NATION LIBRARY: Eelam
- Dictionary of Biography of the Tamils of Ceylon
compiled by Sanmugam Arumugam with assistance from
M.Theagarajah and C.J.T.Thamotharam (editorial consultants: V.Sankaralingam,
C.Subramaniam, M.Nadarajah, A.Thurairetnam, K . Jayaseelan and others)
First Edition 1996 (book inquiries from
|Sanmugam Arumugam B.Sc (Lond),B.Sc
(Eng), F.I.C.E, F.I.E.,, was born on 31 August 1905, in Jaffna, Eelam.
Graduating from Kings College, London, he served as an Irrigation Engineer
for over twenty years, eventually functioning as Deputy Director of
Irrigation for ten years and acting as Director. His writings include Some
Hindu Hindu Temples of Sri Lanka, 1980; Lord of Thiruketheswaram, 1980;
Stone Sculptures in Colombo Hindu Temple, 1990, Thiru Koneswaram, 1990; and
Lombok and its Temples, Indonesia, 1991. [see also the
Pancha Ishwarams of Eelam]
the Preface & Introduction:
This compilation portrays the profiles of over 775 Ceylon Tamils, who have
contributed some good to the community. They range from the eminent to the not
so eminent and span centuries, from the era of the Tamil Kings of Jaffna to the
At the close of the twentieth century, history is being enacted in Sri Lanka.
The Tamil image, established over centuries, is being erased off from the
Island. Fleeing from their motherland, the
Sri Lankan Tamils are
seeking refuge overseas and are settling down all over the globe. They are
on the verge of fast loosing their separate identity and are, in fact, becoming
an "Endangered Species".
The next generations, growing up in the environment of their new domicile,
alien to their own culture and their Tamil traditions. Bereft of their
kinsfolk, they would have scanty knowledge of their esteemed ancestors, who were
once the prestige of their motherland. This compilation is for their benefit.
It is an attempt to preserve some biographical information of those who
contributed towards the lofty position achieved by the Tamil community in
Ceylon. It is an attempt to remember those who deserve to be remembered and
about whom I was able to collect information. It has no pretext of being a
Biographical Dictionary of the Tamil Nation; that is beyond my scope and is left
to the more competent and qualified to document.
Having lived for over "four score years and ten", personal knowledge of a
large number of Tamils is an advantage I enjoy. In most families, I know of more
than one generation, in many two or three and in a specific instance, I am
familiar with even their fourth generation.
Obtaining biographical information has not been that easy, as we Tamils are
loathe to speak about our achievements, ourselves and even about our forebears.
Humility has always been the traditional basis of our expression. Nevertheless,
the response and encouragement received from some are gratefully acknowledged.
It is regretted that it has not always been possible to include all that has
The enthusiasm infused by the ever ardent C.J.T.Thamotharam in obtaining
information, reading of the script and making suggestions, was most encouraging.
M.Theagarajah, of "Palm Grove" (Madras) memories, has spent hours assisting at
all stages; to him this preparation has been an enjoyable pastime, though at
personal inconvenience. Associated with them was V.Sankaralingam, with a fund of
memory and anecdotes. The veteran School Principal C.Subramaniam was a constant
Consultant; his recollections, were ever so green, though less oratorical, at
ninety plus. The demise of the last two was a sad loss.
The ever enthusiastic K.Jayaseelan, joining in later, brought fresh
enthusiasm. He took delight in reading through and checking the work done. We
met regularly every Tuesday.
All their assistance is gratefully acknowledged. With the blossoms provided
by them, this garland has been happily strung together and offered to the memory
of our elders - the pillars of the Ceylon Tamils community.
A compilation of this nature cannot be free from errors; where mistakes
occur they are of course unintentional. Suggestions regarding additions and
amendments are welcome.
An eminent writer once reminded his readers:
To find errors in another man 's book is far easier than to write one's own book
"History is the essence of innumerable biographies". Thomas.Carlisle.
The object of a "Biography" is to provide in a compact and readable form, a
brief outline of the lives of men and women of all ages who had made an impact
on the lives of others.
It is most desirable for the growth of a nation to be aware of the
biographies of its people. In the libraries of Great Britain, the largest
section (other than fiction) is always the Biographical Section. What is spoken
about fades with time; but what is written remains for an time. Biographies
influence the young mind and inspire posterity. An awareness of men and events
of the past provides a firm foundation for building the future.
Dictionary of Biography.
A Dictionary of Biography contains biographies of the many people who became
well known because of the impact they made on the lives of others. Persons gain
this position for various reasons. Many achieve this status due to a capability
in their character, others by scholarship and writing. There are then the
thinkers. Some achieve by devotion to a religious cause, still others due to
patriotic role in freedom struggle etc.
Dictionary of Biography is found in most countries. The Dictionary of
National Biography of Great Britain is an outstanding monument from the Oxford
Press. The basic Dictionary consists of several volumes comprehensively covering
up to the year 1900; since then additional volumes have been compiled for every
ten year period. The work is massive and certainly monumental. A concise
version, in three volumes, has been issued for easy reference.
Since of late however several one volume Dictionaries of Biography have been
published. There are the Chambers' Biographical Dictionary, Webster's'
Biographical Dictionary, Longmans' Dictionary of the 20th century Biography etc.
Canada, Australia, Scotland, Ireland etc. all have their Dictionaries of
"Who's Who" is an annual publication, providing information about persons
prominent only in that year. It was commenced in 1894 and is now in its 142nd
issue. "Who was Who" is in seven volumes commencing from the year 1897.
On a perusal of the occupational trends of the Sri Lankan Tamils it is
noticed that there are definite and distinct periods when each occupation
predominates, spheres of influence soon induced the adoption of the same
vocation by several, even to the verge of overcrowding of the vocation.
During the eras of the Tamil Kings of Jaffna 13th to the 16th centuries,
there was a profusion of Tamil scholars. They were men well versed in Sanskrit
and classical Tamil who showed their ability in verse composition. Great
literary personalities appear only in certain periods is an oft repeated
Casie Chetty has well observed that "Few nations on earth can perhaps boast
of so many poets as the Tamils. Poetry appears to have been the first fixed form
of language amongst them".
The erudite European Scholar Abbe Dubois has expressed more succinctly as,
" They (the Tamils) have not a single ancient book that is written in prose,
not even the books on medicine".
So, every choice from the period has to be a poet; it was a question whom to
exclude, otherwise the compilation would have become another " Lives of the
In sharp contrast were the centuries that ensued, the early period of
foreign domination. Every Tamil kept his head low; prominence was scarce. The
few names known are of those who adopted Portuguese names etc., The Dutch strove
to erase the religious traits established by their predecessors and substitute
their own; so names of religious dignitaries are prominent in the period.
There was a remarkable change, late in the l9th century, when as a British
Crown Colony. freedom of religious worship was recognised. Religious revivalists
held sway. The popular occupation for the youths, early in the present century,
was the Government Clerical service. Consequently the Head clerk occupied a very
An alternative Mercantile occupation was that of being a Broker. But that
occupation was a monopoly of a particular Division of Jaffna. There, one was a
Broker or a Guarantee Shroff. These carried high social status. There was the
unique case of a Doctor who went to England to obtain further medical
qualifications; there he was called to the Bar as Barrister. On his return to
Ceylon, he pursued neither the medicine nor the legal profession but became a
Bank Guarantee Shroff and was highly proficient in that.
During the Pre-Independence era and after we see keener competition and
Medicine and Engineering became the aspiration of the more capable Tamils. Many
took to Law, becoming Advocates in particular. After Independence it was
Accountancy as well. There was a surfeit of Accountants and they were readily
By the close of the 20th century. Computer Science has become a popular
occupation of the Jaffna Tamil.
These are the occupations of the persons who fill the pages of this
compilation. It would be seen that the occupational habits occurred in distinct
periods, when there was a profusion of the same vocation and it fast became
A Dictionary has to contain biographies of all the men and women of the
country who had achieved a reasonable measure of distinction in any walk of
life. Hence the names of Statesmen, Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers, Scholars,
Writers, Poets, the Public & Mercantile Service personal, and Business men,
etc., all who have made a significant contribution for the good of the
community, deserve a place and justify preservation. No sphere of activity can
be overlooked. The Dictionary preserves for posterity a record that would cause
respect, pride and inspiration.
"To Honour those worthy of Honour is itself Honourable"