Two Tamil Titans: CW Thamotharampillai & UV Swaminathaiyar

“In the sphere of publication of ancient Tamil classics Arumuga Navalar laid the foundation; Damodaram Pillai raised the walls; Swaminatha Iyer thatched the roof and completed the house, was the assessment of Thiru V. Kalayasundara Mudaliyar (Thiru Vi. Ka.).”

–Professor AR Venkatachallaphy.

Tamil historian Professor AR Venkatachalapathy, delivering keynote address at Tamil Studies Conference in Toronto on Saturday, brought out hitherto untapped objective evidences of around two scores of letters written by CW Thamotharampillai (1832–1901) to UV Swaminathaiyar (1855–1942), for a better understanding of the relationship between the two pioneer editors coming from Jaffna and Tamil Nadu in transferring Tamil classics from palm leaf manuscripts to print media. The letters dating between 1883 and 1899 show that despite being rivals in publication the two were in close contact and cooperative if not collaborative. The letters also show the generosity and magnanimity of Thamotharampillai, personally and in matters of publication, and as a senior scholar he encouraged Swaminathaiyar and saw in him the future of classical editorial scholarship, Chalapathy said.

Uttamadhanapuram Venkatasubbaiyer Swaminatha Iyer

Uttamadhanapuram Venkatasubbaiyer Swaminatha Iyer

But contrary to the accommodative perception of Thiru Vi. Ka., the comparative assessment of the two titans, Thamotharampillai and Swaminathaiyar, from late colonial to contemporary Tamil world, has been rather contentious, and has been refracted through the prism of caste, religion and region, he pointed out, adding that Swaminathaiyar’s insinuations regarding Thamotharampillai in the autobiography he wrote much later in his life, provided the fuel.

The letters Chalapathy brought out comes from Swaminathaiyar’s voluminous filing of correspondences over sixty years. There were over three dozens of letters written by Thamotharampillai, and even though they only show one side of the correspondence, they help to dispel the insinuations of Swaminathaiyar and many other later day constructs, Chalapathy said.

The letters showed that Swaminathaiyar was the first to contact Thamotharampillai, when the latter also was thinking of finding ways to communicate with him. The Thiruvaavaduthu’rai Mutt was the binding factor.

At the time of the beginning of correspondence Thamotharampillai was completing the publication of I’raiyanaar Akappuru’l Urai and Tha’nikaip-puraa’nam.

In 1887 both Thamotharampillai and Swaminathaiyar were engaged in completing the editions of Kaliththokai and Cheevaka Chinthama’ni respectively.

Despite his age and accomplishments Thamotharampillai was generous, courteous and was seeking cooperation. He was prepared to acknowledge credit for any academic contribution coming from Swaminathaiyar.

They were exchanging palm leaf manuscripts, shared notes and Thamotharampillai helped Iyer in buying printing paper and in the sales of his books too.

Thamotharampillai encouraged Iyer in every publication, secured a Chilappathikaaram palm-leaf manuscript for him, arranged finances from Kumaraswamy Mudaliyar in Colombo to publish it and also encouraged that Iyer should publish Ma’nimeakalai too.

Read the full feature on TamilNet  : Chalapathy brings out Thamotharampillai letters


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