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An Outstanding Role
for the Young and Old
Professor Vipulanada’s 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 (Swami’s 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
Learning continued to
be Swamiji’s 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 Tagore’s 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 Shakespeare’s
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 Mission’s 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
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. Swamiji’s 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 Vipulananda’s 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 Bharathi’s 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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