What made civil engineer and Vedic scholar M. R. Jambunathan such a unique individual?

M. R. Jambunathan (1896-1974) was born in a learned family of Vedic scholars of Manakkal, Tiruchirapalli District, Tamil Nadu. Jambunathan was proficient in Tamil, Sanskrit, and English. He also studied the Vedas in depth. In his high school days, he went around the villages and towns of Tamil Nadu to collect ancient scriptures. He was also interested in numismatics and collected ancient Indian coins.

Early in life, Jambunathan made it his mission to translate the four Veda Samhitas — Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas — into Tamil, so that all literate Tamils could have access to the Vedas and learn for themselves the eternal values and the spiritual thoughts enshrined in them. At various fora, he enthused scholars to translate the Vedas into the language of the region from which they hailed, so that all Indians could have access to the ancient scriptures.

Translations of the Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas were published in Jambunathan's lifetime. After almost three decades of painstaking labour, he completed the translation of the Rig Veda, the larger compendium of the Veda Samhitas. The Rig Veda translation Vol.1 was posthumously released by Raja Ramanna, who was then the director of BARC, in 1978, and Vol.II by I. G. Patel, Governor, Reserve Bank of India, in 1980.

Jambunathan wrote many books on subjects such as the Upanishads and the Brahmanas, Yoga Asanas, Yoga Body, Cheena Vedam (Teachings of Confucius), Life of Mazzini and Duties of Man (Mazzini an Italian Patriot), in Tamil and Swami Shraddanand in English.

He served the Indian Chapter of International PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) Centre, Mumbai, for over 30 years, as its Executive Committee Member/Honorary Secretary. He participated in the All-India Conferences of PEN members and the International Conference held in Japan. He was a member of several All-India institutes and Tamil literary bodies (notably, World Academy of Sanskrit and the World Tamil Writers' Association). He was a researcher in Indology and wrote many research papers in simple language. He was hailed as a “Renaissance Man” of the 20 Century.

Jambunathan served the socially and the economically deprived sections of society in his capacity as Honorary Organiser, Depressed Classes League, Chennai, when he was pursuing his studies in Civil Engineering (1918-21). When he came to Mumbai and took up the position of Civil Engineer in the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, he established with local support the first primary school in Tamil medium in 1924, for the poorest of the poor, residing in the slums of Dharavi. With the Corporation's interest in providing primary education to the poor in their mother tongue in areas where they lived, the school was eventually handed over to the Corporation. In the Diamond Jubilee year (1924-1974) of the first school, there were 45 schools in Tamil medium, a few among them leading to middle and high school levels under Municipal auspices.

His collection of ancient Indian coins related to the Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas and Vijayanagar periods (7-10 Century AD); the French East India Company and the British period (20 Century AD). There were a few coins of Aurangazeb, Mysore Wodeyars, Mysore Sultans and the Hyderabad Nizams. Jambunathan's collection of 138 antique coins was donated to the RBI Monetary Museum by Indira Anantharam Iyer (Jambunathan's daughter) and T. N. Anantharam Iyer (his son-in-law), former Executive Director, RBI. The coins have been displayed in the Reserve Bank of India Monetary Museum, Mumbai.