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The Origin of Sivaram, a great human [Maamanithar]

A brief history

by V. Sivasubramaniam, 2008

The mother approached me and told “Master, you should somehow advise him to continue his studies in any discipline and get his degree first. After that, I don’t care, what he does on his own. When Sivaram met me a few days later, I too advised him along the lines of what his mother had pleaded to me. “Even if you don’t care about it, to satisfy the wish of your mother, you need to do this. Whether one likes it or not, a university degree has become the medal for evaluation in the society. As such, you need to consider our plea”, I advised. He listened to my plea silently without any comments. Then, for few more minutes, we passed time in silent. Little later, Sivaram left me saying, “Sir, I’ll leave now and return later”.

Few days later, Sivaram returned to me. “Sir, I wish to learn Tamil from you. You should teach me the sangam literature and Tolkappiyam [the earliest Tamil grammatical treatise]. Among the sangam literature, I like to learn Purananooru [External 400] poems.”, he said. I saw a definite determination in his tone.

for Sivaram's 5th death anniversary:

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

Two years ago, I solicited and received the following tribute to journalist Taraki Sivaram (1959-2005), by one of his mentors V. Sivasubramaniam from Batticaloa. Sivasubramaniam Aiyah, a nonagenarian, is one of the respected Tamil scholars in Eelam who leads a ‘silent’ life without much fanfare and publicity. I thought of honoring his 90th birthday that fell on August 17th 1918, by soliciting this piece on his favorite protege. Somehow, I was overwhelmed by work and personal events that followed one after another in my life.

V. Sivasubramaniam 2008Sivasubramaniam Aiyah’s son-in-law is a schoolmate and dear friend of mine. Among the many merits of Sivasubramaniam Aiyah, I should mention that he is a devoted protégé of Swami Vipulananda (1892-1947), the first professor of Tamil at the University of Ceylon, and he qualifies as a prominent Vipulananda scholar. His contributions to Eelam Tamil scholarship deserve a separate treatment. In one instance in this tribute to Sivaram, Sivasubramaniam Aiyah mentions about two professors then teaching at the University of Jaffna, though not identifying them by name. The Tamil society in Sri Lanka is a small one and those who are aware of the scene can grasp that these two Tamil professors were none other than Prof. K. Kailasapathi and Prof. K. Sivathamby (who were Left-leaning in their politics with Communist Party affiliation during the 1970s, and adorned themselves with the ‘progressive’ label in their writings, critiques and espositions). Prof. Kailasapathy died in 1982.

Sivasubramaniam Aiyah’s tribute to journalist Sivaram was in chaste Tamil, and I have done my best to translate it into English, without mangling the context and the meaning. The above title was his as well.

The Origin of Sivaram

In 1926, Swami Vipulananda returned to East Ilangai to serve the Tamil community needs for education and religion under the auspices of Sri Ramakrishna Mission. In those days, a few educated and economically enriched families supported Swami’s services. The families of Sabapathipillai Udaiyar and Darmaratnam Udaiyar were prominent for this service. Members of these families had built some primary schools to teach Saivaism and Tamil, before the arrival of Swami. After his arrival, Swami built many schools, on behalf of Sri Ramakrishna Mission. The patrons of Saivaism then handed over the schools that they had established to Swami. One demerit in those days, there were no trained teachers for teaching Saivaism. In Batticaloa, there were two teacher training colleges then. As these were owned by Christian missionaries, students belonging to Saivaism were not admitted there.

During this period, Dharmaratnam Udaiyar was a member representing the Batticaloa South, in the Second Legislative Council. He donated a land belonging to him at Addalaichenai to the government, and established a teacher training college. Mr. S. Dharmaratnam Udaiyar had an extended family, that included children, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. As he was wealthy, his children had schooling in colleges that levied fees for education. His son Puviraja Keerthi was sent to Cambridge University for education. After his return from Cambridge with graduation, Udaiyar arranged a marriage for Puviraja Keerthi to his younger sibling’s daughter Maheswari. Among the four children the Puviraja Keerthi-Maheswari couple had, Sivaram arrived as the second child on August 11, 1959. As education in mother tongue was enforced by the government, though Sivaram studied in Tamil at school, he became fluent in English as it was used by elder folks in home mileau. Furthermore, he also enriched his English skills and knowledge by reading many books collected by his father.

The successive deaths of grandpa Dharmaratnam and father Puviraja Keerthi did affect the welfare of Sivaram’s family. But, due to the care of his mother Maheswari, he was able to overcome such losses. While Sivaram was studying at St. Michael’s College in advanced level classes, he wished to gain more knowledge on Tamil grammar and literature; as such, with some of his friends he joined my tutorial classes that I was holding. It was my habit of grazing beyond the lesson plan and syllabus, and they were enthralled by my trait. After sitting for university entrance exam, they qualified for university entrance. Sivaram received placing at the University of Jaffna. In that year, one girl student who received entry in the University of Peradeniya, for personal reasons wished to join the University of Jaffna. Then the universities permitted mutual transfer among new entrants, who could switch their allotted spots. She was looking for a student, who was willing to transfer to the University of Peradeniya. When this student approached Sivaram, he was willing to consider her request favorably. By the time the necessary paperwork was completed, nearly three months had elapsed. Then, he had joined the University of Jaffna. Subsequently, Sivaram moved to the University of Peradeniya and was there for two months. Then, he had returned home, losing his interest in tertiary education. His mother became worried, and though she advised him on the merits of higher education, Sivaram was not in a listening mood.

The mother approached me and told “Master, you should somehow advise him to continue his studies in any discipline and get his degree first. After that, I don’t care, what he does on his own. When Sivaram met me a few days later, I too advised him along the lines of what his mother had pleaded to me. “Even if you don’t care about it, to satisfy the wish of your mother, you need to do this. Whether one likes it or not, a university degree has become the medal for evaluation in the society. As such, you need to consider our plea”, I advised. He listened to my plea silently without any comments. Then, for few more minutes, we passed time in silent. Little later, Sivaram left me saying, “Sir, I’ll leave now and return later”.

Few days later, Sivaram returned to me. “Sir, I wish to learn Tamil from you. You should teach me the sangam literature and Tolkappiyam [the earliest Tamil grammatical treatise]. Among the sangam literature, I like to learn Purananooru [External 400] poems.”, he said. I saw a definite determination in his tone. I was a bit surprised when he said, “I want to learn Purananooru poems”. I was reminding myself some lines Swami Vipulananda wrote 37 years before this boy was born.

While receiving training in Chennai Sri Ramakrishna Mission as a bachelor with the name Swami Prabotha Saithanyar, he had written a series on the theme Merrisai Chelvam [‘The Western Wealth’] in the Senthamil journal published by the Madurai Thamil Sangam. The first article of this series appeared in September-October issue of 1922. Swami had written, “As far as I know, there is one book that all Tamils can study without any caste or religion based conviction. It is Purananooru.” He further stated, “Isn’t it because this book of poems describes the lives of real soldiers who fought battles with beautiful lances and contain verses from Vanchinak Kanchi? That’s why, we treasure these poems.”

Not knowing the sentiments expressed by the Swami, this young guy expressing similar sentiments as that of Swami, was a real surprise for me. I wish to reminisce one challenge that was issued by Sivaram. He wrote a letter to two professors who were then teaching at the University of Jaffna, and sent them separately. Until he died, Sivaram didn’t mention to me, about these letters. Few years later, a friend of Sivaram told me that he had come to know that the letter was written in English, and it contained many questions. While one of the professors had died sooner, the other one had kept the letter of Sivaram without responding.

As Sivaram wished to study Tolkappiyam and Purananooru among the sangam literature, I thought him by combining the Purathinai-iyal in Tolkappiyam and Purananooru jointly. The earliest expositor of Tolkappiyam, ILampoorananar had chosen 83 Purananooru poems to illustrate Purathinai-iyal. Similarly, he also had used 73 venpa poems from PuraporuL Venpa Malai, that appeared after sangam period. Sivaram wanted to learn those texts as well, and I thought many poems, as was his wish.

The expositors of Tamil grammar split the sangam literature into aham (interior) and puram (exterior). Love and married life were the themes of aham. Among other human traits, apart from heroism, war, other respectable items such as philanthropy, friendship, respect to elders, gratitude, poverty alleviation are included in puram. Sivaram learned many poems with interest. After completing Purananooru lessons, as per Sivaram’s wish, I chose few poems from PuraporuL Venpa Malai and explained them. Years later, he wrote a beautiful essay ‘Senchoorukkadan’ [The loyal duty served to recompensate for food care by a patron] was based on 184th poem of PuraporuL Venpa Malai. It was one of Sivaram’s favorite poems.

Another of Sivaram’s favorite poem’s was Purananooru (number 235). It begins with the line ‘Siriyakad perine – Emakeeyu Manne’, of sangam poetess Avvai. Her favorite patron and king Adiyamaan had died in the battle field, from the lance wounds that had pierced his chest. After hearing this news, poetess Avvai wails. She remembers the time when she was the recipient of the king’s feast. When kaL (liquor) was served, Avvai sang: “Siriyakad perine – Emakeeyu Manne; Periyakad perine – yam paadath than mahizhunnu Manne”.

I read Avvai’s poem and asked him, ‘Do you understand the words ‘Siriya kaL, Periya kaL’? He also read the commentary to the poem and replied that the commentator also had written ‘Siriya kaL and Periya kaL’. I explained that ‘Siriya kaL’ means the liquor like wine that arrived from Greece in small vials to Tamil Nadu. ‘Periya kaL’ refers to local liquor from coconut and palmyrah saps that were stored in big pots. He was so pleased to hear this explanation. The word that appears repeatedly in this poem ‘manne’ ‘manne’ is exclamatory ‘Aiyo in Tamil’ (a word of pathos). Impermanence of life in this elegy is further explored in Mannai kanji poems of Tamil poets. When he was in western nations, wherever he was feasted by his friends, I heard that Sivaram would delight his friends by quoting this Puranooru no. 235 poem.

After he completed his Tamil tuition with me, the Tamil militancy exploded and Sivaram was sucked by that militancy flood. However, he didn’t fail to pick up and use pen as a weapon. Until he was assassinated, that pen did not rest. After his death, there appeared many eulogies and appreciations. One of the professors, who was mentioned above, also contributed his share. Even in that particular piece, that professor without specifically stating the questions sent by Sivaram to him, merely noted that the depth of his questions were in ocean-piercing range, and as such, I failed to sent my reply to him [Sunday Thina Kural, May 8, 2005].

Sivaram continued to expand his knowledge by reading Tamil and English books. The beauty of Sivaram’s writings is that all of them had a research perspective. Without proper citation or reference, he never wrote a line. After he developed as a foremost Tamil thinker and a well known media expert, he traveled to foreign countries and discussed the issues with professors. He wrote many pieces in English. But there wasn’t any change their minds. After returning to the island, he came to see me. He said, “Sir, I’m not going to write in English hereafter. Those dolts don’t understand anything.” He was resenting the attitude of foreign scholars, who appreciated his writings in English, but not doing anything on behalf of Eelam Tamils.

Subsequently, Sivaram’s features in Tamil appeared in newspapers such as SariNihar, Virakesari and Thina Kural. Furthermore, he also published a weekly Thina Kathir. After few months, the office of that publication was destroyed. Thina Kathir had to stop. I told him, “You should attempt to fill the gaps in the Ceylon history. For example, the British captured Kandy in 1815 and brought the entire island under their control. However, in 1819 there was a riot against the British. To demolish this riot, the then British governor Frederick North brought troops from South East Asian lands and overcame the rebellion. I don’t think, nothing more has been researched on this theme. You should research this.”

We talked for a while, and Sivaram took leave. After taking a few steps, he stopped and turned towards me and told “Sir, I’ve begun to write a book. I’ll dedicate this to you.” Both of us didn’t know that would turn out to be our last meeting.

*****