May 31, 2023


Ananda Ranga Pillai was an influential man in the 18th century, serving as chief dubash under Governor General Joseph François Dupleix in French India. He left behind detailed diaries that provide an excellent firsthand account of colonized India at that time. Today, more than 250 years after his death, his legacy lives on through his diaries.

Pillai was born in 1709 in Ayanavaram near Perambur, a suburb of Madras. His father, Thiruvengada Pillai, became a broker for the French who ruled Pondicherry from 1673 until 1954. When Thiruvengada Pillai passed away in 1726, Ananda was appointed to the accounts service. He married Mangathayi Ammal, and they had five children, but two of his sons died young.

Over the next 20 years, Pillai slowly rose to become the chief dubash of French India under Governor General Dupleix in 1748. France’s power increased as hostilities with the British broke out, but eventually, Dupleix’s fortunes declined. When Dupleix was replaced as governor general in 1754, Pillai’s influence in the colony also declined. He suffered from ill health and died at the age of 51 on January 16, 1761.

Throughout his life, Pillai kept detailed diaries, which were handed down through the generations until they were discovered in a decrepit state in the 1840s. They were then translated from the original Tamil into French. In the 1890s, Lord Wenlock, the Governor of Madras at the time, ordered the diaries to be translated into English. The 12 volumes of his diary were edited by Sir J Frederick Price, assisted by K Rangachari. They were then printed by the Government Press in Madras between 1904 and 1928 as “The Private Diary of Ananda Ranga Pillai, Dubash to Joseph Francois Dupleix, Knight of the Order of St Michael and Governor of Pondicherry.” All the volumes are freely available at Internet Archive and are subtitled “a record of matters political, historical, social, and personal from 1736 to 1761.”

Pillai’s diaries provide remarkable insight into colonized India in the 18th century. They reveal many intriguing incidents and events that occurred during that time. For example, one entry in the first volume describes a remarkable incident that occurred when the ex-chief of the peons instigated one of his men to commit thefts in the town. The offender was caught, and he made a clean breast of the whole affair, mentioning the names of all the persons who had either seen his acts or heard of them. The Council then ordered punishments for the offenders, including public hanging, whipping, and expelling them from Pondichery.

Another entry from Pillai’s diaries tells the story of the Portuguese ship St. Louis, which arrived in Pondicherry from Madras. The ship fired three guns to salute the vessels in the roads, and seven guns were then fired by the St. Louis in compliment to the fort, which replied with a similar salute. The ship was pursued by four English vessels that had seized and detained it in the roads of Madras. The St. Louis escaped during the night and was pursued the following morning. The diary provides a fascinating explanation of the incident and the ensuing events.

Pillai’s diaries provide an invaluable firsthand account of colonized India in the 18th century. They give us a glimpse into the social, political, and historical events of that time. Pillai’s legacy lives on, and his diaries continue to be an essential resource


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