Sarvajanika Subbanna: Pioneer of Mysore’s first public hostel and school
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Sarvajanika Subbanna: Pioneer of Mysore’s first public hostel and school

February 20, 2023

T.S. Subbanna was among the pioneers in Mysore to start public hostels which accepted students of all castes and creeds. These public hostels were followed by public schools which practiced the same secular broad-minded values. His unique brand of publicly funded hostels and schools soon became famous as the Sabarmati Ashram of the South. He declined every honour or recognition that came to him. He was to his students father and mother and his hostel was to them very often their only home! He was fondly called as ‘Sarvajanika Subbanna’ and many a generation of students grew under his love and affection. This is our small tribute to this great Gandhian, Freedom Fighter and Social Activist.

By Dr. Bhagirath S. Naganath

Taĝaduru Subbappa (T.S.) Subbanna was born in 1905 in Taĝaduru village, Nanjangud taluk. His father Eshwarappa was the chief priest at the Ankanatheshwara Temple in Taĝaduru. His mother Parvatamma was a devout and pious lady.

Early years

Subbanna had his preliminary schooling at Taĝaduru Government School. Then the family moved to Mysore for his further education. While in Mysore, Subbanna worked part-time as a priest at the Kashi Vishwanatha Temple on Madvachar Road in Agrahara. Subbanna was admitted to the Wesley Mission High School. Venkatakrishnayya was one of the senior teachers who had a profound impact on him. Some of the British teachers tried to persuade students like Subbanna to focus on their academics instead of spending time in the freedom movement.

But Subbanna had already come under the influence of freedom fighters like M.N. Jois, Sharada Prasad, Agaram Ramayya, Subramanyam and Dasappa. Subbanna and friends convened as the ‘Tilak Sangha’ to share news about various freedom fighters from across the country.

Subbanna had to slip away to Channapatna (Sogale) to avoid impending arrest. He participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement at Sirsi, Siddapur and Ankola. Subbanna’s mother, in an attempt to distract her son from the freedom struggle, tried to get him married but this was in vain.

Interestingly, Subbanna is remembered to have dressed as a woman in a saree to escape being caught, while participating in a protest march passing in front of Hardwicke High School. He managed to give Police a slip and made it to Subbarayana Kere to hoist the Indian Flag!

On another occasion, while being pursued, he ran into a Coal Plant and smeared himself with coal soot and succeeded in evading arrest! Subbanna was among the freedom fighters to hoist the Flag at Shivapura in Maddur.  He then made his way to Sabarmati Ashram, where he spent time imbibing the Gandhian way of life directly from the Mahatma!

Devi Sakamma and Jayachamaraja Wadiyar.

Origin of Subbanna Hostel

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Subbanna was greatly inspired by Gandhian ideals and came back to Mysore and opened the first public hostel for poor and orphaned children in 1930s in Hullina Beedhi, Mysore. This hostel was funded entirely from donations. Unfortunately, in a year or two, Subbanna was arrested by the British for his participation in the manufacturing of a bomb. While in prison, Subbanna’s close aide M.S. Siddaveerashetty ably managed the hostel affairs.

Mysore had many student hostels at this time. Most of them were managed along caste lines. Subbanna’s hostel was a welcome departure and took pride in accepting all students without prejudice. Subbanna’s hostel was later relocated to a place near Galli hotel, off Narayana Sastry Road. In spite of the growing student strength, Subbanna always devoted time for the freedom struggle. He was a witness to the firing incident at Five Lights Circle, where Ramaswamy got killed.

CITB (City Improvement Trust Board) came forward a few years later and allocated a larger piece of land in Vidyaranyapuram for the hostel. This was shallow land in an otherwise flat residential layout. Municipality Secretary Phalanethra Sastry came to Subbanna’s rescue and dispatched few lorries (free of cost) to fill the shallow ground. Subbanna now had a flat patch of land, but lacked the funds needed for constructing a building!

Fortunately, Devi Sakamma of Coorg (Kodagu) came to his rescue and donated Rs. 20,000 for the construction of the hostel! A building finally came up and Jayachamaraja Wadiyar came to inaugurate the new hostel on 18th April, 1954.

The inaugural function was also graced by the then Chief Minister Kengal Hanumanthaiah, H.M. Chennabasappa, A. Ramana, Vasudeva Murthy, H.C. Dasappa and, of course, Sakamma herself.

Jayachamaraja Wadiyar wished to confer the ‘Samaja Seva’ honour on Subbanna. But Subbanna politely declined it. The Maharaja was not one to give up. He sent a 3-kg silver plate with a formal Palace letter congratulating the completion of the hostel construction. Subbanna, in course of time, sold the silver plate to fund day-to-day expenses at the hostel.

Hostel life

Subbanna made morning and evening prayers mandatory for all students. These prayers included chantings from all faiths. The dining hall was planned to house a large number of students, of all faiths and denominations to sit side by side. A frugal but nutritious menu consisting of ragi or jowar balls, rice with sambar, pickle and butter milk formed the everyday lunch at the hostel. Kitchen Head Madappa was in-charge of the cooking and also functioned as a driver for the hostel’s Chevrolet car, which was used by Subbanna to scout for donations.

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Madappa was instructed by Subbanna to involve all the students in various activities in the kitchen. Before every meal, prayers were recited by the students. A strict policy against food wastage was in effect and Subbanna would personally look into how much food was being thrown every day.

During the actual partaking of food, absolute silence was maintained. Madappa was also entrusted with the responsibility of collecting and storing weekly donations of grain and rice sent by farmers. The hostel also received donations from shop-keepers in Santhepet, Sri Badriprasad, owner of Indira Bhavan and many village headmen from H.D. Kote, K.R. Nagar, Periyapatna, T. Narasipur, Gundlupet, Chamarajanagar and Mandya. Many rural communities sent truckloads of fodder for the hostel cows as well.

The ‘public hostel’ had a student strength of little over 100. The values and virtues imbibed in the students were very well-known across the State. So much so that, wealthy zamindars and Ministers began to queue outside Subbanna’s office, requesting him to give their children a slot in the hostel! These people realised that they could not impart these values and virtues to their otherwise pampered children at home and admitting them to this hostel was the only sensible way of showing to them how the less fortunate half of society lived.

Of course, Subbanna put an end to this by politely pointing out that these public resources deserved to be poured into nurturing these poor souls, who literally had no one else for them in the world! It was most decidedly not a finishing school for the affluent class.

Subbanna was dedicated to maintaining hygiene across the hostel. He was seen cleaning the toilets on many an occasion. He had made a roster for each student to clean the toilet on particular days of the week.

[To be continued tomorrow]


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