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t. s. subbanna

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T. S. Subbanna (Sarvajanika Subbanna)

T. S. Subbanna (Sarvajanika Subbanna)

Subbanna's ancestral house

Subbanna's ancestral house

Cows at the hostel

Cows at the hostel

Kamaraj and T. S. Subbanna

Kamaraj and T. S. Subbanna

HH Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar with Devi Sakamma

Devi Sakamma and HH Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar

T. S. Subbanna (1980s)

T. S. Subbanna (1980s)

Taĝaduru Subbappa Subbanna was born in 1905 in Taĝaduru village, Nanjanagud taluk. His father Eshwarappa was the chief priest at the Ankanatheshwara temple in Taĝaduru. His mother Parvatamma was a devout pious lady. 

Early years
Subbanna had his preliminary schooling at Taĝaduru govt. school. Then the family moved to Mysore for his further education. While in Mysore, Subbanna worked part-time as a priest at the Kashi Vishwanatha temple in Madvachar road in Agrahara. Subbanna was admitted to the Wesley Mission High School. Venkatakrishnayya was one of the senior teachers who had a profound impact on him. Some of the British teachers tried to persuade students like Subbanna to focus on their academics instead of spending time in the freedom movement. But Subbanna had already come under the influence of freedom fighters like M. N. Jois, Sharada Prasad, Agaram Rangayya, G. S. Su
bramanyam and Dasappa. Subbanna and friends convened as the ‘Tilak Sangha’ to share news about various freedom fighters from across the country. Subbanna had to slip away to Channapatna (Sogale) to avoid impending arrest. He participated in the civil disobedience movements at Sirsi, Siddapur and Ankola. Subbanna’s mother, in an attempt to distract her son from the freedom struggle, tried to get him married – but this was in vain. Interestingly, Subbanna is remembered to have dressed as a woman in a saree to escape being caught, while participating in a protest march passing in front of Hardwicke High School. He managed to give police the slip and made it to Subbarayana Kere to hoist the Indian flag! On another occasion, while being pursued, he ran into a coal plant and smeared himself with coal soot and succeeded in evading arrest! Subbanna was among the freedom fighters to hoist the flag at Shivapura in Maddur. He then made his way to Sabarmati ashram where he spent time imbibing the Gandhian way of life directly from the Mahatma! 

Origins of the Subbanna Hostel
Subbanna was greatly inspired by Gandhian ideals and came back to Mysore and opened the first public hostel for poor & orphaned children in 1930s in Hullina Beedi, Mysore. This hostel was funded entirely from donations. Unfortunately, in a year or two, Subbanna was arrested by the British for his participation in the manufacturing of a bomb. While in prison, Subbanna’s close aide – M. S. Siddaveerashetty ably managed the hostel affairs. 

Mysore had many student hostels by this time. Most of them were managed along caste lines. Subbanna’s hostel was a welcome departure and took pride in accepting all without prejudice. Subbanna’s hostel was later relocated to a place near Galli hotel off Narayana Sastry road. In spite of the growing student strength, Subbanna always made time for the freedom struggle. He was a witness to the firing incident at Ramaswamy circle as well. 

C. I. T. B came forward a few years later and allocated a larger piece of land in Vidyaranyapuram for the Hostel. This was a hollowed-out patch of land in an otherwise residential area. The municipality secretary Phalanethra Sastry came to Subbanna’s rescue and dispatched few lorries (free of cost) to fill the hollow. Subbanna now had a flat patch of land, but lacked the funds needed for constructing a building! Fortunately, Devi Sakamma (from Coorg) came to his recuse and donated 20,000.00/- rupees for the construction work! A building finally came up and HH Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar came to inaugurate the new hostel on 18 April, 1954. The inaugural function was also graced by then CM Kengal Hanumanthaiah, H. M. Chennabasappa, A. Ramana, Vasudeva Murthy, H. C. Dasappa and of course Sakamma herself. 

HH Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar wished to confer the ‘Samaja Seva’ honour on Subbanna. But Subbanna politely declined it. The Maharaja was not one to give up. He sent a 3 Kg silver plate with a formal Palace letter congratulating the completion of the hostel construction. Subbanna, in course of time sold the silver plate to fund day-to-day expenses at the hostel. 

Hostel life
Subbanna made morning and evening prayers mandatory for all students. These prayers included chantings from all faiths. The dining hall was planned to house a large number of students, of all faiths and denominations, side by side. A frugal but nutritious menu consisting of Ragi or Jowar balls, rice with sambar, pickle and butter milk formed the everyday lunch at the hostel. Kitchen head Madappa was in-charge of the cooking and also functioned as a driver for the hostel’s Chevrolet car, which was used by Subbanna to scout for donations. Madappa was instructed by Subbanna to involve all the students in various activities in the kitchen. Before every lunch, prayers were recited by the students. A strict policy against food wastage was in effect and Subbanna would personally look into how much food was being thrown every day. During the actual partaking of food, absolute silence was maintained. Madappa was also entrusted with the responsibility of collecting and storing weekly donations of grain and rice sent by farmers. The hostel also received donations from shop keepers in Santhepet, Badriprasad from Indira Bhavan and many village chieftains from H. D. Kote, K. R. Nagar, Piriyapatna, T. Narasipura, Gundlupute, Chamarajanagar and Mandya. Many rural communities sent truckloads of fodder for the hostel cows as well. 

The ‘public hostel’ had a student strength of little over 100. The values and virtues imbibed in the students were very well known across the state. So much so that, wealthy zamindars and ministers began to que outside Subbanna’s office, requesting him to give their children a slot in the hostel! These people realised that they could not impart these values and virtues to their otherwise pampered children at home – and admitting them to this hostel was the only sensible way of showing to them the less fortunate half of society. Of course, Subbanna put an end to this by politely pointing out that these public resources deserved to be poured into nurturing these poor souls, who literally had no one else for them in the world! It was most decidedly not a finishing school for the affluent class. 

Subbanna was dedicated to maintaining hygiene across the hostel. He was seen cleaning the toilets on many an occasion. He had made a roster for each student to clean the toilet on particular days of the week. 

Many of the students were from rural parts of Mysore. Subbanna realised that many of them would go back to their native villages after their schooling. With this in mind, he began to coach them in irrigation, harvesting and animal husbandry. Fortunately, around this time the government began to allocate land to senior freedom fighters. Subbanna received about 10 acres of land near Nanjanagud. He at once utilised this piece of land to train his students in cultivation. Sundays were mainly kept aside for these activities. Subbanna also taught students to milk cows and make butter & ghee from this. This patch of land came to be known as ‘Gandhigrama’.  The success of ‘Gandhigrama’ soon spread far and wide. Many rich landlords donated land to Subbanna (H. D. Kote [40 acres], Kergalli [8 acres] and Chamarajanagar [8 acres]) in course of time.  


Subbanna divided the student population into teams and each team had to compete with each other in these activities. This created a sense of camaraderie while making sure that they learnt the various trades they would later require in life. 

Cultural life at the hostel
Subbanna made it a point to celebrate all national festivals. Students would march in procession chanting patriotic slogans through the streets of Mysore. Flag hoisting would be done exactly at 06:00 AM on Independence Day. Ganesha festival was also celebrated with much fervour. Subbanna always encouraged students to participate in inter-collegiate debate competitions and sports-meets (often with Sharada Niketan, Maharaja Sanskrit college, Mysore Medical College, JSS Engineering college and Chunchunagiri hostel students). Subbanna also encouraged students to act in various plays on stage. He arranged one-day excursions to Biligiriranganabetta, Mahadeshwarabetta, Shivanasamudra and Ooty. 

School construction
Many a time, the children resident at the hostel had to be sent to various govt. schools nearby. Their commute back and forth left them exhausted. Around this time, Shivananda Sharma advised Subbanna to start a school within the hostel compound. Subbanna took this suggestion seriously and began the first ‘Sarvajanika Subbanna School’ in 1959. Admission to this school was not confined to the hostel inmates and was open to residents of Ashokapuram, Chamundipuram, Rail Factory and Vidyaranyapuram as well.  The foundation stone was laid by S. Nijalingappa and Yashodaramma Dasappa.  The first headmaster of the school was B. T. Sreenivasa Iyengar. Owing to a rapidly increasing student strength, a second building was built in 1963. Library, lab and a sports complex were also accommodated. 

Eventually Subbanna would be responsible for eleven schools and two student hostels across Kyathanahalli, Kagalavadi, Agara – Mamballi, Vaddagere, Kalale, Hura, Tayuru, Purigali, Talakadu, Gundlupute, H. D. Kote, Belakavadi, Hosa Agrahara and Benakanahalli.

The hostel students often had problems declaring their ‘lineage’ and ‘caste’ on govt. school applications. It was Subbanna’s steadfast answer that the caste field be left empty and the parent’s name be filled with his own! In this way, Subbanna became father and mother to all these children not only in spirit but also on paper! When some of these children grew up and had difficulty finding people willing to officiate their marriages, Subbanna took it upon himself to sit through and officiate many such wedding ceremonies. 

Subbanna stocked a dedicated room with medical supplies to cater to the sick children – known as the ‘sick room’. Subbanna bathed, cleaned and applied with his hands, creams and ointments to children with chicken-pox. 

Owing to increasing inflow of funds from the government, state auditors began to descend on the hostel and wished to peruse the official records. To add insult to injury, these auditors then began to dictate which communities ought to be given precedence in being admitted to the hostel! This was too much for Subbanna. On one such visit, Subbanna showed them the list of private donations received in the last two decades – thereby implying that they could mighty well do without state aid. The auditors got the message and left. 

Many of these hostel inmates rose to eminent positions in various professions. Most always remembered their humble origins with gratitude. Many of these earlier students even donated back to the hostel in later years. A very few, unfortunately were caught for indulging in corrupt practices. These few rotten apples pained Subbanna to no end and he would lament as to how much love and affection he had poured into them! 

Eventually, Subbanna’s Sarvajanika Hostel came to be known as the Sabarmati Ashram of the south. Some notable personalities from the school included sportspersons like P. Madegowda, freedom fighter & artist M. S. Nanjunda Rao and litterateurs like G. H. Nayak, U. R. Ananthamurthy and Kariyappa. Many future doctors derived sustenance at the hostel. They would grace senior positions in years to come and many even went abroad. Similarly, many distinguished personalities visited the hostel – Vinobha Bhave, leader of Sarvodaya – Sathyavrath, then CM of TN – Kamaraj, D. Sanjeevayya and founder of R. V. Institutions – Shivananda Sharma. 

Subbanna and the Unions
Subbanna’s moral compass and his unwavering sense of integrity endeared him to various workers’ unions across the old Mysore region. Subbanna was invited to be leader of the Workers’ Welfare Trust at the now defunct Sujatha Textile Mills in Nanjanagud. Similarly, B. V. Pandit’s Sadvaidya Ayurveda Shala workers’ union also persuaded Subbanna to lead them. His success in these two ventures influenced the Mysore State Road Transport Service Union to invite Subbanna to be on their board. Labour minister Aziz Sait considered Subbanna as a close confidant and would consult him during interactions with the unions. An Oversight Committee was constituted to oversee the modernisation of three hospitals in Mysore – K. R. Hospital, Cheluvamba Hospital and P. K. Sanitorium. Subbanna was included in this committee, despite his strong objection. 

A Reticent Personality
Subbanna was not one to seek or accept remuneration of any sort. He turned down his freedom fighter’s monthly allowance. He declined the ‘Samaja Sevaratna’ honour from HH Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar. When K. T. Bashyam invited him to be a cabinet minister, he excused himself. Many a guest of honour graced functions at the hostel – but never once did Subbanna share the dais with them. He was content to sit in the first or second row with rest of the children. He always made it a point to avoid being photographed and was once seen chasing a journalist with a brick in hand! Subbanna turned down the ‘Jumnalal Award’ and instead recommended Taĝaduru Ramachandra Rao.  

His legacy
Subbanna passed away in 1991. He turned down every single award, honour or badge of appreciation that came his way. But for one or two hazy photographs, he made sure there were very few records of him for us to remember. Yet, his legacy endures through his students to whom he was both father & mother and for whom his public hostel was the only home they ever knew. Most of the hostels and schools still stand where they were built and continue to serve those who need it the most, just as Subbanna envisaged. His hostels were the first to accommodate all, irrespective of their caste, creed or financial station. It is a broad-mindedness that is conspicuously absent today in our socio-political life. Maybe his Gandhian ideals are the very thing that we need today. 




  1. ‘Anyara Sukkakagi Savida – T. S. Subbanna’ by Paramashiva Nadubetta – 2016.

  2. ‘Athmakathe’ by G. H. Nayak

  3. ‘Svatantrya Senani’ by M. N. Jois

  4. ‘Aparoopa Adavaru – Part 2’ by Nagalakshmi

  5. ‘True Gandhian – T. S. Subbanna’ by M. N. Lokesh

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