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Loyola fete on birth centenary of savant

The yearlong birth centenary of Tamil savant, Fr. Xavier Thaninayagam was inaugurated in Loyola College, Chennai, on Saturday, 16th February.

Fr Thaninayagam, a Ceylon Catholic priest, born in 1913, was seconded to Tuticorin diocese from where he was sent to Rome for higher religious studies. He profitably utilised his period and mastered Greek, Latin, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese.

On his return to Tuticorin diocese, he was posted to Vembar and later to Vadakkankulam where he had to teach Tamil. To perfect his Tamil, he employed a Tamil pundit and learnt Tamil grammar, prosody, language and literature. He found Tamil so absorbing that he enrolled himself in Annamalai University to study the language and wrote the thesis ‘The landscape in Tamil Sangam literature’.

Consequently, he became a teacher in Tamil in Colombo University, and later in the University of Malaysia.

While at Annamalai University, he felt it was his calling to spread the greatness of Tamil world over. He became a roving ambassador for Tamil cause and toured the world between 1949 and 1951 and delivered lectures in various universities and was visiting professor to Naples and Paris universities. His lectures enthused Indologists in various universities to establish Tamil chairs and launch into research.

Realising that research papers on Tamil should be in English to win world attention, he brought out an international quarterly, Tamil Culture.

In 1964, in the World Conference of Orientalists at New Delhi, it was Fr Thaninayagam who mooted the idea of forming an ‘International Association for Tamil Research’ and realised it with the assistance of professors like V.I. Subramaniyam, T.P. Meeenakshisundaram, Mu. Varadarasanar and other scholars. This international body conducted eight international world conferences, including in Chennai, Madurai and Thanjavur.

Fr Thaninayagam was instrumental in organising the International Institute of Tamil Studies by effectively coordinating with UNESCO and said with authority that Tamil was the “language of bhakthi”.

During his tours of Europe, promoting Tamil studies, he had the opportunity to visit various libraries and unearth and cause reprint of forgotten, old Tamil works. Prof R.E. Asher, University of Edinburgh, and Prof C.R. Boxer of the University of London paid rich tributes and called him “truly a citizen of the world”.

The organising committee of the centenary celebrations, headed by Fr. Amudan, Vel­anganni, Naga­pattinam district, would conduct seminars on Fr. Thanin­ayagam’s contribution to Tamil studies, instal chairs and bring out his complete works.

- A.X. Alexander 

(The writer is a former Director General of Tamil Nadu Police) 

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