Biography of Arumuga Navalar

Written by: M.K.Eelaventhan


Eelam's Contribution to Tamil

From time immemorial, Tamil Nadu and Tamil Eelam have contributed their share to the enrichment of Tamil language, culture and way of life. Eelaththu Pootham Devanar from Sangam age and other eminent poets, writers and intellectuals like Nallur Arasa-kesari, Sabapathy Navalar, Sankara Pandithar, Pulolyoor Kathiravetpillai, C.V.Thamotharampillai, Chunnakam Kumarasamy Pulavar, Navaliyoor Somasundera Pulavar, Nallur Gnanapragasar, Vipulanantha Adigal of Batticaloa, Kanagasunderam of Trincomalee, Pandithamani Kanapathipillai, and Father Thaninayagam have in their own way enriched the Tamil language and literature. It can be safely said that Tamil Eelam has contributed substantially towards the promotion of Tamil language, literature, architecture, science, technology and cultural growth of Tamils.

Navalar Awakened the Tamil Consciousness

The early part of the 19th century was a dark period for the Eelam Tamils. Under alien British rule, there was the danger of the Tamils losing their language, culture, their way of life and their religious beliefs. During this crucial period, Arumuga Navalar, the champion of Saivaism(Hinduism) and the pioneer of Tamil prose appeared on the scene. The Christian missionaries were converting the Tamils to Christianity by providing education, employment and concessions. There was a real danger of the preponderant majority of the Tamils circumbing to these inducements and attractions, and eventually, losing their Tamil and Saiva identity. It was left to Arumuga Navalar to awaken the consciousness of the Tamils and to make them aware of this drift.

Navalar's Translation of the Bible

In this context it must be emphasised that though Arumuga Navalar fought against the conversion of the Tamils to Christianity, he was not a religious fanatic. He was a good friend of Rev. Percival who was a Wesleyan missionary teacher at Jaffna Central College. When Rev. Percival requested Navalar to translate the Bible into Tamil, Navalar happily undertook the task. Even the Tamil scholars of Madras of the 19th century acclaimed his effort as the best translation. This aspect of his life revealed not only his command of English and Tamil but also proclaimed to the world his broad thinking and religious tolerance.

Birth and Early Childhood

Arumuga Navalar was born in Nallur, the once glorious capital of Tamil Eelam, in December 1822, and passed away at the age of 56 on December 5th, 1879. His father Kandhar and mother Sivekamy were deeply religious and devout and Navalar imbibed those qualities. Even as a teenager he mastered Tamil, Sanskrit and English, and made an indepth study of Tamil grammar, language, literature and religious works. It is on record that at a very young age he completed a drama script begun by his father, who passed away without completing it. Scholars who had gone through this work were full of praise for the originality he showed as a playwright.

Eminent Writer and Silver-Tongued Orator

Arumuga Navalar was a profilic writer and a 'silver tongued' orator. He was a pioneer in the field of prose-writing. In the 19th century the Tamil prose style was in its infancy. Navalar appeared on the Tamil literacy firmament and brought out prose works which are cherished by Tamil scholars as outstanding achievements. "Parithima Kalagnar' later described Navalar as 'Vasana Nadai Kaivantha Vallalar' (the best exponent of Tamil prose).

High Moral Rectitude

Today the writings and pronouncements of public men have little or nothing to do with their private life. But the life of Arumuga Navalar was in total conformity with everything he said and wrote. He maintained a high moral standard in both private and public life. Even his opponents respected him.

Thiru Vi.Ka's Tribute to Navalar

In his short life covering 57 years he published around 75 books. They covered his original writings and his commentaries on ancient classics. C.V.Thamotharampillai and later U.V.Swaminatha Iyer followed the footsteps of Navalar in this field of publishing ancient classics. One eminent Tamil scholar Thiru Vi. Ka said "In the field of editing, and publishing old manuscripts Navalar laid the foundation, C.V.Thamotharampillai built the walls and U.V.Swaminatha Iyer beautifully roofed it".

Perfection in Printing

Printing was in embryonic stage in the early 19th century. During this difficult period Navalar brought out quality printing to the praise of his readers. This shows clearly his desire for perfection in all his ventures.

Philanthropist at Heart

He was a philonthropist at heart. In a moving letter to his elder brother he quotes Mark Anthony, "I have lost everything except what I have given away". He passed on all he received towards his passionate objectives of education, publication and propaganda for the revival of the lost heritage of the Tamils.

Champion of Hinduism

Tamil language and Saiva ideals were very clear to his heart. Throughout his career he championed the cause of hinduism. Sir Muthucumarasamy said of Navalar: "He is the Hindu of hindus. He is one of those orientalists who can measure sword with even such a giant as my honourable friend the Queen's Advocate Hon. Mr R Cayley in any argument. He has a following which cannot be despised". Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan said "We have lost the champion reformer of Hindus" at the demise of Navalar in 1879.

Posterity will Remember Him

117 years have rolled by after the passing away Arumuga Navalar but his memory is still cherished by all the Tamils throughout the world and especially by the Eealam Tamils. The Tamils are eternally indebted to Navalar, and posterity will remember him with gratitude.

Courtesy: Tamil Chudar(1996)-Sydney

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