T. Muthuswamy Iyer

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Sir Thiruvarur Muthuswamy Iyer
T. Muthuswamy Iyer.jpg
A portrait of T. Muthuswamy Iyer
Born (1832-01-28)28 January 1832
Madras Presidency,
British India
Died 25 January 1895(1895-01-25) (aged 62)
British India
Occupation lawyer, civil servant, administrator

Sir Thiruvarur Muthuswamy Iyer KCIE (28 January 1832 – 25 January 1895) was an Indian lawyer who, in 1877, became the first native Indian to be appointed as judge of the Madras High Court. He also acted as the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court in 1893. He is also one of the first Indians to have a statue.

Iyer was born in a poor Brahmin family of Vuchuwadi in the Tanjore district of the Madras Presidency. He lost his father when he was young and completed his schooling in Madras with the assistance of the tahsildar Muthuswami Naicker.

On completion of his schooling, Iyer served in subordinate posts in the civil service even while continuing his education. Iyer graduated in law from the Presidency College, Madras while serving as the magistrate of police and served as a judge in mofussil centres from 1871 to 1877, when he was appointed to the bench of the High Court of Madras. Iyer served as a judge of the Madras High Court from 1877 till his death in 1895, even acting as the Chief Justice for three months in 1893.

Iyer was acclaimed for his sharp intellect, memory and legal expertise. He advocated social reform and campaigned in support of women's education, widow remarriage and the legal recognition of sambandham. However, he was criticised for his alleged remarks on temple entry and views on Varnashrama Dharma. In 1893, Iyer was made a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire in recognition of his services.

Early life[edit]

Iyer was born in a poor Brahmin family in Vuchuwadi, Madras Presidency, British India on 28 January 1832. Iyer's father, Venkata Narayana Sastri, died when Muthuswamy was young and he moved with his mother to Thiruvarur to make a living. At Thiruvarur, Iyer found employment as village accountant. However, his mother died soon afterward leaving Iyer with little support. Around this time, Iyer's talents were recognised by the tahsildar Muthuswamy Naicker who arranged for the former to study at Sir Henry Montgomery's school in Madras as a companion to his young nephew, and there he won prizes and scholarships year after year.[1]

In 1854, Iyer won a prize of 500 rupees offered to the students of the Madras presidency by the council of education for the best English essay. This success brought him to the notice of Sir Alexander John Arbuthnot and Mr. Justice Holloway. He was offered help to proceed to England and compete for the civil service, but being a Brahmin and married, he declined to cross the ocean. Instead he entered the subordinate government service, and was employed in such various posts as school-teacher, record-keeper in Tanjore, and in 1856 deputy-inspector of schools.[1]

Legal career[edit]

About this time, the Madras government instituted an examination for pleaders known as "Pleader's Test". In the examination held at Kumbakonam in February 1856, only three succeeded, Iyer and R. Raghunatha Rao emerging first and second. On successfully passing the Pleader's Test, Iyer was appointed District Munsiff of Tranquebar. On 2 July 1859, Iyer was appointed Deputy Collector of Tanjore. On 9 July 1865, Ier was appointed Sub-Judge of South Canara and served till July 1868, when he was appointed District Magistrate of police at Madras.[2]

While serving as the magistrate of police, Iyer obtained his law degree law from the Presidency College, Madras.[1][2] He also held a degree in Sanskrit at that time.[3]

Iyer commenced his legal career immediately after graduation. He was appointed a judge of the Court of Small Causes in 1871.[1][2] The very next year, he was made Fellow of Madras University.[2] In 1877, the Madras Government took the controversial decision to appoint him as the first Indian judge of the High Court of Madras.[4][5][6]

Appointment to the bench of Madras High Court and controversy[edit]

In 1877, Iyer was appointed to the bench of the High Court of Madras. He was the first Indian to be appointed to this prestigious post.[6] However, Muthuswamy's appointment was vehemently condemned by a Madras newspaper called The Native Public Opinion.[5][7][8] This prompted a strong reaction from Indian nationalists who founded The Hindu newspaper to voice public opinion against the outrage.[4][7]

Later career[edit]

Muthuswami Iyer served as a judge of the Madras High Court from 1877 to 1895. He acted for three months in 1893 as the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, the first Indian to do so.[9]


During his early career, Iyer also served as the President of the Malabar Marriage Commission. During his tenure as President of the Commission, he campaigned for the legal recognition of Sambandham and other forms of marriage practised in the Malabar.[10] In 1872, Iyer established the Widow Remarriage Association in Madras and advocated remarriage of Brahmin widows.[11]

In 1872, he was nominated fellow of the Madras University. He became a syndic in 1877. He was also invited to attend the Coronation Durbar at Delhi in 1877.[1]


In 1878, Muthuswami Iyer was created a Companion of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire.[2] In 1893, he was knighted for his services to the Crown.[12]


Muthuswami Iyer died in January 1895 after an illness of ten days.[13] On his death, Sir S. Subramania Iyer took the seat in the bench of the Madras High Court left vacant by his death.[14]

A statue of Muthuswami Iyer was erected in the precincts of the Madras High Court campus. The section of Kamrajar Salai connecting Chepauk with the Madras High Court is known as T. Muthuswamy Salai.

Controversial stand on temple entry[edit]

Being a devout Brahmin, Muthuswami Iyer literally interpreted the dharma-shastras and Hindu religious texts and rigorously followed them.[15] As a result, some of his speeches on caste and temple-entry have been controversial.

Muthuswami Iyer once said :

Religious institutions founded, endowed and maintained for the benefit of those sections of the Hindu Community who conform to certain recognized usages as those of the castes for whose benefit the temples are by immemorial usage dedicated as places of worship.[16]

Another remark of his is regarded by the intellectuals of the Dravidar Kazhagam as blatantly casteist:

Hindu temples were neither founded nor are kept up for the benefit of Mahomedans, outcastes and others who are outside the scope of it.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d e Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ a b c d e Lethbridge 2001, p. 360
  3. ^ Yandell & Paul 2000, p. 115.
  4. ^ a b Govindarajan 1969, p. 14
  5. ^ a b Tercentenary Madras staff 1939, p. 454
  6. ^ a b "Report of the High Court of Madras" (PDF). Retrieved 19 July 2008. 
  7. ^ a b Ganesan 1988, p. 6
  8. ^ Natarajan 1962, p. 124.
  9. ^ Paramanand 1985, p. [page needed].
  10. ^ Balakrishnan 1981, p. 107.
  11. ^ Anantha Raman 2005, p. 87.
  12. ^ Sanyal 1894, p. [page needed].
  13. ^ The Hindu Speaks. Interpress. 1978. p. 53. 
  14. ^ Derrett & Duncan 1977, p. 177.
  15. ^ a b Pillai 2005, p. 2.
  16. ^ Pillai 2005, pp. 1, 2.



Further reading[edit]

  • Govinda Parameswaran Pillai (1897). Representative Indians. Routledge. pp. 157–172. 
  • Aiyar, Sir Tiruvarur Muthusawmy. Dictionary of Indian Biography. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. p. 9. Retrieved 10 May 2018.