The life and times of Sir Alladi-Part1-1 VS Ravi
Sir Alladi KrishnasWami Iyer sitting to the left of Ambedkar(He's wearing a white turban)

( In an article penned by me in The Hindu, titled “Legal Luminary”, published in 2003 on the 50th death anniversary of my illustrious grandfather I had referred to many of the incidents mentioned in this article)

The life and times of Sir Alladi-Part1-1 VS Ravi

Hidayatullah former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, regarded my grandfather Sir Alladi with veneration. I was present at a function organised in Hyderabad to commemorate my grandfather’s life and career. Speaking on the occasion, Hidayatulla reminisced that whenever Alladi had passed through Nagpur he waited patiently in the railway platform or at the airport,  just to derive intellectual inspiration from him and savour his wisdom for about half an hour.  My grandfather did not give advance notice of his travel plans( since being humble by nature he discouraged open display of admiration). However what he had not anticipated was that as Hidayatulla himself revealed, he would obtain advance information from someone in my grandfather’s chambers!


Stories of my grandfather’s legal acumen became part of the folklore of legal history. For example in one of the most popular Tamil Movies of that time, one of the characters asked another character who was always found studying law” do you think you are Alladi?” 

Aggrieved parties belonging to various walks of life from different parts of the erstwhile  Madras presidency sought his legal opinion or guidance Sudhish Pai in his book” Legends in Law ” law” narrates an incident concerning my grandfather.  

” Once when Alladi was relaxing in the verandah at home a very rich client from the mofussil came there to entrust a case to him. Finding  Alladi in a simple homely Indian attire, the visitor insisted on his request to meet Alladi until his son Alladi  Kuppuswamy(later Chief Justice of the Andhra Pradesh High court) was able to convince him that the person who was seated in the verandah and to whom he was speaking was Sir Alladi himself. Feeling abashed the client apologised, placed the bundle of papers on the floor, and prostrated before Alladi “.

Sudhish Pai also narrates another similar incident” of Alladi dressed in a simple dhoti and shirt, going to a sub- registrar’s office for a personal registration and occupying a chair before the sub-registrar who was furious at the intruder and told him to get up as the chair was meant for the great lawyer Alladi and on learning that he was Alladi the sub-registrar was extremely embarrassed, afraid and apologetic”.

There are different versions of both these incidents which have been told and retold many times within our own family circles but the best version is obviously that of my uncle Chief Justice Kuppuswamy who is unfortunately no more( it may be mentioned that almost all the facts mentioned in this long essay were known to only two persons. My uncle Kuppuswamy was the eldest son and had chosen law as a profession. He naturally came to know the facts. As far as I am concerned, my parents who were abroad had left me under the care of my grandparents. As my uncle is no more, I am the only person now, who knows about my grandfather’s encyclopaedic knowledge of all branches of law, his unrivalled stature as a jurist, and his munificence. 

Once a sergeant chased my cousin Ramesh and me because we were riding “doubles” on a cycle. We entered Ekamra Nivas and hid behind our grandfather who was in his library. The sergeant also came in, smartly saluted my grandfather, and narrated what had happened. My grandfather not only reprimanded us but also apologised to the sergeant. Little did I realise then that one day I would join the Indian Police Service.

I remember how on one occasion my cousin Rama and I asked Rajaji, who had come to see my grandfather for his autograph. He gave it after he had extracted Rs.10 from each of us towards Congress funds. There were instances when because he could not travel due to ill- health, rich clients from, all parts of the erstwhile Madras presidency,  would come to Madras just to ask him to merely ” touch” a case file, with his hand saying it would bring them good luck.

Usually, on coming home from school, I would curl up in a chair near my grandfather, in the central room, and from that vantage position observe people coming to visit him. The former president Radhakrishnan, and the former Governor-General Rajajagopalachariar would drop in frequently to see my grandfather and have friendly discussions.  Lawyers of the stature of Setalwad and Katju, judges like Patanjali Sastry and N. Rajagopal Iyengar (both of whom were his juniors), politicians, journalists, and even famous doctors, like Rangachari used to call on him. It was a thrilling experience for me to watch” great contemporaries” exchanging ideas on various issues.

As his fame grew far and wide Nehru himself heard about his genius. Once when my grandfather was too sick to travel to Delhi, Nehru came down all the way to Madras just to see him. 

When Nehru, had any doubts on points relating to any branch of Indian law or even International law, he would send special emissaries to Madras to seek his opinion. Nehru sent Justice Wanchoo to get my grandfather’s opinion about the desirability of creating a separate Andhra State. I was fortunate to have been in my grandfather’s room when he was giving his opinion to Wanchoo, that it was a just cause. Only after my grandfather gave his clearance, did Nehru create the new state. Little did I know that someday I would be posted to the Andhra Pradesh cadre as an Indian Police service officer.)

Even Gandhiji himself sometimes sought his legal opinion. I have, a letter written in 1946 in Gandhiji’s own handwriting stating that Rajaji had just given him my grandfather’s opinion which he had read ” with the attention it demands “–imagine such high praise from Gandhiji. This letter is now one of my most prized possessions.

On his having completed 60 years of age in 1943, a special committee was formed with eminent Judges and lawyers to celebrate his Shastyabdapoorthi ( completion of sixty years) as per Hindu tradition. A galaxy of legal and other luminaries sent special messages praising his distinguished career in law, his generosity in helping poor students in their education, and his donations to institutions devoted to charitable causes, and wishing him a long life. Prominent among them were C.Rajagopalachariar, who became Governor-General of India, Sir S.Radhakrishnan who was then Vice-Chancellor of Benares Hindu University and later became President of independent India, Nobel Laureate Sir C.V.Raman, Sir Lionel Leach, Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, Sir Maurice Gwyer Retired Chief Justice of India, C.R.Reddy,  Vice-Chancellor Andhra University, politician, activist and orator, The Rt. Hon’ble Srinivasa Sastry, Sir Tejbhahadur Sapru, north India’s most eminent lawyer. Constraints of space allow me to quote only one, the fantastic tribute of Chief Justice Sir Maurice Gwyer of the Federal court, which in a sense sums up the tributes of all.

” The profession of law will honour itself by doing honour to a sir Alladi Krishnaswami Iyer on the occasion of his sixteenth birthday.  

He goes on to say” His massive arguments with their ruthless logic, and profound learning are among my happiest memories of the bench”.

When India attained independence, Nehru requested him to provide his expertise in framing the constitution for the country. He was responsible for blending the best provisions of the American Constitution and the British Constitution and tailoring the document to suit the special requirements of our country. 

The life and times of Sir Alladi-Part1-1 VS Ravi
Sir Alladi KrishnasWami Iyer sitting to the left of Ambedkar(He’s wearing a white turban)

Dr B.R. Ambedkar himself during the deliberations of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, said, in his speech:

” I came into the Constituent Assembly with no greater aspiration than to safeguard the interests of the Scheduled Castes. I had not the remotest idea that I would be called upon to undertake more responsible functions. I was therefore greatly surprised when the Assembly elected me to the Drafting Committee. I was more than surprised when the Drafting Committee elected me to be its Chairman. There were, in the Drafting Committee, men BIGGER, BETTER AND MORE COMPETENT THAN MYSELF such as my friend Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar”

Justice V .R.Krishna Iyer has heaped lavish praises on my grandfather in his article” A statesman among jurists”( a phrase coined by my uncle, Kuppuswamy, Chief Justice of Andhra High court).

“He reached the pinnacle of his profession at a time when his peers and seniors were brilliant lawyers. For long he was a legend in his lifetime, a versatile luminary popularly known as Alladi, an alias for the acme of professional success”.

“ Learning at its highest, lucidity at its finest logic and intellect at its best, case-law in its ceaseless flow and advocacy at its sharpest blended in the phenomenal brain of this renowned lawyer. His memory was a marvel of jural chemistry. The scholarship this human wonder stored in his head, even when but a young lawyer, reminds one of Goldsmith’s lines. “And still they gazed, and still their wonder grew,  how that one small head could carry all he knew”

“What amazed me was not so much his habitual forensic fusillade–citing ruling after ruling, which earned him the esteem of the Bench and the Bar alike and the advocate General’s high office for 17 long years as the facility and ease with which he could hammer home any legal point in any branch of jurisprudence”.

“ He bestrode the legal world like a colossus for over three decades and the like of him we will not see again.

In his book on the Constitution, Justice Ranganadham, has devoted a staggering number of about 80 pages constituting a major part of the book to my grandfather’s speeches during the debates in the Constituent Assembly. They are considered lessons in constitutional law by aspiring advocates as well as judges.

“Sri E.L.Narasimhan, former Governor of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, while, releasing  the book” A statesman among Jurists and a jurist among statesmen” brought out by me, said

“ To sum up the man the late Alladi, was a legal giant whose life and achievements, offers a study of one born on the lap of adversity and rising to the pinnacle of professional success and recognition. He was rightly  termed as one of the makers of Indian law, an erudite scholar, and one of the principal architects of the constitution”

Gurumurthy, Editor, Tuglaq, declared in his speech, during the same function, that in the mood of idealism that had prevailed following independence, it was Mahatma Gandhi, who had felt that it would be appropriate to make Ambedkar, the Chairman, of the Draft committee of the constitution 

However, it is sad that successive Governments of Tamil Nadu had not thought of even getting a street named after him, perhaps due to political reasons, and also due to the timidity of his own sons which perhaps is one of the characteristics of Tamil brahmins.

To quote Justice Krishna Iyer again

“ In private life, he was simple as a child and capable of the warmest friendship. He was generous with his money for every good cause and for relieving the needs of his friends and was most hospitable. I have seldom known a person with a more loveable disposition or one on whom the highly reputed and great position at the Bar sat so lightly”

The passage of time has not dimmed the splendour of his career and the legend that is Sir Alladi keeps growing in fame with every passing year.

 It was  Rajamannar who paid the ultimate tribute to Alladi 

” When we all argue at our best, we have to compare ourselves with Alladi at his worst”.

His was not just a life lived but a life charged with intellect, humanity, generosity and humility.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here