Early life

Vijayaraghavachariar was born on 18 June 1852 into a Vaishnavite Brahmin family in the village of Pon Vilaindha Kalathur, in the district of Chengalpattu in the state of Madras Presidency, in what was then the British Raj. His father, Sadagoparchariar, was a priest and raised his son as an orthodox religious believer.

At a very early age, Vijayaraghavachariar was sent to a school in his villagewhere he learned Sanskrit and the Vedas, the holy language and the scriptures of Hinduism respectively.His English education began when he was twelve. He joined the Pachaiyappa High School and passed out in 1870

ranking second in the Madras Presidency, the province that included most of South India. He joined Presidency College in Madras (now Chennai) the following year, graduated in 1875, and the same year was appointed a lecturer there. He was transferred to the Government College, Mangalore, and after three years resigned his post. Subsequently he joined the Salem Municipal College as a lecturer in English and mathematics.

Career as lawyer

During his time in Salem Municipal College Vijayaraghavachariar took Law examinations privately without attending formal classes and qualified as a pleader in 1881.

Salem riot

In 1882, a short time after Vijayaraghavachariar had set up practice in Salem an riot broke out in the city.Vijayaraghavachariar was charged for instigating the violence that led to demolition of a Mosque and was sentenced to prison for ten years. Nevertheless, he fought the charges in the Court of Law and finally proved his innocence.
Fighting the case for those implicated in the Salem riots of 1882 made Vijayaraghavachariar famous overnight. Subsequently through his efficiency in advocacy he successfully pleaded to Lord Ripon for others who were sentenced for the riots to be released from Andaman Cellular Prison. Besides, he took objection to his being disqualified from the membership of the Municipal Council, Salem, of which he a member during the period of the riot.

As a result of his appeal, he was not only reinstated in the Municipal Council, but was able to obtain from the Secretary of State for India a sum of Rs 100 as a nominal damage for removing him from the Municipal Council during the period. He also proceeded against the witnesses who falsely deposed against him and got them convicted. The Salem riots of 1882 made Vijayaraghavachariar famous overnight. The riot case was highly publicised in the Indian national media and newspapers hailed him as a great champion of civil liberties. Thus came to be called The Lion of South India - and "The Hero of Salem

Entry into politics

Vijayaraghavachariar's entry into the public life began with his membership of the Salem Municipal Council in 1882. In 1895 he was elected to the Madras Legislative Council which body he served for 6 years, till 1901.

When the Indian National Congress was started in 1885 Vijayaraghavachari attended the first convention as one of the special invitees. He was a close associate of A. O. Hume, the founder of the Congress.Even prior to December 1885, Vijayaraghavachariar had suggested to Hume that a national organisation like the Indian National Congress which he was proposing to create should be political in outlook and at the same time should look into the economic and social needs of the masses. He felt that only then the influence of such a body could spread wide all over the country.He attended the Bombay session of the Congress and in 1887 he was one of the members of the committee which drafted the constitution of the Indian National Congress.

He held high influence in the Congress that most of the early names in Congress history were either his friends or co-worker. His counsels and leadership were much sought after by the Congressmen of the early days. In 1899 (fifteenth session of the Congress, Lucknow) he was made a member of the Indian Congress Propaganda Committee. Through the Propaganda Committee he commanded a wide national influence and played a very key role in spreading the message of the Congress throughout the length and breadth of the country. It was as a result of the committee's work that multitudes were brought within the fold of the Congress

Last years

Though the leadership of the Congress in South India, passed on from his hands to C. Rajagopalachari, he contented himself with giving periodic advice on matters of public importance through his regular contributions to the Madras journals. He died on 19 April 1944. After his death, his valuable collections were treasured in the Memorial Library and Lecture Halls in Salem specially constructed and named after him. His portrait hangs on the walls of Parliament of India


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