School including
the public examination with merit.
As his mother was not willing to send him to Madras
for higher education, Subramania Iyer decided
to join Government service. He served as a clerk
in the Deputy Collector's Office, Madura, Deputy
Collector's Office, Ramnad, and collector's Office,
Madura. While working in the Collector's Office,
he studied privately for the pleader's examination
and stood first among the successful candidates.
But he could not secure a Sanad to practise in
the court because he failed to Salaam the court
when he appeared before R. R. Cotton, the District
Judge of Madura, to obtain the Sanad. But later
when the Criminal Procedure Code came into force
in 1862, the District Collector appointed Subramania
Iyer as Public Prosecutor.
Subramania Iyer's ambition was to practise as
a lawyer. Therefore, he studied privately for
the Matriculation examination and passed the same
in 1865. He also passed the F. A. examination
in 1866. Two years later (1868) he passed the
B. L. examination standing first (in the Second
Class) among all the successful candidates. He
served as an apprentice under J. C. Mill, Barrister-at-Law,
and thus qualified himself to practise in the
High Court as a Vakil.
Subramania Iyer married a middle-class Brahmin
lady but she died in 1884. He never remarried.
His wife's death was a turning point in his life.
From that time onwards, he turned his attention
to religion and philosophy. He came into contact
with Colonel Olcott, founder of the Theosophical
Society, and himself became a Thesophist. He served
as the Vice President of the Theosophical Society
for a number of years. Subramania Iyer later on
acknowledged that Theosophy made him a more staunch
Hindu than before.
Subramania Iyer used to read many English periodicals
and books. Among his favourite English periodicals
were the Saturday Review and the Fortnightly Review.
| He studied seriously
Herbert Spencer's 'Sociology', Draper's 'Conflict
of Science', Huxley's 'Lay Sermons', Shakespeare's
'Macbeth' and 'Hamlet' and Bacon's 'Essays'.
He practised as a Vakil at Madura from 1869 to
1885. He had a very lucrative practice and appeared
in some important cases, the most notable among
them being the Ramnad Zamindar's Case and the
Meenakshi Temple Funds Misappropriation Case.
While at Madura, he earned reputation as a public
worker. He was appointed a Municipal Commissioner
of Madura and a member of the Local Board. He
also served as the Vice Chairman of the Madura
Municipality. He was associated with the Municipality
until his departure for Madras in 1885. He was
also elected as a member of the Devasthanam Committee
of the Meenakshi Temple at Madura.
When the Prince of Wales visited Maduras in 1875,
Subramania Iyer in his capacity as the Vice-Chairman
of the Municipality, presented an 'Address of
Welcome' on behalf of the people of Madura. (He
also presented a Welcome Address to another Prince
of Wales in 1914 on behalf of the public of Madras.)
The Government awarded a Certificate of Merit
to Subramania Iyer on 1 January 1877 as a mark
of their appreciation of his services to the public,
on the occasion of Lord Lytton's Durbar at Delhi.
He gave evidence before the Famine Commission
when it visited Madura in 1877, pleading for the
necessity of protecting the tenants from arbitrary
eviction by the landlords.
When he shifted to Madras in 1885, Subramania
Iyer was already reputed as a learned lawyer with
a lucrative practice. He rose to fame in Madras
within a short time. Recognising his merit, the
Government appointed him as Government Pleader
in 1888 and he continued in that position until
he became a Judge of the Madras High Court in
As Government Pleader, he appeared in two most
sensational cases-the famous Nageswara Iyer Forgery
Case and the Tirupati Mahant Case. He used to
appear in the most important cases opposed on
the other side by one or the other of the two
equally famous and reputed lawyers of the time-
V. Bashyam Iyengar and Eardley Norton.
Subramania Iyer was nominated in 1884 as a member
of the Legislative Council by the Government of
Madras. He left a creditable record as a non-official
member of the Council even though the Act did
not permit non-official members to play a very
useful role. Largely due to his initiative, an
Act was passed providing compensation for tenants'
improvement in Malabar. Nominated for a second
time, Subramania Iyer made his association with
that body as useful as possible under the system
of Legislative Councils existing at that time.