Sir Thiruvarur Muthuswamy Iyer
( ) KCIE
(b.January 28, 1832
- d. January 25, 1895) was an Indian lawyer who, in 1877, became the first native Indian
to be appointed as Judge of the Madras High Court.
He also functioned as the Acting Chief Justice
of the Madras High Court for a
Muthuswamy Iyer was born in a poor Vadama
family in Vuchuwadi, Madras Presidency
, British India
on January 28, 1832.
was young, Muthuswamy Iyer's father died and he moved with his
mother to Thiruvarur 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
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
and Mr. Justice Holloway. He was offered help to
proceed to England and compete
for the civil service, but being a
Brahmin and married, he declined to cross
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 Tranquebar, deputy-collector in Tanjore in 1859, sub-judge of
south Kanara 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, Madras.He also held a degree in Sanskrit at that
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
Appointment to the bench of Madras High Court and
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
. This prompted a strong reaction from Indian
nationalists who founded The Hindu
newspaper to voice public opinion against the outrage.
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
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 Delhi in
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
- Encounter and
Identities in Modern India
- Chidambaram Pillai, Page 2