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U.V. Swaminatha Iyer

Tamil Nadu Ministers garlanded statue of Thiru.U.Ve.Swaminatha Iyer at Presidency College, Chennai - 150th Birthday, 19th February 2004

Life History of U.V.Swaminatha Iyer - Video Presentation
Professor K. Swaminathan
A Himalayan Professor and Savant - V Sundaram
 
Library of Palmyrah Manuscripts

 

One Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century

U.V.Swaminatha Iyer (U.Ve.Sa)
1855 - 1942

Professor C.R.Krishnamurthi on U.V. Swaminatha Iyer
On 141st Birth Anniversary, S. Thangavelu, 1996
Thamizh Thaathaa U.Ve. SAA. (Tamil): Bharati Kaavalar Dr. K. Ramamurthy, 2002
Dr.S.Jayabarathi on Thamil Thaatha, 2002
The Patriarch of Tamil - A tribute, on his 150th birth anniversary. S. Viswanathan, 2005

 


Professor C.R.Krishnamurthi on U.V. Swaminatha Iyer

U.V.Swaminatha IyerDr. SAmin^Atha iyer ((Uttamadhanapuram Venkatasubbaiyer Swaminatha Iyer Tamil: உத்தமதனபுரம் வேங்கடசுப்பையர் சுவாமிநாத ஐயர்), was one of the illustrious students of MahA VidwAn MInAtchi sun^tharam PiLLai. He lived to the ripe age of 87 and was affectionately referred to as the 'Grand Father of Thamizh' .

He held senior academic positions in Thamizh at the Madras Presidency College. This was the time when the British were at the peak of their power and it was rare, if not impossible, for a native son with expertise in the vernacular language to be elevated to these high positions. He was conferred the honorary doctoral degree (D.Litt.) by the University of Madras. In recognition of his outstanding literary accomplishments and contributions, he was also honoured with the title, "MahAmahOpAthiyAya' - greatest of the great teachers.

He has written 91 published works including the editing of several Sangam texts, epics and grammatical works. He will be remembered for his style of prose including two biographies, one on his mentor, MInAtchi sun^tharam PiLLai and the other on the musician, GAnam KrishNa iyer and a long list of essays and reminiscences. His famous Autobiography is regarded as a legacy he bequeathed to posterity providing a liaison between older schools of thought and modern Thamizh literary trends. His other works include the following:

நான் கண்டதும் கேட்டதும்,
பழையதும் புதியதும்,
நல்லுரைக்கோவை,
நினைவு மஞ்சரி


On 141st Birth Anniversary, S. Thangavelu, Hindu, 25 February 1996

U.V.Swaminatha IyerDr. U. V. Swaminatha Iyer, Tamil scholar and literatus , whose 141st birth anniversary fell on February 19, showed a keen interest in Tamil literature, even when he was young.

His father, Venkatasubbiar, a musician, observing the child's aptitude, made all efforts to educate the boy, putting him in the care and tutelage of Tamil scholars. Venkatasubbiar earned his living by giving discourses on the Ramayana, and by the nature of his profession, travelled a lot. Although he wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, he realised that the boy should not be forced into anything.

In Ariyalur on the support of the Zamindar, his son was taught by Satagopa Aiyangar, a scholar in Tamil who was equally proficient in music. As the Zamindar was running into debt, his support to Venkatasubbiar's family dwindled. At that time, his friend Kunnam Chidambaram Pillai, revenue accountant and Tamil scholar, came to his rescue. Chidambaram Pillai persuaded them to move to Kunnam, where Venkatasubbiar gave discourses at Chidambaram Pillai's house Chidambaram Pillai's friendship was valuable in more ways than one.

A Tamil scholar, he specialised in ``Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam'' and such other works; Iyer started learning from him. He also trained under Pillai as an assistant to a revenue accountant so that he could get a job. Iyer also came under the influence of Kasturi Aiyangar, who specialised in the Kamba Ramayanam.

Iyer learnt Tamil grammar, known as Nannool from him. It was after his marriage that Iyer was introduced to Chinnappannai Vridhachalam Reddiar, a rich and eminent scholar. From him Iyer learnt the prosody, the rules and laws relating to the art of poetry. On the advice of Senganam Chinnappannai Vridhachalam Reddiar and others, Iyer's father took him to Meenakshisundaram Pillai of Mayavaram to gain more knowledge of Tamil literature.

In Mayawaram, Iyer was assigned to a senior student of the Mahavidwan Saverinatha Pillai. Iyer was taught Naidadam by him. Though Saverinatha Pillai was a good scholar and taught well, Iyer hankered for direct lessons from the Master. Pillai taught him Tirukkudanthai Tirupandadi, the poem he composed in honour of Sri Kumbeswara. Iyer studied several works under the Mahavidwan. These include a number of antadi and Pillai-t-tamil poems.

After some months, Iyer accompanied Pillai to Tiruvavadurai. Melakaram Subramania Desikar was then Head of the famous math in that place. Widely respected for his scholarship. Desikar asked Pillai to stay on at the math for some time as many of his tampirans wished to have advance lessons in Tamil.

When Pillai introduced Iyer to him, Desikar made the usual enquiries and asked the boy to recite a verse. He was delighted when Iyer recited the verse musically and gave a word-for-word explanation as well. He was gratified to know from Pillai that the new student was deeply attached to Tamil literature at a time when love for English learning was sweeping the education scene.

Tyagaraja Chettiar was the head of the Tamil Department in the Government College, Kumbakonam. He was a man of great erudition and was held in high esteem by the pupils as well as the public. He was a student of Meenakshisundaram Pillai. When Chettiar retired, he recommended Iyer in his place. Iyer was appointed to that post on February 16, 1880. During that time one Salem Ramaswami Mudaliar joined as District Munsiff at Kumbakonam on transfer from Ariyalur. On the advice of Desikar, Iyer met Mudaliar.

The friendship between them proved to be a turning point in Iyer's life. Mudaliar was responsible for persuading Iyer to edit and publish the ancient Tamil classics. Iyer had till then confined his enjoyment of Tamil literature to medieval works. Mudaliar also gave a handwritten copy of Jeevaka Chintamani for publication.

As Chintamani was a Jain classic, Iyer went to the homes of Jains in Kumbakonam to get some doubts cleared. He also read the Jain epics and collated several manuscript versions and arrived at a correct conclusion. It was due to his efforts that the Jeevaka Chintamani was published in 1887. From that time onwards he began to search for Sangam classics with a view to editing and publishing them. After Chintamani, Pattu-P-Pattu was published.

Often it was difficult to make out what was inscribed on the palm leaf. He was able to bring out the publications with his thorough knowledge of the literature. During his life time, Iyer edited and published a hundred books Sangam works, Kavyas, Prabhandhas, Sthalapuranas, etc., with introductions, critical notes, glossaries and indices valued for their thoroughness and depth of research. When Srinivasachariar, Tamil Pandit at the Madras Presidency College retired, Iyer was transferred to Madras from Kumbakonam in 1903. He retired in 1919 at the age of 64.

His research work increased several times after retirement. He travelled from place to place in search of palm leaf manuscripts so as to edit and publish them. From 1924 to 1927, Iyer was the Principal of the Meenakshi Tamil College in Annamalai University, Chidambaram. On health grounds, he resigned the post, came to Madras and continued his research.

The title Mahamahopadhya was conferred on him by the Madras Government in recognition of his services, in the year 1906. The same year when the Prince and Princess of Wales visited Madras, a function was arranged where several scholars were given titles and awards.

Iyer was honoured with a golden bracelet. In 1925, the title ``Dakshina Kalanidhi'' was awarded to him by Kamakoti Pitathipathi Sri Sankara Swamigal. In 1932, the Madras University awarded the title ``Doctor'' to him in recognition of his services in the cause of Tamil. Dr. Iyer died on April 28, 1942. It was due to his efforts, that the world came to know the wonderful literary output of the ancient Tamils and their glorious past.


Thamizh Thaathaa U.Ve. SAA. (Tamil): Bharati Kaavalar Dr. K. Ramamurthy, Gangai Puthaka Nilayam, 13, Deenadayalu Street, T.Nagar, Chennai-600017. - Book Review by T. A. Srinivasan, 12 March 2002

U. Ve. Swaminatha Iyer, affectionately called as "Tamizh Thaathaa" for his untiring efforts to trace ancient Tamil literary works, spent all his years in the service of Tamil language and literature. It was given to him to visit every nook and corner of the Tamil country by all modes of transport and also by foot in the earlier part of the last century and rescue and resurrect Tamil classics right from those belonging to the Sangam age to later day works like Ula, Kalambakam and Pillaithamizh.

Ancient Tamil works, in palm leaf manuscripts, were kept in far corners of many village houses in those days and due to long years of neglect they were mutilated. He went after these works and gave them anew to the world through his scholarly, precise and exact editions.

The book under review, in about 100 pages, gives the life history of the great scholar, right from his childhood to his education under the late Tirisirapuram (Tiruchi) Mahavidwan Meenakshisundaram Pillai, his contemporaries, his publication of numerous works, the titles earned by him, his meeting with Gandhiji, and Subramania Bharati's tributes to him. But for him the Tamil country would have lost many works. Though there were five great epics known as "Aimperumkappiyangal", only three of them — Jeevaka Chinthamani, Silappadikaram and Manimekalai — could be retrieved by him. Even he, despite his best efforts, could not obtain the other two works, Valaiyapati and Kundalakesi.

Besides his publication of rare works, Swaminatha Iyer gave to the Tamil world two new forms of literature — a biography and an autobiography. The former, titled Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai Charitharam, presented the life-history of his mentor.

He also wrote En Charitharam which was serialised in the Kalaimagal and it presented an account of his life and also the men and matters during his time.

The book is in easy-to-read Tamil. It makes only a passing reference to the honour conferred on him by the Madurai Tamil Sangam, whose founder, Pandithurai Thevar, helped Iyer monetarily to publish many ancient classics and also gave him numerous palm leaf manuscripts and also published the works edited by him through the Sangam's literary journal, Senthamizh. These facts need to be included at least in the future edition.


  Dr.S.Jayabarathi on Thamil Thaatha, 2002

"This biographical article was written as a tribute to one of the greatest Tamilians of all time - The Grand Master of Tamil - Thamilzh Thaathaa U.VE.Saaminatha Aiyer.

It was first published in the Mayil magazine of Malaysia. The occasion was the birthday of the Grand Master on the 19th of February, 1992. It was serialised and came out in weekly segments over a period of 10 weeks.

The series came to a finish on the 24th April, 1992 - which by a coincidence happened to be the 50th memorial anniversary of the Grand Master.

The article has been written in a very simple and lucid language for the consumption of the average Tamil-educated Malaysian Tamilian. I have taken the pains to explain many terms, personalities, traditions, etc, which the average Malaysian Tamilian would be unaware of. The section on the prevailing circumstances during the times of UVS was descriptively written by me. So was the section covering the Sanggam Literature - especially PuRa nAnURU.

I considered this endeavour as a thoNdu - humble service to Tamil and the Grand Master of Tamil. The more than 10 weeks that I took to write and send the segments were done in all reverance - as a penance - tapas.

The crowning glory paid to that endeavour were the letters of praise given by the grandson of UVS - Mr.Subramania Aiyer, the presiding SannidhAnam of ThirupananthAL, and the KalaimagaL literary magazine.

I followed up by celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the publishing of the 'PuRanAnURu' book by U.VE.Saminatha Aiyer, in 1994. It was a grand occasion in a town called Sitiawan and it was marked by my marathon speech which lasted 6 hours on Tamil Literature. One of the high lights of the occsion was drama on SEran Sengguttuvan.

This is a very comprehensive biography of the Thamilzh Thaathaa.
 


The patriarch of Tamil - A tribute, on his 150th birth anniversary. S. Viswanathan, Frontline 26 February 2005

TAMILS across the globe recently celebrated the government's decision to confer the `classical language' status on their mother tongue. This recognition, which puts the ancient language on a par with Greek, Latin and Sanskrit, is not only owing to its antiquity but also its rich literature. What has happened now, say Tamil scholars is only the "official reiteration" of the international academic community's recognition of Tamil literature as `classical', particularly the works such as Paththuppaattu (ten idylls) and Ettuththogai (Eight anthologies) of the Sangam era (from the first and second centuries of the Christian era), besides the better known Thirukkural and Tholkappiam.

Interestingly, the original texts of a significant number of the much-acclaimed literary works of the Sangam period came to public notice only towards the end of the 19th century, when they appeared in print with commentaries. Until then, works such as the Aymperum Kaappiangal (the five great epics) - Silappathikaram, Manimekalai, Kundalakesi, Jeevaka Chintamani and Valaiyapathi, were in the form of palm leaf manuscripts in the possession of scores of families living in various parts of Tamil Nadu.

They did not have the skill to read them, and, therefore, did not realise their literary worth. Tamil scholars were aware of the existence of such texts as references in the available works.

All that the people knew until then as Tamil literature comprised Bhakti literature, historical works and minor poems. Although very few literary works were available for studies, they did draw the attention of European scholars such as Bishop Robert Caldwell (1814-1891) and Constantine Joseph Beschi (known in Tamil as Veeramamunivar). However, during the same period, Sanskrit literary works attracted more Western attention because of their availability and easy access.

IT was under these circumstances that the need to hunt for the missing palm leaf manuscripts and bring to light the hidden treasure of Tamil literature was felt. Foremost among those who undertook this formidable task was Mahamahopadhyaya Dakshinathya Kalanidhi Uthamadhanapuram Venkatasubbaiyer Swaminatha Iyer (1855-1942), popularly known as "Tamizh thaththaa" (the grand old man of Tamil). A Tamil professor and literary scholar, Swaminatha Iyer's 150th birth anniversary was celebrated on February 19.

He took upon himself the arduous task of collecting the palm leaf manuscripts of great literary works that lay scattered not only in Tamil Nadu but even outside. As part of this mission he undertook long journeys, interesting and fruitful sometimes and unrewarding at others. Ultimately, he succeeded in gathering palm leaf manuscripts of many immortal Tamil works.

With the objectivity and detachment of a scientist and the imagination of an artist and critic, he made comparative studies of various manuscripts. Starting with Jeevaka Chintamani in 1887, he printed and published Manimekalai (1898), Silappathikaram (1889), Paththuppaattu (1889) and Purananooru (1894), all appended with scholarly commentaries. Although he brought out about 100 works in all, including minor poems, many of the manuscripts that he gathered remain unpublished.

BORN in 1855 into a poor family at Uthamadhanapuram, near Kumbakonam in the old Thanjavur district, Swaminatha Iyer had his early education in Tamil under some teachers in his village. Although his father Venkatasubbaiyer, a musician, wanted his son to learn music, Swaminatha Iyer was inclined to concentrate on Tamil.

When he was 17, he became a disciple of Mahavidwan Meenakshisundaram Pillai, a Tamil scholar, who was in the service of the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam in the old Thanjavur district. It was one of the wealthy Saiva mutts in Tamil Nadu, which patronised Tamil teachers and men of letters and propagated its religious philosophy through them. Swaminatha Iyer learnt Tamil under the guidance of Meenakshisundaram Pillai for five years. During this period, he earned the goodwill of the mutt head, himself a Tamil scholar.

After Meenakshisundaram Pillai's death, Swaminatha Iyer was retained in the mutt as a vidvan (scholar). In 1880, he joined the Government Arts College at Kumbakonam as a Tamil teacher, at the instance of the outgoing teacher Thiagaraja Chettiar, also a former student of Meenakshisundaram Pillai. In his autobiography, En Sarithiram, first serialised in the Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan, from January 1940 to May 1942 and later published as a book in 1950, he gives a graphic account of the rigid selection process he had to undergo before being appointed a Tamil teacher.

"Thanks to his erudition in Tamil, skill to explain anything in an interesting manner, training in music and profound love for others, he could easily attract the students," said K.V. Jagannathan, one of his students, in his short biographical note published in En Sarithiram. He was loved and venerated by the students. This was no mean achievement, considering the fact that Swaminatha Iyer had little grounding in English at a time when the craze for English was at its peak, and Tamil teachers did not enjoy the same status as teachers of English and other subjects. After 23 years of service at the Kumbakonam college, he joined the Presidency College, Chennai, in 1903. Even after his retirement in 1919, he continued to teach Tamil. From 1924 to 1927, he was the principal of the Meenakshi Tamil College. He spent the rest of his life as a publisher, which immortalised his name. He died on April 28, 1942, after a brief period of illness, at Thirukkazhukundram, now in Kancheepuram district.

SWAMINATHA IYER's search for Tamil manuscripts began even as he joined the Kumbakonam college as a teacher. Many influential persons who took keen interest in Tamil studies were in touch with him. His meeting with Ramasami Mudaliar, District Munsiff of Salem, proved a turning point in his life. Swaminatha Iyer readily responded to the Munsiff's request to read the palm leaf in his possession and explain it to him.

When he knew that the manuscripts were that of Jeevaka Chintamani, which he had been looking for, he was overjoyed. He transcripted the palm leaf manuscripts, a Buddhist work, into paper and edited it with utmost care. He printed and published the epic with notes and commentaries in 1887. It was an instant success. He mobilised funds from all available sources to continue the task of publishing the other invaluable literary works. Donations from Tamil lovers poured in. He also launched a `pre-publication sale' campaign with success.

Then began Swaminatha Iyer's long search for the original texts of ancient literary works. It was a search that lasted until his death. Many people voluntarily parted with the manuscripts in their possession. Swaminatha Iyer visited almost every hamlet and knocked at every door. He employed all the resources at his command to get at the works.

As a result, a large number of literary works which were gathering dust as palm leaf manuscripts in lofts, store-rooms, boxes and cupboards saw the light of day. Of them, Silappathikaram, Purananooru and Manimekalai were received by Tamil lovers with a lot of enthusiasm. Purananooru, which mirrored the lives of Tamils during the Sangam period, prompted scholarly research on the subject. In a span of about five decades, Swaminatha Iyer published about 100 books, including minor poems, lyrics, puranas and bhakti (devotional) works.

Referring to the high quality of Swaminatha Iyer's publications, Jagannathan wrote in his biographical note: "What he published was not a mere transcription of the manuscripts in palm leaves. If publication is so simple as that, many others could have done it with success long ago. What Swaminatha Iyer did was to edit and publish these works with detailed footnotes, commentaries and indices, besides biographical notes on the authors. This was very useful and many readers desired to preserve these books for posterity. All this is evidence of not only the scholarship of the editor but also the hard work he had put in."

ANOTHER significant contribution made by Swaminatha Iyer is in the realm of Tamil music, wrote Dr. Arimalam S. Padmanabhan, a researcher and academic, in a paper on the Tamil scholar. Until Swaminatha Iyer came out with his publications of Silappaathikaram, Paththuppaattu and Ettuththogai, music was a grey area in Tamil research.

During the previous four centuries, Telugu and Sanskrit dominated the music scene in Tamil Nadu in the absence of any valuable information on Tamil music. Swaminatha Iyer's publications threw light on the glorious presence of Tamil music in the earlier centuries and paved the way for serious research on the subject.

Abraham Pandithar's Karunamirda Sagaram was the first major research work and it was followed by Vibulaanda Adigal's Yaazh Nool. Both these authors acknowledged the fact that it was Swaminatha Iyer's publications that inspired them to do further research.

"Silappathikaram is the best among the ancient Tamil literary works that provide vast information on Tamil music," observes Prof. V.P.K. Sundaram, another noted Tamil music researcher. "Without Swaminatha Iyer's publication there could have been no Karunamirda Sagaram," he observes. As the son of a famous musician of his time, Swaminatha Iyer learnt music from Gopalakrishna Bharathi, an outstanding musical exponent and the author of Nandan Sarithiram, an immortal work on a Dalit saint.

FOR his invaluable service to Tamil literature, Swaminatha Iyer was honoured with several awards and titles. The government honoured him in 1906 with the title "Mahamahopadhyaya" (Great Teacher). While the Bharatha Dharma Mandal awarded him the title of "Dravida Vidya Bhooshan", Sri Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Peetam honoured him with the title "Dakshinadya Kalanidhi". A doctorate was awarded to him by the University of Madras in 1932.

Tamil poet and nationalist Subramania Bharati, who inspired the freedom movement with his powerful songs, was a distinguished contemporary of Swaminatha Iyer. Paying glowing tributes to Swaminatha Iyer in one of his poems, Bharati called him "Kumbamuni" (the saint from Kumbakonam) and said: "So long as Tamil lives, poets will venerate you and pay obeisance to you. You will ever shine as an immortal."
 

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