T. Subba Row

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Tallapragada Subba Row (July 6, 1856-June 24, 1890) was a Theosophist from a Hindu background and originally worked as a Vakil (Pleader) within the Indian justice system, a profession which became highly profitable for the time that he held it. He practiced law at Madras. In 1882, after corresponding with H. P. Blavatsky, Colonel H. S. Olcott and Damodar K. Mavalankar, he became a member of the Theosophical Society. Subba Row resigned from the Society in 1886 when an appeal was made to HPB by forty-five prominent members of the American Section to publish The Secret Doctrine without delay.

Theosophical work in Adyar

In 1882, Subba Row invited Blavatsky and Olcott to Madras (now Chennai), and recommended the purchase of the Adyar property, that became the permanent headquarters for the Theosophical Society. Upon his meeting them, Subba Row became able to recite whatever passage was so requested of him from the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and many other sacred texts of India. He had, apparently, never studied these things prior to the fateful meeting, and it is stated that when meeting Blavatsky and Damodar K. Mavalankar, all knowledge from his previous lives came flooding back. Prior to this meeting, however, Subba Row was not known for any esoteric or mystical knowledge, even by his closest friends and parents. It was only after meeting the pair that he began to expound on metaphysics, astounding most of those who knew him.

Subba Row had initial problems with instructing non-Hindus. It was his distinct belief at the time that Hindu knowledge should remain with India, and not be extended to foreigners. In fact, even after passing over this hurdle, he was still especially private regarding his spiritual life, even to his mother and close friends. Unless the person he was speaking to had a deep understanding of mysticism, it was a fairly mute topic for him.

For many years then, Subba Row was instrumental in establishing Theosophy in India. By the end of 1886 Mme. Blavatsky sent him the first draft of The Secret Doctrine, hoping that he would be a co-editor it and add his knowledge of Hinduism. But upon reading it, Subba Row would not work on it as originally agreed upon because, as he said, there were so many errors he would have to rewrite it.

Controversy with H. P. Blavatsky

In Dec. 1885 Subba Row delivered a lecture on the Bhagavad Gita at the Convention of the Theosophical Society held in Adyar, Madras. The lecture, entitled "Introductory," was published in the February 1886 issue of The Theosophist. In this lecture Subba Row criticized the Theosophical concept about the septenary constitution of the universe and human beings. The philosophical controversy began in April, 1887, when H. P. Blavatsky publishes in the same journal the article "Classification of Principles." This resulted in a number of remarkable articles between the two occultists discussing the subject as presented in the teachings of the trans-Himalayan School and the Târaka Râja Yoga’s.


Subba Row, as an orthodox Brahmin, was critical of Blavatsky's disclosure of certain hitherto esoteric teachings. In 1888, he resigned from the Theosophical Society along with J. N. Cook. Thereafter he fell gravely ill when he contracted a cutaneous disease, a sickness which manifested itself in an outbreak of boils in 1890 during his last visit to the Theosophical Society's headquarters in Madras. Despite the healing treatment by Henry S. Olcott he eventually died on June 24, 1890, saying that his guru had called him, and that it was time for his departure. He was cremated the morning after as per Hindu tradition. Although he was a member for only about four years, he influenced significantly the Society and left an important legacy of esoteric teachings.

Subba Row Medal

The 1883 Convention established the Subba Row Medal, to be awarded to writers of works of outstanding merit on Eastern and Western philosophy.


Subba Row left few published works, mainly because of the shortness of his life. He gave several lectures on the Gita, which were compiled and published as Notes on the Bhagavad Gita. A posthumously published collection is Esoteric Writings of T. Subba Row.

  • Notes on the Bhagavad Gita [1]
  • On the Bhagavad Gita [2]
  • Philosophy of the Gita [3]
  • First Ray in Buddhism [4]
  • What Is Occultism? [5]
  • Comments on the Idyll of the White Lotus [6]
  • Occultism of Southern India [7]
  • Personal and impersonal God [8]
  • Places of Pilgrimage [9]
  • 12 signs of Zodiac [10]

Additional resources