In Honour of Kamban

By K.S.Sivakumaran

A four day compendium of prose and poetry in Thamil language was held last week beginning May 31 to June 03, 2007 at the Ramakrishna Hall, Wellawatta organized by the exemplary institution that fosters and revitalizes love for ancient and medieval Thamil Literature.

Kamban Kalagam is the name of the institution. It is in existence for many years functioning earlier in Yaalpaanam until such time when it was found impossible to function from the capital of the Thamilians in the northern peninsula. Presently it functions from Colombo. The man behind the scene is known as Kambavaarathy Jeyaraj, a young man dressed in saffron verti and shawl. He also adorns a konde’ in is head as the ancient Thamilians did. He is known as Kambavaarathy because he adores Kamban.

And who is Kamban?

He was one of the greatest poets in Thamil who lived during the Chola period in South Indian History. From what is available as History of Thamil Literature, one finds that Thamil as one of the ancient languages is astonishingly not dead as Sanskrit or Pali or epic Greek or Roman.

Beginning from roughly 3rd century B.C. until today there is a
continuous history of Thamil language and Literature. And this
prevails not only in Thamilnadu state in India but also in Eelam
(meaning Ilankai or Ceylon or Sri Lanka).

Six centuries of ancient Thamil literature are conveniently classified as Sangam Literature and Post-Sangam Literature. In those days our tiny island was not separated by sea. What we call Sri Lanka now was known as Eelam by Thamilians of this country.

A poet known as Boothan Devanar from Eelam has found his poems in the anthologies of Sangam Literature. From the 7th century to the 9th century, South Indian History was known as the Pallava period.

During this time there were several Hindu temples in our little
island. Some of the Saiva Saints have sung Thevaarams (Devotional Songs) attributing the deities of these temples.

The existence of the temples goes without saying that Thamilians have been living in this country for centuries. These songs too have enriched Thamil Literature.

Perhaps the greatest contribution to Thamil Literature after
Thirukkural, Silapadikaaram and other four major epics – Manimekalai, Seevaka Chinthamani, Kundalakeasi and Valayapathi – Kamban’s Magnum Opus, the Kamba Ramaayanam proved to the world of the emergence of a great poet.

Unfortunately, his transcreation has not yet been translated into English or any other world languages to consider its
worthiness as a world literature of class. One remembers however that Silapadikaram has been translated into French.

In my humble opinion the portrayal of characters in Kamba Ramayanam reminds me of William Shakespeare’s portrayal of characters in the Elizabethan cultural context. Kamban, a Vaishnavite, could have been greatly influenced by the Jain poet Thiruvalluvar in recreating the northern epic in a southern cultural context.

Understandably, the Thamilians hold in high esteem Kamban as one of the greatest poets in Thamil.

Jeyaraj well versed in Kamba Ramaayanam and other Thamil classics, and one of the great orators in Thamil in this country naturally was bent in organizing and initiating a club on the models of Kamban Kalagams as one in Paandichery state in Thamilnadu. This is like similar clubs formed in other parts of the world to foster the study of Milton or Keats or Shelly et al.

Kamban Kalagam is ably supported by VVIP in the Thamil and Muslim Communities – C.V.Wigneswaran, T.Eeswaran, P.Balasundaram, S.A. Balendran, just a few names. His young supporters include Shivashankar and Sri Prasanthan.

Kamban Kalagam organizes three cultural events each year. One focuses on spoken word or literal, the other focuses on Carnatic (South Indian classical music) Music and the last on Bhartha (not Bhaaratha as conceived by not so knowledgeable people) Natyam.

What was held last week with pomp and pageantry was focusing on various literary aspects of Kamban’s Ramayanam.

Literary Criticism on all aspects of the epic was evident in the
speeches as a variety of interpretations on major characters of the epic poem was explored.


As in the previous years scholars from India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka participated in the proceedings. On the first day around 5.30 p.m. a procession carrying the portrait of Kamban took of from the Lakshmi Kovil at 11, Ramakrishna Road, Wellawatta to the Ramakrishna Hall on the same road close to the beach. The Grand Patron of the Colombo Kamban Kalagam, retired justice, C.V.Wigneswaran took the grand chair that was shaped like a throne of Imperial Cholas.

President of the All Island Hindu Grand Council, Mr.V.Kailapillai and
his spouse Abhirami lighted the traditional Oil Lamp. A. Arooran sang devotional hymns. The Head of the Ramakrishna mission, Colombo, Swami Sarvaroopananda gave his blessings. The Chairman’s speech was delivered by T. Eeswaran. The Grand Leader of the Kamban Kalagam Justice C.V. Wigneswaran gave the Introduction Speech. Kamba Kaavalar N.Govindasamy Mudaliar of Paandichery Kamban Kalagam in India delivered a special speech.

A book titled “Nadaga Mayil” published by Poobalasingham Publisherse headed by Srithar Singh was then launched and reviewed by M.Saravanan of Malaysia. The first copy of the book was bought by Ilakkiya Puravalar Alhaj Hashim Omar.

Fund collected for the inmates at Vaalvaham in Yaalpaanam and
Yogarswamy Ladies Inn in Maddakkalappu was handed over.

Prizes to winners in competition for students organized in memory of the Late Thurai Visvanathan were distributed by his son, Raja Prasad.

Thamilnadu Poet Abdul Rahman’ Trust prizes were distributed to winners in competitions held for poetry and prose writing. The names of the winners in the competitions were not readily available.

Three people received cash, plaques and golden shawls awarded by Kamba Kaavalar N.Govindasamy Mudaliar, (Thamilnadu) Kamban Puhal Viruthaalaer Mrs Abhirami Kailasapillai Trust and Thamilnadu Professor Solmon Pope Iyah.

The recipients were Purana Vidhahar M. Thiyagarasa, Critic
K.S.Sivakumaran and Painter Kanivumathi (Mathipushpa) respectively.

On the second and third days several sessions of debate, discussion, and poetry reading were conducted. Young people and seniors participated.

The contingent of Indian participants from Thamilnadu included
N.Govinda Samy Mudaliar, Kaviko Abdul Rahuman, Prof.Ira Selva
Ganapathi, Prof.Nalmanap Periyaar Thasan, Kamba Kaavalar T.Murugesan, Prof.Silamboli Sellappan and Prof.S.Sathiya Seelan.

Among the Lankan speakers and debaters and poets were Ali Akbar, Peer Mohammed, K. Ashokparan, R.Kethara Sarma, T. Athishdapratha,T.Parthipan, L.PrasannaVarun, Dominic Jeeva, Kohila Mahendran, Shri Prasanthan, R.Jeyaraj,T.Sivakumaran, M.S.Sri Dhayalan, V.Thevaraj,,K.Balashanmugan ,K.Kalakaran,T.Sivashankar Prof.Y.nandakumar, Saaral Naadan, S.Muhundan, S.Sivakumar , E.Dayananda, Emeritus Prof.S.Thillainathan, Deshamanya Dr A.M.Mohammed Sahabdeen, Vidwan Vasantha Vaithiyanathan, and Maala Sabaratnam

The finale’ on Sunday last was the recognition of six prominent
Lankans belonging to the Thamil and Muslim communities. They were Brammashri B.Shanmugaratna Sarma (Senior Hindu priest), Deshamanya Dr A.M.Muhammad Sahabdeen (an Entrepreneur and scholar in Philosophy) S.Pathmanathan (Emeritus Professor in History), Anu Y.Nagarajan (Educationist and writer of children’s literature), S.Anandarajah (Specialist physician) and S.P.Saamy (Proprietor Thinakutal newspaper) and Prof. S.Sathiyaseelan from Thamilnadu.

It was a successful event considering the turnout of enthusiasts in relearning medieval Thamil literature and the display of knowledge, expression and speaking talents of the young and old. Free meals both lunch and dinner were served to all those who came as spectators

Kolumbu Kamban Kalagam should be congratulated in holding a grand festival in celebration of a great poet in Thamil amidst tension in the Metropolis.

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