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Madras University’s first woman Ph.D.

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By K.R.A. Narasiah



Chennai seems to be notorious for forgetting or not properly remembering some of its pioneering men and women. One such person was Cadambi Minakshi, the first woman Ph.D. of the University of Madras. The second was Eliza V. Paranjothi.


Current Science, in its issue dated June 1936, announced the conferment of Ph.D. on C. Minakshi for her thesis ‘Administrative and Social Life under the Pallavas, the Kailasanatha temple etc.


We again see in the Current Science of April 1940 an obituary notice saying, “We regret to bring to the notice of our readers the sad and premature death of Dr. C. Minakshi, M.A., Ph. D., Assistant Professor of History, Maharani’s College, Mysore University, on the 3rd March 1940, at the early age of 33.”


Dr. Minakshi was born to Cadambi and Mangalamma in a Tamil Brahmin family in Conjeevaram in 1905. She had three siblings, Lakshminarayanan, Ramasubban and Viswanathan.


She took to study on Western lines, a course which in those days did not find favour with the community, but which led her to distinction. After completing her undergraduate studies in Women’s Christian College, then headed by Eleanor MacDowgall, she did her Master’s in History at Madras Christian College, working with Prof. Ferrand Edward Corley. She was the first woman postgraduate in History from Madras Christian College. She then joined the Department of Indian History and Archaeology in the University of Madras, then headed by the renowned Prof. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri. In recognition of her Distinctions in her earlier studies, Madras University granted her a scholarship in 1931 for advanced studies in History.


The scholarship was for two years but was further extended by another year, considering the nature of her study.


The subjects selected for her investigation for her Ph.D. were: 1) The historical sculptures of the Vaikuntaperumal Temple, 2) The Kailasanathar Temple, and 3) The Administration and Social Life under the Pallavas. One of the examiners, A.N. Dixit, remarked that any one of the three subjects alone would have earned the coveted degree for her! Sir Mirza Ismail, the then Dewan of Mysore, after perusing her record, offered her a post in Bangalore’s prestigious Maharani’s College.


A large part of her findings was published by the Madras University and became valuable reference material for many scholars of Pallava history around the world. In 1937, the Madras University granted her a fellowship for a year during which time she looked into the history of Buddhism in South India. The archaeological tours she conducted in connection with this study, and the discoveries she made, attracted the attention of the Archaeological Department, which entrusted to her the work of preparing archaeological memoirs of the sculptures in the Vaikuntaperumal and Kailasanathar Temples. Unfortunately, before the results of her works could be published, she passed away.


She often visited Mamallapuram to compare the architecture and sculpture there with those of the Kailasanathar Temple. Her study regarding the 18 Murti aspects of Lord Siva against both puranic and mythological backgrounds was unique. She made several attempts, though not with particular success, to excavate the Pallavamedu in Kanchi, where she found huge bricks approximately the size of the Mohenjadaro bricks.


She had the fortune to work with outstanding men like T.N. Ramachandran, Dr. F. H. Gravely and Jouveau Dubreill, besides Nilakanta Sastry.


Dr. Minakshi was also a good musician. In fact, to pursue her interest in the field of music, she made frequent visits to Kudimiyanmalai in Pudukkottai District to study the musical inscriptions there. She was snatched away so young.


Note by the author: I am indebted to S. Swaminathan for his article in South Indian Studies Vol. II (1979) and to Current Science Vol. 4 for information on Dr. C. Minakshi.

--Ksubashini 06:49, 25 செப்டெம்பர் 2011 (UTC)

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