Ayinapalli Aiyappan was one of the pioneers of modern India. He was as a museologist and worked in the capacity of Superintendent of the Government Museum, Madras from the year 1940 to 1960. He was appointed as the first Indian at this position. He also was a keen archaeologist and performed groundbreaking excavation works at the Arikamedu site.
Apart from academic excellence, he became one of the most iconic figures in India for his cutting edge research and excavation activities. He enjoyed many high ranking posts during his career and was on board as a professor in some of the most renowned universities in the world.
Life and times of A. Aiyappan
Hailing from the Ezhava community, Aiyappan did an MA in economics from the University of Madras in 1927. After this he was enrolled at Government Museum, Madras. During his employment, he continued with his education and went on to obtain a PhD from the London School of Economics under the tutelage of Raymond Firth in the year 1937.
He was promoted to the position of the Superintendent of the Government Museum in the year 1940 and worked as a visiting professor for the Cornell University during this time period. He worked at the museum till the year 1960 after which he became the Professor and Head of the Department of Anthropology at Utkal University in 1958. After this, he worked at the same position in the Andhra University till 1967 after which he was given the post of the Vice Chancellor of the Kerala University.
Aiyappan was subsequently appointed as the sponsoring founder and first chairman of the Centre for Development Studies in the year 1970.
Not only did he undertake the reconstruction and reorganization of the Odisha Museum and converted it into a multipurpose conservatory of natural history, mining and geology, and anthropology, he also was on board as the sponsoring founder for numerous institutes of higher learning and research. For his exemplary contributions to the world of archeology, he was conferred with the Saratchandra Roy Gold Medal of the Asiatic Society in Bengal.
He also served in full capacity as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute.
His famous and celebrated works include:
- Iravas and Cultural Change (PhD thesis, published in Bulletin of the Madras Museum, 1945)
- Social Revolution in a Kerala Village (1965)
- Nayads of Kerala
- The Personality of Kerala
- Physical Anthropology of the Nayadis of Malabar
- Bharathappazhama (Malayalam)
Aiyappan and his Path of Enlightenment
Aiyappan could be considered as one of the protectors and salvagers of Indian heritage and history. His undaunted determination, academic proficiency, administrative prowess and meticulous attention to detail are exactly what constitute his monumental persona and he continues to be one of the most iconic figures of modern India. His works continue to inspire archeologists world over. He, in fact brought laurels to the country as he served some of the most reputed institutions in the world including the Cornell University. His educational endeavours and efforts to reposition the Odisha Museum are deemed priceless to the world of archeology. His extensive study on South Indian culture, Anthropology, and Social Revolutions in the Kerala Region are priceless templates for the Indian Anthropological sector. Moreover, his extensive interest in the domain or archeology led him to excavate one of the most precious archeological sites in Southern India, the Arikamedu site.
Aiyappan’s detailed study on a wide range of topics and his enlightening journey is a beacon of inspiration for so many young minds.
Written By: Aishwarya Sharma