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Monday, July 17, 2017

imposing National flag and tall flagmast at Fort St George ~ Sri Bashyam Iyengar @ Arya's bravery

In the Tamil Srivaishnava tradition, Serangolam ( Serankulam) near Mannargudi  is one of five villages collectively known as Panchagramam. The other villages are Karappangadu, Nammankurichi, Peravoorani and Puliyakkudi (Idaikkadu).

In Chennai, as one travels in Beach road aka Rajaji Salai – one of the main attractions is the Tamilnadu Assembly / TN Secretariat and of course the National flag that flutters on a tall flagmast.   This has a long history and dates back to 1644, when the fort was built at a time when it was White town.   The fort is considered to be the first establishment of the British in India. Initially erected as a trading post, it later served as the origin of the modern Indian Army. A live example of the military architecture marvel, the St. George Fort is probably the most noticeable ancient monument in Chennai. The fort holds great historical importance and is looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India.  The Govt Museum here  was organised and opened to the public in Jan  1948. The museum began with a small collection of objects of the British Raj donated by the then Madras Presidency Government, the disbanded army units and others.

The tall and beautiful National flag flutters on an imposing flag mast. It is here that National flag is unfurled on Independence Day and Republic Days.   It was originally made of teak and remained for a considerably long period from 1688 till 1994 when it made way for a steel replica.  By some accounts, the origin is related to  the mast of a ship that sank off Madras in the 1680s which was used  when Elihu Yale took over as Governor.  For long it was the  King’s flag that was  flown from the ramparts. The Fort’s Diary and Consultation Book for 1688 has it that “the Garrison and Train’D Bands are therefore order’d to bee in Arms and the Chief Inhabitants of all Nations invited to the solemnity.”

Here is some history into the flag and more to an unsung freedom fighter ~ Sri Bashyam Iyengar @ Arya, who hailed from Serangulam and the man whose painting of Mahakavi Subramaniya Barathiyar is widely used everywhere.  The details in blue are reproduced from a wonderful article written by Historian V Sriram in The Hindu in 2015.

Today it is a steel replica, but until 1994, what stood here was a teak beam. Rising to a height of 148 feet, it was considered the tallest flag post in the country. Salvaged from a shipwreck in 1687, it was used by Governor Elihu Yale for unfurling the Union Jack the subsequent year. The Indian tricolour was hoisted on it on August 15, 1947.

But that was not the first time the flagstaff had sported the Indian flag. It had done so for a brief while on January 26, 1932, thanks to ‘Arya’ K. Bhashyam, a freedom fighter. This may not be a well-recognised name today, but in his time he was a livewire, organising flash stirs against foreign rule and burning foreign goods in public. In her biography Naan Kanda Bharatham, S. Ambujammal writes that Bhashyam had a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Madras but had become a freedom activist from 1920 or so.

Bhashyam’s activities were not to the liking of his aristocratic family. His uncle was Sir N. Gopalaswami Aiyangar, of the Madras Civil Service, later Dewan of Kashmir, and still later, the Railway Minister of free India. Bhashyam’s brother Sadagopan was a senior officer in the South Indian Railway. Their displeasure, however, had no effect, and on January 26, 1932, he committed an act of unparalleled daring. When it was still dark, Bhashyam climbed the ramparts of Fort St. George, and having shinned his way up the riggings of the flagstaff, managed to reach the top. There, he unfurled the Indian tricolour that he had brought along.

All this activity had not passed unnoticed and a considerable police force had assembled at the base waiting for his descent. Bhashyam made his way down and halfway through, jumped on the policemen thereby injuring a few. In the ensuing scuffle, he also managed to thrash a few of them before being arrested. In court, Bhashyam refused to tender any apology and was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment. It was not the first and it would definitely not be his last tenure as a guest of the State.

Post independence, Bhashyam refused the pension to which he was entitled as a freedom fighter. He eked out a living painting portraits of his idols — Subramania Bharati and Mahatma Gandhi, all of which he signed as Arya. The best-known depiction of the poet, with handlebar moustache and turban, is his. He also sculpted busts and statues of Gandhi and one of these is present at Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya. His statue of S. Satyamurti stands at Ripon Buildings.

Bhashyam passed away in 1999 at the age of 93. If we had any sense of history, we would have a plaque in his honour next to the flagstaff inside the Fort. (

Wikipedia has an article in Tamil and some extracts from it :  In 1907 Bashyam was born in a middle class family to A Rangasamy Iyengar who was editor of Sudasemithran.  He was furious hearing about Jalianwalabagh massacre and was drawn in to National movement at an early age.

He was attracted by the militant struggle for freedom and was vehement against Simon Commission for which he was fined and chose to leave college education.  He was arrested many times participating in freedom struggle and criminal cases were foisted against him including the attempt to murder of a Governor.  The activity of burning foreign clothes was a grand scene in the film ‘Indian’ perhaps was attracted by his attempts in burning foreign clothes where they were sold those days. 

His bravery of getting atop the most guarded Fort mast staff, taking out Union Jack and unfurling the Indian National flag is recorded – the act is recorded but not the person. He was a great artist – painter and sculptor and sadly such committed freedom fighters have not had their due place in Indian history. Was surprised to learn that today (17th July 2017) is celebrated in Tamil Nadu as ‘Thiyagigal Thinam’ and Ministers paid homage and floral tributes to 3 great freedom fighters ~    Thiyagi Arya alias Bhashiyam;  Thiyagi Sankaralinganar and Thiyagi Shenbagaraman

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

17th July 2017.


  1. I am the grandson of Arya Bashyam and came to know more about him only through your blog. Thank you for putting this information together. I am trying to learn more about my grandfather,

    1. Dear Ram Arthanari....this is Dr senthil from National COllege Trihcy, where you grandfather studied...could you please let me know your contact no.. or contact me at 9865268433..National College is celebrating its Centenary year this Jan 2019..on every republic day and independence day we remember and honour your grandfather here...need to talk a lot about this...

    2. Dear Ram Arthanari .. happy in reading your comments ~ thank you...

    3. I am Elandhai Ramasami. I attended Arya's daughter's marriage in 1966/67. I have posted a video on Arya.

      can you kindly give the address and phone number of T.R.SRINIVASAN, son in law of ARYA to my email

  2. I also hail from Serangulam came to know of him only today through a WhatsApp post. On googling, saw your postwith detailed account. Thanks. Have forwarded to all my relatives.

  3. அடியேன் தாசன். இதை 2017இல் படித்தேனா இல்லையா என்று ஞாபகம் வரவில்லை. இன்று ஒரு கசின் அனுப்பியிருந்தான்.

    அடியேன் சேரங்குளம் native. அப்பா பிறந்து வளர்ந்ததெல்லாம் அங்குதான். சித்தப்பாவும், அத்தை பையனும் இன்னும் அங்கே தான் வசிக்கிறார்கள். கோயில் உத்சவத்தில் எங்கள் மண்டகப்படியும் உண்டு.

    Sri ஆர்யா என்கிற பாஷ்யம் அவர்களுக்கு சேரங்குளத்தில் ஒரு நினைவு கல்வெட்டு கூட இல்லை என்பது வருத்தமான விஷயம்.

    Jai Hind!

  4. pl see my video on ARYA AT