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Updated: February 17, 2013 15:50 IST

Grand old man of THAMIZH

Pradeep Chakravarthy
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U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer
U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer

Has enough been done to perpetuate the memory of U.Ve.Sa, who gifted priceless literature to posterity?

It is important that February 19 is remembered for on this day in 1855 was born a man who did so much for Tamil as a language. But he never got his due. Not even a university named after the person, whose crusade was to restore lost literary treasure.

Most speakers of Tamil will know U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer as ‘Thamizh Thatha.’ Some may have heard of his untiring efforts to bring the Sangam period literature back into circulation and accessible to the larger population and thereby contribute substantially to Tamil being accorded the status of a classical language. But very few would have read his brilliant autobiography, ‘En Charitram.’ The 762 pages of simple and easy to understand Tamil are divided into several chapters and sub-chapters. All of them reveal leadership lessons to which young children should have access. Ways to incorporate sections of his book into education, making it more accessible to those who may not feel comfortable reading Tamil will be the finest way to remember this great scholar.

Among many reasons, the book deserves to be clubbed with the finest autobiographies ever written, for three reasons:

The initial chapters and to some extent the later chapters, are vivid, with factual descriptions of daily life in the 1830s–1870s in Thanjavur district. While political history of this time is well recorded, the daily lives are not – simple details of wedding ceremonies (the groom paid for the expenses and a bride price), schooling (4 a.m.-5 p.m. with each student having to supply his own sand everyday) give a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary folks. His family was deeply entrenched in music and we have information of stalwarts such as Ghanam Krishna Iyer, Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan as well as patrons of those days (often with house address details) in Ariyalur and other areas. His pilgrimage to attend the 1878 consecration of Madurai Meenakshi temple speaks of the Vaigai with water and flanked by coconut groves, hardly imaginable today!

From an inspirational point, his life is yet another example of how persistence, perseverance and ethical living are the surest way to lasting success though money will come slowly.

The indigent circumstances of the family did not prevent them from holding on to values. In a moving passage he speaks of how a friend of his father taunted him for choosing Tamil over English. He then decided to learn from Meenakshisundaram Pillai (whose portly but radiating appearance is fondly described). He went about the task in a systematic manner of reading his texts and cultivating the friendships of those who knew him and could get him a meeting. His description of his guru’s death and his own move to Kumbakonam from Tiruvavaduturai are deeply moving even after 137 years when read by someone several generations later.

Finally is his ability to look at everything with hope and positivity. There are times when he faces difficulty, but things do get better and he does his own bit. Particularly illustrative is the patience he had in comparing different versions of ‘Sivaka Chintamani’ and bringing it to press despite many obstacles.

As his 160th anniversary approaches, perhaps we will see an audio book, and parts of the text in school texts and an account of the descendants of the many people he mentions, including Ariyalur Sadagopa Iyengar, Senganam Vridhachala Reddiar, Judge Muthusamy Iyer and his colleagues in the Kumbakonam college – Gopal Rao, ‘Ladu’ Sesha Iyer, R.V. Srinivasa Iyer, B. Hanumanth Rao and of course his guru, Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Thyagaraja Chettiar, who got him to Kumbakonam and Salem Ramasamy Mudaliar who inspired him to look at Sangam literature.

(The writer may be contacted at pradeepandanusha


This article has been corrected on February 17, 2013 for typo error


From The Hindu ArchivesFebruary 14, 2013

To honour a man who has done so much for Thamiz is to name the Thanjavur Tamil Unversity after him. What a fitting tribute it will be.

from:  Thirugnanam Thukkani
Posted on: Feb 17, 2013 at 00:12 IST

We do see our state always referred to Tamilnadu in English within
and without our state all around India and also in the world.
The use of Tamiziah in this article looks better than Tamil.we want the chief minister to look into this aspect and take steps to introduce
this in Place of Tamil which sound British pronounciation(Butler
English)of the Foreign rule.This would also be a great Honoor to
grand old man Thatha Iyer.Incidently we feel there should be a correction to 260 yrs to 160 yrs mentioned in the article

from:  doodu
Posted on: Feb 16, 2013 at 08:06 IST

Nice coverage by Pradeep. I will love to create this audio book as a mark of respect to the great U Ve Sa.

from:  Sri Srinivasa
Posted on: Feb 15, 2013 at 11:17 IST

If at all anybody be called Tamil Saviour,only DR.U.Ve Swaminathaiyer
and none else will be qualified.His autobiography,En Charitham is
available and I got it some years back where he had several anecdotes
about his efforts as well as about the social life in Tamilnadu

from:  Sundar
Posted on: Feb 15, 2013 at 10:46 IST

It is indeed a shame that as Tamils we do not honor appropriately the
one man who brought us back the literature we might have permanently
lost. We celebrate Tamil Language frequently by holding international
conferences but the one man responsible for us to be proud of our
language languishes without many not knowing him. We must all raise up
and honor this valiant man who fought the temple priests who were
destroying the manuscripts by offering on sacrificial fire and walked
tirelessly to find and save old Sanga Period literature like
Paththupattu etc. I saw the movie Tamizh Thaththa and was so
impressed. I am yet to read is autobiography and look forward to it.
Let us honor him appropriately and I hope Jaya Lalitha will take this
chance to name a major Tamil University in his honor.

from:  S.Balakrishnan
Posted on: Feb 15, 2013 at 07:33 IST
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