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K.S.Sivakumarans Columns!

K.Kailasapathy on Ananda Coomaraswamy!

Anantha CoomaraswamiI am sure most present day Lankans would not have heard of either name: neither K.Kailasapathy nor Ananda Coomaraswamy. These great persons belong to the last century. Most of us do not know nor care to know about our own people due to various reasons. The malady in this country is that we live in the past most of the time and dwell in petty diatribes and continue to have prejudices against each other. But I must add that this is only evident in a very few and not with all the people. But such people seem to have the support of the media engineered by a handful of journalists. Now let me come to the point.

Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947) was born to a Lankan father and an English mother. He was a great art critic among other things. His work on Medieval Sinhala Art was a great work K.Kailasapathy was a Malaysia born Lankan intellectual. Both belonged to the Thamil community. Kailasapathy died young. Among his works in both Thamil and English was his thesis on Thamil Heroic Poetry

On August 22, 1977 the late Coomaraswamys birth centenary fell. On that occasion, the U.S. Information Service in Colombo published an illustrated portfolio in colour.  I am sure that this document might have been published in all three languages of the country, but I have with me a publication only in the Thamil language.

This document has three articles by Dr Susan L.Huntington, Edwin Ariyadasa and K.Kailasapathy. The photographs are by Gamini Jayasingha. I shall only bring to your kind notice how Kailasapathy introduces Ananda Ccoomaraswamy to the uninitiated.

The key points that K makes on C are:
The Individuality of Ananda Coomaraswamy was that he had a matured outlook as to find a world tradition in his own tradition and his own tradition in the world tradition. He wanted minimal information on him and that he wanted to serve only in the background. He had an innate nature of trained suitability to find solace in the blending of the east and the west. He was amazed at the neglected buildings and structures of art spread out in various parts of Sri Lanka.
He was sad that handicrafts and the art losing their ground and remaining valueless in countries like Sri Lanka, India and other places. Having been a Lankan he began to function as an Indian.

Now to more details:

Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy was one of the great scholars of the world in the last century. He is still respected as a cultural contributor to world knowledge. He is reckoned as belonging to the Sinhala community erroneously. In his book written in 1974 on Ananda Coomaraswamy, B.S.Sastri calls him that. Ananda Coomaraswamys father was   Sir Muttucumaraswamy. But a foreign scholar who wrote a foreword to A Cs book also refers to Sir M as a famous Sinhalaya. All this suggests that misinformation like this even in this decade can distort history. A C did not bother to correct these errors. In a letter to S.Thurairajasingham in 1946, A C has said that he was not bothered about his personal life details but would like others to study the trend nature of his researches. He desired to serve in the background.

Sir Muttu Coomaraswamy

AC had innate abilities at his birth. He was the son of a very distinguished person Sir Muttu Coomaraswamy Mudaliar (1834-1879). He was the first in Asia to be knighted. He was the first Hindu to qualify as a Barrister. His wife was from a celebrated English family. Sir M went to England in 1862 and had close contact with the then British Prime Ministers like Palmerston and Disrelli.  He was known to Queen Victoria. In 1863 he translated Arichandra Nadagam The play Harischandra) into English for the benefit of the Queen and read a few portions of that to her. He published two books in Thamil in 1874: Dadavamisam and Suddhanipaatham. In 1873 he translated the hymns and poetry of Thaayumaanavar into English but it was not printed.

A C learnt Thamil, Sinhala and Pali as his father was interested in these. A C left for England with his mother as a baby of eight months and returned to Sri Lanka at his 23rd year and lived here for six years. He returned to England at his 32 nd year. His wife was an English lady. He was living in the U.S. until his death since 1917. Because of his living too long in the west, A C   was qualified by his training to find a link between the east and the west and be harmonious with this bridging. This came naturally to him. He could understand and comprehend European languages and the culture from within. English was his mother tongue and he studied ancient languages like Latin and Greek in his schooldays. He became proficient in these languages. Later he learnt French, German, Sanskrit and Pali. He was also familiar with Italian, Spanish, Icelandic language, Dutch, Persian, Thamil and Sinhala. In all his attempts his father Sir A M was his guide.

Dr A C obtained his degree in geology from the London University and came to Lanka as an Inspector of Mines. He worked hard to asses the mineral resources in this country. In the process he went to many parts of the island and observed the abandoned buildings and artifacts and also noticed that the people were no more practicing their traditional handicrafts industry. He was sad at that. A C was a natural scientist but little by little he turned out to be artistic minded. In 1904, the London University conferred on him the Doctorate in Science. He was the first Lankan to receive that doctorate. 

Dr AC traveled extensively in the villages and jungles of the island and found that there were close relationship and similarities in the arts and crafts of India and Sri Lanka He was troubled that the traditional arts and handicrafts of the country were losing respect and value in the island. Therefore he determined himself to their restoration. He resigned from his position in 1906 and went on a pilgrimage to India. Since then this Lankan

consciously became an Indian.

His famous book Medieval Sinhala Art (1908) came to be noticed by scholars in America and Europe. In this book he described the history of the Lankan Arts and what was then remaining. It was focusing on historical, economic, social and scientific factors governing these. The book described minutely architecture, brickmaking, woodwork, painting, textile, embrodiary, pottery, metalwork, cadjanwork etc

He made a spiritual journey to India and in 1909   wrote Indian Handicraftsmen and The History of Indonesian Arts in 1927. Soon, he came to be acknowledged as an Asian representative in the world of arts. But he was not to be confined to Asia alone. He went to America in 1917 took charge of the Indian and Islamic sections of the Fine Arts Museum in Boston. He traveled to other parts of the world and collected treasures of art on behalf of the museum. He built up the Museum. He went to Japan in 1920 and was engaged in research. 

He became an art critic at global level. E transcended narrow confines of national borders. His concerns were also expanding accordingly. He engaged himself in universally involved studies. Comparative studies, linguistics, music, sculpture, philosophy, religion, science, ethics, morality and the like came into his fold. Politics, sociology and humanities were indispensable features in his study of problems in human life. In short his research was based on world culture and civilization.

Ananda Coomaraswamy could be compared to Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) of the Renaissance period because of his multidisciplinary training, the depth and broad intellectual approach and researches and a concern and finding wonderful aspects from daily occurrences. This was the view of the American critic Robert Ellerton Parker. In modern times, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) and Ananda Coomaraswamy were such multidisciplinary scholars.

Even though AC was a thinker and philosopher of the world he was conscious of his Sri Lankan roots. Inevitably he was deeply fond of his Thamil tradition. This may not be evident at surface level; one could see that in his writings. 

His speech at Yaalpaanam Hindu College in 1906 is an example. He said: My father was a leading Thamilian thirty years ago... He was for most part westernized. This was because of two reasons prevalent at that timeBut had he lived now, he would have come forward to preserve our national goals and eastern traditions. My mother believed that with her marriage to my father, close relationship could be fostered between the English and the Thamilians. She has abundant love and respect for the Thamilians. She gives full support for the tasks Ive undertaken.

Foundation and Base

K.S.SivakumaranA C has his foundation and base as a Thamilian, although he transcended to attain a status of a Universal Man. Some of his renowned essays are on Dance of Shiva. He shows examples from Thamil works like Thiruvsagam, Thiru Mantram, Unmai Vilakkam, Koyit Puranam, Thiruvathvoor Puranam  and the like and from works in Sanskrit and elucidates the meaning of the dance in comparative terms. One could find his traditional Thamilian feelings in this exposition. However he was never a traditionalist blindfolded.

Ananda Coomaraswamy was campaigning both in Sri Lanka and India for education in indigenous languages, manufacture of national products, and the renaissance of the national arts, he looked at them in the background of his his own great tradition and its virtues... He sustained his power because of his rooted ness in his own tradition. He found the world tradition in his own tradition and his own tradition in the world tradition. 

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