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K.S.Sivakumaran's columns!
 Trends in 
SriLankan Thamil literature!

by K.S. Sivakumaran

K.S.SivakumaranOne of the first books in Thamil on the History of Thamil Literature in general written in classifying developments under periods (from Sangam Era - B.C. 3rd to A.D. 3rd Century and up to the earliest 20th century) was by a Lankan professor, the late V. Chelvanayagam (father of academic Chelva Kanaganayagam of Toronto University in Canada .However, the literary contributions by Lankans were not fully discussed except in passing references. Later, the late K. Kailasapathy and the living K. Sivathamby emerged as Thamil intellectuals in the field of the arts and literature. They were students of the late professors at Peradeniya - Kanapathipillai, Chelvanayagam, Sathasivam and Vithiananthan. 

Prof. K.KailasapathyAlthough the academia and regular faithfuls call Kailasapathy and Sivathamby as literary critics, I am not too sure about that, because what they actually wrote as works of solid literary criticism is meagre. But what they wrote outside the field is of tremendous importance.They were giants as literary theorists and historians of Lankan Thamil literature.They were Marxist critics and therefore their perception was bent on those lines. So one may not readily accept their dismissal and ignorance of non-marxist writing. Because even non-marxist writing deserve adequate evaluation. That is what people like Raymond Williams, Arnold Kettle and other Marxist critics in the west did. 

They evaluated even Jane Austen purely with literary yardsticks. But the Lankan Thamil Marxist critics were not fair by other important writers like Mahakavi, Thalayasingam and S. Ponnuthurai or the writers from the east and hill country in Sri Lanka. However, Kailasapathy and Sivathamby brought in a scientific base to understand literature in a systematic manner. 

They emphasized social consciousness and regional (meaning a Sri Lankan perspective) flavour in the Marxian ideology that prevailed in the 1960s and 1970s. But after the 1980s with the emergence of self-guarded nationalism among the Thamilians immediately after the horrible July 1983 killings, the accent on Marxism had to naturally give way to the portrayal of real human condition prevailing in the north, east, the hill country and Colombo. 

Pro. K.SivathambyAt the same time, Kailasapathy and Sivathamby revolutionized the critical thinking among the academic segment in Taminadu in India. So their contribution towards literary studies based on contemporary approaches in a larger arena is indeed noteworthy. I shall write separately on Kailasapthy's significance not only on Lankan Thamil literature and the intellectual climate, but also in the overall study of Literature in Thamil and Sivathamby's importance at present in subsequent columns.For the present, let me glean some points from a particular work by K. Sivathamby. Like Kailasapathy, Sivathamby has written in both Thamil and English. Elucidating the cultural aspects of the Thamilians, in particular the Lankan breeds. The book referred to is in Thamil and is called 'Eelathil Thamil Ilakkiyam' (Thamil Literature in Sri Lanka). I am particularly interested in quoting the factors that converged towards literary criticism. The list follows: 

1. There has been concern to locate literature in the context of Lankan social and cultural climate ever since literary attempts were made by Lankans with enthusiasm and when specific works were produced. 

2. There were opportunities for Lankan Thamil literature students to know and understand the indigenous regional and outside traditions and to adapt them suitably for understanding rather than learning more about the Thamil Literature in India. 

3. The role the Lankan universities played towards understanding literature. 

4. The mutual and conducive relationship and benefits between the creative writers and the critics to learn from each other. Sivathamby also identifies those who gain importance in the tradition of Lankan Literary Criticism. 

They are: 1. Lankan Literary Commentators 2. Generation of important teachers 3. Belle-Lettrists linked with the media 4. Creative writers belonging to the 'Maru Malarchi' group (the Renaissance group) who had an acumen for literary criticism and social consciousness. 5. The pioneers of 'Progressive' Literature 6. The Progressive Critics of an academic background 7. Proponents and opponents among critically bent creative writers in response to the impact of 'progressive' writing 8. Critics engaged in research in literary criticism as a result of academic training. (More on Trends in Lankan Thamil Literature in subsequent columns). 

kssivan1@juno.com

courtesy: Daily News (Sri Lanka)

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