Prof. Dr. Kamil Vaclav Zvelebil
[see also http://www.marketaz.co.uk/Zveleb1.html ]
Prof. Zvelebil was born in Prague (Czechoslovakia) on
He studied at the Charles University in Prague from 1946 to 1952.
He read Indology, English language, literature and philosophy.
He was awarded his Ph.D in 1952 in Sanskrit, English and Philosophy.
In 1959 he obtained a second Ph.D in Dravidian philology.
From 1952 to 1970 he was a research fellow and senior research fellow in
Tamil and Dravidian linguistics and literature at the Oriental Institute of
the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. His many field trips included those to
South India and in 1965-66 he was a visiting professor at the University of
Chicago, USA, and 1967-68 at the University of Heidelberg.
He held the position of associate professor of Tamil and
Dravidian at Charles University in Prague until 1968 when he and his family
had to leave their native Czechoslovakia in 1968 after the Soviet-led
invasion of the country.
He subsequently obtained the chair in Dravidian studies at
the University of Chicago, USA. In 1970 he left the USA and was a visiting
professor at the College de France, Paris, then visiting professor of the
Sudasien Institute, University of Heidelberg, senior research fellow,
University of Leiden and settled as a professor of Dravidian Linguistics and
South Indian literature/culture at the University of Utrecht till his
retirement in 1992.
During his career he had the opportunity not only to travel on his field
trips but also to teach in various cities including, Delhi, Madras, Tokyo,
Philadelphia, Rochester, Moscow, Leningrad, Uppsala and Lund.
He is the author of more that 500 bibliographic items including books,
articles, reviews and translations.
Translations include those of ancient and modern poetry and prose from
Sanskrit, Tamil, Malayam, Kannada and Telugu into Czech, Slovak, English and
His works covered the fields of descriptive and historical Tamil
linguistics and dialectology, Tamil literature, Tamil Prosody, Dravidian
comparative linguistics, Tribal languages and cultures of the Nilgiries
(South India: in particular Irula - described for the first time by Zvelebil),
South Indian cultural and religious history, Hinduism, Sanskrit ritual
texts, comparative Sanskrit and Tamil literature, Tamil Folklore Tamil
Siddha movement. In
The Smile of
Murugan : On Tamil Literature of South India, he wrote
"...The Dravidians, and in particular the Tamils, have contributed a great deal to
the cultural riches of the world:
Chola temple architecture,
sculpture, the dance-form known as Bharatanatyam,
so-called Carnatic system of music. But probably the most significant contribution is
that of Tamil literature, which still remains to be
"discovered" and enjoyed by the non Tamilians and adopted as an essential and
remarkable part of universal heritage. If it is true that liberal education should
"liberate" by demonstrating the cultural values and norms foreign to us, by
revealing the relativity of our own values, then the "discovery" and enjoyment
of Tamil literature, and even its teaching (as a critical part of the teaching of Indian
literatures) should find its place in the systems of Western training and instruction in
'Tamil Culture' in 1956, (Vol. V, No. 4. October,
1956) Dr. Zvelebil made an appeal under the heading "The Tamil
Contribution to Worlds Civilisation". He said:
|"There is no doubt that the culture of the Tamils belongs to the
great and immortal treasures of the world's civilisation.
From my own experience,
however, I can say that even those who claim to have a wide outlook and deep education,
both Indians and Europeans, are not aware of this fact. And it is the task of the Tamils
themselves, and of those sympathetic mlecchas who try to interpret Tamil culture, to
acquaint the world's cultural public with the most important contributions of Tamil
culture to the world's civilisation.
As far as literary works are concerned, it is necessary before all to make them
accessible to a wide public of readers by means of artistic translations into the worlds
great languages; with regard to works of arts and architecture, it is necessary to make
them a common treasure of the world with the help of publications giving detailed and
perfect reproductions. This may be achieved through the UNESCO as well as through the work
of individual scholars and local Institutions; this should also be one of the main tasks
of the Academy of Tamil Culture.
The following works of art and literature are among the most remarkable contributions
of the Tamil creative genius to the world's cultural treasure and should be familiar to
the whole world and admired and beloved by all in the same way as the poems of Homer, the
dramas of Shakespeare, the pictures of Rembrandt, the cathedrals of France and the
sculptures of Greece:
1. The ancient Tamil lyrical poetry compiled in The Eight Anthologies; this poetry is so
unique and vigorous, full of such vivid realism and written so masterfully that it can be
compared probably only with some of the pieces of ancient Greek lyrical poetry;
2. The Thirukural, one of the great books of the
world, one of those singular emanations of the human heart and spirit which preach
positive love and forgiveness and peace;
3. The epical poem
Cilappathikaram, which by
its "baroque splendour', and by the charm and magic of its lyrical parts belongs to
the epic masterpieces of the world;
4. The school of
and Saiva, which is one of those most sincere
and passionate efforts of man to grasp the Absolute; and its supreme literary expression
in the works of
5. The philosophical system of
a system, which may be ranked among the most perfect and cleverest systems of human
South Indian bronzes of the Chola period,
those splendid and amazing sculptures belonging to the best creations of humanity,
Dravidian temple architecture, of which the
chief representatives are perhaps the temples of
These seven different forms of contribution without which the
world would be definitely less rich and less happy, should engage the immediate attention
of all who are interested in Tamil culture; they should all dedicate their time and
efforts to make known (and well and intimately known) to the whole of the world these
heights of Tamil creative genius."
Prof. Zvelebil is a member of many societies including associations of the
Czech Union of Writes, Hon. Fellow Sahitya akademy (National Academy of