Chennapuri Annadana Samajam has been engaged for more than a century in feeding, clothing, and housing poor, orphaned children forsaken by the society.
This Samajam (Society) has the proud privilege of being visited by Swami Vivekananda. The great saint, while on a visit to Chennai, spoke to the children and shared a midday meal with them.
It was started at the end of the 19th century by Mogallur Cunniah Chetty, who was working as a clerk in the Government Telegraph Department; it is still functioning from Nainiappan street in Park Town, Chennai with the same humanitarian concern, but without any publicity.
Mogallur Cunniah Chetty was born into an ordinary family in Park Town area in 1880. He studied at the Pachaiappa’s High School and passed the matriculation examination in first class. He won a scholarship for his college education, but instead, he joined the Telegraph department as a clerk in 1882, for a salary of Rs 25. Later in 1901, he became the head clerk and head accountant, and at the age of 51, opted for voluntary retirement.
Even when he was young, he used to be deeply moved by people from the marginalized sections of society, forced into begging, and the blind. He was not very well-to-do, but he set out with determination to do whatever was possible. He started collecting anything between 1 anna (6 paise) to 4 annas from his friends in 1889 and thus could manage up to Rs 3 per month. He handed this over to a private hotel on Ayya Pillai street and made arrangements for feeding the poor people and children guiding the blind. Thus 8 such people were given food.
Following this, the Chennapuri Annadana Samajam was launched for doing Annadanam – distributing free food to the poor and destitute. Cunniah Chetty remained as its honorary secretary till he passed away in 1933. To begin with, poor people numbering 15 were given free food on Sundays. Pasupuleti Ethirajulu Naidu, proprietor of Sri Lakshmi Vilas Nataka Sala, Walltax Road built a kitchen for them, next to his theatre. He also bought and provided vessels for cooking and was kind enough to give permission for food distribution in the main hall of the theatre. Cunniah Chetty then started his Annadana charity work, joining hands with friends like Krishnaswamy Mudaliar and S. Ramaswamy Naidu.
This Samajam was registered on 20th January 1893, and following this, free food distribution was expanded to twice a week from October 1st. Well-known celebrities of those days like Raja Sir Savalai Ramasamy Mudaliar, Bysani Madhava Chetty, Mysore Maharaja, Raja of Kochi, Raja of Kallikkotta, Raja Sethupathi of Ramnad, and Prince Raghunatha Thondaiman of Pudukkottai provided generous assistance for its charitable efforts. Subsequently, the millionaire from the then Madras, Dewan Bahadur Krishnadas Balamukundas donated his own palatial building in Nainiappan street to the society. While Reddy Branson strongly supported this charitable endeavor, H.E. Lord Wenlock, the then British Governor of Madras opened the building in 1895.
Sengalvaraya Chettiyar functioned as the assistant secretary of the Samajam, and after his demise, his wife Rajammal arranged for electrifying this building. An orphanage was started in 1932 on behalf of the society, and the students staying there began studying in schools and colleges in the city. A portion of its old building was demolished in 1936 and a new structure was erected in its place, and honorary secretary Sengalvaraya Chettiyar incurred the entire expenses of Rs 5,000 for this. His friend and retired superintendent from the accountant general’s office R Raghunata Pillai extended his own kind gesture by donating Rs 2,000 for the building fund, while M Venkata Subba Rao came out with a contribution of Rs 5,000. The Samajam continued to grow thanks to such uninterrupted financial assistance. The society started originally with a few beneficiaries in 1932, but had as many as 150 in the year 1950.
Swami Vivekananda, who graced the Annadana Samajam’s annual conference on 13th February 1897, also partook of their food, then. Annie Besant, Muthulakshmi Reddy, Chief Ministers of Tamilnadu like Boppili Raja, Bhakthavatsalam, Annadurai and MGR, Governors, judges, lawyers and distinguished personalities like Shivaji Ganesan had come here in person and spoken highly about its service.
People of good standing in public life like retired judges and social activists are still continuing as its trustees. T Loganatha Reddy, who was an old student of the Samajam, remained as its honorary secretary and coordinated its activities from 1949 to 1975, and it was only under his stewardship that a primary school was started by the society. Many former students of this school have also engaged themselves in this charitable cause.
“To take care of the schooling needs of the students staying in the Samajam, an elementary school (E N V Sangam Primary School) is functioning there, with government aid, and there are about 100 students there now. Apart from those staying in the Samajam premises, the school has students from outside too. A community college is also operating with the assistance of the Rotary Club (Chennai Marina) in Raja Annamalaipuram, for providing vocational training to the students.
Dr P. Venkata Ramana Rao high school is functioning in Raja Annamalaipuram since 1969, on land given by Kapaleeswarar temple management to Annadana Samajam on lease for 75 years. This has also been upgraded as a higher secondary school from 2017, and more than 250 students are getting educated now. Our service in these regards are continuing without any hiccups, thanks to the help extended by industrial houses, banks and many philanthropists,” says V.R. Udaya Shankar, honorary secretary of Chennapuri Annadana Samajam.
“We are providing accommodation and quality food to the students. Many of them have completed their college education and risen in life, becoming lawyers, police officers, bank officials, and college professors. Now we are concentrating on students from the marginalized sections of the society, and are taking concerted efforts through our teachers to take quality education to them. Our students should do well in studies and settle in good jobs, and we consider this alone as a true reflection of the success of our efforts,” says Hari Parandhaman, former justice of Madras High Court and samajam’s vice-president.
“The Mylapore Kapaleeswarar temple authorities had given land in Raja Annamalaipuram on a 75-year lease for running this school for destitute children, but they have now gone to court seeking repossession. But we are requesting the temple management for permission to continue running the school there,” he adds.
Why can’t the Tamilnadu government and the Kapaleeswarar temple management be considerate and extend their helping hands to the Chennapuri Annadana Samajam, a charitable institution engaged in selfless service, educating underprivileged children, and providing them food, clothes and accommodation? Is it not a fact that the greatest possible virtue lies only in lighting the flame of education in the lives of the have-nots?