Indomitable Tamil scholar U. V. Swaminatha Iyer who saved many classical Tamil literary works of Sangam period

Tamil literary giant U.V. Swaminatha Iyer,

In the area of Tamil literary work, great Tamil scholar and researcher U.V Swaminatha Iyer (19 February 1855 - 28 April 1942) stands as a giant and enjoys exalted status. His contribution to the revival of countless  long-forgotten works of classical Tamil literature  is immense. But for his long strenuous and dedicated efforts, many important classical works  would not have seen the light and got lost long ago witout any traces. His sincere, unassuming  singular efforts saved the ageing Tamil manuscripts from severe  damages and brought out the beauty and nuances of  those hidden gems. His persistent toil promoted  and preserved the enrichment of the Tamil language that got the recognition as one of  the Indian classical languages in  Feb.2005, taking into account its rich literature and antiquity.. His five decades of  hard work work saw the  publication of over 90 books  and a collection of over 3,000  paper manuscripts, palm-leaf manuscripts and notes of various subjects and kinds. Affectionately called Tamil Thatha (Grandpa of Tamil), Sri UVS  has carved  a permanent niche in the world of Tamil literature. In  February 2005, his 150th birth day was celebrated on a grand scale.

Tamil palm manuscripts

The common people do not know that the Tamil scholars came to be  aware of the well-known literary works of the Sangam period only toward the end of  19th century;  prior to that  time the Sangam works were unknown.  For the first time they came out  in print  with  crisp commentaries. Earlier, the frequently-mentioned  works called Aymperum Kaappiangal (the five great epics)  Silappathikaram, Manimekalai, Kundalakesi, Jeevaka Chintamani and Valaiyapathi, were in the form of palm leaf manuscripts. The crux of the problem is  they were  slowly crumbling, gathering dust and lay scattered   at different places with numerous families across Tamil Nadu. In the absence of modem  transport facilities, Iyer had to travel far and widely mostly on foot, unmindful of hot sunny days and rainy season. This will give you some idea about his love for Tamil and dedication to complete the task undertaken by him.  The owners of those manuscripts either  had any knowledge about their value. Nor did they know how to read them. Convincing the owners and collecting dusty palm manuscripts from differnt owners, besides  noting down the  scripts and writing commentary was  a tough and cumbersome job. Without losing trust, Iyer .would visit  some places  many times to get a few manuscripts  that would  fit in with those already collected earlier. Some visits were productive, some would cause disappointment.With great difficulty he collected all the missing palm-leaf manuscripts, Later he put them in order, read well them and wrote commentaries. His foremost preoccupation was he wanted to preserve them permanently for the posterity. So, Sri Swaminatha Iyer had them printed. Th printing cost was partly met by him and partly by donation from Tamil scholars and patrons. Since the publication of  Cevaka Cintamani in 1887, after through reading and consultation with the Jain community in Kumbakonam, he evinced keen interest in the Sangam literature.  This later  led to the printing and publication of  Manimekalai (1898; written by Seethalai Saathanar), Silappathikaram (1889; written by Elago Adigal)), Paththuppaattu (1889) and Purananooru (1894). He published more than 100 books including Tamil classics, poems, devotional books etc, during his life time.

Tribute from Bengali poet Tagore

It was from Sillapthikaram we have come to know about the  Moovveetharkal - Chera, Chola and Pandya dynasties. Some works like Purananooru  related to the Sangam period, we have learnt that the Tamil language is more than 2000 years old. 

Hailing from a poor Brahmin  family in Uthamadhanapuram, near Kumbakonam, old Thanjavur district, Swaminatha Iyer  completed his early education there. When he was barely 17  he became a disciple of famous Tamil scholar  Mahavidwan Meenakshisundaram Pillai, an employee of he Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam, a rich Shaiva Mutt and gained a deep knowledge of Tamil over a span of 5 years with Sri Meenashisundaram pillai.   He taught Tamil at the Govt. college, Kumbakonam in the y 1880s, and later   he was with  the famous  Presidency College, Madras from 1903 and retired in 1919..His scholarly works side by side  continued and  earned him the good will of the head of the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam  mutt. In 1906, the University of Madras conferred on him  honorary doctoral degree (D.Litt.). From 1924 to 1927 he was the head of the Tamil department in Meenakshi College (later became Annamalai University, Chidamparam) founded by Sir Rajah Annamalai Chettiar.  In the same year, he was conferred the title   Mahamahopadhyaya. In 1925, at a special function, he  received the title  Dakshinathya Kalanidhi..A  commemorative postage stamp was issued by the Indian Postal department  on 18 February 2006 in honor of him..

5 great Tamil epics of Sangam period  Brainlyin 

01. It was at the instigation of Salem Ramaswami Mudaliar (Dist. Munsif of Kumbakonam), Iyer began the collection of manuscripts on Civagachithamani.

02. While teaching in the Kumbakonam college, his chance meeting with Salem Ramaswami Mudaliar was a  turning point that had prompted him in pursuit of palm manuscripts on Sangam works  scattered in different places. 

03. One Nellai Kaviraja Easwara Murthi, in his home in Tirunelveli, carefully, preserved many manuscripts and his collection was of great help to him to delve into the Sangam work.

04. Well-known publisher Sri Ramanujachariyar, head of Kasi Thirupananthal mutt Chockalinga Thampiran, Pinnathur Narayana Swamy Iyer, et al  studied Tamil under UVS and published his  well-researched works.
05 Mr. Iyer took keen interest in the spread  of Tamil music as Tamil music in Carnatic style was not common in those days.