The personal diary of Ananda Ranga Pillai and the dark history it reveals

R. Ry. (MahaRaja Rajyashri) Ananda Ranga Pillai was a dubash in the service of the French East India Company.

He is mainly famous for his set of private diaries from the years 1736 to 1761 which portray life in 18th century India.

He was famous for being at the origin of a new method of courtage in India by developing the Tiruvengadam courtage strategy. which is famous in all Indian economic books. As it is described in his journal, it consists in developing a strategy of making new fraud coins in a parallel economy.

Ananda Ranga Pillai was born in Madras in a well-to-do family. At a very early age, Ananda Ranga Pillai emigrated with his father to Pondicherry where the family pursued their business interests. On his father’s death in 1726, Ananda Ranga was made dubash and served in his capacity until his removal on grounds of ill-health and deteriorating performance. Ananda Ranga died in 1761 at the age of 51. Ananda Ranga was especially known for his proximity to the French Governor Joseph François Dupleix, who favored him in various appointments.

Ananda Ranga Pillai’s diaries were translated in the early 20th century and bring to light life in the mid-18th century and the Anglo-French Carnatic wars.

Since the discovery and translation of his diaries during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Ananda Ranga Pillai has accumulated a great deal of posthumous fame and recognition for his depiction of 18th century South India, the intrigues and deals in French Pondicherry and his description of the French conquest of Madras and the Carnatic Wars. His set of diaries have emerged as one of our primary sources of reference on the Carnatic Wars.

His mansion in Pondicherry has been recognized as a heritage monument.

The dark chapter of Hindu persecution:

On 14 January 1742 Joseph François Dupleix arrived from Chandannagar. During Dupleix’s tenure, Ananda Ranga rose to the zenith of power and prominence in French India, and exercised firm control over the internal affairs of the territory.

Jeanne Dupleix (1706–1756) was the wife of Joseph François Dupleix, governor general of the French establishment in India in the 18th century.

Her antagonism to the native princes of India was seen in action during her husband’s negotiations with them.

From the Private Diary of Ananda Ranga Pillai, it can be confirmed that she indulged in religious persecution against local Hindus. Few extracts from his diary confirm this.

  • Thursday 17th, March 1746,

“On Wednesday night at.11,two unknown persons entered the Iswaran temple  carrying in a vessel liquid filter which they poured on the heads of the gods around the altar,and into the temple, through the drain of the shrine of Iswaran; and having broken the pot of dirt on the image of the god Nandi,they went away through a part of the building which had been demolished….”

  • Saturday 31st,December 1746,

“It was reported tonight at 7 that an earthen jar filled with filth was thrown from within the grounds of the church of St.Paul into the temple of Vedapuriswaran. It very nearly fell on the head of Shankar Aiyan, who was at the shrine of the God Pillaiyar on his way round the temple in the performance of his religious duties. When the jar struck the ground and broke to pieces the stench emitted was unbearable … the temple was now doomed to destruction….”

  • Sunday 8th, September 1750,

“Yesterday 200 soldiers, 60 or 70 troopers and sepoys were stationed at St Paul’s Church in view of the matter on hand. This morning, M Gerbault (the engineer), the priests with diggers, masons, coolies and other 200 in all, with spades, pickaxes and whatever needed to demolish walls began to pull down the southern wall of the Vedpuri Ishwaran Temple and the outhouses. At once the temple manager, Braahmans and mendicants came and told me … Just then … news was brought that Father COEURDOUX, the superior of St. Paul’S church had kicked the inner shrine with his foot and had ordered the female coffrees to remove the doors and the Christians to break the Vaahanams …

(Pillai now went to Governor Dupliex in an attempt to save the temple as did the other caste leaders who sought to save the temple’s movable articles but it was all to no avail)”

“…then Father COEURDOUX of Karikal came with a great hammer, kicked the Lingam, broke it with his hammer, and ordered the Coffrees and the Europeans to break the images of Vishnu and other gods.

Madame Dupliex went and told the priest that he might break the idols as he pleased. He answered that she had accomplished what had been impossible for fifty years, that she must be one of those Mahatma (great soul) who established this Christian religion in old days and he would publish her fame through the world … Then the native convert Varlam also kicked the great Lingam nine or ten times with his sandals in the presence of Madame and the priest and spat on it out of gladness and hoping that the priest and Madame will also regard him as Mahatma. Then he followed Madame. I can neither write nor describe what abominations were done in the temple…”

…Before M.Dupleix was made Governor, and when he was only a councillor, all the Europeans and few Tamils used to say that if he becomes governor, he would destroy the Eswaran Temple. The saying has come to pass. Ever since his appointment he is seeking to do so, but he had no opportunity. He tried to get Muttayya Pillai to do it in May May or June 1743. But the later would not consent, though the Governor threatened to cut his ears off and beat him publicly and even to hang him…

Ananda Ranga Pillai quotes about her,

“    I have heard and read in books also, about the extraordinary accounts of the cunningness of the women. But Madame Dupleix surpasses them all a thousand times. The Europeans, both men and women, Hindus and Muhammadans alike, all curse her as a pupil of devil who will ruin the town”.

There is an old image of 1950’s where Dupleix statue has been built on a remnants of a temple. But except that image we fail to gather anymore information on why was it built on temple ruins. He was known for his spat with Indian hindu princes.

History can be kept hidden but it will surface in one or the other form. What our historians skip to make a mention, diary of Ananda Ranga Pillai has bared it all…

Dr Sindhu Prashanth