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61st Independence Day

Swami Vipulananda (1892-1947):

Pioneer literary critic in Lankan Thamil literature

All Lankans who contributed to the Independence of the then Ceylon now celebrate the 61st anniversary of the island nation. Although it is a fact and one that is acknowledged that the majority of the people in the blessed isle are the Sinhala Buddhist community, yet there are significant people in the country belonging to different communities. All of us belong to this Nation and the Nation belongs to all of us.

Among the other communities are the Thamil-speaking people spread in most parts of the country. They belong to Hinduism, Islam and Christianity and their accent in speaking an ancient language like Thamil varies according to where they are located.

If we speak of a Lankan Nation, we cannot therefore ignore or underestimate or belittle almost a quarter of the population. Hence it is necessary to understand the culture of the minority people at least through the English language.

But those who know English in this country are miserably very low. The ideal thing should be to communicate with the generally generous Sinhala people through their language. This function the Thamil politicians especially failed to do that. This is part of the problem of the long drawn out ethnic tensions.

Just as much as the Sinhala people have the right to know what happens in the Lankan Thamil and English Literary scenes, the Thamil-speaking and English-speaking people have the right to know what’s happening in the Sinhala cultural scene.

Culture and Literature

Culture is one aspect of life that could foster unity among people while acknowledging or admitting diversities. And Literature forms part of culture. Talking of Thamil Literature, we must clearly understand that the Thamil Literature in Lanka is uniquely individualistic (meaning special features that are different from the features in Thamilnadu in India).

Sri Lankan Thamil Literature during the past 60 years had grown taking different dimensions and directions. How and why could be explained only in a book or thesis. In a newspaper article this is not possible. However we can take one aspect of Lankan Thamil Literature, namely Literary Criticism, and spotlight on one particular critic for the purpose of this article.

The Critic

The critic concerned is a Swami belonging to the Ramakrishna Mission - the late Swami Vipulananda. His real name before he became a follower of the great Ramakrishna of India was Mylvaganam of Karaithivu in the eastern province of Lanka. To avoid digression, I shall avoid the bio-data of the great Thamil scholar and focus on his contribution to Literary Criticism.

He was a great scholar in many ways and was the first Professor in Thamil in Annamalai University in Thamilnadu and the first professor in Thamil in the then University of Ceylon. A linguist, mathematician and spiritual leader he wrote his magnum Opus- Yarl Nool, a researched work on an ancient musical instrument called ‘Yarl’.

My discontent with a few was that they instead of seeing him as the pioneer literary critic in Thamil in this country, they belittled him as a mere ‘belles-letterist’, This attitude perhaps had been due to several animosities that some of the Thamilians might have had with overloaded superiority. As he was also a spiritualist some Marxist critics who came to the fore in the 1960s to enrich the country’s Thamil literature tactically ignored him.

But I had been insisting for a long time that Swami Vipulananda was the first literary critic in local Thamil literature and even to some extent in Thamilnadu. Why I say this is because if one analysed his writing one finds that he practiced comparative studies of Literature with a vast knowledge of Greek and Roman Literature as well as English Literature. I had analyses his writing to prove the point in one of my articles in Thamil. And this article is included in one of my books in Thamil on Lankan Literature.

Characteristics

Let me outline the salient features in his critical approach through some of his critical observations. These were found in his articles in Thamil. I shall try to translate or tell briefly some of what these had been:

1. He was one of the firsts to classify Thamil Literature in general way back in 1939. he included the following under Early Thamil works in Verse: the anthologies - “Paththu Paatu, Eddu Thohai, Pathnen Keel Kanakku” and the five major epics - “Silapadikaram, Manimekalai, Chinthamani, Choolamani” and “Nealakeasi” and other works that include “Moovar Thamil” from Kongu Vearlmar Kathai, “Thiruvasagam, Thiru Koavaiyaar, Naalayirathu Diviya Prabandam, Periya Puranam, Ramavathaaram,” “Kantha Putanam, Villi Bharatham, Thiruvilayadat Puranam, Bagavadam” by Ariya Pulavar and “Kaasi Thaandavam” and Among those available he informed the following shorter “Prabanthams” compiled by Kumarakurupar, Sivapragasam, Meenadchi Sundaram and Subramania Bharathi.

As for semi-prose writing mainly commentaries that were available several centuries ago were “Kalaviya Utai” by Nakerar, “Thiruvarul Utai” by Patimel Alagiyaar, Chinthamani Utai” by Nachchinakiniyar, “Silapadikara Utai” by Adiyaarku Nallar, “Prabantha Utai” by Periya Vachchan Pillai, and two works “Periya Purana Vachanam” and “Thiruvilayadat Purana Vachanam” by Aarumuga Navalar and works “Meenadchi Sundarar Charitham, Udhayanan Kathai, Baudha Dharma Sangam* and the abridged form of Chinthamani, “Silapadikaram” and “Manimekalai” by Saaminatha Iyer.

2. The first steps in appreciating and evaluating literature as most critics have described is to find out what is literary Taste and the mental attitude in appreciating literary works and the literary tools available to learn literature. In fact Swami Vipulananda had underlined this more than half a century ago.

3. The literary critic in him has analysed the process of understanding literature long ago before the modern critics in Thamil began to ascribe in later years. He said that the mind, desire and engagement resulted in clarity, pleasure and firmness and this in turn gave way to Truth, Beauty and Goodness. Elaborating on this feature, his point of view was that works on facts, physical sciences, logic and philosophy are implicitly aesthetic.

But I am not sure whether I agree on that point. But he also added that books on music and painting depict goodness. Books on ethics contain beauty and truth goodness, he further said.

4. Swami Vipulananda gave primary importance to poetry or verse implying poetry is full of feelings while the other forms of literature depict individuality and talent in the Arts.

5. As we know one aspect of literary criticism is comparative study. Swami Vipulananda had compared literary scenes in Villi Bharatham with Homer’s epic poems. Perhaps taking a cue from the pioneer literary critic in Thamil, the late scholar and critic, K. Kailasapathy compared the Sangam Period BC 3rd -AD 3rd century) Thamil literature with Greek Heroic Poetry in the last quarter of the last century.

K. Kanapathipillai who succeeded Vipulanandar as Professor in Thamil and K. Kailasapathy were admittedly influenced by the pioneer critic in Lankan Thamil Literature.

sivakumaranks@yahoo.com

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