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30 October 2013

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History >> Founder and Patron Saint - Sadhu Kuppu Swamy

(Courtesy of Then India Sanmarga Ikya Sangam, Fiji Website www.sangamfiji.com)

'Sevaka Ratnam' Sadhu Kuppu Swamy

The South Indians are said to be the late arrivals.  The first lot of them arrived around August 1903 in the ship ELBE III, thenceforth others followed until 1917.  

It was during this period that a young man aged 22 years old was lured by the hiring agents to consent to leave his motherland and venture into the unknown.  Perhaps it was fate, destiny or the good fortune of the South Indians who had preceded him that this noble soul should abandon his Police duties and agreed to come to this unknown place. Who was this noble soul?  He was none other than our Patron Saint Sevaka Ratnam Sadhu Kuppu Swamy.

Of course he was only plain Kuppu Swamy the son of Govind Swamy Naidu.  He was born in a small village called Konoor which is near Villupuram some 103 Kilometers South of Madras City.  His father, an Orthodox South Indian, ensured that his son was given the best to develop his knowledge of South-Indian religion, culture and art in his mother tongue Tamil from a young age.  It is believed that he came from a simple middle-class community of Balija Caste.

He arrived in Fiji as an indentured labourer or girmitiya on 12 April 1912 in the ship SUTLEJ III and was assigned to serve his 5-year term at Yalandro in Tavua.  

While serving his term, he observed the atrocities meted out to his fellow men and women alike in the cane farms, by the white masters, and their stooges the Indian Sirdars who would stoop to do anything to please their white masters to gain personal favours.  The daily occurrence of such cruelty caused very grave concern to this young person who had served as a policeman back in Madras.  

His heart bled for his fellow men and he began to formulate ideas as to what he could do to help ease the very tough conditions faced by the girmitiyas.  He observed that one of the major factors that caused grief was the inability of the people to communicate, since the white men knew only English and had picked up a bit of Hindi from the early arrivals from the North who were mostly Hindi or Urdu speakers, thus making Hindi the lingua franca for the Estate Managers, Overseers, Sirdars, the Courts and other Commercial Centres.  

This made life of the South Indians who knew no other language but their mother tongue very difficult and hence suffered the most.  They were not allowed to pray or worship in their own traditional ways.  The only religious occasions recognised by the "Masters" were Phagua for Hindus and Muharram for Muslims, both alien to the Hindu South Indians.

After completing his indenture period Kuppu Swamy acquired a piece of land in Tavua and began farming but gave it up in a very short time and began to work for the Melbourne Company as a double horse ploughman.  

At this point in time, Mr T.A.J. Pillay, who had been encouraging the South Indian groups to conduct their prayers and bhajans, began to face greater problems between the two factions, the Saivites (led by Kadirvelu Mudaliar) and the Vaishnuvites (led by Gopal Mudaliar).  Mr Pillay had to intervene and settle their dispute.  

He was looking for some one stronger and with higher authority than himself on the issue of South Indian religion and culture when he was told about a Yogi and Saint.  He at once sent for him and offered to accept him as his "Guru" and invited him to come and live with him as one of the family members in his care.  However when the offer was refused by this yogi, Mr Pillay threatened to resign and go and live with him. The yogi then very reluctantly accepted the offer, resigned as ploughman, and moved to live with Mr Pillay for twenty years, the first ten years continuously, and the second off and on.

Towards the end of 1922, Mr T.A .J. Pillay organised a 48 days Shiva Puran Katha meeting at Mr K.S. Raman's house near Vaileka Creek.  The two rival parties of Kadirvelu Mudaliar and Gopal Mudaliar took active part in bhajans, lectures and recital of Shiva Puran followed by the distribution of Prasad and where all the poor of the district were fed.  A very prominent businessman, Mr M.N.Naidu was also present during the last ten days of the Shiva Puran Katha.

It was at the end of this celebration and in the wake of the long prayer meeting, there was a suggestion by the elders that a society should be formed for the welfare and reformation of the handicapped South Indians.  But the thought was put on hold to allow time to consult the leaders from other districts.  Furthermore, the untimely death of Mr Pillay's wife Papamma in 1922 came as a rude shock not only to Mr Pillay but also to our saintly Swami, who lived with them.

Swamiji's concern for Mr Pillay was immeasurable.  He fasted for a week, and the formation of the Society for the South Indians was further delayed.  Swamiji, as Mr Pillay's Guru, advised him to go to India for the Dharshan of Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi to gain consolation at this irreparable loss of his beloved wife.  Mr Pillay left his five children under Swamiji's care and left for India on a years leave.  Swamiji was a great devotee of Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi, Sri Ram Krishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Ramalinga Swamigal and Mahatma Gandhi, whose footsteps he emulated in his life.

In February 1926 there was a meeting to celebrate the birth of Ramkrishna Pramahamsa at RakiRaki arranged through the efforts of Sadhu Swami.  People from as many districts as possible were invited.  It was at a meeting held at the end of the celebrations the formation of the Society was discussed once again.  It was then decided that they would convene another meeting at Nadi Temple to form the Organisation.

It was the late Mr Narain Swamy Naidu, popularly known as Mr M.N. Naidu, who was born in Tenkasi in the Tirunelveli District of South India and had first come to Fiji in 1907 and was now residing in Lautoka as a wealthy merchant (businessman with a chain of shops from Nadi to Ba), was asked to convene this very important conference of the South Indians from all the districts.  This four day conference was held from 21 to 24 May 1926, where the THEN INDIA SANMARGA IKY A SANGAM was formally inaugurated by the South Indian Stalwarts, our late fore-fathers.  They elected our humble Sadhu Swami as their first and lifelong President, with late Mr M.N. Naidu as a Vice-President, and Mr T.A.J. Pillay as the first General Secretary, and Nadi was chosen as the Headquarters of Sangam.

Thereafter, Sadhu Swami was no more a resident of Rakiraki but was on the move throughout the country inspiring the South Indians in building their schools and temples to preserve their language and culture, but also to open to people of all castes and creeds.

He attracted stalwarts of the South Indian Community throughout the country, who helped to build Sangam into perhaps one the most dynamic and powerful non-government organisation in Fiji playing a very vital role in the social, cultural and educational development of the country as a whole.

Today T.I.S.I. Sangam operates 21 Primary and 5 Secondary Schools throughout the country and has produced in thousands qualified professionals in the various vocational fields.  The first Sangam school was started in Rakiraki in Mr K.S. Raman's bure followed by the one in Nadi.  Hindus, Muslims and Christians of South Indian origin banded together to render assistance.  Sangam began to flourish to the envy of many.  People like late Mr M.N. Naidu and others donated generously in cash and kind.  One of the indefatigable stalwarts of Sangam was Maulana Hasrat Basha who graced the occasion of the opening of the Sangam school at Rakiraki on 31 August 1930.

Sadhu Swami, lean and skeletal, but a Saint and Yogi, of the Gandhian type, clad in a white dhoti, a white t-shirt and a white shawl with his inevitable black umbrella continued with his toil, mostly walking barefoot, sometimes travelling in whatever came his way, from place to place spreading the Gospel of Sangam from house-to-house, settlement-to-settlement, village-to-village and town-to-town.  He was most welcome in every home, so much so that many families had a new set of his most favourite clothes to change if he chose to spend the night with them. It was thus our Patron Saint served his fellow men whose sorrow, indignity and humility he witnessed in the cane fields of Yalandro during his girmit period.

Therefore, it was only fitting that our Sangam stalwarts of the day should recognise his selfless service to Sangam as its life-long President and honoured him by bestowing upon him the title "Sevaka Ratnam" at the Annual General Meeting held on 12 and 13 April 1941, and also acclaiming his very close associate and colleague in Sangam, Mr M.N.Naidu, as "Dhaanaveer" for his philanthropy and exceptionally liberal donations to Sangam.

It is with very deep sorrow and breaking heart we had to witness our patron Saint, the founding father of Sangam, Seveka Ratnam Sadhu Swamy, after presiding at his last Annual General Meeting of Sangam held at Lovu Sangam School in June 1956, becoming ill and after being admitted to Nadi Hospital for a very brief period entered the eternal immortal garden of the Lord, relinquishing his mortal body, the remains of which are still with us in his special shrine at the new Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple compound.  

Although our Patron Saint is no longer with us in physical form, we are sure his spirit is all around us and with those who dedicated themselves to serve the cause of Sangam.  May his soul rest in peace and continue to guide us, his children, to further advance the noble cause of selfless service to mankind.

Founder and Patron Saint - Sadhu Kuppu Swamy