Posted on: 30 March 2013

The Second Brother
By S. Muthiah
The Hindu - 2009

I return to the Kavali family and this week recall the contribution of the second brother, Lakshmaiah, whom Colin Mackenzie described in 1808 as his “Head Interpreter and Translator.” Boraiah, who joined the Mackenzie team c.1796, died in 1803. By then Lakshmaiah and younger brother Ramaswami had joined Mackenzie.

Apart from his several contributions to Mackenzie’s work, Lakshmaiah was in his own right a linguist and researcher out of the ordinary, though he did not get the assignment he was most fitted for after Mackenzie’s death in 1821. When Mackenzie became the first Surveyor-General of India and moved to Calcutta in 1817, he took Lakshmaiah with him. After Mackenzie’s death, Lakshmaiah remained in Calcutta till 1828, working with H.H. Wilson, the Secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, on a descriptive catalogue of the Mackenzie Collection. The work completed, he returned to Madras.

Back in Madras, Lakshmaiah played the lead role in founding in 1834 the Hindu Literary Society, which modelled itself on the Madras Literary Society and Auxiliary of the Royal Asiatic Society of which he had become the first Indian member in 1831. To the MLS he gifted several ancient Indian coins with detailed histories of them and translations of their inscriptions.

In the literary sphere, his major contribution is little remembered today. He was the first to translate into English Sekkizhar’s Periya Puranam on the lives of the Saiva saints. His other significant contributions were accounts of the second Chola dynasty and the Maharajahs of Mysore. He also wrote in Telugu and then translated into English the first Indian description of the monuments of Mamallapuram.

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