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Vol. XXXIV No. 4, June 1-15, 2024

Out of Print – An occasional column on long-forgotten publications from Madras

-- by Karthik A Bhatt

The Tamil Digital Library, an initiative of the Tamil Virtual Academy is an online repository of books, magazines and journals. It hosts more than 40,000 books and 31,000 magazines and journals primarily in English and Tamil digitised from collections of organisations such as the Saraswathi Mahal library and the Connemara Public Library, besides the government archives. The collection dates from the 17th century onwards and comprises publications from across the world.

Amongst the magazine collection are several published from Madras in the 19th and 20th centuries. These cover a wide range of subjects, from religion and philosophyto current affairs and English literature. While the history of some them are well-documented, there are several others about which information is scarce today. This column attempts to bring to light some of these lesser-known ones, in the hope that more information will emerge on the vibrant publishing and literary history of our city.

The Arya

The Arya was a monthly published by the well-known printing firm of M/s Thompson and Co, Broadway. According to Somerset Playne’s seminal work Southern India, Its History, People, Commerce and Industrial Resources, Thompson and Co was established in 1879 by O. Kandaswamy Mudaliar. It was a general printing, publishing and stationery business and catering to both corporate and individual requirements. As booksellers, the firm functioned as agents for several leading London publications. After Kandaswamy Mudaliar’s time, the business was continued by his wife.

Announcing the launch of the magazine in its first issue in April 1901, the publisher introduces it as being brought out for the ‘dissemination of the grand principles of our religion’ and for the ‘amelioration of the social and intellectual condition of our people’. It is interesting to note that this was not Thompson and Co’s maiden attempt at running a magazine, for they had been bringing out a Tamil monthly, Gnanabodhini on similar lines since 1897. The annual subscription of The Arya, which was edited by T.A. Swaminatha Aiyar was fixed at Rs 3.

The front page of a book by T.A. Swaminatha Aiyar.

Nothing much is known about the editor. That he was a scholar and a man of the letters is evinced by the fact that in 1898, he was part of a committee which included the likes of V.G. Suryanarayana Sastri (Parithimal Kalaignar) and M.S. Purnalingam Pillai set up at the Aryan Association in Black Town to translate the lectures of Swami Vivekananda into Tamil, Telugu and Canerese.

Swaminatha Aiyar went on to author the English and Tamil Standard Vocabulary containing over 12,800 words in 1904, following it up with the English and Tamil Pocket dictionary containing over 30,000 words the following year and the Crown Dictionary (English-Telugu) in 1909. In 1908, he wrote in Tamil the lives of Sir T. Muthuswamy Iyer and Dewan C. Rangacharlu for the First Examination in Arts course of the University of Madras. In 1900, Swaminatha Aiyar founded a mixed school for boys and girls, which in 1928 came to be known as the C. Abdul Hakim’s Secondary School. This institution continues to function till date at George Town.

The Arya’s contributors included several notable personalities such as Swami Ramakrishnananda (the founder of the Ramakrishna Math in Madras), polyglot and scholar Pandit S.M. Natesa Sastri, Dewan Bahadur Raghunatha Rao and V.V. Ramanan (noted astrologer) and Buddhist scholar Angarika Dharmapala.

A perusal of some of its articles from the first volume is reflective of its tagline, that of being a monthly ‘devoted mainly to Aryan Religion, Science, Philosophy and Literature’. These articles include brief profiles of Sri Chaitanya (by Swami Ramakrishnananda) and Sri Sankaracharya (by Dewan Bahadur Raghunatha Rao), studies in early Greek philosophy, Indian social reform and the study of Hinduism. The magazine actively solicited contributions from readers and offered remuneration varying from one to five rupees per page. Working along with T.A. Swaminatha Aiyar in his editorial duties was A. Ramaseshan. It is interesting to note that Ramaseshan was one of the earliest journalists to correspond with Leo Tolstoy on problems pertaining to India and carry his replies in the columns of the Arya magazine.

The magazine, which seems to have had a circulation of about 1,500 copies a month came out without a break until 1908 or so, after which its regular publication suffered owing to Swaminatha Aiyar’s ill health. A new series was begun in July 1909 and was brought out by the Sarasvati Publishing House. The trail runs cold after this and there is no information about its progress. Swaminatha Aiyar however seems to have continued his literary journey well into the 1940s.

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