Fourth International Tamil Conference Seminar
January 1974, Jaffna, Tamil Eelam
Inaugural Presidential Address by Professor
President, International Association of Tamil Research, Eelam National
Tamil Studies in Ceylon; a review essay of 1968 by S. Vithiananthan ]
I take great pleasure and pride in welcoming on behalf of
the Eelam National Unit of the International Association of
Tamil Research (IATR) the research scholars assembled here
and the general public.
Jaffna has had a continuous tradition of literature from
the poet Poothanthevanar to Pandithamani Kanapathipillai. It
has also been a centre of learning where councils have met
under the auspices of kings to further the cause of Tamil.
Once again we welcome you all into our midst. Even at the
conclusion of the conference when you depart with the words
' Good bye ' we do not reply ' Good bye ' Instead we say
'Will you be coming again '.
Next to South India,
Jaffna retains the right and fitness to hold a conference of
Tamil research. Yogi Suddhananda Bharathiar from South India
"Jaffna is the land of brave Tamils. It has intellect and
it has valour. From time immemorial it has withstood the
onslaught of foreigners. The Tamils are second to none They
stand at the forefront in all fields "
Saalai Ilanthirayan who wrote to us regarding the
conference has this to say
"It is my belief that more than the Tamils of South India
it is the Tamils of Eelam who possess great concern about
the welfare of the Tamils. The
political and social conditions in Eelam might have
contributed towards this but one cannot under-estimate
It is only right that we who have elicited the admiration
of South India with our love for Tamil should have the
conference in Jaffna. It is our right too. All those who
love Tamil with sincerity and are conscious of the heritage
of Eelam Tamils and their contribution to
Tamil literature will welcome this.
The contribution of Eelam Tamils towards the development
of Tamil is substantial. Eelam scholars have been pioneers
in various fields of literary activities.
manuscripts on the verge of extinction were rescued by Sri
Arumuga Navalar from Eelam edited a number of old texts
and contributed substantially through his lucid prose works
It is a Eelam Tamil who first revealed the cultural
splendour of the Tamils and brought to light the greatness
of Tamil literature and paved the way for research on the
history of Tamils. The author of the first encyclopaedia in
Tamil was from Jaffna . A Tamil from Eelam published the
first Tamil dictionary based on Western models. The history
of Tamil music was made known by Swami Vipulananda from Sri
Lanka. He was also the first Professor of Tamil.
A number of books on science were written here. Eelam
pioneered the teaching of science in Tamil as well. A Eelam
Professor brought the spoken idiom into literary use through
his dramas. Thus in diverse ways Eelam has been a source of
strength to Tamils.
In short, both in the 19th century and in the early part
of the 20th century Sri Lankans were in the forefront of
literary development in Tamil. During the last 25 years too
Eelam Tamils have excelled in poetry, the short story and
the novel. The University of Sri Lanka has done considerable
research in Tamil literature, grammar, linguistics, history
of Tamils, archaeology, economics and geography. The
research efforts undertaken by scholars of the University of
Sri Lanka have been praised by Western Scholars for their
Further, next to South India it
is in Eelam that the Tamil language lives with dynamism.
Tamils live in
Mauritius, Indonesia, Vietnam,
South Africa, Rhodesia,
Trinidad. But in many of these lands, they do not live
as Tamils. Although they may comprehend Tamil they cannot
express themselves in this language. Some are Tamils only in
terms of ethnic identity. In this context Tamil could be
said to be alive only in South India and Sri Lanka. It is
the medium of instruction for Tamils in Universities. Seen
against this backdrop it is most fitting that the conference
be held in Sri Lanka.
It is necessary at the present juncture to reflect on the
birth and development of the I. A. T. R. This association
reaches its 10th birthday in another four days. In January
1964 the conference of International Oriental Scholars took
place in New Delhi and on the seventh day of the same
month the I.A T.R was formed. Scholars from 15 countries met
to establish this association Prof. K. Kanapathipillai
represented Eelam and
Fr X. S. Thaninayagam represented Malaysia. Pandit K.P.
Katnam too was present. Thereafter conferences took place in
Malaysia, India and France. On Monday next week the 7th
January this association will celebrate its 10th birthday in
What has this Association achieved during the
past ten years ? First it has dispensed with the theory that
only native speakers of Tamil can do research on Tamil
literature or language. Research in Tamilology has broken
through narrow confines and broadened in various ways.
Instead of confining research merely to Tamil literature and
grammar, projects have been undertaken in Tamilian History,
Tamil Culture, Archaeology and Sociology. New facts have
been unearthed about the greatness of Tamil literature, the
antiquity and development of Tamil culture and linguistics.
The I.A. T. R. has provided a common platform for scholars
dedicated to research in various countries to give
expression to their findings. This is no mean achievement.
Not only did interchange of ideas take place but they also
enabled observers to take a keen interest in Tamil research.
After every conference greater numbers have shown interest
in Tamil research. This would become evident when we compare
the names of scholars who participated in the past three
conferences and those who wished to take part in the 4th
conference. New scholars joined hands with old delegates.
Thus not only did these conferences foster research in
Tamil, they also enlarged the number of research scholars in
Further the I.A. T. R. has been instrumental in
making Tamil part of the curriculum in foreign Universities
and in making foreign Professors take a keen interest in
Tamil research. There was a time when Western Universities
did research on Sanskrit and Indo-Aryan languages. Now the
situation has changed and the study of Tamil language Tamil
literature, Tamilian history and culture has become a
popular one. Earlier westerners studied Tamil for purposes
of religious propaganda, commerce and political domination.
Now they study for the purpose of research and to discover
the intrinsic greatness ot Tamil.
We recoonize their love and respect for Tamil in their
act of giving to themselves and their children Tamil names -
scholars in Russia have been enamoured to the extent of
calling themselves 'Sembian'. and ' Iyngurran'. A
Czechoslovakian research scholar has christened his daughter
'Kannamma'. It fills us with shame to think that instead of
Tamil names some of us give our children the names of film
stars. The scholars mentioned above want the words ' student
of Tainil ' as their epitaph.These scholars not only love
Tamil but if they were to be bom again they would love to be
born as Tamils. We bow our heads in shame when we refect on
how some of our folk tried to prevent them from
attending the conference.
As we recapitulate the
role played by this association in fostering Tamil
research and love for Tamil among foreigners
one cannot help praising one of its founders Fr.
Thaninayagam. He is the Ambassador of the Tamil
language. Although be has rejected material pleasures, his
love for Tamil remains. Wherever he went he gave speeches,
wrote articles, spoke over the air and stressed to natives
of those lands the greatness and antiquity of the Tamil
language. Ho edited the quarterly "Tamil Culture" as a means
of spreading the greatness of Tamil. Above and beyond this
he brought together the Tamil scholars of Europe, Africa,
and Asia on to a common platform through the I. A. T. R.
the I. A. T. R. is his brain child. For the last ten
years it grew under his loving care and now he celebrates
its 10th birthday in the midst of many foreign scholars. The
hazards of bringing up a child are not unknown to you. This
child was destined to face an acid test at the end of its
10th year. People accused Fr. Thaninayagam of having
deserted the child at this crucial moment. He is a custodian
of Tamil culture that knows not the betrayal of children.
That is why he struggled with us to save this child. By
consenting to inaugurate the 4th conference he has proved
that his ideals lie in the growth of this child. We are
deeply indebted to him.
We thank the delegates of
foreign countries such as India, Malaysia, England, Italy,
Switzerland, Sweden, America, Canada, Hungary and Australia
for having come in the midst of so many impediments and
proved that this conference is not a parochial affair
but an International Conference of Tamil Research.
This conference does not aim at promoting communalism. It is
a national conference and we welcome with all humility both
Sinhalese and Muslim scholars who are present, as delegates
and observers. To those who have come from Batticaloa,
Trincomalee, the hill country, Vavuniya, Mannar and
Mullaitivu, and to those who have stood by us in the task of
keeping to the schedule we are deeply grateful.
is the first occasion on which a conference like this is
being held in Sri Lanka. It gained international recognition
even before it began. That the recognition will rise tenfold
after the conference is evident. Therefore we seek your
co-operation to ensure that this conference which has
elicited the attention of the entire world be held smoothly
God bore me well
To serve the cause ot Tamil
3 January 1974