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The Rajagopal Scandal: The Dark Side of Saravanaa Bhavan

Created on 08 Oct 2023

Wraps up in 8 Min

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Picture this: The incredible journey of a small-town boy who built an empire only to plunge into infamy due to a shocking murder case. 

From hero to villain, it's a story about the owner of "Saravanaa Bhavan" that will captivate you. 

What sets this article apart? I've combed through several articles and dived into podcasts and videos, all to serve up the complete story in one place.

Let us start by exploring the world of Saravanaa Bhavan, the food chain!

About Saravanaa Bhavan: From Spice to Success

Founded in 1981, Saravanaa Bhavan quickly became an iconic part of Chennai's culture, spreading its wings worldwide as a chain of Indian vegetarian restaurants. For nearly two decades, when people thought of dining out in Chennai, they thought of Saravanaa Bhavan. 

Saravanaa Bhavan's popularity is so immense that you can find copycat restaurants in every corner of Tamil Nadu, often with names like New Saravana Bhavan or Sri Saravana Bhavan. 🙃
But what sets them apart is their consistency of quality across outlets and, of course, the delicious chutneys.

The star of the show? Their legendary sambar and chutney, a delightful side dish that came with almost every item on their menu. Look at the image below to get an idea of their worldwide presence. 👇

Source: Saravanaa Bhavan website
Soucre: Saravanaa Bhavan Website

The group operates in 27 locations in South India, 3 in the North, and spans across 25 countries, with a total of 81 outlets worldwide.

Now, let's dive deeper and get to know the man who created "The World's No. 1 Chain of High-Quality Indian Vegetarian Restaurants".

About P Rajagopal: The Rise of a Visionary

Born on August 5, 1947, in the remote village of Punnaiyadi, Tamil Nadu, P Rajagopal embarked on a life-defining journey. At the tender age of 12, he left his family home, and by the time he was 15, he found himself in the bustling city of Chennai.

From these modest roots, he would go on to reshape Chennai's culinary landscape and become a symbol of Tamil pride across the globe. His journey began with a job at a vessel-selling shop, an experience that would later inspire him to start his own business. He was deeply devoted to Lord Murugan, a devotion that would play a significant role in his life.

In 1968, at just 21 years old, he took a bold step and opened his first grocery store in KK Nagar. Soon after, he married Valli, setting the stage for a new chapter in his life.

But it was a chance encounter with an astrologer that would change his destiny. This astrologer encouraged him to explore a fire-related business, igniting the idea to open the iconic Saravanaa Bhavan restaurant chain. 

Interestingly, the same astrologer predicted that a woman would enter his life, and this event would catapult him to becoming one of the wealthiest individuals globally.

Little did he know that this conversation with the astrologer would hold great significance in the twists and turns of his life.

Opening of the First Restaurant: The Start of Something Delicious

On December 14, 1981, Rajagopal's story was going to take a turn as he decided to open up his restaurant. He wished to buy a place in KK Nagar, but there was a problem: he didn't have enough money.

Yet, he found a way and managed to open his first restaurant there. Unfortunately, the first five months were tough, and they faced losses. If this continued, he might have to give up and return to his hometown.

He felt restless and troubled. But then, a brilliant idea struck him. On Saravanaa Bhavan's first anniversary, he decided to serve 23 dishes for just ₹5. The response was incredible, and so many people showed up that the police had to come to control the crowd.

He established thoughtful systems to support his employees, offering them pensions, education assistance for their children, and even a fund for their daughters' weddings. Beyond that, he provided cell phones, scooters, and magazine subscriptions as perks.

People started calling him "Annachi," a term of respect and affection. He always wore his signature white shirt and dhoti.

But this was just the beginning of his incredible journey.

And just then, something went terribly wrong. What could have led this seemingly good man to end up in jail? The story takes a darker turn, and we'll soon find out how his clean image got stained.

Taste of Success: Saravanaa Bhavan's Amazing Journey

As Saravanaa Bhavan expanded, it seemed like there was no stopping. After its initial success, Rajagopal opened a second branch in T Nagar in 1988, which was an instant hit. Alongside their restaurant business, they also ventured into catering, solidifying their place in Chennai's food scene.

In just four short years, this small restaurant on the outskirts of Chennai had become the go-to dining spot for many in the city.

Rajagopal wasn't just a successful businessman; he liked to share his success with his employees. However, this kindness came at a cost. By giving his workers lots of benefits, he ended up gaining a lot of control over their lives. It was almost like a fatherly relationship, with him as the one they all wanted to please.

Success, power, and wealth can be a heady cocktail; not everyone can handle it. Once you've had a taste, the hunger for more can become overwhelming.

One fateful day, while watching women work in the kitchen under the watchful eye of his wife Valli, his attention was drawn to a woman named Kruthika, who happened to be an employee, just like her husband, and this moment marked the beginning of his downfall.

Surprisingly, behind the hardworking facade, Rajagopal had a darker side. His wife revealed that he was a womaniser. He took Kruthika as his second wife and sent her husband away from Chennai. Shockingly, there were no complaints.

But this was only the beginning. The story was far from over. Soon, he would encounter Jeevajothi, the young daughter of his Assistant Manager, and she would play a pivotal role in his eventual downfall.

A Troubled Twist: The Buildup to a Sad Conclusion

Jeevajothi was a remarkable young woman – intelligent, spirited, and eager to chart her path to independence. Her jet-black, deep-set eyes revealed a determined spirit. However, there was a significant age gap between her and Rajagopal, who was more than three decades older.

Jeevajothi had eloped with a man named Santhakumar. Eventually, their families accepted their union, and they lived happily together. Here is a picture from their wedding 👇

However, a few years down the road, Jeevajothi found herself in need of money to kickstart her travel agency. She turned to P Rajagopal, and he agreed to help, but not without a condition.

He was willing to go to great lengths to keep the couple apart, pushing boundaries far beyond reason. Then, one day, Rajagopal showed up at the young couple's doorstep, revealing his shocking demand: he wanted Jeevajothi to become his third wife.

In a shocking turn, Rajagopal told Jeevajothi that his doctor suggested Santhakumar should get an HIV test? His henchmen even tortured Santhakumar, and they left Jeevajothi at a witch doctor's house to "ward off evil spirits inside her."

Would she give in to his demands or stay strong and resolute?

Rajagopal was used to getting a "yes" to everything he wanted, but now, he was about to face something he rarely heard: the word "no".

With one eye on the international market and the other on Jeevajothi, Rajagopal was eager to seize it all. But the depths to which he would go – that was something nobody could have predicted.

The Startling Murder That Shook a Legacy

The couple decided to make a daring escape from Rajagopal's clutches, but he was two steps ahead, orchestrating their kidnapping. They went to the commissioner, hoping it was all over, but they were dead wrong.

Days later, they were kidnapped once more. It sounds like a scene ripped straight from a suspenseful movie, doesn't it?

Jeevajothi and her husband were separated, and after several months of his disappearance, she made another visit to the police station. Her husband's lifeless body was discovered several months after filing the complaint. Her anger grew, and with all odds stacked against her, she vowed to seek justice.

Jeevajothi filed a detailed 39-page complaint, listing offences from trespassing to kidnapping against Rajagopal.

But Rajagopal, being a prominent figure, had influential contacts and political friends. The police seemed more inclined to favour him than heed an ordinary woman's pleas.

It was later found that on Rajagopal's orders, five of his henchmen had taken Jeevajothi's husband to Kodaikanal. Along the way, they brutally beat him and discarded his lifeless body.

In 2001, Rajagopal finally found himself behind bars. But even after investigations and court trials, being in jail didn't change much for him. He received special treatment, which isn't surprising for someone of his stature in India. 😪

Reporters understood Rajagopal's view, and people thought that Jeevajothi might have trapped him. They wanted to hear Jeevajothi's side of the story, but she stayed away and didn't speak up. Months later, she finally broke her silence about Rajagopal, and the halo around his head began to dim.

Rajagopal was granted bail, and months later, accompanied by a few of his men, he approached Jeevajothi with ₹6 lakh and demanded to compromise and withdraw the complaint. She adamantly refused, angered Rajagopal, and his men attacked Jeevajothi's family members.

His bail was eventually cancelled, and in 2004, three years after Jeevajothi had filed the complaint, he was found guilty but not charged with murder, receiving a 10-year prison sentence.

Rajagopal appealed to the Madras High Court, securing bail by citing health concerns, and once again, he was a free man. This brings us to the final segment of the article.

The Final Chapter: Rajagopal's Story of Triumph and Tragedy

On July 9, 2019, outside the Madras High Court marked a long-awaited moment. For nearly two decades, the court had anticipated someone's arrival, and finally, that day had come.

At the age of 72, a man was surrendering himself, facing charges for murder. This case casts a looming shadow over his empire and his pristine image.

That day, Rajagopal's family desperately pleaded for his hospitalisation, citing his ill health, but all their requests were firmly declined. However, he somehow secured admission to a hospital, avoiding imprisonment again.

Then, on July 15, 2019, nearly a week after his surrender, he had a heart attack. On the morning of July 18, he passed away due to another severe heart attack, marking the end of a significant era filled with ups and downs.

The Bottom Line

After his passing, Jeevajothi, the central character in this saga, addressed the media and said she wished Rajagopal had gone to jail as he should have. She was fearless and strong for saying that. Her unwavering courage and resilience throughout this trying ordeal were undeniably awe-inspiring.

Rajagopal's two sons oversee the family business today, seemingly unaffected by their father's tarnished reputation. This story leaves me contemplating some deep reflections.

For more gripping narratives, explore Insider by Finology.

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Sakshi Dhakre

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Sakshi is an adventurous spirit who enjoys both the intellectual stimulation of Finance and the sensory experiences of good food and nature’s beauty. She has a passion for delving into complex financial topics and distilling them down into easy-to-understand insights. When she's not poring over financial reports, you might find her exploring a new corner of the city, trying out new restaurants and cuisines or admiring the beauty of the night sky.

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