Ananda Ranga Pillai is mainly famous for his set of private diaries from the years 1736 to 1761 which portray life in 18th century India.
Ananda Ranga Pillai (30 March 1709 - 16 January 1761) was born in Madras in a well-to-do family. At a very early age, his father immigrated to Pondicherry where the family pursued their business interests. On his father's death in 1726, Ananda Ranga was made dubash - translator and commercial representative - and served in this capacity till his removal on grounds of ill-health and deteriorating performance. Ananda Ranga died in 1761 at the age of 51. He was especially known for his proximity to the French Governor Joseph Francois Dupleix, who favoured him in various appointments.
In 1748, Ananda Ranga Pillai was officially designated chief dubash of French India. Soon afterwards, hostilities with the British broke out once again. The French waged a proxy war on behalf of Chanda Sahib supporting his claim in the war of succession to the throne of Carnatic. The British felt compelled to intervene and support Muhammad Ali in order to check the rise of French influence in the Deccan. In the early stages of the war, the French gained the upper hand and by May 1751, French power in India was at its zenith.
Ananda Ranga Pillai traded in cloth, yarn, indigo and areca nut with Manila, Mocha and Mascareigne. He had his own ship 'Anandappuravi' which sailed on long trading voyages on high seas.
However, the arrival of Robert Clive thwarted the French attempts to win the battle for Chanda Sahib and the French eventually lost. During the later stages of the war, Pillai notes, Dupleix's temperament grew highly irritable and officers, including him, feared to approach him. The lavishly constructed palace at Pondicherry, the Gouvernement - now Raj Nivas - was completed during this period.
Following the unsuccessful bid at territorial expansion, Dupleix's fortunes declined rapidly. He fell out of favour and was replaced as Governor-General with Charles Godeheu in the year 1754. With Dupleix's departure for France, Pillai's influence in the colony began to decline. To make matters worse, he was frequently troubled by poor health. By 1756, his health had deteriorated to such an extent that the Governor-General Georges Duval de Leyrit was obliged to remove him from service.
Pillai's health worsened with the passage of time. However, he notes in his diary, of the corruption and intrigues which allegedly plagued the French colony on Dupleix's departure. Pillai died on 12 January 1761 at the age of 51, just four days before Pondicherry surrendered to the troops of Colonel Coote. Pillai left behind three daughters. He also had two sons Annasamy and Ayyasamy who predeceased him.
Since the discovery and translation of his diaries during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Ananda Ranga Pillai has accumulated a great deal of posthumous fame and recognition for his depiction of 18th century South India, the intrigues and deals in French Pondicherry and his description of the French conquest of Madras and the Carnatic Wars. His set of diaries has emerged as one of the primary sources of reference on the Carnatic Wars. Ananda Ranga Pillai has been referred to by V. V. S. Aiyar in his journal Balabharati and had attracted the curiosity of Subrahmanya Bharati, Aurobindo Ghosh and Mandyam Srinivasa Iyengar. C. S. Srinivasachari, a prominent Indian historian, described Ananda Ranga Pillai as "the Samuel Pepys of French India".
Ananda Ranga Pillai patronized the Hindu religion, arts and poetry. And in return, poets praised Pillai in their works. Tamil poet Namasivaya Pulavar, who also wrote a verse in praise of Ananda Ranga's father, Tiruvenkadam Pillai, wrote that Ananda Ranga was as learned as the thousand-headed Adisesha serpent. Madurakkavirayar wrote that when he saw Ananda Ranga Pillai, he beheld the whole town of Pondicherry in him who was generous enough to offer him all the wealth that he wanted. Kasturi Rangaiyan wrote an ode composed in Telugu.
Ananda Ranga Pillai's house in Pondicherry, which is located in a street named after him, was one of the few buildings to survive the British invasion of the city in 1761. It was recently recognized as a heritage monument by the Government of Puducherry. The mansion is known for its unique blend of Indian and French architecture: the ground floor being built in Indian fashion, while the columns which supported the terrace followed the French architectural style.