I am proud to be a Thamilian especially when I become aware of my culture that I carry as expressed in rich literature in the language I speak that is spoken by over 60 million people all over the world. This is not a jingoistic statement but an expression of felt experience.
I love literatures of the world including Sinhala and Thamil literatures, but I am not thoroughly immersed in the earlier literatures in my language, except to have studied some works for examination purposes in schools and the university and reading authentic works now and then on the literatures of the earlier periods. But only when I listen to elucidatory speeches by eminent scholars in seminars, workshops and literary and religious festivals do I realize how deep and universal my ancients had been.
Last week on June 29, 30 and July 01, 2007, the Government Department of Hindu Religious & Cultural Affairs organized a seminar on the ‘Path of Devotion and Cultural Efflorescence’ at the Ramakrishna Hall in Wellawatta. For the three days the small hall was full with scholars, academics, general public and most of all interested students. Both young and old mixed with each other and I should say benefited. The organizers under the department’s head, Ms.Shanthi Naavukkarasan and her energetic staff should be credited for the successful conclusion of the events which included lunch and refreshments to the entire participants.
However, the man behind the intellectual workings of the entire sessions was a dominant and thoroughly versed figure in history and literature – Emeritus Professor in History. This impeccable personality was S.Pathmanathan. He is bilingual (Thamil and English) and familiar in both Sinhala and Sanskrit. He was assisted by able and enthusiastic academics fro three universities (Peradeniya, South Eastern and Jayawardene universities) – Maheswaran, Raghuparan and Shri Prasanthan.
The proceedings were conducted in Thamil. In Thamil the theme of the seminar was dubbed as ‘Bhakthi Neriyum Panpaaduk Koalangalum’. The English version was of it was given as the ‘Path of Devotion and Cultural Efflorescence’. In my own translation, I would say the ‘Bhakthi Cult and the Cultural Dimensions’
Minister Pandu Bandaranaike was the chief guest at the opening ceremony. Emeritus Professor and Former Director of the Department of Archaeology, Thamilnadu R.Nagasamy was one of the chief guests at the function. I missed the beginning of the opening ceremony and was present only when R.Nagasamy addressed the audience in English for the benefit of the Minister. How well it would have been had the Minister spoken in Thamil.
The Indian contingent included besides Emeritus Professor R. Nagasamy, a scholar of standing, and a brilliant analyst, R. Kalaikovalan (an eye surgeon and a PhD holder), Dr. K. Rajavelu of the regional branch in Chennai of the Indian Central Government of Department of Archaeology and Dr. A. Pathmavathi, a retired specialist in the study of inscriptions. AQ good may invitees from the subcontinent didn’t turn up because of the fear prevailing in the country. Likewise not all academics invited from Yaalpaanam and Maddakkalappu did turn up due to the traumatic uneasiness in the Colombo Metro.
Among the local academics were young people, and a few were impressive in their approach and treatment of the subjects they addressed on. Also senior academics from Peradeniya, Yaalpaanam, Eastern, South Eastern, Sabragamuwa and Jayewardene Universities showed their insight into the subjects explored. They were: Emeritus Professors S.Pathmanathan, P.Gopalakrishnan, V.Sivasamy and Professors K.Aunachalam, S.Krishnarajah, R.V. Kanagaratnam and Drs Thurai Manoharan, S.Yogarasa, V.Maheswaran, Krishnaveani Norbert and P.Ganeshalingan. The other university teachers included Naachiyar Selvanayagam, K.Raghuparan, Kanagasabapathy Nageswaran, Vigneswari Bhavanesan, Shri Prasandan, Shri Krishnanda Sarma, S. Muhundan, M. Rupavathanan, K. Arunthaakaran and N.Pathmanaba Sarma. There were two non-academic scholars who read their papers: Vasantha Vaithiyanathan and Bhavani Muhundan.
The focus was on the literary and inscriptional evidences during the Pallava Period (Roughly between 3rd century A.D. and 9th century A.D) and almost a parallel Pandiya Period in Thamilnadu history.
There were a variety of subjects that the seminar touched on during the 12 sessions. They include:
Session 1: Thamilnadu Politics and History (350 A.D to 850 A.D.): Early Pallavas, The Inscriptional Thamil in the Pallava Period.
Session 2: Thamilnadu Politics and History (350 A.D. to 850 A.D.): The Scripts during the Period, The Pallava Influence in Lanka,
Session 3: Thamilnadu Politics and History (360 A.D. to 850 A.D.): The Pallva Style in the Arts during the Anuradhapura period in Lankan History, The Sculptures in Maamallapuram in Thamilnadu
Session 4: Religion & Culture: Theavaaram (Devotional Hymns), Jainism, Buddhism, Saivaism and Vaishnvasm
Session 5: Religion and Culture: The Veda Agamams in the Saiva Tradition, The Worship of Vinayagar (Ganesh) in Thamilnadu,
Session 6: The Temples and Arts: Devasthanams and Palli Sandams, Vetharaniyam, Thiruvaalavai.
Session 7: Thiru Thalangalum Kalaihalum (The Temples and the Arts): The Blessed Inscriptions in the Vishnu Temples, The Dance Forms in the Pallava Period.
Session 8: Thirumuraihal and Diviya Prapandangal: Bhakthi Bhaavana Technique, Sambandar.
Session 9: Thirumuraihal and Divya Prabandams: Appar, Sundarar, The Vaishnava Tradition in Nammaalvar Pasurams, A Comparative Study on the Paasurams of Saiva and Vaishnava songs
Session 10: The Society in the Pallava Period: The Administration, The Ornaments in Bhakthi Literature
Session 11: The Literatures and the Language in the Pallava period: Raavanan in Literature, Scientific Thoughts in Bhakthi Literature
Session 12: The language and literatures in the Pallava Period: Bhakthi Rasa, The Influence of Sanskrit in Lanka, The Saiva Concepts in Theavaarams, Aandaal and Sanskrit in Inscriptions.
I derived a wealth of information and knowledge listening to the erudite speakers. Some of them were excellent in their presentation as well while a few read their papers in a lackadaisical manner.
Two publications by the Department of Hindu Religious & Cultural Affairs were launched at the opening day: Raghu Vamsam and Seminar Proceedings of 2006. In addition, a Special Issue on the Seminar was distributed free. It is also a very valuable compendium of studied articles on aspects of culture n the Pallava Period.
In conclusion may I say that it is high time a separate Ministry for Thamil Cultural Affairs is established so that we could have an extension of various aspects of Lankan Thamil Culture is fostered? The present system under one Minister who may lack interest in the aspirations of the Thamil speaking people (Thamil and Islamic Literatures for instance) at least in the field of Culture is wanting in many respects – funds, organization, patronage and so on.
Earlier under politicians S.Rajadurai and P.P.Devaraj and administrators a fruitful period was experienced by all.
Although some reduce the Thamilians in Lanka only to 9 % out of the 20 million people in the country, the fact remains that nearly 25 % of the population are Thamil speaking people.
Arts and Culture foster Unity and people transcend parochialism if allowed to exist in promoting their individual cultural traits.