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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Eelam

  • Dictionary of Biography of the Tamils of Ceylon
    compiled by Sanmugam Arumugam with assistance from M.Theagarajah and C.J.T.Thamotharam (editorial consultants: V.Sankaralingam, T.Balasubramaniam
    C.Subramaniam, M.Nadarajah, A.Thurairetnam, K . Jayaseelan and others)
    First Edition 1996 (book inquiries from thiru@netcomuk.co.uk )
Sanmugam Arumugam B.Sc (Lond),B.Sc (Eng), F.I.C.E, F.I.E.,, was born on 31 August 1905, in Jaffna, Eelam. Graduating from Kings College, London, he served as an Irrigation Engineer for over twenty years, eventually functioning as Deputy Director of Irrigation for ten years and acting as Director. His writings include Some Hindu Hindu Temples of Sri Lanka, 1980; Lord of Thiruketheswaram, 1980; Stone Sculptures in Colombo Hindu Temple, 1990, Thiru Koneswaram, 1990; and Lombok and its Temples, Indonesia, 1991. [see also the Pancha Ishwarams of Eelam]

from the Preface & Introduction:

Preface:

This compilation portrays the profiles of over 775 Ceylon Tamils, who have contributed some good to the community. They range from the eminent to the not so eminent and span centuries, from the era of the Tamil Kings of Jaffna to the present time. 

At the close of the twentieth century, history is being enacted in Sri Lanka. The Tamil image, established over centuries, is being erased off from the Island. Fleeing from their motherland, the Sri Lankan Tamils are seeking refuge overseas and are settling down all over the globe. They are on the verge of fast loosing their separate identity and are, in fact, becoming an "Endangered Species".

The next generations, growing up in the environment of their new domicile, would be alien to their own culture and their Tamil traditions. Bereft of their kinsfolk, they would have scanty knowledge of their esteemed ancestors, who were once the prestige of their motherland. This compilation is for their benefit. 

It is an attempt to preserve some biographical information of those who contributed towards the lofty position achieved by the Tamil community in Ceylon. It is an attempt to remember those who deserve to be remembered and about whom I was able to collect information. It has no pretext of being a Biographical Dictionary of the Tamil Nation; that is beyond my scope and is left to the more competent and qualified to document.

Having lived for over "four score years and ten", personal knowledge of a large number of Tamils is an advantage I enjoy. In most families, I know of more than one generation, in many two or three and in a specific instance, I am familiar with even their fourth generation.

Obtaining biographical information has not been that easy, as we Tamils are loathe to speak about our achievements, ourselves and even about our forebears. Humility has always been the traditional basis of our expression. Nevertheless, the response and encouragement received from some are gratefully acknowledged. It is regretted that it has not always been possible to include all that has been received.

The enthusiasm infused by the ever ardent C.J.T.Thamotharam in obtaining information, reading of the script and making suggestions, was most encouraging. M.Theagarajah, of "Palm Grove" (Madras) memories, has spent hours assisting at all stages; to him this preparation has been an enjoyable pastime, though at personal inconvenience. Associated with them was V.Sankaralingam, with a fund of memory and anecdotes. The veteran School Principal C.Subramaniam was a constant Consultant; his recollections, were ever so green, though less oratorical, at ninety plus. The demise of the last two was a sad loss.

The ever enthusiastic K.Jayaseelan, joining in later, brought fresh enthusiasm. He took delight in reading through and checking the work done. We met regularly every Tuesday.

All their assistance is gratefully acknowledged. With the blossoms provided by them, this garland has been happily strung together and offered to the memory of our elders - the pillars of the Ceylon Tamils community.

A compilation of this nature cannot be free from errors; where mistakes occur they are of course unintentional. Suggestions regarding additions and amendments are welcome.

An eminent writer once reminded his readers:

To find errors in another man 's book is far easier than to write one's own book containing more".

London 1996
S.Arumugam


Introduction

"History is the essence of innumerable biographies". Thomas.Carlisle.

The object of a "Biography" is to provide in a compact and readable form, a brief outline of the lives of men and women of all ages who had made an impact on the lives of others.

It is most desirable for the growth of a nation to be aware of the biographies of its people. In the libraries of Great Britain, the largest section (other than fiction) is always the Biographical Section. What is spoken about fades with time; but what is written remains for an time. Biographies influence the young mind and inspire posterity. An awareness of men and events of the past provides a firm foundation for building the future.

Dictionary of Biography.

A Dictionary of Biography contains biographies of the many people who became well known because of the impact they made on the lives of others. Persons gain this position for various reasons. Many achieve this status due to a capability in their character, others by scholarship and writing. There are then the thinkers. Some achieve by devotion to a religious cause, still others due to patriotic role in freedom struggle etc.

Dictionary of Biography is found in most countries. The Dictionary of National Biography of Great Britain is an outstanding monument from the Oxford Press. The basic Dictionary consists of several volumes comprehensively covering up to the year 1900; since then additional volumes have been compiled for every ten year period. The work is massive and certainly monumental. A concise version, in three volumes, has been issued for easy reference.

Since of late however several one volume Dictionaries of Biography have been published. There are the Chambers' Biographical Dictionary, Webster's' Biographical Dictionary, Longmans' Dictionary of the 20th century Biography etc. Canada, Australia, Scotland, Ireland etc. all have their Dictionaries of Biography.

Who's Who

"Who's Who" is an annual publication, providing information about persons prominent only in that year. It was commenced in 1894 and is now in its 142nd issue. "Who was Who" is in seven volumes commencing from the year 1897.

Occupational Trends

On a perusal of the occupational trends of the Sri Lankan Tamils it is noticed that there are definite and distinct periods when each occupation predominates, spheres of influence soon induced the adoption of the same vocation by several, even to the verge of overcrowding of the vocation.

During the eras of the Tamil Kings of Jaffna 13th to the 16th centuries, there was a profusion of Tamil scholars. They were men well versed in Sanskrit and classical Tamil who showed their ability in verse composition. Great literary personalities appear only in certain periods is an oft repeated saying. 

Casie Chetty has well observed that "Few nations on earth can perhaps boast of so many poets as the Tamils. Poetry appears to have been the first fixed form of language amongst them". 

The erudite European Scholar Abbe Dubois has expressed more succinctly as, 

" They (the Tamils) have not a single ancient book that is written in prose, not even the books on medicine". 

So, every choice from the period has to be a poet; it was a question whom to exclude, otherwise the compilation would have become another " Lives of the Poets"

In sharp contrast were the centuries that ensued, the early period of foreign domination. Every Tamil kept his head low; prominence was scarce. The few names known are of those who adopted Portuguese names etc., The Dutch strove to erase the religious traits established by their predecessors and substitute their own; so names of religious dignitaries are prominent in the period.

There was a remarkable change, late in the l9th century, when as a British Crown Colony. freedom of religious worship was recognised. Religious revivalists held sway. The popular occupation for the youths, early in the present century, was the Government Clerical service. Consequently the Head clerk occupied a very high status.

An alternative Mercantile occupation was that of being a Broker. But that occupation was a monopoly of a particular Division of Jaffna. There, one was a Broker or a Guarantee Shroff. These carried high social status. There was the unique case of a Doctor who went to England to obtain further medical qualifications; there he was called to the Bar as Barrister. On his return to Ceylon, he pursued neither the medicine nor the legal profession but became a Bank Guarantee Shroff and was highly proficient in that.

During the Pre-Independence era and after we see keener competition and Medicine and Engineering became the aspiration of the more capable Tamils. Many took to Law, becoming Advocates in particular. After Independence it was Accountancy as well. There was a surfeit of Accountants and they were readily absorbed overseas.

By the close of the 20th century. Computer Science has become a popular occupation of the Jaffna Tamil.

Conclusion.

These are the occupations of the persons who fill the pages of this compilation. It would be seen that the occupational habits occurred in distinct periods, when there was a profusion of the same vocation and it fast became overcrowded.

A Dictionary has to contain biographies of all the men and women of the country who had achieved a reasonable measure of distinction in any walk of life. Hence the names of Statesmen, Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers, Scholars, Writers, Poets, the Public & Mercantile Service personal, and Business men, etc., all who have made a significant contribution for the good of the community, deserve a place and justify preservation. No sphere of activity can be overlooked. The Dictionary preserves for posterity a record that would cause respect, pride and inspiration.

"To Honour those worthy of Honour is itself Honourable"

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