Saravana Bhavan is a household name in South India and beyond. With over 80 branches in India and 30 more across the globe, the vegetarian restaurant chain has won millions of hearts with its lip-smacking dosas, vadas, idlis, and more. However, few customers might know the dark side of its founder, P. Rajagopal, who was convicted of murder in 2001.
The incident occurred in Kodaikanal, a scenic hill station in Tamil Nadu, where the police found a young man’s body, Santhakumar, strangled with a sarong. Earlier, Santhakumar and his wife, Jeevajothi, had been kidnapped by Rajagopal’s henchmen, who accused them of witchcraft and took them to a remote location. Rajagopal, who was obsessed with Jeevajothi and had promised to marry her, rode with the couple and ordered the murder of Santhakumar.
The shocking crime and the subsequent trial garnered widespread media attention, revealing the ugly underbelly of Rajagopal’s rise to fame and fortune. He had started as a small-time caterer in 1981 and soon expanded his business into a full-fledged restaurant empire, aided by his savvy marketing skills and relentless ambition. He had also faced allegations of sexual harassment, land-grabbing, and tax evasion over the years.
Despite the damning evidence against him, Rajagopal delayed his sentence for years, citing health issues and appeals to higher courts. In 2019, when he was finally asked to surrender and serve a life sentence, he arrived at the court in an ambulance and was taken to the prison hospital. He died a few days later at the age of 72.
However, the legacy of Saravana Bhavan lives on, albeit with a tinge of controversy. The chain, now run by Rajagopal’s son, attracts loyal customers who swear by its authentic flavours and affordable prices. Some argue that the business should not suffer for the sins of its founder, while others question the ethics of supporting a brand that is linked to a heinous crime.
As with any complex issue, there are no easy answers. However, one thing is clear: the story of Saravana Bhavan is not just about dosas and chutneys but also about power, greed, and the cost of fame. It reminds us that there may be hidden skeletons behind every successful enterprise that we should not ignore or forget. As customers, we can choose to patronize businesses that align with our values and principles. As citizens, we can demand transparency and accountability from those who seek to profit from our patronage.
There’s even a podcast dedicated to uncovering the case of P. Rajagopal. You can check it out below: