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Updated: August 24, 2010 01:59 IST

Chennai School Tamil teacher revives memories

B. Kolappan
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P. Saravanan.
Photo: R.Ragu.
P. Saravanan.

The 1190-page book ‘Arutpaa-Marutpaa: Kandanathirattu' stands as a testimony to the scholarship of this 37-year-old Tamil teacher

When he was a student, P. Saravanan's day would not be complete without reciting Vallalar's Thiruvarutpaa lines “Orumaiyudan Ninathu..”. But little did he realise that one day he would emerge an authority on Arutprakasa Ramalinga Vallalar and his works.

The 1190-page book ‘Arutpaa-Marutpaa: Kandanathirattu' (Kalachuvadu Publishers), documenting the debate over the merit of Thiruvarutpaa, stands as a testimony to the scholarship of this 37-year-old Tamil teacher at the Chennai School in Ayanavaram run by the Chennai Corporation.

“I took me over a decade to collect the relevant documents,” says Saravanan, recalling how his Tamil teacher Seeni. Sattaiyappan in school created in the young mind a passion for Vallalar.

After completing his post graduation in Tamil, he did his Ph. D on Vallalar's social ideas, which was published as a small book. Encouraged by Professor A.R. Venkatachalapathy of the Madras Institute of Tamil Studies (MIDS), Saravanan went on collecting the documents and compiled them as a book, bringing back the memories of over a century-old debate that offered fodder for Tamil scholars in the State.

While Vallalar became a household name and his Arutpaa songs were on devotees' lips, a debate over his works began in 1867 and continued for half a century.

“Tamil scholar Arumuga Navalar from Jaffna questioned the title Thiruvarutpaa. He was furious that Vallalar's songs were gaining popularity at the expense of Saivaite literature such as Thevaram and Thiruvachagam. As a scholar deeply rooted in Saivaite tradition, he could not tolerate it and launched a debate, arguing it was not Arutpaa (Songs of grace) but Marutpaa (Songs of ignorance),” explains Saravanan. “Vallalar's rejection of Saivaism in the later period of his life and preaching of compassion for all lives was also one of the reasons that provoked the debate,” says Saravanan.

As the debate gathered momentum, Tamil scholars from Jaffna and Tamil Nadu divided into two groups and indulged in a debate, using unprintable language at times reminding the diatribes of platform speakers of political parties.

On Vallalar's stand on the issue, Saravanan says Vallalar was against it. “In fact, he published a small note urging his disciples to keep away from useless arguments that take away their concentration on God,” Saravanan says.

Later, he spoke at Chidambaram temple at the behest of Dikshitars explaining the meaning of the word Navalar. But when he realised that the intention of the Dikshitars was to target Arumuga Navalar, he fell silent.

But Arumuga Navalar filed a defamation case against Vallalar. After Arumuga Navalar's death his disciples including Kathiraiver Pillai continued the debate beginning in 1903. Saravanan says though he had succeeded in collecting most of the documents, still there were many that could not be obtained.

“It was a difficult task. Many individuals helped me in this effort. Once I have to buy a quarter of rum for an employee of a library to get the photo copy of one document,” he recalls with a smile.

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