In Memoriam: Kurumbasiddy R. Kanagaratnam


R. Kanagaratnam

R. Kanagaratnam 2012, photo courtesy TamilNet

by Sachi Sri Kantha, July 23, 2016

The news that I read from the TamilNet about the death of Mr. Kurumbasiddy R. Kanagaratnam
[] on June 22nd, saddened me. During my Peradeniya sojourn period (1977-1981), I had met this gentleman and was strongly influenced by his dedication to preserving the print documents which had been published in Tamil language. I should add that, in a sense he influenced my hobby of collecting books, magazines and other printed materials.

In my files, there are two letters (in fact, blue colored Sri Lankan aerogrammes), which I received from him in 2002. One is in English, providing a synopsis of the archival work done by Kanagaratnam and his wife Pavalarani. The other one was a hand written letter to me in Tamil, soliciting my help in finding sponsors for his work. For record, I have scanned these two documents and present them here, to felicitate the life and career of Tamil archivist. Prior to 2002 also, I had received correspondence from him.

Letter from Era Kanagaratnam circa 2002

I have translated below the contents of that undated letter to me (which I had annotated as, ‘Recd. Sept. 2002), into English. The two email links included had been deleted with red ink by the writer himself.

“Mr. R. Kanagaratnam,

128/8 Hettiyawatta,



Dear Mr. Sachi Sri Kantha,,

Your letter and the two books have been received. I write this letter earnestly that you should receive it in your hands. I’m pleased to know that you have been working in Japan and USA as a visiting professor. The write up by Mr. K.S. Sivakumaran in the Island (Sri Lanka) which you had seen was based on the information I had provided to him about our archives; but he had never paid a visit to our archives. Within my limits, I had been trying to fill a spot in the lives of Sri Lankan Tamils that had been left ignored. In my collection of 45 years (from 1899 – 2000), I had collected primarily the political items and then relevant themes in literature, religion, art and history; then, had microfilmed these documents. In almost 200 microfilms, I was able to condense 100 year history. A separate aerogramme that you will receive provides details of the microfilms completed. For the past 2 years, NORAD agency had sponsored this microfilm project. We cannot expect that this sponsorship will continue.

We need to expand this project. But, financial assistance is needed. If we can purchase microfilm camera, we will be able to travel and do this work with in the lands where [Tamil] expatriates live. Based on the information I provide here, is it possible to approach a funding agency with a project proposal, in your location? Can you let me know whether any institutions will purchase the duplicates made from the original microfilm original copy? I will be thankful if you can give me some help. Please contact me at the above stated address.

Important addition: Your books have been printed well and appears like a story book. Greetings. When I do microfilming next time, I’ll include these books too. I look forward to receiving your response. Regards.

Kurumbasiddy R. Kanagaratnam”


Of course, I did reply to Mr. Kanagaratnam expressing my suggestions for reaching the funding agencies. After that, I didn’t hear from him.

By wasting public funds, numerous Tamil politicians (Kadirgamars, Anandasangarees, Devanandas, Muralitharans) had bragged in the Sri Lankan parliament, in other foreign forums and podia on Tamil rights for self-glory.  I’d assert that none from this ilk could hold a candle to the silent community service done by Kanagaratnam Aiyah within his limited means for more than half a century. His exceptional life as a collector and Tamil archivist deserves respect and emulation.

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