a tribute to Dr U Ve Sa. nicely written.
U Ve Swaminatha Iyer - A Tribute
My Musings: U Ve Swaminatha Iyer - A Tribute
A TRIBUTE to The Patriarch of Tamil.
This morning, let me talk about the TAMIZH THATHA, Sri UV Swaminatha Iyer. A tribute, on his 150th birth anniversary.
The original texts of a number of literary works of the Sangam period (1st and 2nd Century AD) came to public notice only towards the end of the 19th century, when they appeared in print form. Until then, works such as Aymperum Kaappiyangal (the five great epics) – Silappathikaram, Manimekalai, Kundalakesi, Jeevaka Chintamani, and Valaiyapathi were in the form of palm leaf manuscripts in the possession of scores of families living across Tamilnadu and outside. They didn’t have the skill to read the manuscripts, and, therefore, did not realize the literary worth. The palm leafs were allowed to rot.
The need to hunt for the missing palm leaf manuscripts and bring to light the hidden treasure of Tamil literature was deeply felt. Foremost among those who undertook this formidable task was Mahamahopadhyaya Uttamadhanapuram Venkatasubbaiyer Swaminatha Iyer (1855-1942), popularly known as “Tamizh thaththaa”. His 150th birth anniversary was celebrated on Feb 19th.
He undertook long journeys inside and outside Tamilnadu to collect the manuscripts. With objectivity of a scientist, and the imagination of an artist and critic, he studied all these manuscripts.
Starting with Jeevaka Chintamani in 1887, he printed and published Manimekalai (1888), Silappathikaram (1889), Paththupaattu (1889) and Purananooru (1894), all appended with scholarly commentaries.
He was born in 1855 into a poor Brahmin family at Uthamadhanapuram near Kumbakonam. Though his father wanted him to become a musician, the young Swaminathan took to Tamil literature and learnt Tamil under the scholar Meenakshisundaram Pillai at Thiruvavaduthurai.
He served as a Tamil teacher for 23 years in Kumbakonam college, then he joined the Presidency College, Chennai in 1903. He died on April 28, 1942.
Even when he was a teacher in Kumbakonam, his long search for the original texts of ancient literary works began. It was a search that lasted until his death. Many people voluntarily parted with the manuscripts in their possession. Swaminatha Iyer visited almost every hamlet and knocked at every door. (Recently in Feb 2005, when I read Raa ki Rangarajan describing in detail how UVS used to go to villages after villages whatever the weather and his own health and financial conditions were, I was so moved that I couldn’t control my tears)
As a result, a large number of palm leafs finally saw the light of the day. In a span of about 50 years, Swaminatha Iyer published about 100 books. “What Swaminatha Iyer did was to edit and publish these works with detailed footnotes, commentaries, and indices”, observed Ki Vaa Jagannathan, another Tamil scholar, “All this is evidence of not only the scholarship of the editor but also the hard work he had put on.”
But for the Tamizh thaththaa, most of the Tamil literature would have been eaten away by termites and lost for ever. None could have read Silappathikarn, Purananooru and such great Tamil works
In any other country such a person would have been deified into immortality. He would have been honoured with the Nobel Prize also, had he been born anywhere except Tamilnadu. But, in Tamilnadu, where one hears the hoarse shouts of “Engum Tamizh, Ethilum Tamizh” from petty politicians, he has been conveniently sidelined by the Dravidian culture – just because of that IYER tag!
My respectful tribute and homage to this Grand Old Man of Tamil.
21 March 2005