My great great grandmother Palani Alagiriswamy Subbulakshmi Ammal was born in the second half of the 19 th century at Udumalpet in the erstwhile Madras Presidency. She was married to my great great grandfather Alagiriswamy Chettiar of Balasamudram near Palani ( Madras Presidency ). Alagiriswamy Chettiar hailed from a family of businessmen. His father had been involved in textiles and grocery. The family had been placed comfortably. Life went on smoothly until the arrival of a business preposition. This hurt the family finances and Alagiriswamy Chettiar lost his entire holdings in Balasamudram.
The family had its deity, Subbamma ensconced in the same village. Subbama is worshiped in a box. She is known as the Parentalu deity. The elders had kept a box for her and this box would contain a saree , turmeric, kumkumam, bangles, mirror, kajal betel nuts etc., The box would be wrapped in a turmeric dipped fabric and placed in the altar for worship. It would be opened once every three years for a pooja. This pooja would culminate in a procession and it would be taken to a choultry for worship. The members of our kulam ( Anantha Kulam - Rishyashringa Gothram ) would offer their prayers to the deity. She would later return to her host family. Anyone wanting to offer their prayers to her would visit the home of the host and do so. The current hostess Sowbhagyam Ammal and her late husband, Krishnamurthy had looked after the poojas for many decades.
Subbamma , the deity, had been a resident of this house for a long time. Aparanji Ammal, the mother of Krishnamurthy had moved into this place long ago. The house had been purchased from one Varadaraja Chettiar in the year 1922. This family has been living in this home for a century now. Now, Sowbhagyam lives with her son Nagamanickkam, daughter in law Suguna Devi and family.
Subbulakshmi Ammal and Alagiriswamy Chettiar had been blessed with a number of sons and daughters. Balavasavambal was the first daughter and she was married to Krishnappa Chettiar of Agraharam Kalayamuthur. The second daughter Padmavathi was married to Surangam Sundarakamaleswaran Chettiar while the third daughter Aparanji Ammal was married to Kandaswamy Chettiar of Trichy. The couple were blessed with three sons P.A.Raju Chettiar ( PAR ) and the twins P.A.Ramaswamy Chettiar, P.A.Lakshmanan. The younger twin passed away during his childhood.
Alagiriswamy Chettiar passed away early and the responsibility of bringing up the family fell on the shoulders of Subbulakshmi Ammal. She took very good care of her family. Her simplicity and fortitude helped the family to survive. Young Raju ( PAR ) would work hard after the passing away of his father. Economic compulsions forced him to give up his education. His mother's guidance made him work hard and also dream big. The mother and son decided that Coimbatore was the city of their dreams. Therefore Subbulakshmi Ammal decided to send her young son Raju to Coimbatore.
Raju migrated to Coimbatore in 1912. His mother gave him a bangle, and it was to be used as his seed capital. Raju was used to hard work. He would drink some gruel, and start early in the morning everyday. His mother would wait for him to return and her preparation was much sought after by Raju. He used to just sustain on water until then. It was a time when the English had bled our country dry. Millions had died because of the famines created by the English. They sucked the blood from the people of India while their priests tried to appear kind. It was a case of pinching the child and then rocking the cradle. Raju had grown up in such a situation.
Subbulakshmi Ammal made some nice Puliyodharai ( tamarind rice ) and murukkus for Raju's travel to Coimbatore. He was to travel in a bullock cart. It was in fact a series of bullock carts that took him to Coimbatore. Raju sold the murukkus made by his mother in order to pay for his travel costs. The family had meanwhile moved over to Palani and was living near the Angala Parameswari Amman Temple. This temple was the family temple. The ear piercing and hair tonsuring for each and every kid born in the family was performed here.
Raju reached Coimbatore on a Friday. He stayed in the house of his sister Padmavathi. It was a rent share process those days. He did a number of commercial activities during the first few years. Jewelry was to be his future. He was born for it and his sister Padmavathi, brother in law Sundara Kamaleswaran encouraged him. Meanwhile, Subbulakshmi Ammal wanted to get him married. She consulted an astrologer and was told that he would not be a ' Raju ' ( King ) but a ' Chakravarthy ' ( Emperor ). This made her support her son further with good advice and confidence. Mirasdar V.R.Manickam Chettiar of Virugalpatti came forward to get his beautiful daughter Rajalakshmi married to Raju. V.R.M.Rajalakshmi Ammal was to become the lady luck of Raju ( PAR ).
The encouragement given by Subbulakshmi Ammal made Raju set up the jewelry shop P.A.Raju Chettiar & Brother in the year 1917. It was an innovative venture. PAR ( Raju ) offered to buy back ornaments sold by him for cash. This guarantee system was backed by the presence of the initials ' PAR ' on each and every ornament sold by him. PAR started to grow fast and he decided to bring his brother Ramaswamy to Coimbatore. The brothers got together and the business grew at a rapid pace. Subbulakshmi Ammal ensured that the brothers enjoyed a wonderful relationship. She was also affectionate towards her sisters Dhanalakshmi (elder) and Bhagyalakshmi (younger).
My great grandfather used to tell me a lot about his mother. She had tonsured her head after the passing away of her husband and would sport vibhuti from the Palani Murugan Temple on her forehead. Subbulakshmi Ammal had been hard working. She would never get tired with the work at home. The family lived in a house which was located opposite to the Sri Vasavi Kannika Parameswari Amman Temple at Vysial Street in Coimbatore. Both PAR and Ramaswamy would load their jewelry on a bullock cart and take it to the shop on Big Bazaar Street. They purchased two old houses right behind the shop, demolished them and built a mansion. This came to be known as ' Raju Bhavan '. The family moved into the new home in 1930.
Subbulakshmi Ammal used to sit on a swing in the old house opposite to the Sri Vasavi Kannika Parameswari Temple while the sons would check the accounts after weighing all the ornaments. This was done regularly, but more so during the time of Diwali. She would ask them details pertaining to their liabilities every time. The mother was particular to see that PAR repaid all his creditors on time. Business had to be done ethically too. The daughters in law Rajalakshmi Raju Chettiar and Ranganayaki Ramaswamy Chettiar were known to act as per the guidance of Subbulakshmi Ammal.
PAR would seek her blessings every day. The sons had begun to make a lot of money and therefore Subbulakshmi Ammal suggested that they take up social work and charity alongside. The long public innings of P.A.Raju Chettiar ( 1895 - 1984 ) began as a consequence of her advice. In fact, he founded the Coimbatore Arya Vysya Nagai Vyaparigal Mahasabha even before building his own house ' Raju Bhavan '. Today this body is about 100 years old. The surplus of this body was to be used for Vasavi Jayanthi, Shivarathri, Adi velli celebrations and charity.
Raju Chettiar would seek his mother's blessings every morning. This gave him a lot of conviction and energy. His brother P.A.Ramaswamy passed away in the year 1934. The responsibility of bringing up the family of his younger brother fell on P.A.Raju Chettiar. His mother, Subbulakshmi Ammal, was happy to see her son taking up the responsibility without a second thought. My great great grandmother Subbulakshmi Ammal wanted to undertake a trip to Kasi and PAR made the necessary arrangements. Her trip was successful and the icon, got by her from Kasi is with me now.
Subbulakshmi Ammal passed away in the year 1941. PAR published a book of prayers in her memory. He lived up to his assurance by not only taking care of his brother's family but also indulging in big time charity. He created an endowment in her memory and named it as ' P.A.Subbulakshmi Ammal Trust ' in her sacred memory. The corpus thus allotted was Rs.25000 in 1941 and it was held in the family firm P.A.Raju Chettiar & Brother. PAR donated money on behalf of the trust to the Erode Vidya Sangam and a number of institutions. About 600 kids were educated annually in her memory. Many years later , PAR donated the hall at the Coimbatore Arya Vysya Samajam in the memory of his mother Subbulakshmi Ammal.
P.A.Raju Chettiar had put Coimbatore on the jewelry map of the world. He had fulfilled his mother's dream. Her vision and commitment had made her son the ' Emperor ' of the jewelry business. PAR became the largest retailer, wholesaler, manufacturer and bullion merchant in the Madras Presidency. If my great grandfather can be called the Shivaji of the jewelry sector , his mother can be likened to Jija Bai. Subbulakshmi Ammal had been the beacon light of the family. Her vision, guidance and prayers had ensured that her son PAR became the greatest jeweler in the country. Her blessings have made her son's name immortal. His birthday is now being celebrated as the JEWELLERS DAY - 28 JANUARY.
My great grandfather used to pray to the portrait of his mother, Subbulakshmi Ammal, every morning. His devotion to his mother and her blessings had created history. Both Subbulakshmi Ammal and her son P.A.Raju Chettiar symbolized the ethos of India.
Mr. Rajesh Govindarajulu is one of the founding members of the Verandah Club Pvt. Ltd. He is a leading columnist, historian, jeweler, entrepreneur, and a heritage enthusiast who is earnestly working to revive the past in the light of the present. Experiential learning about the history of Coimbatore is his main course of interest and he is also a panel member of many colleges in the city.
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