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Tamil French Literary Connections
11 November 2007
Thiruvalluvar's Thirukural is the pride of Tamils and everybody's guide to life. Secularism, the essence of our constitutional principles springs from each and every couplet of this great treatise of wisdom written 2000 years ago.
And Sir C.P.Ramasamy Iyer pays a befitting tribute to its grandeur. In his preface to the French Translation of Thirukural Sir C.P.Ramasamy Iyer says
Thirukural, the secular book on morals has been translated in many languages. The French version of Thirukural rendered by a great littérateur Mr.Gnanou Diagou has fascinated many scholars. It is a matter of pride to all Pondicherrians that Mr.Gnanou Diagou is one of the illustrious sons of this soil who earned name and fame in the 19th century.
Thirukural had been translated into the following languages.
The list is incomplete. A complete list of languages in which Thirukural was translated is yet to be compiled. The irony is we live in an age of information technology where at our fingertips we should keep these facts. Many authors will boast that next to the Bible the book that was translated in most languages is Thirukural. Yet the data of all such translations undertaken and books published in various languages has not been published.
A great bilingual scholar Desigam Pillai in his book Tamizhagamum Frenchukararum dutifully records the services of French scholars who promoted cultural exchanges with zeal. The Jesuits priests who came here to propagate their religion learnt Tamil and for the purpose of their kinsmen to understand the nuances of Tamil they wrote many books in French.
The services of Mr.Boucher (1655-1732), Mr.De la Lane (1669-1746), Mr.Bouze (1673-1735), Mr.Gargam (1690-1742), Mr.Calmette (1693-1740), Mr.Coeurdoux (1699-1774) in writing books to help French acquire proficiency in Tamil, is thus listed by Desigam Pillai.
Mr.Desigam Pillai, a lawyer and Tamil scholar also mentions the names of those who learnt Tamil. Mr.Perrin (1754-1820), Mr.Maguy (1758-1822), Mr.Dubois (1770-1848), Mr.Dupuis (1806-1874), Mr.Mousset (1808-1888), Mr.Legouste (1880-1863), Mr.Lap (1834-1893). These lists may be tiring to normal readers. But it is a list to be remembered to understand the cultural fraternity that developed between the French and Tamil-speaking peoples.
Many scholars who collected the Tamil manuscripts and palm leaf texts during their stay in Pondicherry had given them to the Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris. Even now in many homes including this writer there remains palm leaf texts ravaged by time.
It is high time that academic institutions in the soil of Pondicherry and the Governments here that speak of heritage engage in a quest to collect all such texts, digitalize them and microfilm such rare collections hidden in Museums of both countries and private homes.
Messrs.Mousset and Dupuis wrote the Dictionnaire Français Tamoul (French Tamil Dictionary) running into 1270 pages and a Dictionnaire Tamoul Français-2 Vols. (Tamil French Dictionary) running into 1660 pages. Mr.Jules Gordin who came from France to contest an election here for the house of elders and who became a French Senator took steps to start Tamil section in the Paris University. The dream came true in 1879.
From 1890 in the Ecole des Langues Orientales Tamil classes became a reality. Mr. Vinson Julien wrote a grammar called Manuel De La Language Tamoule Grammaire, Texts, Vocabulaire ,and Mr.P.Lap, A Brege De La Grammaire Française Tomoule.Mr.M.J.Baulez wrote on colloquial Tamil Méthode De Tamoul Vulgaire
These are the pioneers and many authors who succeeded them had laid down firmly the path of inter cultural exchange and language fraternity. To a layman it appears that in the post independence era, these exchanges have mellowed down, and an impetus is needed to reactivate the vigour with which Tamil was welcomed with open arms by French.
The entire French literature must be translated into Tamil and vice versa. The unfinished agenda must be undertaken with renewed interest. Before the old generation that had mastery over both languages bids adieu to earthly existence, these unfinished tasks must be taken up with urgency, while for younger generations the need to nourish this cultural legacy left between the most lovable languages on earth, becomes a quest with thirst for knowledge.