Thamizh Thatha's lifework awaiting new life

Despite rich value, not much has been done to get the works of old savants published.

Published: 16th October 2016 02:53 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th October 2016 02:55 AM   |  A+A-

One of the many palm-leaf manuscripts kept in the U Ve Swaminatha Iyer Library at Kalakshetra complex in Besant Nagar. | EPS

One of the many palm-leaf manuscripts kept in the U Ve Swaminatha Iyer Library at Kalakshetra complex in Besant Nagar. | EPS

Express News Service

Most of the manuscripts & ancient scripts collected by U Ve Swaminatha Iyer, who pulled out rare Tamil literary gems out of oblivion, are confined to his namesake library in Besant Nagar.

CHENNAI: U Ve Swaminatha Iyer, fondly called Thamizh Thatha, spent almost his entire life in the service of Tamil. He measured the entire length and breadth of Tamil Nadu, looking into every nook and cranny searching for manuscripts, which are the repository of ancient Tamil literature. Without him, Tamils today could seldom have boasted of the many epics, puranas and the Sangam age — verily the pillars of Tamil literary pantheon.

The Tamil savant passed away in the second half of 1942 after an illness. Nearly 75 years after his demise, at least 100 palm-leaf manuscripts, which he collected after making strenuous efforts, and many of his paper manuscripts on glossary of difficult Tamil terms used in Thevaram, and in some other ancient texts, lie in the U Ve Swaminatha Iyer Library (UVS) at Kalakshetra complex in Besant Nagar, without seeing the light of the day.

When the World War II was raging, several families in Chennai migrated to nearby rural areas. Swaminatha Iyer too moved to Thirukkazhukundram in the mid-April of 1942, but not without his collections.  Iyer’s student and renowned Tamil scholar recalls in his biography En Aasiriyappiran how Iyer transported the palm-leaf manuscripts and other books to his new residence in 10 bullock carts, as he did not want to part with his invaluable collections.

As a result of his massive efforts, Iyer managed to preserve the palm-leaf manuscripts of all the 10 idylls (Pathupaattu), four of the eight anthologies (Ettuthogai) and three of the five Tamil epics — Cilappathikaram, Manimekalai and Civakacintamani.

The palm-leaf manuscripts collected by Iyer and available in the UVS library are now among the most valuable possessions in the literary heritage of ancient Tamil.Of the 200 palm manuscripts, which are yet to be published in book form, around 100 were collected by Iyer more than 100 years ago. Tholkappiyam (Sollathikaram), an explanatory commentary, which is totally different from the works of Sangam period Tamil savants Ilampooranar, Nachinaarkiniyaar, Kalladanaar and many others, is one of the books yet to see the light of the day.

Iyer’s glossary for tough words

Explanatory commentary for another Tamil classic, the Thembavani, Gnanapoosakarana Urai, authored by Umapathy Sivachariyar, is yet to be published. While the original text is already out, the commentary, which will be of great help to Tamil students, is yet to get published.

Another important work is Pathipaasapanuval, authored by Maraignana Sambandar and commentary written by Maraignana Desikar. While original text has been published, the commentary is yet to be published. Kaaladam is another work for which both original text and commentary are yet to be published.

Of the 13 puranas, for which manuscripts were collected and published in book form by Iyer, 12 are yet to see reprint. Purapporul Venbamaalai, a grammar text, for which commentary was written by Nannool Mayilainathar, is another important work that is yet to see the printing press.

There are 850 paper manuscripts (rewritten from palm manuscripts) in this library. Of them, Arumpatha agarathi (meaning for difficult words) for Moovar Thevaram and Aganaanutru Sollathikaram are yet to be published.

The UVS Library was established in 1943, after the demise of Swaminatha Iyer, with 939 palm-leaf manuscripts collected by him adorning the shelves. Now, it has 2,170 manuscripts, including some written in Telugu, Malayalam and Grantha script. Later, more manuscripts were collected by Tamil scholars, including M Arunachalam. Among the manuscripts in this library, 61 are of Sangam literature. Manuscripts in other subjects include music, dance and drama (26), logic (5), astrology (23) and medicine (20).

 Shelves housing the rare collections at the library

The palm leaves in UVS library are 200 to 300 years old. Of the 96 palm-leaf manuscripts of Sangam literature, 69 are in this library.Of the 47 paper manuscripts available, 21 belong to this library. Of the 120 Tolkappiyam palm-leaf manuscripts conserved in different libraries across the globe, 32 are in this library. Similarly, of the 67 Tolkappiyam paper manuscripts, this library has 16.

Iyer was such a disciplined person that he made diary entries every day for many years. However, only 29 of them are available. The first of these diaries was written in 1893. From these, one can know about the projects he planned and the experts he contacted. The details of persons, from whom he had collected palm-leaf manuscripts, notes about his personal expenses, etc., would be wonderful to read and admire.

Though the government has been extending assistance to this library from time-to-time, it is insufficient to publish new books based on palm-leaf and paper manuscripts. Besides, many books published many years ago, are waiting for reprint due to lack of funds.

At present, the government reimburses the salaries of those working in the library under six posts — pandit, librarian, junior assistant, office assistant, night watchman and attender. The amount is reimbursed on a yearly basis. The employees feel that if the government comes forward to regularise their salary on par with government employees, it would be great help.

The library conducts a 10-day course annually for college students and those who study Siddha medicine. During this period, the students would be given training in reading palm-leaf manuscripts and publishing the books.


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