Dr. K. Kanagasabapathy Pillay, as Dr. K.K. Pillay was known, was born as the eldest son of Kolappa Pillay and Parvathy, 3rd April, 1905 in an agricultural family in the small hamlet of Aloor of the Kalkulam Taluk of Kanyakumari district—the then Travancore State. His father Kolappa Pillay was a village school master proficient in both Tamil and Malayalam, and Dr. Pillay used to fondly recollect his father as "Thinnai Pallikooda Vathiyar." His sister Mrs. Ammu was married and settled in Kanyakumari district.
K.K. Pillay had his primary education in the village school and later joined the English High School at Kottar, Kanyakumari district. After schooling, he joined the Scott Christian College, Nagercoil, when Raw Eastaff and G.H. Marsdan were the Principals, as a student of History for his intermediate course with his optional subjects as Ancient History, Indian History and History of Great Britain.
He completed his Honours degree in history with distinction from Maharaja's Arts College at Trivandrum, when Prof.K.V. Rengaswamy Iyengar and Prof. C.V. Chandrasekaran were the Principals. He started his career as a lecturer at Government Arts College, Kumbakonam, in 1927 and subsequently became the Professor of History at the Presidency College, Madras. In 1946, he received the D. Litt. degree for his historical research publication titled The Suchindrum Temple, for the complilation of which he was motivated and inspired by Kavimani Desikavinayagam Pillay to whom he dedicated the volume. Undoubtedly, the book is a distinct contribution to our knowledge of south Indian history. In 1948, he obtained his D. Phil. degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies of the Oxford University for his work "History of self governance in the Madras Presidency (AD 1882-1918)," under the guidance of Prof. C.H. Philips. Appointed in 1954 as Professor of Indian History in the University of Madras, he became in 1961 Professor of Area Studies in the same University. After retiring from the University, he took up the directorship of the Institute of Traditional Cultures of South and South-East Asia, succeeding Prof. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri. Thus he has had the association with the handling of problems of history and culture for well over half a century.
Dr. K.K. Pillay was one of the pioneers to encourage research in historical studies. His historical research works have paved the way to unearth many historical facts. He reiterated that historians should possess the basic qualities of honesty, sincerity, judiciousness and impartiality, and that a narrow-minded, one-sided and emotional approach towards issues relating to caste, language and regional issues should be strictly avoided. He also had the strong notion that historians should not rely totally on data from stone inscriptions alone to put forth their research findings but should be well-informed about the fields of literature, anthropology, psychology, sociology, philosophy and politics, to present their research findings in an effective and unbiased manner.
Dr. Pillay has delivered presidential addresses at the Indian History Congress at Jubbalpore, 1970, and at the History Associations at the Madurai Kamaraj, Annamalai and Calicut Universities, the Presidency College, Pachaiyappa's College and the Christian College, Madras.
Besides several books in Tamil on the history and culture of Tamil Nadu, Dr. Pillay has several other publications which include The Suchindrum Temple
A Social History of the Tamils, Vol. I
South India and Ceylon
History of Local Self Government in the Madras Presidency 1850-1919.
Studies on the History of India with Special Reference to Tamil Nadu.
Dr. Pillai was married to V. Saraswati Animal from Theroor, Kanyakumari District. They had three daughters and one son, Mani.
The eldest daughter, Rajam, pursued her research on the Kanyakumari Temple. She was married to Yogeswaran, a Tamil Professor. Sabapathy, their son, is a lecturer at Venkateswara Engineering College, who married Ambika, and has a son named Aswin. Their daughter Rajeswari is married to Mariappan, an Engineer in AUDCO, and they have a son named Manikandan. Dr. Pillay's second daughter Thangam was married to Perumal of Veerani, Kanyakumari District. They have a son Srinivas married to Kohila, and they have a daughter and a son.
His third daughter, Vimala, was married to Kanniperumal, an Engineer. They have two daughters—Ambujam who is a lecturer at Anna University and is married to Madhusoothana also a professor at Anna University, and Vanitha Vedam who is a sociologist, and married to Madhavan, working at Neyveli Lignite Corporation. The former have two daughters Manu Vaasanthi and Vimala Madhangi. The latter have two sons, Dinesh Damodar and Vimalesh Kannan.
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