Mahakavi Bharathiyar vocalized that Tamil is the sweetest among all the languages he had mastered. It is a noble language. Tamil Language is archaic, unique, and highly- inclined languages of all. It contains the oldest grammatical and literary resources. Therefore, Tamil naturally acquires the status of the classical language.
Numerous scholars who have worked diligently for the development of Tamil language and they are the blazing stars in the Tamil firmament. One among them is U. V. Swaminatha Iyer (Uttamadanapuram Venkatasubhaiyar Swaminathan) who is known as ‘Tamil thatha’ (the grandfather of Tamil) because of his contribution to Tamil language and literature.
U.V. Swaminatha Iyer was born on 19th February 1855 as the prestigious son of Venkata Subhaiyar and Sarasuvathi Ammal at Uttamadanapuram in Tiruvarur district of Tamilnadu. He had his primary education in his native town. He was interested in music at an early age and boned up in music. He was also interested in sports. When he was seventeen years old, he met his guru Maha Vidwan Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai. At that time, Pillai was teaching Tamil in the Saiva Aatheenam (mutt) of Thiruvavadudhurai. Iyer spent five years learning Tamil at the feet his guru.
When U. V. Swaminatha Iyer was learning his lessons, his teacher Pillai enquired him who named as Venkataraman. U. V. Swaminatha Iyer replied that his authentic name was Venkataraman, according to his family tradition. He also stated, “Since Lord Venkatachalapati of Tirupati is our family deity, everyone in our family takes the name of that god”. Pillai asked him whether he was called by any other name. U. V. Swaminatha Iyer replied, “They call me Sama in my family,” Pillai asked, “Is there anything special about that name?”
Iyer said, “That’s not my full name. It is the short form of my name Swaminathan.” Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai exclaimed, “Really! How good is the name Swaminathan! I feel I can call you by that name itself. You can also introduce yourself with the same name hereafter”. As per his wish, U. V. Swaminatha Iyer accepted the same and from that day onwards he was called as “Swaminathan” by everyone. Later on, it became his permanent name.
As U. V. Swaminatha Iyer’s family was poor, he earned money by giving discourses on our epics along with his father. Then he worked as a teacher in Kumbakonam College. He also worked as a teacher in Madras Presidency College. At Sevvanthipuram, Swaminatha Iyer felicitated the mutt inaugurated by Venuvana Linga Thambhiran and added his own poems of appreciation along with the other Tamil poems composed earlier. He also published a book called “Venuvana Linga Vilasa chirappu”. That was the first book published by him. Then, he published a book called ‘Tirukudanthai Puranam’. He sacrificed his entire life in publishing books. He travelled all over Tamilnadu to collect different kinds of old manuscripts written in palm leaves. He had taken efforts not only to publish them in the form of books but also compiled the distorted and missing words to make them complete and meaningful. He also compiled them along with author’s note and bibliography. He gave textual explanation to certain books and added word meanings to specific words in Tamil. It is note-worthy that he had not only published more than 90 books but also gathered more than 3000 handwritten and palm leaf manuscripts. It is highly appreciable that he sold his property to publish many books. U. V. Swaminatha Iyer was a great expert in Tamil language to publish an incomprehensible Tamil literary book ‘Jeevaga Chinthamani’.
He had a great sense of humour and enthusiasm. The lecture he delivered at the University of Chennai was later published as a book titled ‘Sanga Kala Tamizhum Pirkala Tamizhum’. The University of Chennai awarded him a doctorate in recognition of his contribution to Tamil literature. He was the first to receive the doctorate in Tamil. He was given the title of ‘Mahamahopadhyaya ‘by the British Government, the title of ‘Dakshana Kala Nidhi’ by Sri Sri Sankaracharya Swamigal and the title of ‘Kudanthai Nagar Kalaingar’ by Mahakavi Bharathiyar and he received various titles such as king of publishers, Dravida Vidyabhushan and many such others.
In the month of February 2006, the Indian government issued a postage stamp as a tribute to his selfless service for the development of Tamil language and literature. If he had not worked strenuously for the development of Tamil language, we would not have known to the great Tamil literary resources like “Silappathigaram” and we would not have differentiated between “Agananooru” and “Purananooru”. The unique Tamil legend “Manimegalai” would have been vanished under the clouds of dust. He had put in such numerous efforts and faced hazardous difficulties for this selfless service. In spite of struggles, he persistently became successful.
During his childhood, if someone told that English is useful for survival and Sanskrit is useful for spiritual life, he would tell them Mother Tamil is essential for both survival and Spiritual life.
In 1942, in the name of U. V. Swaminatha Iyer, a library was established in Vasanth Nagar, Chennai and it is still functioning even today. His autobiographical work titled “En Sarithiram” had been published as weekly episode in the Tamil magazine Ananatha Vikatan. Moreover, his life history was telecasted as a television series titled “Tamil Thatha”. Termite bites and fireflies might have destroyed the valuable manuscripts of Tamil literature if he had not taken care publish them. He protected and saved all those lost treasures and brought them to the attention of today’s generation.
1942, V. Swaminatha Iyer, who had pioneered the antiquity and hilariousness of Tamil literature to the world, passed away on 28th April, 1942. There’s no scepticism that his familiarity will remain as long as the sun remains because of his excellence in Tamil language.
It’s an irrefutable fact that there was no one before him and there’s no one now who can systematically execute the work that he did in the field of Tamil literature. His memoir is a remarkable treasure of ideas that’s esteemed by all who love Tamil literary works. Undoubtedly, U.V. Swaminatha Iyer is the sacred son of Mother Tamil. Though he passed away from this external world, he’ll dwell with us forever as the primogenitor of Tamil, like the ever-living Tamil language.
(Author Charumati is Tamil teacher in Shri Ram Dayal Khemka Vivekananda Vidyalaya.)
(Translator Pon Raman is convenor of Vidwat Parishad, Vidya Bharati Uttar Tamilnadu.)
This article is translated from Tamil to English.