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Sunday, September 16, 2012

the house of Tamizh Thatha U Ve Swaminatha Iyer falling under axe

It is natural that one is deeply attached to their mother tongue – perhaps We, tamilians have more sentimental attachment than others…  we felt proud and happy when the great time-old language was declared as ‘Classical language’ in 2004.   Subsequently, Sanskrit, Kannada and Telugu were also declared ‘classical language’.   On the famous Marina beach dots the statues of various Tamil literary giants including-  Kamban, Ilango adigal, Thiruvalluvar, Bharathiyar, Avvaiyar – and on the opposite there is the statue of this man, who did yeoman service to the language. 

Interestingly, the original texts of a significant number of the much-acclaimed literary works of the Sangam period came to public notice only towards the end of the 19th century, when they appeared in print with commentaries. Until then, works such as the Aymperum Kaappiangal (the five great epics) - Silappathikaram, Manimekalai, Kundalakesi, Jeevaka Chintamani and Valaiyapathi, were in the form of palm leaf manuscripts in the possession of scores of families living in various parts of Tamil Nadu.  Only very few had the  skill to read them, and, therefore, did not realise their literary worth.

History has it that Rabindranath Tagore once visited Madras as a guest of T.S. Ramaswami Aiyar, a famous Madras lawyer at which time, he was informed of the works of Tamil literary giant.  The Bengali poet, who was also interested in printing palm leaf manuscript, was excited and expressed his willingness to meet him.  The man who gave us the National Anthem met him at his residence here  at Thiruvatteswaranpet nearer Tripilcane Post Office.  This is house is now under the hammer -literally – it is not auction but being demolished.  Read the newsitem in the ‘The Hindu’ at the end of this.

Some great people took upon themselves the need for hunting the rare palm leaf manuscripts and bring to light the hidden treasure of Tamil literature.  Foremost among those who undertook this formidable task was Mahamahopadhyaya Dakshinathya Kalanidhi Uthamadhanapuram Venkatasubbaiyer Swaminatha Iyer (1855-1942), popularly known as "Tamizh thaththaa" (the grand old man of Tamil). A Tamil professor and literary scholar, Swaminatha Iyer's 150th birth anniversary was celebrated on February 19, 2005.   The hundreds of palm leaf manuscripts gathered by U.V. Swaminatha Iyer from nooks and corners of Tamil Nadu are now stored in the Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. U.V. Swaminatha Iyer Library, at Besant Nagar in Chennai. Functioning since 1943, a year after Swaminatha Iyer died, the library is a fitting memorial to this relentless researcher. Besides the palm leaf manuscripts, many of them yet to be transcribed, it has a number of books used by the scholar, transcribed literary works in his own handwriting, the notes he prepared for the various publications, copies of books published by him, and so on.

U. V. Swaminatha Iyer, the Tamil scholar and researcher  instrumental in bringing many long-forgotten works of classical Tamil literature to light, was born  in the village of Suriaymoolai near Kumbakonam.    Tyagaraja Chettiar, an erudite scholar was the head of the Tamil Department at the Government Arts College.  Swaminatha Iyer succeeded him.   Swaminatha Iyer visited almost every hamlet and knocked at every door collecting rare manuscripts. . From 1924 to 1927, Iyer was the Principal of the Meenakshi Tamil College in Annamalai University, Chidambaram. On health grounds, he resigned the post, came to Madras and continued his research.

His contributions to Tamil music are very significant – he published Silapathigaram, Pathupattu, Ettuthogai and more.  His autobiography, En Sarithiram, was serialised in the Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan, from January 1940 to May 1942. It was later published as a book in 1950. He was closely associated with the Greatest tamil poet Subramania Bharathiyar.  The meeting of Ravindaranatha tagore  and the grand old man of Tamil literature in 1926 in Chennai was a historic moment. Not only did Tagore call on U. Ve. Swaminatha Iyer but also penned a poem in praise of his efforts to salvage ancient classical Tamil literary works from palm leaf manuscripts.  Iyer was conferred the honorary doctoral degree (D.Litt.) by the University of Madras in 1906. In recognition of his outstanding literary accomplishments and contributions, he was also honoured with the title, Mahamahopathiyaya, literally: "Greatest of great teachers”.

The house of U.Ve.Sa., popularly called as “Thamizh Thaththa” at Uthamadhanapuram near Papanasam in Tiruvarur district has been converted into a memorial.  But the house he lived in at Thiruvatteeswaranpet in Chennai and from where he prepared many works for publication has been  lying derelict, as his descendants have moved away. The house reportedly has changed hands over the period of time, and now is facing demolition.   The  name-board bearing the title ‘Thyagaraja Vilas'  the only proof that Swaminatha Iyer residing over there too was removed as the old bricks have started falling inside under the weight of hammer.

When Swaminatha Iyer bought the house, he named it after Thyagaraja Chettiyar.  Some reports state that when  many Chennai residents left the city during the Second World War fearing aerial bombardment, Swaminatha Iyer left for Thirukazhukundram. He stayed in a house belonging to Thiruvavaduthurai Mutt. He died there on April 28, 1942 after a brief illness, never to return to this house at Thiruvateeswaranpet.

I took these photos today [the one at the start of the post and here], the workers could say that this was Tamil thatha’s house – a few days more, nothing would be there, perhaps another commercial building housing some shops or perhaps another apartment with none knowing anything of the greatness of the place or of the man who once lived there

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.


Axe falls on Tamil Thaatha’s house  - B. KOLAPPAN

It was here that Rabindranath Tagore called on Swaminatha Iyer in 1926.  ERASING HISTORY:Demolition work in progress at U.V. Swaminatha Iyer's house at Triplicane in Chennai on Saturday.— Photo: R. Ravindran

Thyagaraja Vilas, the house of the grand old man of Tamil literature (Tamil Thaatha), U.V. Swaminatha Iyer, and one of the city’s landmarks, will soon disappear. The descendants of Iyer have reportedly sold the property at Thiruvatteeswaranpet and the buyer is demolishing the house. The inner walls have been brought down. Nameboards bearing the titles ‘Thyagaraja Vilas’ and ‘U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer Illam’ have been removed. The man overseeing the demolition said that he worked for the buyer. “It is really sad because it is from this house he edited and published many ancient literary works such as Silapathikaram, Patthupaatu and Ettuthogai after collecting palmleaf manuscripts from every nook and corner of the country. Even a university cannot match his efforts,” says writer Indira Parthasarathy.

When Rabindranath Tagore visited Chennai in 1926, he called on Iyer at this house and even penned a poem in praise of Iyer’s contribution.  Iyer came to this house as a tenant in 1904 following his appointment as a Tamil teacher of the Presidency College in 1903. The monthly rent was Rs. 20. Subsequently, he bought the house and named it after Thyagaraja Chettiayar, who was instrumental in getting him the post of Tamil teacher of the Kumbakonam Arts College in the wake of his retirement in 1880.
Parthasarathy, an alumnus of the Kumbakonam College, says the demolition will not only remove the memories of Iyer but also those of Thyagaraja Chettiyar, an eminent scholar, after whom the house was named.  “Chettiyar’s contribution to Tamil is explained by the fact that the principal of the Kumbakonam College, an English man, had his image engraved on one of the pillars of the college,” says Prof. Parthasarathy. Iyer had explained why he named the house after Chettiyar. “It is a gesture to express my gratitude; even atonement, as I had failed to acknowledge Chettiyar’s name in my edition of the ‘Seevaka Chinthamani,’ one of the five great epics in Tamil,” he stated in his biography of Thyagaraja Chettiyar.

Ki. Va. Jagannathan, one of the students of Iyer, had recalled in his book ‘Yenathu Aasiriyarpiran’ that the owner of the house happily sold the house to Iyer though he had taken advance from another person.  Swaminatha Iyer worked in Presidency College till 1919. Later, he was the principal of the Meenakshi Tamil College from 1924 to 1927. He left the house only in 1942 along with many Chennai residents, fearing aerial bombardment during the Second World War.
As the former ‘asthana vidwan’ of the Thiruvavaduthurai Mutt, he was allowed to stay in a house of the Mutt at Thirukazhukundram. He died there on April 28, 1942 following a brief illness.

“The government should intervene and secure the house of Swaminatha Iyer as it did in the case of the house where Subramania Bharati resided. Iyer, Bharathi and Pudumaipithan form the Trinity of the Tamil language and cultural awakening. We cannot afford to ignore the fact,” says Prof. Parthasarathy.

the statue of Swaminatha Iyer at Presidency College, Chennai


  1. To the modern day tammillians, tamil thatha is Mu Ka and every young is Mu Ka Stalin. Future tamilinam would have been taught that Kalaignar wrote Tholkappiyar and helped Valluvar, if thye had continued in power - Kathiravan

  2. thamilargale, thamilargale - thathavai pathi kavalaipada vendiyathu enna ullathu - inge panam irukkiratha, allathu vottu than ullatha. Even when it is MK's constituency, he will not care - he already has enough of tamil interests to take care - Valluvan

  3. Tamil thathavukkaga Oru paya theek kulikka vendam ; at least tea kasula oru maalai aavathu vangi poduvana....... entha arasiyal vathiyim kandu kollatha oru silai ithu - Vivek

  4. Would like to know about mahakavi and Tamil thatha, I read mahakavi. Wrote three poems praising u ve sa for a meeting where u ve sa was felicitated and honoured

  5. please check out the efforts to help spread U Ve Sa's En Sarithiram (autobiography) tamilaudiobooks dot com

  6. Thanks for the blog post buddy! Keep them coming... mua ban nha dat