Historical Tamil encyclopedia of 7.5k pgs back in print

Of the 100 copies of the 10 volumes spanning 7,500 pages printed so far, officials said over half have been sold to enthusiasts.
Image used for representational purposes only
Image used for representational purposes only

CHENNAI:  The Tamil Nadu Textbook and Educational Services Corporation has revived a seminal work of Tamil history and literature. The Tamil Kalai Kanchiyam, an encyclopedia produced through the effort of 1,200 people over 20 years led by Padma Bhushan Periyasaamy Thooran, has been made available as a documentation edition that may be reprinted on demand. 

Of the 100 copies of the 10 volumes spanning 7,500 pages printed so far, officials said over half have been sold to enthusiasts. The state government had made a modest allocation of Rs 10 crore to revive the work and the companion Kulanthaigal Kalai Kalanchiyam (children’s encyclopedia) which has 10 volumes and was completed in 1976. The latter will also be available for purchase soon. 

“We took the initiative as we felt it is the government’s job to keep the book available. Although there would be several updates to the topics in the encyclopedia, the first edition remains relevant from a historical perspective. It was the first such effort in an Indian language and several scholars worked without worrying about money to bring out the books,” said an official from the corporation. 

The effort to produce an encyclopedia in Tamil began on independence day in 1947, when the Tamil Academy was started. The project was aimed at ensuring that the classical language was enriched with modern knowledge. It was supported with funds from philanthropists and the central and state governments and 10 volumes were released from 1953 to 1968. The books later went out of print due to lack of funds. An attempt to bring out a second edition was unfruitful. 

The Tamil Kalai Kalanchiyam was the brainchild of TS Avinashilingam, Madras Presidency’s first education minister. Historian A R Venkatachalapathy’s book Tamil Kalaikalanchiyathin Kathai says the project’s budget was Rs 18 lakh, later reduced to Rs 10 lakh. The state would fund half the amount while the central government was to provide Rs 3 lakh in four instalments, given after a long battle.

‘Thooran refused jobs which had twice the pay’

Peri yasaam y Thooran, who had insisted that it was essential to have an encyclopaedia in Tamil, was asked to spearhead the efforts as its chief editor. Over the years, 1,200 people contributed to the encyclopedia, which covered more than 15,000 topics. Several new Tamil words including ‘kalai kalanchiyam’ for encyclopedia and ‘aalumai’ for personality were coined.

There was a separate team for this purpose. “Our father developed an interest in Tamil literature in his childhood. He was responsible for bringing out most of the works of poet Bharathiyar and toiled in the Swadesamitran office. After a friend helped him to recover from bronchitis, he worked as a headmaster in Coimbatore. Then, he shifted to Chennai to work on the Tamil Kalai Kalanchiyam project. It was a painstaking but neat effort in which experts from even foreign universities were asked to write on topics for Tamil people to read,” said Saradha Mani Chinnasamy, Thooran’s daughter.

Thooran refused several other jobs, which would have paid him twice as much, to complete the project, she added. After the publication of the Tamil Kalai Kalanchiyam, the team headed by Thooran also worked on Kulanthaigal Kalai Kalanchiyam (children’s encyclopedia) which had 10 volumes and was completed in 1976. “I worked on the final volume of the Kalai Kalanchiyam and in the initial phase of the Kulanthaigal Kalai Kalanchiyam. I was happy when I heard that the government is reprinting the books.

Several people worked on the books without any concern about money,” said K Subramanian, a Tamil professor. This January, Chief Minister MK Stalin released the documentation edition of the encyclopedia. Officials said the Kulanthaigal Kalai Kalanchiyam would be made available soon.

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