Friday, January 11, 2008


The Founder of the Fourth Tamil Sangam

Tamilnadu is divided into several regions. One such region is known as Sethu Nadu. Sethu means a bridge or a dam. The region got its name because of the Land Bridge which once upon a time connected Tamilnadu with Ceylon. Rameswaram was part of the land.
During historical times, it formed an integral part of the Pandya country. It was ruled by many small feudatories and war lords.
When the Pandya county came under the Nayaks, they chose a scion of the Maravar clan who claimed descent from Guhan of the Ramayana fame. The Nayak made him as the guardian of the Sethu and the adjoining land to protect the pilgrims who went to Rameswaram.
Because the Marava chieftain became in charge of the Sethu, he was given the title of Sethupathi - 'Lord of the Sethu'.
By and large the Sethupathis became more and more powerful They also extended their territory. They became kings of the country - Rajas.
During the rule of Kilzavan Sethupathi, the country reached its maximum extent.
It got divided into three parts - Pudukottai, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram. Ramanathapuram remained under the Sethupathis.
The Sethupathis were great patrons of Tamil. Many Tamil poets received their favour.
After Kilzavan Sethupathi, Ramanathapuram went under turbulent times.
At the end of the 18th century, the Sethupathi was made into a prisoner of the British and the land was confiscated. It was later given to another person - Ramasamy Sethupathi, who also belonged to the Sethupathi clan. The country was demoted into a zamindari.

Ramanathapuram became part of Madurai District.
When Ramasamy Sethupathi died without heir, his queen, Parvathavardhini Nachiyar ruled the zamin. She was assisted by her brother.
After her time, the Nachiyar wanted to give the zamin to her younger sister's son.
Accordingly, the second son of the sister - MuthuRamaLinga Sethupathi got the inheritance.
His elder brother Ponnusamy Thevar became the administrator of the Zamin. He was also a very great patron of the arts and literature. He increased the extent of land under cultivation and instituted other major changes. The income of the zamin increased and the people were happy.
There were litigations contesting the adoption of MuthuRamaLinga Sethupathi. But Ponnusamy Thevar defeated all moves against his younger brother.
MahaVidvan Meenatchisundaram Pillai who was the teacher of UVSaminatha Aiyar was a contemporary of Ponnusamy Thevar who was in close contact with him.
Under the guidance of Ponnusamy Thevar, the Sethupathi himself became a very good poet and composed several literary works.
One day, the brothers went to their native-place called PuduMadam - a sea-side place. They were accompanied by a crowd of townspeople. The brothers were giving some literary talks to them.
At that time, both of them started composing poems about the various qualities of the Sea. These poems were later collected and made into a book called 'Samudra Vilasam'.
They were patrons of Palzani Mambalza Kavisinga Navalar who was blessed with a phenomenal memory and astonishing powers in composing poetry. ChandraSekhara Kavirasa Pandithar was a scholar who collected hundreds of Thanipadal or stray and single songs which have been sung by hundreds of poets over a period of several hundred years. He was also a beneficiary of the royal brothers. If not for Kavirasa Pandithar, a great number of Tamil verses and songs would have been lost for ever. With them the interesting stories which go with them, also would have vanished. They helped Yalzpanam ARumuga Navalar to publish ManikaVasagar's ThiruKOvaiyar.

Ponnusamy Tevar had three sons. The youngest son was Pandithurai Thevar - the famous founder of the Fourth Tamil Sangam at Madurai. He was born in the year 1867 AD.
Ponnusamy Thevar expired when Pandithurai was only three years old.
Pandithurai Thevar was brought up well. He received the best coaching from the best teachers available at that time. He received Tamil tuition from some of the great scholars of the day. English was also taught by experts. He learned music from Poochi Srinivasa Aiyangar. He was also well-versed in Saiva Siddhanta.
When he was 18 years old, he became the Zamindar of Paalavanaththam.
He had a big mansion built near the Palace of the Sethupathi in Ramanathapuram and started living there. The mansion was called 'Somasundara Vilasam' after the God of Madurai.
He got up early and after the morning ablutions, would perform the Siva Pujai. While that was taking place, good singers would sing melodious hymns.
After that, there will be discourses and discussions about Tamil literature. On some days, the puranas and ithihasas will be discussed. On other days, the discussions would cover religion and philosophy. On certain days, he would hold competitions on composition of poetry.
During those times, the ruling Sethupathi would come and attend the sessions. He was the famous Baskara Sethupathi who was instrumental in sending Swami Vivekanadha to America.
Many small prabanthams were composed during these session.
The Thevar himself was an ardent follower of Sivagnyana
SwamigaL. The Thevar worshipped him. He had the SwamigaL as his role model. The Munivar's service to the religion and Tamil were limitless. He wanted to follow his foot-steps.
On the hundred and twentieth Guru Pujai of Sivagnyana Munivar, the Thevar composed 'Sivagnyana SwamigaL Irattai MaNi Maalai' and he launched the book in Madurai in the Saiva Prakasa Sabai which he had founded. He has also composed many single songs about the Munivar. 'Sivagnyanapuram Kavadi Cinthu' was a beautiful piece of poetry.
In the ancient days, many of the kings were poets and schoalrs and they patronised poets. They knew the real worth and value of such people.
The Thevar was also just like the ancient kings.
He shone as a multi-talented genius.

Being the great and versatile scholar that he was, Pandithurai Thevar was invited to many places to give talks.
One day, he was invited to Madurai.
For his speech, he needed references from ThirukkuRaL and KambaRamayanam books.
He sent people to get them for him.
But the books were not available anywhere. No shops sold them.
When the Thevar came to know this he was overcome with limitless grief.
Madurai was the Home of Tamil Sangam.
Tamil was nurtured there.
In that very place, these two books which were the sheet anchor for the field of Tamil Literature, were not not available.
Thus was the fate of Mother Tamil!

He resolved then and there, that he would form a new Tamil Sangam and bring up Mother Tamil to Her former glory.
In 1901, a big meeting was held in Madurai. It was the State of Madras political general meeting. Pandithurai Thevar himself took an important role in convening it and Thevar was the main person doing the organising work.

Many important people from various parts of Madras were present for that meeting.
The Thevar made use of this opportunity and announced the necessity of forming the Fourth Tamil Sangam in Madurai. He extended invitation to all of the Tamil scholars. He told them about his resolution and that the Sangam would be established very soon. In that meeting which lasted for three days, the Thevar canvassed for the Sangam and received a lot of support.
On the fourth day of the meeting, the Fourth Tamil Sangam was inaugurated in the Madurai Sethupathi High School.

The Fourth Tamil Sangam was formed on the 14th of September, 1901.

UVSaminatha Aiyar, R.Raghava Aiyangar, V.M. Sadagopa Ramanujacharyar, V.K.Suryanarayana Sastriyar alias ParidhiMaaRKalaignyar, Solzavandhan Shanmugam Pillai, Thirumayilai Shanmugam Pillai, Pinnathur NarayanaSamy Aiyar, MaRaiMalai AdigaL, ThirumaNam SelvaKesava Mudhaliyar, M.S.Purnalingam Pillai were great Tamil scholars of the day who attended. All of them spoke in praise of the Thevar and his endeavours.
Baskara Sethupathi was the guest of honour.
They said that the original Founder of the Third Tamil Sangam - King UkraPeruvalzudhi himself was born as Pandithurai Thevar and formed the fourth Sangam in the same city.
Sethupathi Senthamizlz Kalaasaalai, Pandiyan Puththaga Saalai and Nuul Aaraaychisaalai were also founded on the same day.
The inauguration of the Sangam was held for three days.

We will be dealing with the functions of the Tamil Sangam in detail at Fourth Tamil Sangam page.
Not only was the Thevar a great scholar but he was also an ardent Saivite. He obtained Siva Diksha from Palzanikumara Thambiran of Thiruvaavaduthurai Aadheenam and learned the ThirumuRais in detail.
Each day, he would never take food until he had finished Siva Pujai. He possessed great Bhakthi towards God SomaSundara and Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai.
He would shed tears of divine ecstacy while singing the ThirumuRais. Sometimes he would compose poems then and there and sing them. His fore-head was always adorned with Vibhuthi and Kunguma pottu.
Although a stauch Saivite, he never antagonised the other religions.
In the former days, the indigenous kings ruled over India. But due to enmity and in-fighting, some of the kings supported foreigners and betrayed their own country.

During the early part of the twentieth century, there was an out-burst of demand for freedom . Many meetings were organised to let the people be exposed to such sentiments.

When V.O.Chidhambaram Pillai wanted to start steamship services as a competition against the British shipping company, the Thevar stood by him and gave every support possible. He helped financially and also recruited share-holders for the company.
He was also nominated as the Chairman of that Sudhesi Shipping Corporation.
He had much memory power. He could memorise very long passages and recite them fast. Even with no notice at all, he would speak impromptu on a given topic and speak on without deviating from the topic. He would also give a lot of references. When he finished speaking, people would feel a pang if he would not speak for somemore time.
He strongly felt that the developement of mother tongue is the basis for the development of mother land. Saying that people have love for mother land without love for mother tongue was without foundation.
He said on one occassion:
"Nowadays, the feeling for mother tongue which is exhibited by our people, is saddening. To put it in brief, seeking greatness without love for mother tongue is like adorning a naked body with jewellery".

He was of the strong conviction that the patronisation of Tamil poets was of utmost importance. For their hunger was a deterent to their creativity. This hunger had to be prevented.
He stood out as a role model for the other rich men of Tamilnadu so that the upkeep of Tamil poets became a habit for many of the other richmen of Tamilnadu.
If the number of good poets and scholars of Tamil decreased, that situation alone would strike the death knell for the creation of good literature.
The hunger, want, and poverty would drive the Tamil poets to die out. And whoever remained would be forced into a pitiable position of praising petty patrons for a pittance due to poverty.

With this in mind he made some of the poets to compose new prabandhams; some of them were made to sing; some of them were made to publish literary works.

When the fear or poverty is eradicated from the minds of the poets, Tamil would flourish.

If he heard that somebody had a new literary piece or an old manuscript, he would go in person without having any compunction of his elevated social status and obtain the book with due respect and payment. Otherwise he would send proper persons to get them. Then he would go through it. If he felt that it would be of use to the public, he would take the initiative and publish it.

Abhidhana ChintamaNi

For quite some years, Thevar was feeling that it would be good if there was an encyclopaedic dictionary in Tamil.
He was trying to get somebody to do the job.

There was a Tamil Pandit called SingaraVelu Mudaliyar in Chennai Pachaiyappa's Institution.
He had been striving hard to prepare such a work for many years and finally had succeeded in producing such a monumental book.
There is no other book like that in Tamil. It is in a class of its own. Till to this day.
It was called 'Abhidhaana ChintamaNi'.
It was all ready for printing and publishing.
But he could not afford doing it.

Let us see what SingaraVelu Mudaliyar says in the preface to his work -

"After the completion of this work, as my income as a Tamil Pandit was not sufficient to publish this elaborate work, I showed the manuscript copies of the work to many wealthy and educated gentlemen in Madras, who simply stated, without offering any help, that the publication would cost much.
Then I thought of publishing it in monthly parts and to that effect published leaflets with specimen pages of my book. As very few joined as subscribers and as I feared that my attempt would be a failure, I gave up the idea.
While I was dejected and disheartened, one of my leaflets reached the hands of Sriman Pandithoraisamy Thevar, the President- Founder of Madura Tamil Sangam and Zamindar of Palavanatham, Ramnad.
He came to Madras, looked into some portions of the book and kindly consented to publish this work.
I shall not expatiate on the various troubles and difficulties that I have undergone in writing and publishing this work. The merit of this work is left to the judgement of those who may consult it as a book of reference whenever difficulties present themselves to them. My thanks are due to those gentlemen who have rendered me invaluable help with informations and with books and especially to Sriman Pandithoraisamy Thevar who has rendered me timely help in undertaking to publish this elaborate work. I wish him prosperity and success."

More details about AbhidhanaChintamaNi will be found in the archives of Agathiyar Yahoo Groups at this link -

A separate article about it will be posted ti VisvaComplex.

Just like the ancient kings, Thevar presided over poetic meetings and also took part as a poet himself. Thus he patronised hundreds of poets and Tamil scholars.
He was patron and president of the Tamil Sangam for ten years.

After a glorious life that lasted a mere forty-five years, the Thevar passed away on the 11th December, 1911.

Within that very short span of years, Pandithurai Thevar had concentrated enough amount of achievements which would have taken hundreds of years and many generations in Tamilian history.


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