Professor C J Eliezer
The city of Madurai in South India has an ancient history. From the days BC it has been a centre of Tamil learning. It was the venue for what scholars call the "Third Sangam". If one visits Madurai today, one can see the statues of certain modern scholars of Tamil. One such statue is that of Jaffna's foremost Tamil scholar Father Xavier S. Thani Nayagam. The existence of that statue indicates the esteem, honour and acclaim accorded to him by scholars of Tamil from all over the world.
Fr. Thani Nayagam's natural flair for lamguages developed during his years of training as a monk in Rome. He could read and speak fluently about a dozen languages, including French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese; at Annamalai University he specialised in Tamil; at London, he obtained a PhD in Education.
With this broad background of training and influence he was able to bring a modern outlook to problems of research into Tamil language, literature and culture. He used modern techniques of linguistic research in an area of study where the long tradition had been the uncritical acceptance of points of view of distinguished predecessors. He inaugurated the International Journal called "Tamil Culture", where scholars from different parts of the world reported their research findings.
As worldwide interest in Tamil studies grew he raised with some of the leading scholars the possibility of an International Association of Tamil Research (IATR). The idea received warm support and the association was inaugurated. Professor Filliozat of Paris was President, and the Vice-Presidents were Professors Burrow of Oxford, Emeneau of USA, Kuiper of Hague, Meenakshisundaram of Madurai and M.Varatharajan of Madras, all giants in the field of Tamil studies. Fr. Thani Nayagam accepted the position of Secretary General. The first in the series of Conferences was held in 1966 in Kuala Lampur. The university and the Government of Malaysia gave great support, Tamil being one of the four official languages of Malaysia. Fr. Thani Nayagam did the hard work of organising the conference, he was assisted by many persond including Prof S Arasaratnam, Mrs Loga Sivasubramaniam, My wife and my-self - mentioning those who are in Australia today. The conference was opened by the Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, and proved an enormous success, with well known scholars from about twenty five countries participating.
I first came to know the Father about forty years ago in the University of Ceylon which he joined as a lecturer in education. Later on he became the Professor in Indian Studies in the University Malaya in Kuala Lampur where I was Professor of Mathematics. Those years brought us together a good deal and we became good friends. It was further cemented by rounds of golf at the Royal Selangor Golf Club and the numerous dinners we hosted to meet the world scholars.
I end this short tribute with his most telling quote:
"If Latin is the Language of Law and of Medicine
French the Language of the Diplomacy
German the Language of Science
And English the Language of Commerce
Then Tamil is the Language of Bhakti
The devotion to the sacred and the holy."
Courtesy: Tamil Chudar (Feb 1997) - Sydney
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