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Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle

Chapter 11: Consolidation of Nationalism

by T. Sabaratnam, October 11, 2010
A journalist who reported Sri Lankan ethnic crisis for over 50 years

Through those publications Navalar laid the foundation for the transformation of the Hindu revival into linguistic nationalism...

In the two decades that followed Navalar’s death, 1879-1900, Saivaism began to flourish in the Jaffna peninsula and religious conversion of the Christian missionaries ceased to be a threat. Saiva revival had also taken root in the eastern province, particularly in the Trincomalee district. People of the north and east participated in greater numbers in temple festivals and other Saiva religious activities.

Navalar Period

In the second half of the 19th Century Hindu and Buddhist nationalisms consolidated themselves. Under Navalar (died December 5, 1879) Tamil nationalism took root in the Jaffna peninsula and expanded to the east during the last two decades and acquired a linguistic character. During that period Sinhala nationalism emerged as a major force due to the untiring work of Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda and later under the influence of the Theosophical Society founded by Colonel Henry Steele Olcott. Both nationalisms grew in parallel and independent of each other.

By 1850, as we noted in the last chapter, Navalar had laid the foundation for a Hindu (Saiva) revival. By that year the environment for Buddhist revival had emerged. The three decades 1850 - 1880 were important for Hindu and Buddhist nationalisms. During that period Navalar converted Hindu revivalism into a mass movement. During that period Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda built strong Buddhist consciousness among his people. Both succeeded in preventing their people from embracing Christianity.

Navalar delivered his first pirasangam on December 31, 1847. He started the Saivapiragasa Vidyasalai in 1848. His press Vidyaanubalana yantra sala started publishing textbooks and teacher’s guides and tracts in 1850.

Navalar published the textbook, the Bala Padam series in 1850, as his first major venture. That was Navalar’s reply to the Bala Potham series published by the American Ceylon Mission. Through Bala Potham American missionaries tried to instill in the minds of the young children Christian ideologies. Through Pala Padam Navalar taught the children Saiva concepts and morals.

The third volume of the Pala Padam series contained 31 essays in clear prose, discussing subjects such as God, Soul, The Worship of God, Crimes against the Lord, Grace, Killing, Eating meat, Drinking liquor, Stealing, Adultery, Lying, Envy, Anger, animal sacrifice and Gambling. In the first chapter of the fourth volume Navalar wrote about the attributes of God. He starts the chapter thus:

Universe is made up of living beings and nonliving things. Universe was created and will be destroyed. The creation, protection and destruction of the universe is the work of God.

God is everlasting. He has no birth or death. He is omnipresent. He is everywhere. God is all knowing. There is nothing he does not know…

In 1851 he published the 272-page prose version of Sekilar’s Periya Puranam, a retelling of the 12th Century biography of the Nayanmars, the Saivaite saints. In 1852, Navalar together with C. Vinayayakamurti Chettiyar of Nallur reprinted Muttukukumara Kavirayar’s Gnanakummi first published twenty years earlier. This angered the missionaries and they attacked Navalar and Saivaism through the Morning Star and its Tamil sister paper Uthaya Tharakai. Navalar retaliated with the publication Vaaccira-Tantam (The Diamond Axe). It was published under Vinayakamuttu Chettiyar’s name.  

In 1853 he published Nakkirar’s Thirumurukattuppadai, a devotional song on Murugan, with his commentary. This publication revived Murugan worship among the Saivaites. That also led to missionaries re-launching their attack on Murugan worship. They pointed out that having two wives was immoral. Navalar replied the missionaries in his English language publication Radiant Wisdom explaining the wisdom behind the Murugan story. He showed the different levels of meaning of the story and charged the missionaries of incapacity to understand the real meaning.

The Hindu-Christian confrontation intensified further in 1852 with the publication of Bibiliya Kutsita (Disgusting things in the Bible) which he co-authored with  Senthilnatha Ayer. Navalar followed that with another kummi song on the Wisdom of Muttukumara Kavirayar, a work he co-authored with Vinayakamurtti Cettiyar which commented further on Muttukumara Kavirayar’s Jnanakkummi

Then Navalar published his seminal work Saiva dusana parihara (The Abolition of the Abuse of Saivaism) in 1854, in which he said all the ridiculous things and superstitions mentioned in the pamphlets published by the missionaries as found in Saivaism were also found in the Bible. He quotes what was said in the pamphlets and showed that a similar thing was found in the Bible. It became a training manual for the use of Saivaites to answer the missionaries. It was reprinted twice and was widely distributed among the Tamils.

Carol Visvanathapillai, an eminent product of the Batticotta Seminary, replied with the pamphlet Supratheepam. The pamphlet contradicted Navalar’s arguments and explained the Christian doctrine lucidly. In it he praised the missionary education and tormented Navalar.

Navalar continued to publish polemical pamphlets and tracts attacking Christianity in a bid to stop their conversion activities and their criticism of Saivaism. The next important book he published was Yalppana Camaya Nilai (The Religious Condition in Jaffna). That publication not only criticized Christianity but also condemned Saiva temple activities. He criticized the misconduct of the Saiva priests in the temples, corruption, animal sacrifice, and advocated reforms in temple practices and the need to establish higher standards.                   

From 1860 Navalar published the classical literature which were in ola manuscripts. He printed Thirukural with Parimelalahar Urai in 1860; Thirukkoviyar, a work of the 9th century in 1861 and Nannool thereafter.  Navalar went to Chidambaram in 1864, established a school and a printing press and continued his publication of classical literature. He published Kanthapuranam, Sethupuranam and Thirivilayadal Puranam, and his retold series where he told the contents of the poetic works in prose. Periya Purana Vasanam, Thiruvilayadal Purana Vasanam and Kanthapurana Vasanam were the most outstanding.

Professor Dennis Hudson of the State University of New York who did an exhaustive study of Navalar’s life and work says that 40 of his 97 publications were “editions of those works of grammar, literature, liturgy, and theology that were not previously available in print." Through those publications Navalar laid the foundation for the transformation of the Hindu revival into linguistic nationalism.

Hindu Revival spreads

Navalar’s campaign won ready response among the educated Hindus and the public. It instilled a new sensitivity and confidence among the Saivaites. They developed the feeling that their religion was not bad as the missionaries painted it. That created among the Hindus the sense that they need not change religion because they were not in the shadow of death as the missionaries told them. Even those who had earlier embraced Christianity started returning to Hinduism.

The support for Hindu revival came from all sectors of the community. The sensitive section took up the responsibility of organizing Navalar’s activities. The rich funded Navalar’s publications and schools. The educated spread Navalar’s message through pirasabgams, katha pirasanghams (musical discourses), purana padippu (reading the puranas and explaining their meaning), religious discourses and lectures,

Sapapathy Navalar, Senthinatha Iyer, Sankra Pandithar and Kumaraswamy Pulavar played a prominent role in spreading Navalar’s message and whipped up the religious consciousness of the people. Several others also devoted their time to raise the religious awareness among the people:  Vaddukoddai Ambalavana Navalar, Uduvil Sangarasuppaiar,  Navalar’s nephew Ponnampalampillai, Pandit Kanapathipillai, Swaminatha Pandithar of Kantharmadam, M.K. Velpillai of Madduvil, N. Kathirvet pillai, Thillainatha Navalar of Puloli, Sivapathasundaranar, Saravanamuthupillai of Urelu and Kanthapillai of Velanai. All these scholars and others spread the message of Saiva revival to all parts of the Jaffna peninsula and the other parts of Sri Lanka, particularly in the eastern province.

There is great deal of evidence to establish that their activities attracted mass support. The public flocked to listen to the religious discourses and to participate in the discussions. There were also instances where the public confronted the Christian preachers. This shows that though Navalar’s campaign started in a small scale in Jaffna it soon expanded to all areas within and outside the Jaffna peninsula.

Ilankai Nesan, the Tamil section of the Patriot, the weekly published by Arumugam Canagaratnam of Ariyalai from 1863 regularly reported those activities and they make it clear that the Saiva-Christian confrontation reached its peak during the 1850s. Like Navalar, Sankara Pandithar published polemical tracts and wrote pamphlets, newspaper articles and books attacking Christianity, Kristu Mata Kantanam  (Criticism about Christianity) and Milecca Mata Vikaparanam  (Commentaries about the foreign religion).

Sankara Pandithar was the first to form an organization for the promotion of Saivaism and Tamil literature. The society which was formed in 1864 when Navalar was away in Chidambaram was named Paramata Kantana Cuyamata Tapana Sangam. A brief note on the aims of the society was published by Ilankapimani, a nother Tamil weekly published in Jaffna.  

It said that with Navalar in India, the society undertook the task of opposing the Christian missionaries and promoting Saivaism among Tamils in Sri Lanka. It added that many Saiva revivalists and Tamil scholars participated in the activities of this society and lent their support to Sankara Pandithar’s anti- Christian campaign.

The Ceylon Patriot, Ilankai Nesan and Ceylon Freeman, a weekly founded in Jaffna in 1862 covered the Saiva-Christian disputes and Sankara  Pandithar’s activities. Ilankai Nesan published detailed accounts of Sankara Pandithar’s open confrontation with a Catholic priest and a student.

Anti-Christian activities of Navalar, Sankara Pandithar and others declined during 1870s because religious conversions of the Christian missionaries had considerably waned. Thus Navalar spent most of his time in editing and publishing Tamil classical literature during his stay in India. This period, 1864-1870 can be classified as the period of the commencement of linguistic nationalism among the Tamil people.

Navalar who had carefully whipped up the spirit of Hindu nationalism among the Jaffna Tamils during  1849-1864 concentrated his attention  thereafter in popularizing the rich Tamil literature. His success in reviving Saivaism and containing the spread of Christianity had been openly acknowledged by Bishop Sabapathy Kulendran. He said,

When comparing the promise Christian conversions showed in Jaffna at the beginning of the century to their disappointing results, this low rate of conversion was largely due to Navalar.

Navalar's contribution to the resurgence of the Tamil language has been acknowledged by several scholars. He was hailed as the “Father of Tamil prose”. He wrote simple sentences , understandable to common people. He printed and published some of the rare books of the ancient Sangam period which were hitherto found only on palmyra ola leaves. Had Navalar not ventured to do this stupendous task, the Tamil world would have lost such treasures. In this way, Navalar initiated the Tamil Renaissance.

Hudson who researched on Navalar’s literary publications says,

With this recovery, editing, and publishing of ancient works, Navalar laid the foundations for the recovery of lost Tamil classics...

Eminent Tamil scholar Thiru Vi. Ka (V. Kalyanasundaram) summed up Navalar’s achievement in the rediscovery of ancient Tamil literature thus,

In the field of editing, and publishing old manuscripts Navalar laid the foundation, C.W. Thamotharampillai built the walls and U.V.  Swaminatha Iyer beautifully roofed it

Navalar should also be credited with laying the foundation for the Christian community of Jaffna to move into the mainstream of Tamil nationalism with his contribution to the rediscovery of ancient Tamil literature and civilization, an opportunity the Christian community seized firmly. Navalar encouraged C.W. Thamotharampillai, then a Christian, to edit and publish the ancient Tamil grammar Tholkappium.

Post Navalar Period

In the two decades that followed Navalar’s death, 1879-1900, Saivaism began to flourish in the Jaffna peninsula and religious conversion of the Christian missionaries ceased to be a threat. Saiva revival had also taken root in the eastern province, particularly in the Trincomalee district. People of the north and east participated in greater numbers in temple festivals and other Saiva religious activities.

Navalar’s nephew and student Vidvasironmani Ponnampalapillai took over the leadership of the Saiva revival movement after Navalar’s death and all the prominent people and scholars in the Jaffna district rallied around him. They organized themselves into a society in 1888 and named it Saiva Paripalana Sabhai and decided to build upon the gains achieved during the Navalar period.

Ponnampalapillai was elected the president of the society and Kailasapillai the secretary. The committee members were: V. Kasipillai, M.S. Pasupathy Chettiyar, Sellapillai, Kanagasabaipillai, V. Muthuvetpillai, M. Pasupathi Iyer, and Sampanthapillai. Several branches were formed within a short time in the Tamil areas including the eastern province and Colombo.

The society had as its main aim the preservation and promotion of the ancient and traditional values of Saivaism, Tamil language and culture and the promotion of the solidarity of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Its objectives included the establishment of English and Tamil schools in all the Tamil villages and the publication of a newspaper to educate the masses on the doctrine and practices of Saivaism and to inform the people about the society’s activities.

Publishing a newspaper and establishing an English school were Navalar’s ideals. The Sabhai achieved both his ideals within the next two years. It started a bilingual fortnightly newspaper called Hindu Organ in September 1889. V. Kasipillai, secretary of the Saiva Paripalana Sabai and Pasupathi Chettiyar, its treasurer, played an important part in the founding and running of the Hindu Organ. Its Tamil section was namd Indusathanam.

Hindu Organ was edited by Chellapillai, a renowned scholar in English and Tamil languages while Indusathanam was edited by Navalar’s nephew T. Kailasapillai. Chellapapillai, left the paper in 1891 because of failing health and A. Cathiravelu, unofficial member of the Jaffna Local Board, took over the editorship of the English section. A. Sabapathy joined him as joint editor in 1892 and Cathiravelu played a supportive role. Kailasapillai left the Tamil section in November 1896 and P. Karthigesupillai succeeded him. The paper was converted into a weekly on July 5, 1906.

A. Sabapathy, founder of Jaffna Hindu College and editor of Hindu Organ

The English school was started in 1890. Williams Nevins Muttucumaru Sithambarapillai, a Christian, established the Native Town School at Main Street, Jaffna in the very year the Saiva Paripalana Sabhai was started. He made Advocate Nagalingam the Patron of the school. He handed the school to Nagalingam by the end of 1889. Nagalingam shifted the school to Vannarponnai and it came to be known as Nagalingam Town High School. Nagalingam handed  over the school to the Sabhai on November 15, 1890. The Sabhai named the school the Hindu High School and entrusted the management to a sub-committee of six members consisting of Justice Chellappapillai, president,  S. Nagalimgam, vice president, V. Kasipillai, secretary, Pasupathy Chettiar, treasurer, A. Sabapathy and S. Kailasapillai, committee members. Nagalingam  was appointed the Manager. Kasipillai became the manager on the death of Nagalingam in 1897.

Hindu revivalism took root in the eastern province during this period. A society called Saivapirakasa Samajam (The Society for the Splender of Saivaism) was formed in Trincomalee in January 1890. Prominent people of the area joined it. It published a pamphlet named Saivapirakasa Samaja Vethani which appealed "to the Tamils to help propagate Saivaism."  

Linguistic Nationalism

The foundation for the linguistic nationalism was laid by Arumuga Navalar. He encouraged Thamotharampillai to work on the publication of Tholkappium. Thamotharampillai developed contacts with Arumuga Navalar when he was a school teacher.

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Thamotharampillai was born in 1832 in Sirupiddy near Jaffna. He had his school education at the American Mission School at Tellipallai and later studied at the Batticota Seminary. He commenced his career as a school teacher and soon developed an interest in publishing Tamil works.

Thamotharampillai’s rediscovery of the Sangam age in the history of the Tamil people and the printing of some of the important Sangam literary works initiated the move that transformed the nationalism of the Tamil people from religion to language.

Thamotharampillai’s contribution to the rediscovery of Sangam literature began in 1853 with the publication of Niti-neri-vilakkam, a minor ethical work, with notes. The same year he was invited to Madras by Rev. P. Percival who was working there to take up the editorship of the Tamil periodical Tinavartamani. Soon after he was appointed a Tamil Pandit at the Presidency College, Madras.

Then, Thamotharampillai gained the distinction of being the first graduate of the Madras University when he passed the BA degree examination in 1858. The BA examination was held for the first tome by the Madras University in that year and only two candidates sat for the examination. The other candidate was Thamotharampillai’s teacher at the Batticota Seminary Carol Viswanathapillai. Both got through the examination with distinction but since Thsmotharampillai scored more marks he was listed as the first graduate.

He joined the Government service as an auditor and later qualified himself as a lawyer in 1871. He entered the judiciary of the princely state of Pudulcottai and retired as High Court Judge in 1890.

During this period Thamotharampillai was busy with his work of rediscovering the Sangam literary works which were preserved by some religious institutions and educated families. Thamotharampillai continued his labour in which Navalar had interested him, the publication of Tholkapium.

Thamotharampillai has the distinction of publishing the famous grammatical work Tholkapium Sollathikaram, the oldest extant Tamil grammar, the name signifying ‘ancient book', that belonged to the Second Tamil Sangam of the 1st century AD. Thamotharampillai chose to publish Sollathikaram, the second part of Tholkappium, because Malavai Mahalinga Aiyar had published Eluttatikaram, the first part, with Naccinarkkiniyar’s commentary in 1847.

Tholkappium is divided into three major parts, eluttu (Letters), sol (Words) and porul (Subject-matter). Commentaries were written on Tolkappiyam by Cenavaraiyar, Naccinarkkiniyar, Kallatar, Peraciriyar and Ilampuranar during the 9th to 14th centuries.

Thamotharampillai started collecting and comparing different palm-leaf (ola) manuscript copies of the second part of Tholkapiuam and the commentaries and systematically prepared its publication. Thamotharampillai published Sollatikaram with the commentaries of Cenavaraiyar and Naccinarkkiniyar in 1868. He published the third part, Porulatikaram in 1885. He was then urged by Tamil researchers to publish the Eluttatikaram with Naccinakkiniyar's commentary which he did in 1891.

Thamotharampillai also edited and published three other grammatical works: Viracoliyam written by Puttamittiran in the 12th century in 1881, Iraiyanar Akapporul in 1883, and Illakkana-vilakkam by Vaittiyanata Deshikar written in the 18th century in 1899.

Thamotharampillai did not confine himself to the publication of grammatical works. He took up Kalittokai, one of the Edduthokai, Eight Anthologies, assigned to the post-Sangam period (250-600 A.D.), for publication and after careful comparison and scrutiny of many manuscript copies published it in 1887. He also printed Cudamani, one of the Five Minor Epics. He started printing it after comparing three copies of the manuscript copies and after printing 300 pages he came across two more copies and found that he had to reedit the matter already printed. He reedited the whole thing and published it in 1889. Thamotharampillai died in 1901.

U.V. Swaminatha Aiyar followed up Thamotharampillai’s work of discovering the Sangam and post Sangam literary works. He published Purananuru of the Sangam period and the epics Silapathikaram, Manimekalai and Seevakachinthamani of the post Sangam period.

The second half of the 19th Century brought out the antiquity and splendor of the Tamil language and literature. The magic of the literary achievements filled the Tamils in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka with a sense of pride.  They looked upon themselves as the inheritors of a rich linguistic tradition.

Sangam literature was created between the years 300 BC and 500 A.D. This collection contains 2381 poems written by 473 poets, of whom 102 remain anonymous. The period during which these poems were written is commonly referred to as the Sangan Age. The poems were composed by Tamil poets, both men and women, from various professions and classes of society.

History of Tamil literature refers to three Sangams, First, Second and Third. The Sangan was a body of the most learned men of the time whose chief function, like that of the French Academy, was the promotion of literature.

The Second Sangam was more or less a continuation of the First  and they  existed between 3rd century B.C. and 2nd century A.D., while the Third, and the most important of them, seems, to have lasted from 2nd Century A.D. to 500 A.D.

Very little is known about the First Sangam. None of the works of that period have survived. A few doubtful quotations from Agastyam, a grammatical work are available. Researchers have managed to gather some details about the lives of Agastyar and Murinjiyur Mudinagarayar of the First Sangam. Even Agastyar’s life is enveloped in myth. The First Sangam met at Then Madurai which was later submerged by the sea. Silapathikaram, an epic of the post Sangam age contains reference to that natural disaster which has been confirmed by geological evidence.

Kavatapuram was the seat of the Second Sangam. That too has been submerged by the sea, a fact again confirmed by geology. Tholkapium and a few poems that were included in the anthologies of the Third Sangam are the only works of this period that have survived. Not much is known about Tholkappier, the author of Tholkapium.  It is not known whether Tholkapier is the author’s real name or fiction.

Almost all the best Tamil classics recovered are the productions of the Third Sangam, which had its seat in Madurai. The Pandyan kings shifted their capital inwards along the Kaveri River after the former capitals located along the sea coast were lost.

Ettutogai, Pathupattu and  Pathienkil Kannaku were the main anthologies that belong to the Third Sangam period. Ettuthogai comprises Nattinai, Kurumthogai, Aingurunuru, Padirrupattu, Paripadal, Kalithogai,Nedunthogai, and Porananuru.

The Pattuppattu is a collection of ten idylls. An idyll is a short poem descriptive of some picturesque scene or incident, chiefly in pastoral life. It is not known by whom and when these poems were written. It looks that they were written by different authors at different times and were brought together.

Thirumuruharrupadai, which Navalar published, is a poem that directs devotees to Murugan to seek their redemption. It contains vivid descriptions of Murugan’s six hill-shrines. It is highly venerated and its 317 lines are memorized and chanted by Saivaites.

Pathienkil Kannaku meaning eighteen poetic works is another collection dealing with morals. They are: 1.Nalaiyar, 2. Nanmanikadikai, 3. Karnarppathu, 4. Kalavali Narppathu, 5. Inaithu Nnarppathu, 6. Inna Nnarppathu, 7.Ainthinai Aaimbathu,  8.Ainthinai Elupathu, 9. Thinaimoli Aaimbathu, 10.Thinaimalai Nnuthaaimbathu, 11.Kainnilai Innilai, 12.Thirukkural, 13.Thrikadukam, 14. Acarakkovai, 15.Palamoli, 16. Sirupanchamulam, 17. Muthumolikkanchi and 18. Elathi

American missionaries prescribed Naladiyar and Thirukural as the Tamil texts at Batticota Seminary. They were taught as they dealt with morals and are free of religious bias.

Thirukural is the work of Tiruvalluvar who lived in the early centuries of the Christian era. The poems are  in couplets which deal with the three aspects of human life -- Aram, Porul and Inbam. The Thirukural consists of 133 chapters, each containing ten kurals.Several scholars have written commentaries but Parimelagar’s is the best. It was published by Navalar. Naladiyar contains forty chapters, each consisting of ten stanzas. This anthology, was compiled by Padumanar. They also teach morals.

There are five epics called Perum Kapuyangal which belong to the end of the Sangam age. They are Silapathikaram, Manimekalai, Jivaka Chinthamani, Valayapathi and Kundalakesi. Swaminatha Ayer rediscovered the first three but the last two were lost.

The creation of high quality Tamil literature continued during the next phase which is referred to as the period of Religious Revival when great singer-saints composed soul-stirring hymns. The outstanding works of literature of this period are the Thiruvasagam and  Thevaram  by Saiva saints called Nayanmars  and Nalayira Prapantham by Vaishnava saints called Alvars.

The period of literary revival followed. Kamban, Otta-kuttan and Pugalendi were greatest poets of this period. Kamban, the author of the Ramayana in Tamil, lived in the 9th century. His work was approved by the assembly of the literary elites - a sort of academy of letters - assembled in Srirangam. Ottakuttan,a contemporary of Kamban was the author of  Eetti Eupathu, Thakka Yaga Parani and the three Ulas on Rajaraja, Vikrama , and Kulottunga Cholas. Puhalendi was a contemporary of Ottakuttan and wrote Nalavenba - the story of Nala and Damayanti.

This was the great and illustrious tradition the Tamils who lived in the last quarter of the 19th century became aware of. That imprinted in their minds new awareness of their antiquity which led to the emergence of linguistic nationalism. They realized that their language Tamil is as old and rich as Sanskrit. They also realized that unlike Sanskrit Tamil is a living and growing language. 

This new linguistic nationalism became the motive force among the Tamils, including Christians, by the beginning of the 20th century. Saivaites and Christians suddenly found themselves common inheritors of their proud antiquity. The Christians realized that they could live as Tamils and Christians. Thus the linguistic character of nationalism became dominant among the Tamil people. They became more sensitive about their language than their religion.  

The rediscovery of Sangam and post Sangam literary works and the development of the Dravidian concept brought about a tremendous change in the minds and attitude of the Tamil people in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. They started talking about the ancient and rich Tamil history, literature and culture.

Enthused by these developments Prof. P. Sundaram Pillai, professor of philosophy of Travancore University College who published his verse play Manonmmaniyam in 1891 wrote the poem “Thamil Thai Vazhthu’ (Greetings to Mother Tamil) which attained the status of Tamil anthem and is still sung in most public functions. It begins,

Tho;f jkpo; nkhop tho;f jkpo; nkhop thopa thopaNt [problem with the Tamil script is being worked on!]

(This means, "Long live the Tamil language")

Prof. K. Kailasapathy, founder Vice-chancellor of the Jaffna University, in his paper on ‘Tamil Consciousness in Eelam’ says, “The modern linguistic consciousness of the Tamils can be traced to this period.”

Christian Contribution

By the end of the 19th century Christian writers and researchers, local and foreign, had entered the mainstream Tamil development and had made their mark.  Their contribution to the rediscovery of Tamil civilization made a profound impact on the growth and flowering of Tamil nationalism.  What started in mid-19th century as a Hindu movement and was predominantly led by Saiva scholars lost its religious character and assumed a linguistic complexion. With the focus shifting from religion to language the importance hitherto attached to Saivaism became less significant.

The earliest Christian researcher to recognize the remarkable qualities of Tamil literature and civilization was Bartholomeas Ziegenbalg, the German Lutheran missionary who lived in Tanjavoor in the early 18th century. His companion J. E. Gruendler was the first to state that in his considered opinion Tamil was worthy to be taught at German Universities. They collected numerous manuscripts and compiled translations and grammars.

Father Joseph Constantine Beschi who lived in the same century became a literary phenomenon. His literary works in Tamil, Thembavani, his grammars, dictionaries and the Latin translation of the first two parts of the Thirukural earned for him the admiration of all Tamil researchers.

Bishop Robert Caldwell

The contributions of Caldwell and G. U. Pope had great impact on the Tamil psyche. Bishop Robert Caldwell’s (1814- 1891) publication, Comparative Grammar of Dravidian Language in 1856 set in motion a train of ideas that gripped the attention of the Tamil people.  Caldwell held that Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada formed a separate language family which he named Dravidian languages. He also held that Tamil, the foremost language in the family, was ancient and possessed rich literature and had had an independent existence free of Sanskrit influence. This gave a vital stimulus to the revival of the Tamil people and their nationalism and the growth of the Non-Brahmin movement, which were the marked a features of the history of the Tamils since the closing years of the 19th century.

George Uglow Pope was born on April, 24, 1820 in Prince Edward Island in Nova Scotia. His family migrated to England when he was an infant. He left for South India in 1839. He bloomed into “The student of Tamil” while serving at Sawyerpuram near Tuticorin. He was a scholar of Tamil, Sanskrit and Telugu.

Pope completed his translation of Tirukkural on September 1, 1886. His "Sacred Kural" contains introduction, grammar, translation, notes, lexicon and concordance. It also includes the English translation of F.W. Ellis and the Latin translation of Fr. Beschi. 

Pope's translation of Tiruvachakam appeared in 1900 and Naaladiyaar in February 1893. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1906. He died February 1908.

Caldwell & Pope's work and the work of other Christian missionaries were followed by the contribution of eminent Christian Tamil scholars from Tamil Nadu and Jaffna. The work of Savariroya Pillai who edited the Tamilian Antiquary was followed by L.D. Swamikannu Pillai, Fr. S. Gnanapiragasar, Dr. T. Isaac Tambyah, and Rev. Fr. X.S. Thani Nayagam. Their work brought the Christians into the mainstream of the Tamil nationalist movement and changed its character.

During the time these developments were taking place another Jaffna scholar V. Kanagasabaipillai (1855-1906), who served in the Madras University wrote the valuable source book Tamil- Eighteen Hundred Years Ago. It was based on the articles he contributed to Madras Review between 1895 and 1901. It was published on January 16, 1904. His work reinforced the historical togetherness of the Tamil people geographically and religion-wise.

Kanagasabaipillai showed in his work that 1800 years ago the entire Indian subcontinent was ruled by non-Aryan tribes and that was a period of humiliation for the Aryan races and Brahminism, a period of painful struggle for existence. He showed that the southernmost portion of India formed Thamilakam, the land of the Tamils.

Kanagasabaipillai said that the Western scholars who had believed up to that time there was no Tamil literature before the ninth century AD were reforming their theories about Thamilakam since the rediscovery of the Sangam literature. He said that the study of ancient Tamil poems showed that ‘original and excellent’ poems were written long before the 9th century when translations of Sanskrit works like Ramayana were undertaken. He called the 9th century literature ‘base imitations.”

Robert Caldwell

Kanagasabaipillai established in his study that Tamil people acquired wealth and civilization by their commercial intercourse with foreign nations such as the Arabs, Greeks, Romans and Javanese.

Kanagasabaipillai’s work generated a new enthusiasm and pride among the Tamil people and in the first decade of the 20th century Tamil nationalism peaked. It had shed the major part of its religious character.

The sense of togetherness was further reinforced by the self-confidence the Hindus of Jaffna and Tamil Nadu had gained. In Jaffna they had lost the fear of Christian domination and were willing to work with them for the uplift of the Tamil race and its language. In Tamil Nadu, the Saivaites were willing to work with the Christians to break the dominance of Brahminism.

The last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century was also a period of hectic literary activity.  More Jaffna scholars crossed over to Tamil Nadu and made their contributions to the development of Tamil. Among them were  T. Chellappahpillai, T A. Rajaratnampillai, T. Kanagasundarampillai (1863 1922), T. Saravanamulllupillai, Sabapathy Navalar (1843-1903) and N. Kathiravetpillai (1874-1907).

Two prestigious journals- Siddhanta Deepika meaning The Light of Truth  (1897-1913) edited by J. M. Nallaswamipillai and Tamilian Antiquary (1907-1914) edited by Pandit D. Savariroyapillai - published during the period of the flowering of Tamil renaissance - printed erudite contributions from Jaffna Tamil leaders and scholars, P. Arunachalam (who wrote under the pen name P.A.), P. Ramanathan, S.W. Coomaraswamy, A . Muthutamby Pillai, V. J Tambypillai, T. Ponnambalapillai were regular contributors.  Many of them were Christians but they worked together with one thought in their minds - the splendor of Tamil.

On the role of these journals Kailasapathy commented,

These two journals have done yeoman service in creating in the minds of the Tamils an abiding interest in their language and literature, and in infusing a spirit of social confidence with regard to their literary and cultural heritage.

Consequent to this upsurge of Tamil nationalism T. Kailasapillai, Arumuga Navalar’s nephew, formed in Jaffna a Tamil Academy in 1898. Three years later, in 1901, Pandi Thurai Thevar, the zamindar of Palavanantham, Ramnad, founded the Madurai Tamil Sangam. That was followed up by holding meetings and conferences to honour Mother Tamil which denoted the special place the Tamils accorded to their language.

The first such major literary conference was held at the Ridgeway Hall in Jaffna in 1922. A. Kanagasabai presided on the first day and Sir Vaitilingam Duraiswamy on the second day. Several leading Indian scholars were invited. A. Madaviah, a novelist, was the special attraction. T.A. Thuraiappa Pillai, founder of Mahajana College and a poet and playwright took an active part in this conference. In the same year the Arya-Dravida Basha Development Society was inaugurated.

Next week: Consolidation of Nationalism (Part 2)




Chapter 1: The Context

Chapter 2: Origins of Racial Conflict

Chapter 3: Emergence of Racial Consciousness

Chapter 4: Birth of the Tamil State

Chapter 5: Tamils Lose Sovereignty

Chapter 6: Birth of a Unitary State

Chapter 7: Emergence of Nationalisms

Chapter 8: Growth of Nationalisms

Chapter 9: Religious Revival

Chapter 10: Parallel Growth of Nationalisms

Chapter 11: Consolidation of Nationalisms

Chapter 12: Consolidation of Nationalisms (Part 2)