தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"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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Journey Down Memory Lane To Reach 'tamiz Izam'

Chapter 41

I have written in these journeys that, each individual, situation, action deserves such treatment as it deserves. There is no thumb rule. Sometimes an empirical formula for smaller groups or situation could be applied. Sometimes we have to shake ourselves out of our lethargy, and that means not being too polite, but pithy - through metaphor, jokes, sharp characterizations, but it is difficult to follow the 11th commandment in a forum such as the circle. However, Kathiravan, has in his parable, "chenpakap paravai’ has tried to illustrate a Sinhala saying, ‘VASIP PADHDHA.’ In other words these are the talented ‘tamiz’ journalists who are like the ‘thagncAvUr pommy’ they slant with the wind of success.

I am sure most of you have heard, "toddiliR pazakkam cudu kAdu varykkum.’ It will be wonderful if we learnt every thing in our childhood that is universally acceptable. Here again as we grow older and change places or relocate in American English, what we learnt early may not be acceptable to everyone. Patriotism in my view does not lie in ‘flag waving or endless repetition of ‘appE Anhduva’ or ‘pUmi puttira’ and the like. True patriotism will be to see that our utterances if there is a need, should be converted into action to move the country forward and take along with us who are not one among us with us for them to feel comfortable in our midst. A feeling of being wanted, the best incentive for the highest performance leading to the best output. Truthfully, this will not happen in Sri Lanka, as the demon of Sinhala Buddhist fanaticism reigns supreme.

I am aware of the grumbling and cursing of some as to my stubborn stance in nurturing the idea and grows into the PR machine that we lack so badly. We are the recipients of literary liturgy. Works such as ‘tiruviLyjAdaR purAnham’ have shown us and taught us some of our characteristics. In Siva’s episode in ‘tiruviLy jAdar purAnham, tarumikkup poR kizi aLitta padalam,’ Siva has given the poor Brahmin the key to the King’s inner thought ,in the following verse:

The wandering bee, tell me whether there is a fragrance sweeter than the one that emanates from the peacock feather like hair of my beloved, is a simple explanation to a ‘tamiz’ poem sweeter than the sweet smell of ‘pAnhdimAtEvi’s hair.’ This was not acceptable to the poet laureate cum court poet ‘NakkIrar.’ He was challenged by Siva himself, but ‘NakkIrar’ did not budge, Siva showed him his third eye, that did not scare him, he stood his ground. Siva, as the belief goes when he stares with his third eye it had "laser rays" and it burns down everything in its path. But ‘NakkIrar’ said:

‘muRRum tuRaNta munivanE jAnAlum kuRRamE kuRRam.’ "You may be the ascetic of ascetics, but the fragrance from the queens hair is artificial." ‘NakkIrar was burnt to ashes. However, at the insistence of the King who was ‘tamiz paktan, and a siva paktan, and others Siva recreated NakkIrar for his devotion to ‘tamiz’ and for his strength of character to stand up to his conviction. I hope there will be no confrontation with a Siva or a power, with my stand to get ‘tamiz Izam’ in the American vocabulary. Even if there is such a power, I know very well that there are a few who will intercede on my behalf and get me out of any scrape I may have with that power?

Here is an interesting phenomenon, those of you who have read ‘kaNttapurAnham’ and such works or even seen movies such as ‘Sri Valli’ starring T.R. Mahalingam with that famous song, ‘kAjAta kAnakatte NinRulAvum’ would have noticed that ‘murukan’ after he annihilated the ‘tevas’ Angels, at the insistence of his followers recreate them. My father had another wish or theory, that man should not make weapons of mass destruction, but if he had to then he should work hard to give these weapons the power to withdraw their destructive power and bring back the condition to pre-destruction state. That will be wonderful? Anything is possible with man’s capacity for flights of fancy, eventually turning into a frenzy to fly.

Logayathac Chiththar, (ulOkAjatac cittar) has said something about it:

Here is an almost contemporaneous ‘cittar’ - in the widest sense that ‘cyva cittaNtam’ hold the view that this world is real.

A Confluence of East and West. - A. Ranganathan.

"The Asiatic cult" wrote Professor Hans Kohn, ‘has assumed new forms corresponding to Europe’s expressionist tendencies, her reaching out towards the mythical and primitive: the roots of nationalism struck deeper, men meditated upon its spiritual value, as is seen in the writings of Coomaraswamy and his Contemporaries. And all this reached its climax in Gandhi’s agitation."

Professor Kohn’s attempt to demonstrate the similarity between European Expressionism (which started as a movement in German literature and painting in the first quarter of the present century) and the Asiatic cult (which is a political phenomenon) will probably astonish many people. Yet his attempt is justified, for the revolt of the Indians against the alienation caused by the Western impact on India is comparable to the adherents of expressionism against current art and civilization.

In a slightly different context, it was noted by Dr. Basil Gray of the British Museum that Coomaraswamy had died just when his life-work was coming to fruition. By the time of his death in 1947, the last vestiges of the "smoke clouds which had all too long obscured the splendid achievements of Indian sculpture" (Rothenstein) were about to disappear. Indeed it had been fashionable to regard Coomaraswamy as the prophet of Indian cultural nationalism.

To any student of Coomaraswamy’s thought however, it is clear that despite the national perspective of his earlier days, Coomaraswamy slowly came to perceive all that was best in other cultures and traditions, as is evident from the universal quality of mature writings.

Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy was born on August 22, 1877, in Colombo. His father, Sir Muthu Coomaraswamy, noted for his forensic brilliance and classical scholarship, was the first Asian to be knighted during the reign of Queen Victoria. Sir Muthu enjoyed the esteem of such men as Lord Palmerston, Lord Tennyson, Lord Beaconsfield. Indeed, Lord Beaconsfield portrayed him as his Kusinara in his last unfinished novel.

In 1876, Sir Muthu married an English lady of Kent named Elizabeth Clay Beeby, and when their only child Ananda was born, he received the middle name ‘Kentish.’

Ananda, after a brilliant career at Wycliffe and London University was appointed Director of the Minerological Survey of Ceylon when he was just 26 years of age. Though he received a D.Sc. from London University for his research, his valuable discovery of thorianite in 1904 is not generally known. It was characteristic of Coomaraswamy’s self-effacement that he called the new mineral "thorianite" instead of linking with his own name.

In the course of his scientific work, he became interested in the artistic heritage of Ceylon and did a study of the surviving guilds of the mediaeval Sinhalese craftsmen and their artifacts. The results of the study are recorded in his classic monograph "mediaeval Sinhalese Art (1908).

Soon, he abandoned geology altogether and devoted himself wholly to the study of the arts and cultures of India and Ceylon.It was at this time that he published another excellent monograph. "The Aims of Indian Art" (1908). In this study and in others, Coomaraswamy tried to reconstruct and interpret the philosophy of the national art rather than convey merely the beauties of different art-works.

He was not a romantic aesthetician but the foremost academic historian of Indian art scattered through the ages in different parts of Asia, but also in creating a new consciousness of Indian cultural unity.

Undoubtedly, the aesthetic philosophy of Indian nationalism found its most articulate exponent in Coomaraswamy during the first decade of the twentieth century. In "Essays in National Idealism" he wrote: "We want our India for ourselves because we believe each nation has its own part to play in the long tale of human progress and nations which are not free to develop their individuality and character are also unable to make the contribution to the sum of human culture which the world has a right to expect of them." In other words, he argued that every nation ought to make its own contribution to what Mazzini acclaimed as the "concert of mankind, the orchestra of human genius."

To him the word ‘nationalism’ denoted the cultural expression of a nation. When India had attained independence, his message was "Be Yourself." It placed the accent on aesthetic authenticity and not on the political content of freedom. "Nations" observed Coomaraswamy, "are created by poets and artists, not by merchants and politicians. In art lie the deepest life principles."

In his famous oration delivered before the Phi Beta Koppa Society in 1837, Emerson had castigated American writers for their subservience to the artists of Europe and called them to create an indigenous literature. His oration has been justly hailed as "America’s declaration of spiritual independence." Similarly, to Coomaraswamy Indian nationalism was a quest for self-realization, a declaration of spiritual independence.

We cannot perceive the full significance of Coomaraswamy’s philosophy of Indian nationalism without perceiving the aesthetic impact of the theory of "dhvani" on his philosophy of Indian art. The word ‘dhvani" literally means "suggestion in an aesthetic sense’ and was developed into an elaborate theory by Anandavardhana, the celebrated Indian literary critic of the ninth century AD while the "Dhvanyaloka" of Anandavardhana the "locus classicus" in Indian literary criticism, deals with the aesthetic significance of words and their subtle undertones, Coomaraswamy reflected on the significance of art motifs and their symbolic meanings. Thus Coomaraswamy’s approach to nationalism combined the patriotic spirit of Mazzini, the intellectual freedom of Emerson, and the aesthetic insight of Anandavardhana.

Coomaraswamy wrote much and he always wrote well. A master of the aphoristic style, in his discourse, he blended thought and feeling, poetical fervor and lucid expression.

Between 1895, when as a young man of 18 he published his first article "The Geology of Doverow Hill" and 1947, his seventieth year, he had written more than 500 publications. Their scope is astonishing. He had written several articles on Indian, Indonesian and Sinhalese art in the "Encyclopedia Brittanica" and also in "The National Encyclopaedia of America," in addition to editing English words of Indian origin in "Webster’s New International Dictionary." The rest of his publications range from his collection of essays entitled "The Dance of Shiva," to such works as "The History of Indian and Indonesian Art," "Hinduism and Buddhism" and "A New Approach to the Vedas."

"The History of Indian and Indonesian Art," which was published in 1927, is his chief contribution to the study of Indian Art in its historical. sociological and philosophical contexts. Beginning with the Indo-Sumerian finds, it gives a clear and connected account of the entire history of Indian and Indonesian art, with special emphasis on problems relating to the Indian origin of the Buddha image. His profound grasp of the various interrelated disciplines helped him to realize the twin ideals of harmony and truth in all Indian art. Thus, in discussing the evolution of Indian art and culture as a joint creation of Aryan and Dravidian genius, he was able to reveal that the Gupta Buddhas, elephanta Maheswara, Pallava lingams, and the later Natarajas are products of two spiritual natures.

According to Coomaraswamy, this situation resulted in a cultural process, which "in a very real sense" was a "marriage of the East and West," or of the North and South consummated, as the donors of the image would say, "for the good of all ancient beings; a result, not of a superficial blending of Hellenistic and Indian technique, but of the crossing of spiritual tendencies, racial "samskaras" (preoccupations) that may well have been determined before the use of metals was known."

Looking back, we cannot doubt that Coomaraswamy’s migration to Boston was a gain; it led to a deeper appreciation of Indian art in the West and particularly in America. Also, his stay at Needham widened his intellectual horizons and deepened his ideas on mysticism. During this period, he concerned himself especially with the general problems of art, religion, and philosophy. By harmonizing his manifold interest, both Eastern and Western, he attained a unity of outlook which invests his writings with a lasting significance.

Coomaraswamy has argued in his "Hindu View of Art" that the fusion of religious ecstasy and artistic experience is not an exclusively Hindu view; it has been expounded by many others - such as the neoplatonists, Hsieh Ho, Goethe, Blake, Schopenhauer, or Schiller and also restated by Croce. In one of his flashes of self-revelation, Coomaraswamy called himself "an orientalist who was in fact almost as much a platonist as a mediaevelist." And he was continually striving to understand the creative unity of symbolical expressions - the Brahma of Indian philosophers, or the "Unio Mystica" of Jan van Ruysbroeck the father of mysticism in the Netherlands, and the "Urquelle" of the German Meister Eckhart - and, in this way, to synthesise the fundamental insights of the Eastern and Western traditions of mysticism.

His culturally most significant notion is that of the chosen people of the future - a notion which elevates Coomaraswamy to the select company of those choice spirits who have effectively contributed to the continuous dialogue between East and west. According to him, "the chosen people of the future cannot be any nation or race but an aristocracy of the earth uniting the virility of European youth to the serenity of Asiatic age." Elsewhere he wrote: "Who that has breathed the clear mountain air of the Upanishads, of Goutama, Sankara and Kabir of Rumi, Laotse and Jesus can be alien to those who have sat at the feet of Plato and Kant> Tauler Behman and Ruysbroeck, Whitman, Nietzsche and Blake."

Coomaraswamy hoped for a more fruitful era in ‘East West Cultural Relations’ and wrote that "men like the English De Morgan and George Boole, the American Emerson and the contemporary Frenchmen Rene Guenon and Jacques de Marquette were able to make a real and vital contact with Indian metaphysic which became for them a transforming experience."

He also stressed the desirability of "using one tradition to illuminate the other so as to demonstrate even more clearly that the variety of the traditional cultures, in all of which there subsisted until now a poor balance of spiritual and material values, is simply that of the dialects of what is always one and the same language of the spirit, of that perennial philosophy to which no one people or age lay an exclusive claim."

It is remarkable that Coomaraswamy, who began his career as a geologist, should have ended it with the publication of "Time and Eternity," an impressive contribution to comparative aesthetics. He achieved distinction in four different fields of intellectual and creative endeavor, geology, political philosophy, Indian art history, and the general philosophy of art, literature and religion.

In his own person he symbolized a confluence of East and West, as well as an aesthetic symbiosis of the two cultures, scientific and literary. Child of Ceylon and England, he became an Indian in the same deep sense in which Henry James transformed himself into a European and T.S Eliott into an Englishman. While reflecting on the life of Coomaraswamy one is irresistibly reminded of Walt Whitman’s ‘marriage of continents, climates and oceans.’

Coomaraswamy’s early scientific career can be compared to a spring originating from some subterranean mineral source delighting everyone by its natural freshness and sweetness. And the later development of his mind can be likened to the course of the stream of Indian artistic consciousness, which, starting from its Vedic source and flowing through India, catches the nationalistic current at the turn of the century, then mingles with the stream of traditional European art and finally joins the ocean that washes the shores of ‘philosophia perennis." (Indian and Foreign Review.) (The Ceylon Daily News, Wednesday, September 15, 1971.)


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