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Literature!
Professor Vipulanandar!


Swami Professor Vipulananda!
An Outstanding Role Model 
for the Young and Old

 
Pan Kanagaretnam
 
Swami VipulanatharSwami Professor Vipulanadas life and works are a testimony that he was indeed a genius par excellence. He was endowed with an exalted intellectual capacity, and blessed with extraordinary prowess for learning, research, creative thinking and writing. Above all he was fully committed to serving the community, particularly the less fortunate, which makes him a unique individual. He was born in 1892 and passed away in 1947, and his achievements within that short span of 55 years are worthy of being disseminated at all times and commended to all parents and children alike.
 
Hailing from Karativu, a village in the south of Batticaloa in Sri Lanka, where in those days the focus used to be more on farming rather than on education as a vocation, the young Mylvaganam (Swamis birth name), had his education in Christian schools in his village, Kalmunai and in Batticaloa. Having got through his Senior Cambridge at the age of 16 years, and worked as a teacher for about three years in Batticaloa and Kalmunai, he entered the Government English Teachers Training College in Colombo and qualified as a trained teacher. He resumed his teaching career at St. Michael College, Batticaloa in 1913. In 1915, he entered the Colombo Technical College and obtained a Diploma in Science the following year, and thereafter worked there as an assistant Chemistry Teacher for about one year. During the same period, thanks to his perseverance, he studied on his own, and successfully passed the Pundit Exam conducted by the Madurai Tamil Sangam, becoming the first Tamil Pundit in Sri Lanka. Thereafter, he worked as a Chemistry Teacher at St.Patricks College, Jaffna for over two years. During this period, he studied privately and earned the B.Sc. (Science) degree of the University of London in 1920, as an external student. As a student of Tamil music, he used his knowledge of Physics to undertake 14 years of research of ancient Indian and Tamil music and musical instruments to produce a unique and rare book of scientific research in Tamil called the Yal Nool or Book on Stringed Musical Instruments which was published just before he passed away in1947. 
 
Learning continued to be Swamijis avocation until he breathed his last. He was a great linguist. Besides his deep knowledge of Tamil, English, Greek, Latin and Sanskrit, he was very fluent in Sinhala. It is said that at the time of his death, Swamiji was busy learning Bengali in order to have a clear understanding of Nobel laureate Rabindra Tagores literary works in their original form to translate them all directly to Tamil. He learnt all these languages in order to understand the history of different people, their literary heritage and achievements and to enrich Tamil language and literature through his own writings. 
 
His versatility in several languages, poetry, fiction and drama are reflected in all his writings. According to critics, although ancient Tamil literary traditions spoke glowingly about Iyal (prose), Icai (music) and Nadagam (drama), until the second half of the nineteenth century drama referred mainly to folk dancing or Kuttu, which was associated with not so reputable class of people, and received hardly any patronage as a theatrical activity.  Drawing from his in-depth knowledge of literary traditions in Sanskrit, Greek and English, and his expertise in translation, Swamiji tried to redress this imbalance. He made use of his work Mathangaculamani , a translation of twelve of Shakespeares plays, as a treatise on drama with commentaries focusing on various aspects of drama such as the plot, structure, sequence of action, characterization, subjective experience, gestures etc. Professor Chelva Kanaganayagam in a critical review of Mathangaculamani, concludes that the major contribution of the text is its attempt to establish drama as a valid academic discipline rather than provide a basis for performance. 
 
Given his academic and professional success at an early age, Swamiji could have easily settled in life as a rich professional. However, he had other ideas as to what to do with his life. Known for his open mind and keenness for learning, Vipulananda met the head of the Mylapur Ramakrishna Mission (Mission) Swami Sarvananda, for the first time in Colombo in 1916. He again met with him in Jaffna in 1917. Founded in 1897 by Swami Vivekananda, the disciple of Ramakrishna, the Ramakrishna Mission is a unique order of ascetics and volunteers dedicated to selfless service to community, irrespective of religious, caste, creed or language differences, as a means of God realization. Unlike the well known world religious orders, the Mission while promoting spiritual development abhors religious conversion. It refuses to accept superstitious beliefs, caste-based discriminations and fabricated rituals as promoted by Brahmins for a living, as part of the Vedanta philosophy.  Instead, the Mission promotes the Vedanta dictum that God is One, but the sages call it by various names, and the philosophy of Unity in Diversity. The Mission emphasises that the basic philosophy of all religions have much in common in terms of thinking good, doing good and doing no harm to others. It encourages people of all religions to believe in their own religions and try to be a better Christian, better Buddhist, better Muslim, better Hindu etc. The Missions charitable and philanthropic activities focus mainly on the provision of educational and medical services to the weaker segment of the population through schools, hospitals and orphanages run by the mission. As it turned out, Swami was born to dedicate his entire life to educational and spiritual pursuits and service to the community. He entered the Mylapur Ramakrishna Mission in 1922 for his priesthood training. On completion of the training in 1924, he was given the name Vipulananda. 
 
In 1925, Swamiji assumed duties as Manager/Administrator of the RKM Schools in Sri Lanka. He functioned as the Principal of the English Training School in Trincomale for two years from 1928, during which time he founded the RKM Shivananda Vidyala, a boys school, at Kallady in Batticaloa. In 1930, he reverted to the position of Manager of RKM Schools, and in addition functioned as the Principal of Shivananda Vidyalaya. During this time, he helped open two schools for girls one in Batticaloa and another in his native village Karativu, and two orphanages for boys - one at Vaitheeswara Vidyalayam, Jaffna, and another at Shivananda Vidyalaya. An orphanage for girls was opened in Karativu. Thereafter, a number of RKM schools were opened up in several remote villages in the North and East of Sri Lanka. 
 
As an eminent and widely respected educationist, scholar and community worker, Swamiji was invited by the University of Madras to present its case for the establishment of a Tamil University to the special commission set up to investigate the proposal. On the recommendation of the Commission, the University of Annamalai was opened in 1927. In 1931 he accepted an invitation from the University to be the first Professor of Tamil. Professor Vipulananda got a second invitation to be the first Professor of Tamil soon after the University of Ceylon was established in 1943, which he helld until his passing away in 1947. Thus Professor Vipulananda enjoys the unique distinction of being the first scholar to be appointed the first professor of Tamil in two Universities in two different countries.
 
As a journalist and writer, he functioned as editor of several publications including Ramakrishna Vijayam (Tamil), Vedanta Kesari (English), Vivekananda (Tamil) and Piraputha Barath (English). He also edited and helped publish literary works of several well-known scholars.
 
His work of translation from English to Tamil included selected writings of Swami Vivekananda: Karma Yogam, Gnana Yogam, Spiritual Life of our Countrymen, Vivekanada Gnanatheepam, and conversation of Swami Vivekananda; The Custodian of Flower Garden, a translation of Gardener, a novel, by the Bangali Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore; Mathangasulamani, a translation of 12 plays by Shakespeare with commentaries; Angilavani a translation of a collection of articles by eminent historian Kathiresan Chettiar; and he used translation of selected poems from the Sangam period,  devotional songs from the Pallarvar period, and poems of Subramaniya Bharathi and Navaneethakrishnabharathi, in a number of articles he wrote for journals and publications.
 
As an author in Tamil, he had six major publications to his credit including, a collection of four pirapanthangal, Mathangaculamani, the Images of Nadaraj or the Great Dance of Thillai, Umamageswaram, the section on Chemistry of the Dictionary of Technical Terms, and the Yal Nool. The Yal Nool or the Book on Stringed Musical Instrument is a treatise on ancient Tamil music, and is the result of over 10 years of scientific research of ancient Tamil music, musical instruments and musical compositions. Swamijis passion for music and his determination to pursue his research was so strong that he gave up the position of Professor of Tamil at the Annamalai University in 1933 to devote more time on his research. It is an effort by Swamiji to understand and explain the intricacies and technicalities of Tamil music in general, and the stringed musical instruments in particular, using modern techniques and tools of research and calculations based on mathematics and physics. Yal Nool is internationally recognized as a unique work of its kind.
 
 Swamiji was a prolific writer of essays both in Tamil and English, which were published in a number of journals, magazines and newspapers, and a collection of 170 such essays, written between 1914 to 1947 were published in 4 parts in 1995. He also wrote a number of poems, and a collection of 32 poems of his poems was also published in 1995. He excelled as a public speaker, and most of his speeches, focusing mainly on history of the Tamils, Tamil literature, Tamil music and musical instruments and Vedanta philosophy were also published in journals and magazines.
 
As an educationist Professor Vipulananda was a strong advocate of mother tongue as the medium of education but stressed the importance of learning other languages. In fact, at Shivananda Vidyalaya, in addition to Tamil, he facilitated the teaching of English, Sinhala and Latin. He also recognized and promoted the importance of learning life sciences such biology and chemistry, applied sciences like mathematics and physics, and job related technical subjects. Above all he spearheaded the efforts by Tamil scholars of translations, with suitable technical words and terms,  into Tamil of text and other books and publication on science and technology, and helped the publication of a dictionary of Tamil technical terms.
 
Based on his critical studies of some of Professor Vipulanandas writings, Mr. K.S. Sivakumaran, one of the well-known literary critics, has called Swamiji as a pioneer of Tamil literary criticism and the first Sri Lankan Tamil literary critic. According to him, Swamiji has identified and used in several of his essays and public speeches, a range of literary tools to classify the texts and contents of literary works, and define as to what is literary enjoyment and the frame of mind that should be nurtured and developed to enjoy literary works. Knowledge of these very same tools was accepted in later years as among the basic requirement for one to be counted as a credible literary critic. Swamiji also made use of his in-depth knowledge of several languages and literary works to compare and contrast works of ancient Tamil poets with those of western and other authors, and paved the way for several Tamil scholars to undertake such comparative studies in later years. 
 
As a social reformer, Swamiji spearheaded the movement to recognize Subramaniya Bharathi, a Brahmin by birth, as the Maha Kavi and succeeded despite a strong opposition from the socially and politically powerful Brahmins due to Bharathis anti Brahminic views and his opposition to the perpetuation of the caste system and the superstitious Hindu practices and rituals. As a nationalist, Swamiji hoisted the Indian flag on the occasion of the visit of Sir George Fredrick Stanley to the Annamalai University for the 1937 convocation.
 
As a studious student, a linguist, poet, a committed teacher, an educationist, a scholar, author, journalist, editor and publisher, scientific researcher, literary critic, administrator, prolific writer of essays, and an ascetic committed to serving fellow human beings, Professor Vipulanada stands out as an outstanding and extraordinary personality. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Sri Lankan Tamil Community is yet to come across a well-rounded intellectual and erudite scholar comparable to him. Indeed, Swami Professor Vipulananda continues to be the outstanding role model for the young and old alike.
 
(Readings includes: VIPULAM 2003, Swami Vipulananda Society, Canada)
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