In Conversation With Rev.
Jegath Gaspar Raj
Saigal, 13 July 2005
Rev. Jegath Gaspar Raj is a Catholic priest from India. He is the founder of
Tamil Maiyam, a non-profit organization which promotes Tamil arts,
Literature and Culture . It was created with a special thrust on Research,
Creative productions and Publications as well as to bring the fruits of
modern science to the ordinary Tamils and to create a platform for Tamils
living in various parts of the world to interact, relate, learn and work
together for the betterment of Tamil language and
The Reverend spent the past three years in creating a very special project �
Thiruvasakam in Symphony. The project is a musical CD created under the
direction of Illayaraja, the famous music director. The CD is created as a
crossover album with a goal to bring the verses of the Thiruvasakam written
by the great Shaivite Saint Manickavasagar to a world-wide audience.
The Reverend has degrees in Theology, Mass Communication and Political
science. As director of the Tamil Language program in Veritas Radio in
Philippines, he was able to help over 4,500 tamil families affected by the
civil war in Srilanka, find and unite with their loved ones.
New England Tamil Sangam arranged a talk by the Reverend at the home of
Dr. Ramaswamy Jesuraj. The Reverend used the opportunity to felicitate Mr.
Venkat Bala, a New England resident for his unstinting help and support for
the Thiruvasakam in Symphony Project. The audience was so taken with the
work that over 70 copies of the CD were sold in just one evening.
A charismatic speaker, he talked about his work, his passion for Tamil and
his thoughts on faith and spirituality.
What motivated you to found Thamizh Maiyam?
Thamizh to me is not just a medium of communication. Due to my training as a
priest I have had the opportunity to learn several languages. Of all of them
Greek and Thamizh touch my soul in a unique way.
I admire Thamizh culture because it has always had a great respect for the
Truth. We have had saints like �Nakkirar� who did not fear even getting
burnt by the third eye of Lord Shiva and continued to adhere to the truth.
In Thamizhnadu an ordinary woman like Kannagi could make a powerful king
shiver in his shoes by proclaiming the truth.
The Thamizh language to me mediates the knowledge and wisdom of the Thamizh
people who have lived for nearly 2000 years. I felt a great need to bring
this beautiful language and culture to the world at large and that is why I
founded Thamizh Maiyam.
Why did you put so much energy into creating Thiruvasakam in Symphony?
It was the sheer joy of the
Thamizh verses presented by Manickavasagar that
first drew me to the work. Later as I continued reading it I was so amazed
at the spiritual nature of the work. I was drawn to becoming a priest
because of the personality of Jesus � a God who embraces and participates in
human life and wipes away our tears. Manickavasagar showed me the same God
in Lord Shiva. He brought God close to humans. Here was Lord Shiva carrying
mud on his back and enduring the whip of the master to support a poor
devotee of his.
The Saint also understood that God was beyond religions. �You are known as
Lord Shiva in the south and others may call you by different names� says
Manickavasagar. I feel that anyone who just listens to the verses will
certainly be transformed.
I am very familiar with Carnatic music and Western Classical music. I felt
the genius of Illyaraja could blend the various traditions together to
create a masterpiece crossover album and perhaps then Thirvasakam may be
heard the world around.
Could you describe the experience of creating this project?
I think creating it was a spiritual journey for me. I decided that we needed
the support of ordinary people for this project so that it could stay away
from politics and special interest groups. Thus I sought funding from
individuals. I started with a mere one Lakh rupees and the project ended
costing over a Crore rupees. I worked very hard building a network, talking
to people and collecting funds.
Priests are not supposed to have egos. When I presented my ideas and was
turned down for funding by many I realized that I did have an ego and was
very hurt. I think it was the Lord�s way of working with me. But the Lord
says in the Bible �You begin and I will complete�. I saw this in action in
We were in Hungary and needed to pay 10,000 dollars for the orchestra. We
had made arrangements from India for the money but at the last minute the
money did not come. We were desperate and at that time Venkat Bala from
Boston send me the money. We had never met but he trusted my word and sent
me the money. This project was feasible because of people like him.
There were many who have trusted me and helped me create this masterpiece. I
owe it them to make sure that the CD reaches as many people as possible. I
know that once people hear it, it will touch them deeply. I am also grateful
to my Bishop, Antony Devoto who gave me time off from my duties in the
church to pursue this passion.
You are a Catholic priest. Did that create any conflict as you worked
with the verses of a Shaivite saint?
Tamils have long understood that God is beyond religions. If politics does
not get involved no one will have any conflict. In the verses of
Manickavasagar if I replace Lord Shiva with Jesus, Allah or Jehovah it will
not take away an ounce of its spirituality. These are but names. As you well
know the English translations of Thiruvasakam and the Thirukural was done by
two missionaries, G.U. Pope and Father Beckett, over a hundred years ago.
My Bishop encouraged the project because he really wanted to increase
interfaith communication. Of course to respect another religion one must
have strong roots in one's own faith.
You worked at Radio Veritas as a Tamil Language program coordinator. In
the process you helped a lot of Sri Lankan Tamils. Could you describe that
experience to us?
As part of the Tamil language program outreach we asked people to write to
us. A large number of the letters came from Sri Lankan Tamils whose families
were really in deep trouble because of the war.
During war times in Sri Lanka, when a young boy turns 17 , the Tamil Tigers
look at him as a potential recruit. The government looks at him as a
potential trouble maker. The parents decide that the best way to keep him
safe is to send him to Canada or US. They find an illegal human trafficker
and give him lots of money and entrust the boy to his care. The trafficker
brings him and dumps him in a country like Nepal or Pakistan. The kid has no
money, very little knowledge of the language and to survive he gets in
illegal activity. This gets him into jail.
In the meantime in the war torn village a people may wake up to a bombing
and they run for their lives. By reading letters on the air of the different
people and their stories we were able to unite nearly 4,500 families and
rescue many a young men who suffered under the hands of illegal human
You have accomplished so many big things at such an young age. As you
proceed in your journey though life what more do you hope to accomplish?
For me there are no big or small things. I have learnt so much from things
that seem small to people. I do hope that I learn the best values in the
world and inculcate them. I hope I can continue honest inter-religious
dialogue. I hope I can bring the great Tamil literature and
culture to the
world stage. If I do not read
Thiruvasakam it is my loss and not the loss of
Manickavasagar. I hope I can give more people the opportunity to be touched
by these masterpieces.