Kappalotiya tamizhan-The tamil Helmsman

Vallinayagan Ulaganathan Chidambaram (5 September 1872 – 18 November 1936), popularly known by his initials, V.O.C. (spelled வ.உ.சி in Tamil), also known as Kappalottiya Tamizhan “The Tamil Helmsman”, was an Indian freedom fighter and leader of Indian National Congress. Founder of Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company in 1906 to compete against the monopoly of the British India Steam Navigation Company (BISNC) He launched the first indigenous Indian shipping service between Tuticorin and Colombo with the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, competing against British ships. Tuticorin Port Trust, one of India’s thirteen major ports, is named after him. At one time a member of the Indian National Congress, he was later charged with sedition by the British government and sentenced to life imprisonment, and his barrister license was revoked.

V. O. Chidambaram Pillai was born on 5 September 1872 in a vellalar family in Ottapidaram, Tuticorin District to Ulaganathan Pillai and Paramayee Ammal. When Chidambaram was six years old, he learned Tamil from teacher Veeraperumal Annavi. He heard stories about Shiva from his grandmother and stories from the Ramayana from his grandfather. He heard stories from Mahabharatha told by Allikulam Subramanya Pillai. As a child, he played goli (mkarbles), kabaddi, horse riding, swimming, stilt walking, archery, wrestling, silambattam and chess.

He learned English from a Taluk officer named Krishnan in the evenings. When Krishnan was transferred, Chidambaram’s father built a school with the help of villagers and appointed Aramvalarthanatha Pillai from Ettayapuram as the English teacher. The school was run by a priest at Pudhiamuthur. At fourteen, Chidambaram went to Thoothukudi to continue his studies. He studied at CEOA High School and Caldwell High School and in Thoothukudi at the Hindu College High School, Tirunelveli.

Chidambaram worked as Taluk office clerk for some time before his father sent him to Tiruchirappalli to study law. He passed his pleadership exam in 1894, returning to Ottapidaram to become a pleader in 1895.

In Chennai, Chidambaram met Swami Ramakrishnananda, a saint who belonged to Swami Vivekananda Ashram (monastery), who advised him to “do something for the nation”. Here he met the Tamil poet Bharathiyaar who shared his political ideology. The two men became close friends.In the 1890s and 1900s India’s independence movement and the Swadeshi movement, which confirms the politic parcel initiated by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai of the Indian National Congress (INC), were at their peak. From 1892 Chidambaram was influenced by Tilak Maharaj and became his disciple. Along with Subramanya Siva and Subramanya Bharathi, he became a prominent spokesperson for the cause in the Madras Presidency. Following the partition of Bengal in 1905, Chidambaram entered politics, joining the Indian National Congress and taking a hardliner stance. He also presided at the Salem District Congress session.

Chidambaram moved to Kovilpatti and practiced as a lawyer. He rejoined the Congress party in 1927 and presided over the third political conference held at Salem. He said that he wanted to join Congress again because he noticed a remarkable change in the policies of Congress and was happy to note that the policies of which he did not approve were withdrawn one by one. However, after the Salem conference Chidambaram again severed his contact with Congress.

In 1929 he moved to Thoothukudi, where he spent his time writing and publishing Tamil books. By 1935, he had written commentary on the first book of the Tirukkural (Book of Virtue) and was published under a different title. However, it was only in 2008 that the complete work of his commentary on the Kural was published.

If you are interested check out the part two here.