, ,

Tamil University - Part I

Fr. XS Thani Nayagam and the Mannar university

| by S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Killers Come to Toronto
( June 30, 2013, Washington DC, Sri Lanka Guardian) On14.06.2013, Jey and Chrishanthi (Anna) Anandarajan lost two-day old Elyssa. They held through with fortitude borne of faith. As if in tribute to his father – my loving chemistry teacher and later Principal, St. John’s College, CE Anandarajan, who was felled by LTTE killers – Toronto’s gathering matched that at Jaffna school functions.

Tamil Remake of Thani Nayagam in Vavuniya
We still live among murderers. On 30.05.2013, a short distance away, a 37 year old Tamil was murdered in his backyard in daylight. Police termed it “targeted shooting.” A “Brown” man brought in his car two “Black” men making the hit. From the community grapevine, the victim was an LTTE Collector. He had recently bought this house in an expensive Scarborough neighbourhood, paying full cash.

Attacks on Christians
Toronto’s Suthanthiran Weekly (June 21-27) carried a full-page assault on Christians by “Divine Servant Pulolyoor Dr. Vipulanantha, Tamil Saivite,” claiming 1) Saivism gave life to Tamils but we became slaves upon turning our backs on Siva; and 2) Gandhi succeeded because he worshipped “Eeswaran” but the Eelam struggle failed because it was led by SJV Chelvanayagam who glorified Christ.

The Christian contribution to Tamil culture, politics, and education was widely acknowledged at the World Classical Tamil Conference (WTC) organized by the Tamil Nadu Government in July 2010. Objecting to this, Chennai journalist Thamizhchelvan wrote that Christian missionaries are hijacking the Tamil language, erasing its Hindu identity, and forming a Tamil Christian Nation. Few Tamils have objected.

Ekanayake of the Tamil Struggle
Ignoring harangues, Anton Philip (President, Tamil Catholic Community Toronto) will celebrate Rev. Dr. Xavier Stanislaus Thani Nayagam’s centenary in August. A seminal scholar, he internationalized Tamil Studies. From Delft and Kayts, he went to St. Anthony’s Kayts and St. Patrick’s Jaffna, St. Bernard’s Seminary Borella and the Urbana in Rome where he earned his doctorate in divinity. After an MA and MLitt in Tamil he joined University of Ceylon as Lecturer, Education and earned his PhD London (1957) studying ancient Tamil educational systems. As Ceylon went anti-Tamil, he joined University of Malaya (1961-1970) as Professor and became Dean, Arts. He died in 1980 in retirement in Jaffna.

A suave, polyglot Roman Priest, sans Kayts mustache, he enjoyed cognac, golf, and restaurants, and did not play to the gallery worshipping cross-legged and barefooted in verti-chemise – as fictitiously portrayed in a Vavuniya statue. I was privileged to meet him in the 1970s on his regular visits to my uncle K. Nesiah.

Rooted in the biblical principles of truth and justice, Thani Nayagam, witnesses attest, was with Chelvanayagam at Galle Face on 05.06.1956. KMP Rajaratna, fearing fallout from assaulting a Priest, wanted the Archbishop to send a jeep to remove him before the attack. Our maternal ancestral home down Somasundaram Lane occupied by the then Federal Party Councillor Peter Somasundaram (married to Chelvanayagam’s niece) was Eelam Post Office; the Police never found the stamps under a haystack. My uncle who worked with Thani Nayagam was locked up for some 42 days over the Sri Campaign.

I have memories of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s arrest orders against the satyagraha leadership, many hiding at Tholagatti Ashram. Dr. NMV Naganathan (aka Hensman) fled wearing my father’s cassock. Thani Nayagam’s escape was planned using telegrams he signed as Ekanayake (Thani Nayagam in Sinhalese).

Thani Nayagam: Contributions to Tamil
Thani Nayagam’s success was owed to his organizational intelligence. His courses, monograph series, conferences and journals spurred Tamil studies. He started his Beschi Society in Rome. His Tamil Literature Society, modelled after the Christian Literature Society by Dr. John Murdoch (earlier an Anglican Missionary in Ceylon and a founder of the Tamil Coolie Mission), would publish “Tamil Catholic literary works.” His own journals and conferences brought his works to the people – Prof. S. Arasaratnam expresses Thani Nayagam’s belief that learning must seep down to the people and findings disseminated to the ordinary man – many of us went to Jaffna from all over to attend the 1974 International Association of Tamil Research Conference (disrupted by police gunfire).

The First University: Mannar?
Thani Nayagam searched through various European libraries and discovered the first Indian books ever printed. In Tamil, these were Cartilha (Lisbon, 1554), Thambiran Vanakkam (Quilon 1577), Kreesithiaani Vanakkam (Cochin 1579) and Flos Sactorum (Lives of Saints) by Henrique Henriquez, SJ (Punnaikayal, 1586).

Henriquez (1520-1600) came to Punnaikayal on the Fishery Coast in 1846, learnt Tamil in 5 months and completed his Tamil Grammar by 1549. Paravar helped him set up a Tamil press. As the Vadagar attacked his Paravar flock (1560), Henriquez, in the last boat ferrying them to a Portuguese ship to Mannar – the Isle of Martyrs – jumped into the sea and swam to the ship.

Henriquez immediately proposed a Tamil university at Mannar or Punnaikkayal, which was realized in the next decade (Otto Zwartjes, 2011). S.G. Pereira (1939) says Father Henriquez in 1566 became the head of the Tamil University set up at Punnaikayal; Brother Pero Louis (the first Indian Jesuit) was Assistant: “It was originally intended to found the Tamil College at Mannar and the Bishop encouraged the scheme, chose a site and even donated some money. But eventually Punnaikayal was found to be more suitable.” But I believe that it was in Mannar because Henriquez’s letters from 19.12.1561 to 29.01.1574 are from Mannar and Louis was also in Mannar. Besides, why plan for Punnaikayal which he had just fled? In any event, Mannar and Punnaikayal came under one Portuguese administration, political and ecclesial, of the Pearl Fishery as in ancient Pandiyan times (In Portuguese annals “Ceylon” meant Kotte). Thus the university was by the people of Mannar.

Suppressing Minority Heritage
Mannar Paravar, Pandiyans really, having financially contributed to our first press and university, have much to be proud of. Why have we Tamils not discovered our heritage amply described in academic writings?

Sri Lanka has been reluctant to acknowledge Batticotta as a modern university. When a UGC university history ignored Batticotta, I objected and was asked to speak to Senaka Bandaranayake who had taken charge. Having suggested at a conference that Pali originated among Sinhalese and went to India, he dismissed me saying that if Batticotta is listed he would have to list the several Buddhist pirivenas too. But a historian who accepted the responsibility had a duty to read up and know Batticotta was no pirivena from Colonial Secretary Tennent’s testimony that “The Collegiate Institution of Batticotta is entitled to rank with many an European University.”

Provincial Council
Between the state, the Sinhalese establishment and their Tamil stooges, and Christian heritage/influence being written out of history, Tamil achievements will be suppressed. Eviscerated, we need political power. The Tamil National People’s Front and expatriate organizations want the TNA to boycott the PC Elections because they themselves have no chance.

Worse, some want the people to boycott, forgetting that during the 1994 boycott, the EPDP won 9 of 10 seats with under 1.8% of the vote; letting them claim ad nauseam “election by the people.” (Douglas Devananda is playing devious games – after saying PC powers should be amended, presumably for handouts from his masters, he suddenly wants no change. The drama is because his defeat at the PC elections will be more ignominious if he advocates constitutional change.)

Tamils need the PC even if powers are curtailed. Large hotels are being built contaminating ground water and serving liquor near schools. When a Tamil industrialist (RAMCO) refused to restart KKS Cement saying the ecology cannot bear it, a Nepalese was brought in to tear our landscape apart. The police beat signs of Tamil aspirations into silence and do price controls to take bribes. Our institutions are mismanaged by political stooges.

The discovery of a 3500 year grindstone in Kantharodai is similar to finds in Tamilnadu, indicating a strong cultural history, religious diversity, and exchange. But this history is in danger of being rewritten by reactionary and retrogressive charlatans perhaps writing new editions of the Mahavamsa, or worse, destroying precious archaeological sites.

We need a voice authenticated by elected representatives. We need resources to investigate, and record and assert our heritage. We need police and land powers to be safe.

Next Week: Tamil University Part II: The Tamil University Movement