Chennai: When T.N.S. Murugadoss Theerthapathy was crowned the Zamindar of Singampatti, in what is Tamil Nadu today, in 1934, he was just three years old. In the over eight decades, the ruler of the once tiny princely state lost his wealth and power when the Indian state abolished the Zamindar system in 1952 and spent much of his life as an LIC agent.
Arguably the last of the country’s ‘crowned’ rulers, Theerthapathy died Sunday. He was 89 and had been ailing for some time. He is survived by two sons and three daughters, of whom little is known.
Theerthapathy was born at the Singampatti Palace in Ambasamudram Taluk of Tirunelveli district on 29 September, 1931. Singampatti is believed to be one of the oldest Zamins and is said to have existed from 1100 AD.
Theerthapathy was crowned the 31st Raja of Singampatti Zamin in 1934 after his father passed away that year. As with titular families of his time, he was well-versed in horse riding and fencing, among other skills.
He was sent to Sri Lanka to study but was a high school dropout. The erstwhile zamindar was a sharpshooter, ballet dancer, rugby player, and excelled in football and fencing, among other sports. He also served as an honorary wildlife warden in Tirunelveli district.
He was also the last surviving ruler of the region. In 1433, the princely states around the Tirunelveli region were reorganized as 72 palaiyams (fortified territories). The administrators of each of the palaiyams crowned themselves as kings.
Under the British, the rulers were referred to as Zamindars. When the zamindari system was abolished in 1950, Theerthapathy was the last of these rulers.
The LIC agent
When the Zamindari Act was passed, the Singampatti family lost 74,000 acres of land. This included the well-known forest area and tea estates in the picturesque Manjolai region up in the Western Ghats.
Portions of it were leased to Bombay Burma Trading Company (BBTC) for 99 years by the Singampatti Zamin to handle the expenses related to a court case.
The famous Sorimuthu Ayyanar temple among a few others is still administered by the family. A primary school established within the palace is still functional while the family has also donated some of its remaining land for the construction of a government hospital and school in Ambasamudram.
The family also lost a lot of land through poor administration and Theerthapathy spent much of his life selling LIC policies for a living.
But he was also said to have read voraciously from the Sangam era work to contemporary Tamil literature. Having transitioned to spirituality in his later years, he also authored books titled Thathuvarathin Malai, Perinbam, Sinthanai Thuligal.
In an interview explaining his routine, he had once said, “After exercising in the morning, I do yoga. I administer my company Sathananthan traders. I am also an LIC agent. I take part in spiritual meetings. Only for one day in a year, I become the king.”
That one day is the festival of Aadi Amavasai (no moon day of Aadi month).
Condolences have poured in for the erstwhile ruler.
DMK spokesperson K.S. Radhakrishnan, in a Facebook post, fondly remembered visiting the zamindar along with LTTE leaders Prabhakaran and Baby Subramaniam as they looked for training areas, back when India had backed the Tigers.