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Family Tree: Historic Family Connection

November 13, 2014

Updated Jan 20, 2015

Returned from a long overdue trip to Arni. For the first time had a one-in-a-million lifetime chance of glancing at the ‘Poovadaikari sari’ of the family preserved in a clay pot, safe-kept in a wooden trunk for generations spanning centuries. Taken out thrice an year, it was out on ‘Mattu Pongal’ for a few hours before being returned to its sacred spot by the evening.

Kudos to the family upkeeping & preserving our traditions and culture. One lineage still stays put in the town taking care of everything. My heartfelt pranaams to them.


LOlz not sure even now whether I should add this up here or not…

In this family tree, my son is the 7th generation.

My father-in-law’s hometown is Arni, near Vellore. All in his family/clan until last generation (my FIL’s) sported only Shiva’s name.

My FIL’s name is Namasivayam

His father was S. A. Meenakshi Sundaram. I don’t know what SA stands for. I think it is for South Arcot (district). (Arni was SA previously).

His father was S A Alala Sundaram Mudaliar. He was the one who defected from Congress party to join Swatantra party after India’s independence. This family was and is still a big name in Arni. We have our own private family temple, now opened to the public. I have seen a 100 year old bullock cart in the temple, which served exclusively as women’s transport in those days. The big house still stands good – like a palace. Highceilinged, with oil roof paintings and full of teak beams and rafters and pillars- a marvel in engineering. It has 2 grand entrances in 2 streets. That is how palatial it is, double storeyed. One entrance gate was serviced by women only.  One opened into the Family Temple street. The house is wall to wall adorned with big size original Ravi Verma paintings, some of which are removed now by some ‘smart’ family members. My FIL left his home to study engineering at College of Engineering, Guindy (Anna University) in the ’40s. I found the family connect in Wikipedia.

Family Tree Chart

Solai Mudaliar 

Arunagiri Mudaliar

Alala Sundaram Mudaliar

S A Meenakshi Sundaram Mudaliar

Namasivayam Mudaliar



I have heard my FIL talk a lot about their family business: they were wholesale teak sellers/suppliers who bought their wood from Kerala. (which means they were already diversified from engaging in traditional silk weaving occupation). They were Zamindars and held huge landholdings. The family estate included acres of farmland with pumpset. No son however, to his disappointment, was interested in either the family home or business or even in agri lands. All stand disposed off today but the house is shared by my FIL’s brothers’ families. My FIL opted out of his rights stating that his sons who were doing well were in no need of the family property.

He would tell me how he used to race his ‘Enfield Bullet’ motorcycle from Arni to Madras in old Bangalore highway (now NH 4) in flat 2 hours. The highway used to be not more than 50 feet wide in 1940s and 50s with dense vegetation on both sides, with low hanging branches of tall trees  on either sides of the highway greeeting each other midway over the highway and forming a cool shady arch for travellers. “I used to cross minimum 3 rivers’ he would say but where are those rivers today? The rivers made the bike ride and the highway very risky in those days. Today’s Madras has sprawled upto Sriperumbudur, and industrial activity until Kanchipuram and further has thinned the green cover to sparse minimum. A Malaysian friend who drove to Bangalore from Madras said, all the way upto Bangalore NH4 was industrialized! I don’t know whether to feel happy about that or regret the loss of trees.

My FIL rented a house in Mylapore that he shared with veteran Tamil cinema character actor (famous for playing Kamal Hassan’s grandfather even in recent ‘Pammal K Sambandam’) who is no more – ‘Kakka Radhakrishnan’ with whom he lost touch later on. (Kakka Radhakrishnan was hunting for cinema chances in those days I understand). He would tell me about ‘Rayar Cafe’ in Mylapore where he ate at everyday – my father too was once a regular patron there (younger to my FIL). He joined MMC first (Madras Medical College) but after a fortnight of anatomy classes left it to join Anna University. He worked for TNEB as electrical engineer and was the one who inaugurated the very first winch service to Palani hills when he was posted there. With his own hands in 1960s and ’70s, he brought electricity to number of backward villages and rural areas. Those were camp days. Camps were ordered out into rural and high altitude areas for electrification purposes. Very tough outdoor life. For instance from Palani, my FIL had to take care of introducing electricity to surrounding ghat areas. He retired as Supt. Engineer, one of the only 3 in the state in his times.

At the cost of repeating myself, I want to add here how my FIL was suspended from work during ‘Emergency’ imposed by Smt. Indira Gandhi in 1975-77, for the’ rebel act’ of hoisting the national flag in a village school where he was invited to preside over the celebrations. He was reinstated after 3 years but the discontinuance of service prevented him from landing the top job in his department.

Interestingly my uncle has worked under him in Tiruvallur once when my husband was an infant. My uncle says he knew about the youngest son’s birth in the engineer’s family! Until this day we wonder how the connections existed there already between our two families…. my father & my FIL ate at the same place around the same time for years, my uncle knew my FIL and my husband at the time when he was a bachelor when he was not married to my aunt. Ofcourse my own parents weren’t married then!

We had no relations otherwise. 2 complete strange families who came together in a union. My uncle remembers my FIL as a very honest, upright man, angry man! .

Which is why I don’t believe in coincidences. Hate to quote from Paul Coelho, but ‘long before the physical bodies meet, the consciences, stars do really meet!’

I am proud to be married into this family, both side grandfathers were real great guys.,_Tiruvannamalai

S A Alala Sundaram Mudaliar, the illustrious grandfather of my FIL, is mentioned under the head ‘Arni and the Congress Movement’ if you scroll down.

Arni is a famous Khadi and Silk center which explains Gandhi’s visits to the town. The spinning wheel symbolically used by Mahatma in Arni is still a treasured family possession (which picture I am unwilling to share here). Recently Gandhi researchers have visited the family and the town and have issued a ‘legal heir’ certificate authenticating the Gandhi-connection of the family which is another family heirloom. Only one 6th generation male offspring of the family tree still lives in Arni who is in charge of these artifacts as well as the temple etc.

And if you study the notes carefully, you can find a fine example of the underlying caste system in India in those days in early 1920s. Look who comprise the welcoming committee to Mahatma Gandhi: an Iyer (Brahmin) (Shastri), a Mudaliar (Arni is still famous for its silk looms), and a Chettiar, the baniya. The party is joining Gandhi in his movement against untouchability which is a noble cause.

I understand from my husband and his brothers that this SA Alala Sundara Mudaliar, their great grandfather, was a very resourceful and dynamic personality and the most successful one who got his whole brood together as a single united community. Under him, the family prospered. Women received education in Tamil, English and Mathematics right at home. Originally the Arni Mudaliars are Senguntha Mudaliars whose traditional occupation is silk weaving. But our folks in Arni owned silk looms not worked in any. They married their daughters into silkloom owners’ families in Kanchipuram etc.

However, from my FIL’s generation, they left tradition and started focusing on academics. Arni had a highschool even then. My FIL was the first (professional) engineer (probably from entire Arni) to graduate around 1950 (born 1927).  He left Arni to do his intermediate in Madras in the 1940s. Thereafter, he wanted to become a doctor (initially). He said, over 90% of those who graduated with him in Anna University fled to US. When he passed away we posted an obituary in ‘The Hindu’ and we got lots of messages and phone calls from the US. That is when we knew how many had migrated even in early 1950 from Madras to the US.

Given that in those days men became grandfathers by 40 years, I roughly estimate, when my FIL was born first child to his father Shri Meenakshi Sundaram, his father could have been around 20 years approximately. That makes Meenakshi Sundaram’s birth year 1907 or around it. May be he was born between 1895-1910 if we mark a wider bracket. Which pegs S A Alala Sundaram’s birth year in 1870s or 1880s.  Must have been as old as Gandhi or Nehru. Naturally he was a contemporary of the congress leaders and was very active politically.

So the one before Alala Sundaram Mudaliar – Shri Arunagiri Mudaliar must have been another 20 years older and his father Solai, the first one from whom we can trace our family history, older by another 15-20 years. Which takes the family tree to early 19th century really!

I am told some oldies in the branch families can recount even earlier generations and names. But I guess we can safely assume, we have the exact family tree from around the turn of the century atleast. We know almost now 150 years of family history spanning 7 generations – from 1850-80s to present 2014. The 7th generation is here with my son. His first cousin is older to him by 10 years and is married. Very shortly therefore we may expect the 8th generation 🙂

The present Arni house (if it can be called that), was first built by our great great grandfather Shri Arunagiri Mudaliar. His son Shri S A Alala Sundaram Mudaliar by the turn of the century expanded it adding a storey to the structure, so that makes the house over 100 years old minimum very easily. No one is sure why Alala Sundaram Mudaliar opted out of Congress to join Rajaji’s newly formed ‘Swatantra Party.’ He contested for Lok Sabha under Swatantra Party banner and lost.

Interesting is the way how and when the family shed the surname. In northern India, caste/community name is still your surname. Most southerners shed the family name over a 100 years back. My husband uses his father’s first name as surname and my son uses his father’s first name as his surname. Vishy Anand to Krish Srikkanth to P Chidambaram to Kamal Hassan, who is carrying a caste name in Tamil Nadu today. Very progressive that way wherease there are still Gandhis and Nehrus and Reddys and Gowdas and Pillais and Menons and Patels and Yadavs and Agarwals and Jains and Sharmas and Banerjees and Tagores (just to name a few) in rest of the country. Meenakshi Sundaram, my FIL’s father, was the last to use  the surname ‘Mudaliar’ in our family. With my FIL we officially dropped the family name forever. Almost about the same time, the community surname was dropped from all sides – my MILs, my parents etc. I can’t cite a specific reason: may be this was the influence of a booming Dravidian movement? The 1960s saw the Congress lose to Dravidian parties in the state. I cannot think of any better logic.

But the hypocrisy remains intact: dropping the surname does not in any way mean the casteist feelings have subsided in our communities. It is full blown in some cases even today.

I have visited Arni only once, and want to shortly.  During my visit, I was showed to the ‘dhobi’ quarters which in itself was quite spacious with changing rooms, washing place, a huge well to draw water and place to hang clothes to dry, to get an idea of the kind of life our forefathers led. The dhobis I believe came home everyday in those days to wash the clothes of the family members.

My FIL said he came to Madras wearing a pair of diamond earstuds, thick gold chains and bracelets. What made him ditch a luxurious and pampered lifestyle to work and earn a living as engineer is unclear. He wanted to return a doctor to Arni to serve his people.

Their family is strictly vegetarian and even today, those at Arni wait for the Tiruvannanalai Deepam to show atop the hill before they eat their feast on ‘Karthika Deepam’ day – after a whole day of fasting. Very ardent Shivaites.

We therefore contribute even now generously to Shiva temples. My FIL was such a decent human being. Its rare to see someone of such a noble breed and character these days. A clean, incorrupt soul. When I got married and joined work after a leave of 15 days, my FIL came to my bank and seated me in my seat and waited to see the manager. He checked the union room, lunch room etc to ensure I worked in a safe, comfortable place. My department guys teased me about it for months calling me ‘KG baby.’

I have to thank whoever for the effort taken to research and record the freedom struggle movement in this part of the country.

My husband’s family/brothers are least interested in their ancestry or family home or their heritage sadly. They say they live in the present. They don’t have ‘past hangover’ like me. We first and foremost worship our ‘Kul Devta’ – She is called ‘Aahaaya Kannigai’ (The lady from the skies)- and She is formless. There is an agri field earmarked showing Her presence that’s all. We believe She is here. Before any family wedding or whatever, we go to Arni first and thank Her in advance. I think of Her as an avatar of Shakthi, in my pooja everyday. ‘Kul Devta’ worship is very important in our pooja always.

And one more thing, the Anantha Vratham Pooja.  Very rarely observed. We have it. Arni customs are totally different from regular Madras customs. We still follow Arni traditions in our family. The ‘Poovaadaikari’ sari (the sari of the lady sheathed in flowers – She actually represents the Sumanglis who died in the family) is preserved fervently and still held intact by a female relative in a very old crumbling pot – more than 300 years old. All tamil families – irrespective of sects/subsects – remember ‘Poovaadaikaari’ alongwith ‘Kul Devta’ during every festive occasion or celebration like wedding etc.

I guess the Kula Devta (Gram devta or Gram deity) worship and the Sumangli Prarthana are not limited to only Tamils. All Hindus have this, it is merely that we have different names for the poojas and deities in different states.

Something made me do this research today. Its the mention of ‘Swatantra Party’ in this article:

The family hasn’t had much of love marriages. We aren’t even okay with sub-sect mixing. Highly conservative. My husband and his brothers are clandestinely non-vegetarians and see to that the Arnians don’t discover it! However all that is changing – ever so slowly. But our children must know who we are, what is our lineage. I don’t think caste system is hypocrisy. We are very disciplined people down here. But we are open to ideas.

Mostly this sub-sect is very religious, extremely pious and God-fearing, and are temple trustees even in Chennai until today. Fanatically Hindu. In Madras, almost all major temples like Kapali temple, Valleeswar temple (both in Mylapore), Kandaswamy temple (in Parrys and in Saidapet) etc have had mostly Senguntha Mudaliar trustees for generations. Our grandfathers, including my own, have pledged enormous estates to maintain/upkeep the temples.  The families also gave away landed property during ‘Bhoodhan movement’ spearheaded by Vinoba Bhave.

I thought a lot – whether to go ahead and publish this post or not. Then decided ‘for.’ Well, atleast for a short while.


Very few remain in Arni today, it is like a ghost town almost these days, with young people moving to the city for better education and employment opportunities. My FIL probably started the trend, unaware of it.

Only grandparents live in Arni presently, in big eerily quiet homes… If you get to ask the oldies where are the younger ones, they say casually, ‘he is in US! she is in UK!!!’ With many homes abandoned already, it is scary to think of Arni after 30-40 years.





CMC Vellore:


Meenakshi Sundaram, my husband’s grandfather expired at the end of 1966/start of 1967 (this is not clear), when he was an one year plus infant. After 10 days in Arni home, my husband was down with Brain Fever and was admitted to CMC, Vellore in a very critical state. He was one of a handful of survivors of the epidemic in those times.



I am not caste-centric but I strongly believe, caste system in Hinduism is what prevented more conversions.



I told my husband about milch cows just now and how they suffer. He has already given up milk tea/coffee – in general all diary products. Recollecting his ‘Tiruvallur’ days upto 3 years or so, he says he remembers the cow in his house that his grandfather gifted. When the family moved to Madras, the cow was sent to Arni where someone used the milch cow for farming duties like ploughing. By 3 years, the first drawing in the floor that my husband made using a chalk piece was of this cow ‘Lakshmi.’

Says once when he went to Arni probably by his 7th or 8th year, on seeing him and my MIL, the cow actually shed tears. It started crying. He remembers it very vividly and says even in that young age he could understand how much human in emotions the cow mother was, and to how much torture it must have been subject to in Arni where it spent its rest of years doing hard labour in some relative’s home/fields. As a little boy, the cows tears very much disturbed my husband. Its like a real human mother weeping, says he.

Poor cows! How can anyone have the heart to torture animals…



The decline in fertility rates/numbers of Iyers, Iyengars and Chettiars of Tamil Nad is widely apparent for all to see because they stand out in the crowd. But only when we search for brides in our sub-sect we learn how drastically fallen the fertility rates are in our community. There are simply no girls, the average family size has shrunk to barely 1-2 kids. For the first time, subsect is no bar for us these days. A boy was looking for a school teacher bride – but the only girls’ families that responded were those of doctors and engineers (the girls are all working professionals).  (In my mother’s generation a mere 50 years back, the community had turned out a lot of lady teachers.) The girls fixed the time for bride-seeing: ‘come after 10 pm or before 6 am as I am working and can’t take leave for you!!’ Excellence in academics, women empowerment (RaGa note!) and better employment have brought in enormous social changes to the structure of our society.

We are slowly getting aware how sharply fertility is dropping across all communities in southern India which is a matter of grave concern. Ofcourse this is a conscious choice for some, but not so to many others. Chettiars and Arcot Mudaliars are facing extinction like Parsis and Thulus within the turn of this century. (The Thulus are on decline alarmingly – losing their daughters to ‘Love Jihad’ – i will take up the cudgel in yet another post!) In short, Hindu fertility rate has been takin ga severe beating. As much as we decline in numbers, the muslims are increasing by many proportions. On another side are christians swelling with mindless bribed conversions. THIS IS NOT GOOD FOR INDIA’S FUTURE.

In next generation – my son’s, we will be lucky if we get a bride from same subsect. In this generation, we girls are open for love marriages for our kids – we encourage them openly to find their own partners within certain permissible parameters ofcourse!


  1. Arni Narendran permalink

    Talking about Arcot Mudaliars I have a connect with them through my wife from Secundrabad , the community was a thriving propertied clan in British Secundrabad where the first wave of migration of this community took place, they were virtually owning all the Bungalows in the maradpally area, but now they are virtually extinct. the Arcot Mudaliars where invited by the Nizam for Admin and education. . The Arcot Mudaliars of Secundrabad is a subject for another research.
    Another info to share -my brother in law has married the daughter of LateThiru Kaka Radhakrishnan and presently resides in Bangalore .Thiru Kaka Radhakrishnan naratted as to how he was slapped by the mother of Chavalier Sivaji Ganeshan for drawing the son to a Drama company- the rest ofcourse is History.

    • Thanks for the information. Arcot Mudaliars were pioneers in the field of education as we know and A Lakshmana Swamy Mudaliar went on to become the longest serving Vice Chancellor of Madras University. But Senguntha Mudaliars (also called Kaikola Mudaliars) are different even though some of them also hail from South Arcot district.

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