Legendary photographers: PRS Mani Iyer

PRS Mani Iyer

PRS is not known in the contemporary photography world. However, his famous photo of Sage Ramana titled ‘Mani bust’ taken during the 1930s, continue to be circulated and worshiped by several thousand devotees.

PRS Mani was born at the turn of the 18th century as the first son to the couple Ramaseha Iyer and Sivasankari who hailed from Pattamadai, a village in South Tamil Nadu. After his Honour’s degree in Arts, Subramanian took to professional photography and joined the then famous Modern Theatre of Salem as an executive photographer. Modern Theatres Ltd. was a motion picture movie studio in Salem, Tamil Nadu India started by Thiruchengodu Ramalingam Sundaram (aka TRS) in 1935. The early South Indian Cinema headquarters was based in Salem and this sophisticated studio produced over more than 150 movies until 1982. Modern Theaters was situated in the outskirts of Salem – Yercaud road, which is currently in ruins. Only later the Tamil Cinema base had moved to Chennai. Several of PRS’s promotional photographs of eminent actors, actresses and artists taken during his time at the Modern Theaters are lost to the contemporary photography world.


During the 1930s, N.R. Krishnamurti Iyer was asked by the Ramana ashram Sarvadhikari to send photographs of Nataraja, the majestic idol in the Meenakshi temple, in front of whom the boy Ramana stood for long spells of time, shedding copious tears of ecstasy, before he left Madurai for good. He also wanted a photograph of the house where Ramana was born in Tiruchuzhi and of some other places there. These were meant to be placed in the Tamil biography Sri Ramana Vijayam by Suddhananda Bharati . N.R.Krishnamurti Iyer brought P.R.S.Mani who was his student and an expert photographer. Ramana used to call him Mani and he spent almost 14 years under the loving care of Ramana. Mani married the daughter of Ganapati Sastri, Tiruvannamalai. He died at the young age of 33 years.

Photography (C) PRS Mani Iyer / Ramana Ashram Archives
Photography (C) PRS Mani / Ramana Ashram Archive
PRS Mani 1
photography (C) PRS Mani / Ramana Ashram Archive

During the short span of his photographic career, he made several marvelous images of the Sage Ramana, especially during the Skandasramam days and many other historical photographs of the town as well. There is very limited information about Mani and his contribution during his time with modern theatre is unknown till now. If one starts digging they will find marvelous images of those early South Indian cinema days taken by this photographer.

Text research by Tulsi / Ekalokam Trust for Photography. Photography © P.R.S. Mani / Ramana Ashram archives.



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