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Professor T. Nadaraja - brilliant legal mind

by H.B. de Silva

It was in Peradeniya that I first met Professor T. Nadaraja. We were then in our early thirties, an age when one is neither too young or too old, when friendships made are of closeness that survive the passage of time.

As I now look back in my twilight years on those happy carefree days, my memory lingers on those who made a deep impression on me, one of those persons was Professor Nadaraja. A friend told me that he was dead, he brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.

It was with great sadness that I learnt of the passing away of this very learned man. It was such a pleasure and an education in itself to converse with him. He has often been described as an eminent jurist and an outstanding academic scholar, but he was much more than that.

Ever since his undergraduate days at the University of Cambridge he had been a collector of books. The library at his home had books on various subjects. He had an excellent collection of books on Indian philosophy, religion, art and sculpture.

He was interested in the ancient civilisations and culture of Greece and Rome, China, Egypt, Persia and the Maya's of South America, as well as the more recent history and culture of the Western world.

His library contained well-known books on English Literature and poetry and comparative religion. He was a master of the English language and very precise in the use of the spoken and written word.

He had a profound knowledge of Hinduism and that can be judged by a book written by him called "The Cult of Siva with special reference to the Dances of Siva".

His mother a gentle and cultured lady, was the daughter of Sir P. Arunachalam and it was her great influence on her son that made Nadaraja a lover of books, and music. At an early age she taught him the Thevarams (hymns) the Tiruvasagam and the other Tamil classics.

He was a firm believer of the Perennial Philosophy. In the preface of the book "Islam and Perennial Philosophy" authored by Frithjof Schoun the meaning of Perennial Philosophy has been explained as "The Philosophia Perennis has come to signify for those devoted to traditional studies an eternal truth at the heart of all traditions, corresponding to the Sanatana Dharma of Hinduism and al-hikmah al-khalidah of Islam".

It is not surprising that he should have inherited this vast knowledge of Hinduism, as his paternal and maternal ancestors have been known as builders of temples. On his paternal side he came from a wealthy family well-known for sponsoring charitable causes.

His great grandfather built the Sithy Vinayagar Temple and pilgrims rest in Colombo where Swamy Vivekananda visited and gave a lecture. Nadaraja was the chief Trustee of this temple from 1945 onwards.

On his maternal side, his great grandfather Gate Mudaliyar Arunasalam Ponnambalam, the father of the three famous brothers P. Coomaraswamy, Sir P. Ramanathan and Sir P. Arunachalam built the well-known Sri Ponnambalavanesvara Temple in Colombo, His son Sir P. Ramanathan renovated the temple and modelled it on the lines of the famous South Indian temples.

His grandfather Sir P. Arunachalam built another well-known temple in Mutwal, Colombo, called the Arunachaleswara Temple. Professor Nadaraja was a Trustee of all these temples.

He was the patron of the Hindu University Society at Peradeniya when the Law Faculty was there. He has contributed many well-known and learned articles on Hinduism to various journals.

An interesting account of Nadaraja's family background is in a book about the genealogy of the Jaffna Tamils. It states that Mudaliyar Aramuganathapillai Coomaraswamy was the first Tamil to be appointed to the Legislative Council in 1833.

His son Sir Muttu Coomaraswamy who was the first person who was neither a Christian or a Jew to be admitted as a Barrister of London. He was also an appointed member of the Legislative Council. Sir Muttu's son was the renowned scholar Ananda K. Coomaraswamy.

Sir Muttu Coomaraswamy's sister married Gate Mudaliyar Arunasalam Ponnambalam who built the Ponnambalavanesvara Temple in Colombo. He was the father of the three illustrious sons, P. Coomaraswamy, Sir P. Ramanathan and Sir P. Arunachalam, these three brothers were also members of the Legislative Council.

When Sir P. Arunachalam retired from the Civil Service, he was appointed to the Executive Committee of the Legislative Council. Sir P. Arunachalam's son, Sir A. Mahadeva, KCMG, was a member of the Legislative Council and the State Council. It is unique that a member of this family has served in the Legislature in an unbroken line from 1833-1947 for nearly one hundred and fifteen years.

In the sphere of education it was his grandfather Sir P. Arunachalam who first pleaded for a University to be established in Sri Lanka, and he is rightly known as the father of the University Movement.

The first Hall of Residence in the University campus at Peradeniya was named Arunachalam Hall to honour the memory of Sir P. Arunachalam. He also wrote a well-known book on Law called "Digest of Ceylon cases".

It was his grand uncle, Sir P. Ramanathan who was the first person in Sri Lanka to ask the government to establish a Law College, and it was through his efforts that the Law College was founded. He was also responsible for publishing the Law Reports.

It was into this family that Nadaraja was born on the 27th December 1917. Natured from early years in the culture and traditions of his forebearers he distinguished himself in the study of law.

His books on the "Roman-Dutch Law of Fideicommissa" and the "Legal System of Ceylon in its Historical Setting" were described as classics and have been cited in Sri Lankan and South African courts, where the Roman-Dutch law prevails. He has written numerous articles on different aspects of the law and these are available in the Law Library of the University of Colombo.

Nadaraja was educated at Royal College, Colombo, where he won many prizes and the coveted Shakespeare Prize. He proceeded to the University of Cambridge for his legal studies and entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

He was awarded First Class Honours in both parts of the Cambridge Law Tripos, the Bond Prize for Roman Law, the Davies Prize for English Law and the Post Graduate Law Studentship at Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

At Lincoln's Inn, London, Nadaraja was awarded the First Class Certificate of Honour by the Council of Legal Education, London, and the Buchanan Prize of Lincoln's Inn.

He obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the Cambridge University, and he was awarded the Hon. LLD (Colombo University) and the Jaffna University conferred the degree Hon. D.Litt. on him.

The Bar Council of Sri Lanka honoured him in recognition of the contributions made by Nadaraja in the field of legal literature and legal education by conferring Life Membership Honoris Causa on him.

Professor Nadaraja was a lecturer at the Ceylon Law College from 1943-49. When the University of Ceylon started a Department of Law in 1947 Nadaraja joined the Law Department in 1947. He was appointed Professor of Law in 1951. He was Dean of the Faculty of Arts 1957-1960.

When the Department of Law was made a Faculty of Law, he was the Head of Dean of the Faculty of Law from 1960 until he retired from the University. He was Chancellor of the University of Jaffna from 1984 until he passed away on 20th January 2004.

Nadaraja was President of the Classical Association 1970-71 and a past President of the Royal Asiatic Society, where his grandfather Sir P. Arunachalam had been the first Ceylonese to be elected to that post.

Professor Nadaraja was a soft-spoken and cultured man. He was ready to help anyone who came to him for advice or material benefits. Whatever charity he did was never publicised, he considered them to be unremembered acts of kindness and love.

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