Tamil is his life blood. Thirukkural is his life breath. Books are his treasures and words are his wealth. “My mission is to restore the dying and resurrect the dead,” says Pulavar Ilankumaranar with fierce determination, implying lost and disappearing works of literature.
A Tamil poet, writer, scholar, etymologist and bibliophile, R.Ilankumaranar who is held in high esteem among academic and intellectual circles in the state, is also the founder of the Thiruvalluvar Thava Salai, Allur.
“The conference should have ideally been held after the aim is achieved: the language has to thrive in our schools, colleges, temples and courts of law,” said Pulavar Ilankumaranar on the World Classical Tamil Conference.
The Tamil pandit from the village of Vazhavantharpuram in Tirunelveli district, who shifted base to Tiruchi, established the Thiruvalluvar Thava Salai in Allur in 1993. Since then, he has promoted Tamil literature, particularly Thirukkural from his idyllic home on the banks of the River Cauvery. To him, Thirukkural is not a book, but a way of life.
In love with books
At 80, Ilankumaranar is highly animated. Robust and untiring. The bibliophile who began his collection at the age of 16 quips, “I can survive without food, but not without books. My wife dropped out of school after Class Five, but she has read more than 2000 of the books here,” he adds.
Each book has been preserved lovingly, covered neatly with brown paper and arranged on steel racks. Gazettes, government records, old letters, ancient manuscripts, translations of prized works and books on art, painting, sculpture and literature fill the shelves.
Words have held an irresistible appeal for him since childhood. His current research project for the Central Institute of Classical Tamil, ‘Sorporul Kalanjiyam' explains the origins and development of thousands of words.
The prolific writer who has authored around 400 books is always seen with book and pen in hand. Poetry, prose, drama, grammar, and criticism- he has left no genre unexplored.
“When I don't read, I write, and when I don't write, I read,” he quips. Ilankumaranar finds inspiration from the smallest of acts and he pens them down anywhere and anytime- in his little room, on the banks of the Cauvery, during long bus journeys or even under the moonlight.
Among his books, ‘Thirukurral Vazhvu Iyal Urai' won him considerable acclaim. In 1963, “Essays of Thirukural' was released by former Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1974, Ilankumaranar rediscovered and restored 19 songs from the literary work, ‘Kakai Padiniam'.
Ilankumaranar maintains Tamil must be the principal medium of instruction at least up to Class Five in all schools. “I have absolutely no objection to students learning English. But offering Tamil as an optional language is like sending my mother out of the house and caring for someone else's mother,” he justifies.
Besides language and literature, he has competent knowledge of music, sculpture, art and religion. He evinces keen interest in self-development literature, natural therapy and organic food. For him, Nature will always remain his favourite teacher. “Nature has a lot to teach man. Language, music, medicine- they all have their roots in nature,” he says .
Awards and recognition
The accolades that have come his way include ‘Lifetime Achievement Award' presented by Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America in 2007, ‘Tamil Peravai Semmal' by Madurai Kamaraj University in 2009, ‘Mozhipor Maravar' by Tamil Santror Peravai, and titles like ‘Thirukural Paeroli', ‘Semmozhi Sitthar' and ‘Tamil Kadal'.