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K.S.Sivakumaran's Columns!

Sri Lankan Thamil Literature

by K.S.Sivakumaran

K.S.SivakumaranThose readers of Pathivukal in Thamil , I am sure, would like to have direct access to books covering  contemporary Thamil Literature in Thamil. language. Some of these books may not be available in bookstores now. However, a few may be available in libraries. The Colombo Thamil Sangam in Wellawatta, Sri Lanka, thanks to Ganeshalingan Kumaran, is building up a comprehensive library of important Thamil books. One may  surface the Colombo Thamil Sangam website for details. Even other readers, who may not know Thamil, would like to know something about the Sri Lankan Thamil literary scene. It is for this reason, we are presenting in English this segment in Pathivukal.

I would like to introduce two books in Thamil that cover the earliest works by Sri Lankan Thamilians.

The book that covers the earliest Sri Lankan Thamil Literature (circa 14th to 18th centuries ) was written by the late K.S.Nadarajah. He passed away in Canada. KSN was the head of the Thamil Service of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and later a deputy director General of that institution. He wrote poetry under the name of Navatkuliyoor Nadarasan. His book is titled ' Eelaththu Thamil Ilakkiya Valarchi ' ( The Growth of Lankan Thmil Literature ) KSN's book has a foreword by the late A.Sathasivam, who was an academic and scholar in linguistics.

Let me quote in translation what the foreword summarizes:

" The book discusses Lankan Thamil Literature from the 14th to the late 18th centuries from many angles. It begins with the period of Denuvara Perumal's book on astrology titled ' Sakasothy Maalai ' and ends with the period of Mylvahana Pulavar, who wrote ' Puliyoor Anthathi '.

The book deals with Lankan Thamil Literature, the growth of personal ( Aham ) and public ( Puram ) poems and those which do not come under the purview of the genre ' Prapancha '. The author provides information for researchers to probe into prevalent and extinct literary works. Those desirable to view from a historical perspective of the Lankan poetic tradition, the works of the poets, their own tradition,  social consciousness and imaginative experience should read this collection of essays by K.S. Nadarajah "

If the above was a quotation from a don of standing, we have a book by another don to supplement our knowledge on Sri Lankan Thamil Literature - S.Vithiananthan. he was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Yaalpaanam (Jaffna ) . Subramaniam Vithiananthan was a professor of Thamil. He edited and published many indigenous  folk plays and wrote a few outstanding books in Thamil.  The late Vithiananthan and the late Sarachchandra ( the bilingual scholar, dramatist and critic ) shared a room in London, when they were pursuing their postgraduate studies.

Two of SV's books were ' Ilakkiya Thentral ' ( The Breeze of Literature )  and ' Thamilar Saalpu ' ( I don't know what the appropriate English equivalent is to the word 'Saalpu '.  I infer it means the ' intrinsic nature of the Thamils '  Scholars in Thamil, please educate me ). A third book, ' Thamil Iyat Chinthanai ' ( Conception of Thamillogy ) is another collection of essays of importance.

Let me say something about this book.

There are seven essays in Thamil and two in English in this book. The English essays inform the Thamil influence on Sinhala culture, Lankan Thamil scholars, Sources in English of Thamil, Researches conducted and the like.

One of his essays in Thamil is  ' Isklamites and the genre of Prabantha, new in Thamil '. In fact, he was the first to write about Islamic contribution to Thamil Literature. S.M.Hanifa, a former journalist ( Thinakaran, Daily News, Sri Lanka Radio News ) and publisher brought out this particular book

SV in one of his essays discusses Lankan Religions and Education. he says that the religion of the Thamilians is entwined with their culture. He claims that the  ' Thamilians enriched the lifestyles of the Sinhalayas and introduced the Saiva practises of worship, thereby bringing in sanctity to Buddhism '

SV  informs that during the reign of Parakramabahu 111 The latter part of the essay talks about the attempts made to improve the education and religion of the Thailmilians during the period of the European regimes in Sri Lanka.  ( who ruled from Dambadeniya ), the Pandit, Bosarasa launched his work, ' Sarasothi Maalai ' in the august assembly of the monarch. The last king of Kandy in Sri Lanka , Sri Wickrama Rajasinha also paid  attention to the development of education of the Thamilians.

As a sequel to the earlier essay, the next one discusses the education of the Thamilians and the universities. He traces the background of pursuits towards establishing a university for the Thamilians. He states: The Thamil speaking people of Sri Lanka have a unique cultural enrichment and the educationists felt the need of a university to preserve and promote their language and culture '

The late Vithiananthan was an authority in Thamil Folk Theatre ( Naatu Koothu ). In one of his essays, he talks about especially of the folk plays in Mattakalappu (Batticaloa ) and Mannat and also elucidates on the nature of folk theatre. He also describes that the plays in Mannar district are available in Sinhala. He finds similarities between the Kannada and Yakshgana and the Mattakalappu ' Vadamodi ' (the northern mode ) folk plays.

' Naavalar and Thamilnadu ' is another essay. He describes how the Thamilnadu state in India is greatly indebted to the scholar and religious revivalist Arumuga Naavalar of Yaalpanam ( Jaffna ).

In the subsequent essay, the writer compares the great contributions of both Arumuga Naavalar and Swami Vipulananda ( He was a monk of the Ramakrishna Mission, a religious  order, based in India and also established  in Sri Lanka. His real name was Mylvaganam ). Born in Kaarathivu in the Mattakalappu district, Swami Vipulananda was the first professor of Thamil in the University of Ceylon in 1943. His magnum opus, ' Yarl Nool ' is an expository work on an ancient musical instrument in the shape of harp.

And in my view,  Swami Vipulananda was the pioneer in literary criticism in Thamil in Sri Lanka, although some partisan academics try to beliitle him as a mere ' belle literist '.His name should not be confused with the name of another Ramakrishna swami, the intellectual from Bengal in India, Swami Vivekananda. The latter's oratory on Hinduism in Chicago in the U.S. mesmerized the Americans in the early 20th century. There is a street in Chicago bearing his name. Would you believe it !

Vithiananthan also documents the contributions of C.Y.Thamotherampillai, Cumarasamy Pulavatr, Sithamparapillai, T.Kailayapillai and Swami Gnanapragasar ( a Catholic priest like the late Fr.Thaninayagam, who was a scholar and promoter of Thamil culture).

 Vithiananthan also says that ' it was the Lankans that safeguarded the Thamil language from being disfigured or irregularised in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was the Lankans that preserved the grammatical tradition of the Thamil language '

There we see, two books in Thamil, which cover the early history of Lankan Thamil Literature.

contact : kssivan1@juno.com
courtesy: Daily News (Sri Lanka)

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