Tamil Nadu

Caldwell bicentenary to spotlight his contribution to Tamil

The Tamil Nadu government’s plan to celebrate the completion of the bicentenary of Bishop Robert Caldwell on May 7 includes garlanding his statue at Idaiyankudi, the village from which he did his missionary work and where he was laid to rest. His statue on the Marina here will also be garlanded by State Ministers.

As the missionary zeal of the Europeans made them unmindful of the harsh climatic conditions in India, it seemed Caldwell had special reasons to select Idayankudi.

“I always thought it a very appropriate name for the residence of a Missionary Pastor, and very suggestive of the duties which I had come there to discharge; for I fixed my abode in the place as a shepherd,” he wrote later. The word Idayan means shepherd. Caldwell died in Kodaikanal, but his body was buried at Idaiyankudi.

He first coined the term ‘Dravidian’ and his groundbreaking work, A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages, paved the way for assertion of the superiority and richness of Tamil, independent of Sanskrit, which inspired the Non-Brahmin Movement in the early decades of the 1900s.

As a missionary, Caldwell’s primary objective was conversion. But in the process, the changes he brought in the lives of the people he worked with were expressed in his lecture.

“The Christian women are more decently attired and more intelligent-looking than their heathen sisters, and instead of hiding themselves on the approach of an European stranger, they come out and give him, as he passes, the Christian salutation,” he observed in his lecture.

This transformation was in contrast with what existed when he had begun his work. He described in graphic detail the conditions of the people during the initial days of work, even mentioning how their clothes smelled.

Professor Vincent Kumardoss, author of Roberld Caldwell: A Scholar-Missionary in Colonial South India, has argued that besides providing education in vernacular language, he had specific reasons for his interest in English education. In his view, the English education he provided has stretched the imagination of the upper caste Hindus, fired by the attraction of lucrative employment, especially ‘unconventional’ civil service appointments gained through the competitive examinations.

While he collected eight annas a month from the students, he allowed two Dalit boys to pay four annas, “a concession granted because they were nominally at least slaves.” As a fitting tribute to Caldwell and his contributions to Tamil, a point also underscored by DMK president M. Karunanidhi, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said on Monday that the Tamil savant had achieved “what could not be achieved over many generations.” The government would observe his birth anniversary every year as an official function, she said.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 6:50:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/caldwell-bicentenary-to-spotlight-his-contribution-to-tamil/article5979529.ece

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