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Sir Thiruvarur Muthuswamy Iyer ( ) KCIE (b.January 28, 1832 - d. January 25, 1895) was an Indianmarker lawyer who, in 1877, became the first native Indian to be appointed as Judge of the Madras High Courtmarker. He also functioned as the Acting Chief Justice of the Madras High Court for a brief period.

Early life

Muthuswamy Iyer was born in a poor Vadama Brahmin family in Vuchuwadi, Madras Presidency, British India on January 28, 1832. When he was young, Muthuswamy Iyer's father died and he moved with his mother to Thiruvarurmarker to make a living. At Thiruvarur, Muthuswamy Iyer found employment as village accountant. However, his mother died soon afterward leaving Muthuswamy Iyer with little support. Around this time, Muthuswamy Iyer's talents were recognized by the tehsildar Naicken who arranged for the former to study in Madras as a companion to his young nephew. In 1854, Muthuswamy Iyer won a prize of 500 rupees offered to the students of the Madras presidency by the council of education for the best English essay. This success brought him to the notice of Sir Alexander John Arbuthnot and Mr. Justice Holloway. He was offered help to proceed to Englandmarker and compete for the civil service, but being a Brahmin and married, he declined to cross the ocean. Instead he entered the subordinate government service, and was employed in such various posts as school-teacher, record-keeper in Tanjore, and in 1856 deputy-inspector of schools. At this time the Madras authorities instituted the examination for the office of pleaders. Muthuswamy came out first in the examinations. Descendants of his can still be found in Mayavaram, Tamil Nadu.Muthuswamy was then appointed in succession district munsiff at Tranquebarmarker, deputy-collector in Tanjore in 1859, sub-judge of south Kanaramarker in 1865, and a magistrate of police at Madras in 1868. While serving as the magistrate of police, Muthuswamy Iyer obtained his law degree law from the Presidency College, Madrasmarker.He also held a degree in Sanskrit at that time.

Legal career

Muthuswamy Iyer commenced his legal career immediately after graduation. He was appointed a judge of the Court of Small Causes in 1871. The very next year, he was made Fellow of Madras University. In 1877, the Madras Government took the controversial decision to appoint him as the first Indian judge of the High Court of Madras.

Appointment to the bench of Madras High Court and controversy

In 1877, Muthuswamy Iyer was appointed to the bench of the High Court of Madras. He was the first Indian to be appointed to this prestigious post. However, Muthuswamy's appointment was vehemently condemned by a Madras newspaper called The Native Public Opinion. This prompted a strong reaction from Indian nationalists who founded The Hindu newspaper to voice public opinion against the outrage.

Later career

Muthuswami Iyer served as a judge of the Madras High Court from 1877 to 1895. During the later part of his life, he even served as the Acting Chief Justice, the first Indian to do so.


During his early career, Muthuswamy Iyer also served as the President of the Malabar Marriage Commission. During his tenure as President of the Commission, he campaigned for the legal recognition of Sambandham and other forms of marriage practised in the Malabar. In 1872, Muthuswamy Iyer established the Widow Remarriage Association in Madras and advocated remarriage of Brahmin widows.

In 1872, he was nominated fellow of the Madras University. He became a syndic in 1877. He was also invited to attend the Coronation Durbar at Delhimarker in 1877.


In 1878, Muthuswami Iyer was created a Companion of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire. In 1893, he was knighted for his services to the Crown.


Muthuswami Iyer died in January 1895 after an illness of ten days. On his death, Sir S. Subramania Iyer took the seat in the bench of the Madras High Court left vacant by his death.

A statue of Muthuswami Iyer was erected in the precints of the Madras High Court campus on May 23, 1895.

Controversial stand on temple entry

Being a devout Brahmin, Muthuswami Iyer literally interpreted the dharma-shastras and Hindu religious texts and rigorously followed them. As a result, some of his speeches on caste and temple-entry have been controversial.

Muthuswami Iyer once said :

Another remark of his is regarded by the intellectuals of the Dravidar Kazhagam as blatantly casteist:

See also


  1. Encounter and Identities in Modern India
  2. Chidambaram Pillai, Page 2


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