When Temple of Learning Turned Agraharam For Slum Girls

Maranna Gowder’s Patasalai Taught That All Are Equal

Coimbatore town had ‘Thinnai Pallis’ those days. A number of learned Tamil scholars and math teachers took care of the educational needs of the students. The Anglo Mysore wars had taken a toll on the region. Coimbatore became the headquarters of a big multi lingual district on 24/11/1804. The place came under the grasp of the East India Company and the small ‘thinnai schools’ began to flourish post 1822. It was 1831 when the reorganized system of education was introduced and growth in education spurted from the year 1867.
The city began to get a number of new school buildings. In fact quite a few of the good buildings were educational institutions. Teachers like Vadhiyar Vaidyalingam Pillai were known for the good work in the nineteenth century. Sivakavimani C.K.Subramanya Mudaliar has written about those halcyon days in his autobiography. Kovai Kizhar has also added to the narrative on education in his works. The old Maranna Gowder School is located on Sullivan Street. It was founded by Rao Sahib of Dheenampalayam Maranna Gowder (1845 – 1920) and his associates S.N.Ramaswamy Iyer, C.J.Thiruvenkataswamy Naidu as a girls school in the year 1906. It was a ‘Patasalai’ and the three of them taught the kids. Maranna Gowder was the school committee President cum teacher.
Maranna Gowder School had girls from the slums and the Agraharam as well. Differentiation was absent. Much of the land was donated by Maranna Gowder. He faced a number of financial issues and he wrote to a number of organizations. The list included Annie Besant of the Theosophical Society. Maranna Gowder had been attending the meetings of the Theosophical Society in Coimbatore. The Theosophical Street is located near Ther Mutti and it is perpendicular to Raja Street. Annie Besant had been known as ‘Vellai Saraswathi (White Saraswathi). She was involved with the Home Rule movement and was closely associated with freedom fighters like Lokamanya Bal Gangadar Tilak. Finally the school was handed over to the Theosophical Society in the year 1915. The foundation for a modern building was laid by Annie Besant on 8/11/1918.
The school building was put up with a lot of care. The Besant Centenary Trust was started in the year 1947 and the school was made available for girls and boys thereafter. All the educational institutions that had been functioning under the umbrella of the Theosophical Society were brought under the Besant Centenary Trust. “The campus founded by Maranna Gowder underwent a lot of evolutions. 1906 – 1947: Girls School, 1955 – 1964: Rao Sahib National Higher Elementary High School, 1965 – 1966 : Dr.Annie Besant Memorial Girls Higher Elementary School, 1966: Maranna Gowder Aided Girls Higher Elementary School, 1970 – 1989: Maranna Gowder Middle School, 1990: Maranna Gowder High School, 1989: Vidya Kheshtram Matriculation School, 1992: Maranna Gowder Nursery and Primary School, 2012: Maranna Gowder Matriculation School. Now we have the following institutions in the campus – Maranna Gowder Primary School (Class 1 to 5), Maranna Gowder High School (Class 6 to 10), Maranna Gowder Matriculation School (Pre KG to Class 10). The famous ‘Maria Montessori’ was part of the Trust Committee that was managing the schools,” smiled Sureshkani, the 32 year old Principal. The energetic and committed Sureshkani joined as Vice Principal and has grown with the school. The teachers are a committed lot and the school is adding to the value system of Coimbatore.
Maranna Gowder had a number of noble Coimbatoreans to manage its affairs. Padmashri awardee P.R.Krishnakumar Varrier, C.R.Bhaskaran have served as Correspondent and Advocate V.Mylswamy has been its President. Currently Advocate Lakshmananarayanan is serving as the Correspondent and Advocate M.Ganeshkumar is the President. There are a number of good teachers and over 1100 students in the school nowadays. The school is endowed with a nice ‘Lord Sathyanarayana Shrine’ and ‘Sathyanarayana Pooja’ is being conducted zealously on every Pournami (Full Moon Day).
“The school has grown in stature and size because of the help of a number of organizations and individuals. We wish to acknowledge the role of each one of them with gratitude. The ethos of the school is to educate the poor by keeping the ancient culture of our country as the foundation, “added the Principal Sureshkani (Maranna Gowder Matriculation School). There was a time when bhajans were taking place every Friday.
The name Annie Besant and its connect with the school makes it pertinent to know more about the dynamic leader.
The name Annie Besant (1847 – 1933) is big in India. She was born as Annie Wood in England. Besant had been a writer, author and activist all her life. She was a champion of human freedom. The bright lady had married clergyman Frank in 1867 and they had two kids Arthur and Mabel. However they did not get along and this led to their separation in 1873. Annie had written some books and the income went to her husband simply because married women could not own property those days. She interviewed Madam Blavatsky after reviewing her book ‘The Secret Doctrine’ for the Pall Mall Gazette. Annie got converted to Theosophy. She travelled to India and stayed there. A number of educational institutions and Co Freemasonry Lodges were established by her. She understood that India had to be free and was involved with the ‘Home Rule Movement’. Lokamanya Bal Gangadar Tilak was well known. Besant had been the President of the Indian National Congress and the Theosophical Society. She felt that the ancient cultural roots of India and her old religion were the country’s foundation. She had discovered J.Krishnamurti (later day philosopher) and brought him up. In spite of some fissures they had mutual affection for each other.
The Maranna Gowder High School (Tamil Medium- Classes 6 to 10) is headed by K.Vasudevan (Headmaster) and Maranna Gowder Primary School (Tamil Medium – Classes 1 to 5) is headed by Headmistress Sheela. The trio are doing a great job. Siddheswari of this school has won a bronze at the National Level in Roller Skates Basket Ball and Kavignar Thamarai (movie lyricist) is an alumnus of the school. Several teachers and non teaching staff are doing their best. There are over 1000 students in the campus today.
The old Maranna Gowder School had added to the lustre of Coimbatore. Its contribution has been continuous over the last hundred years and it is hoped that it will continue to be so.
—Rajesh Govindarajulu

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