Posted on June 21st, 2016


The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, who started Christian missionary operations in Jaffna in 1816,    encouraged Tamil studies with special emphasis on Tamil literature. They wished to know the main Tamil texts. They wanted also to upgrade the Tamil language used by the inhabitants of Jaffna. The American Mission in Boston therefore wanted all subjects taught in Tamil in the mission schools of Jaffna.  Accordingly, an English department where all subjects had to be studied in English was started at Uduvil girls school in 1897.

Batticotta seminary, Vaddukoddai, the flagship school of the American Mission, placed much emphasis on Tamil language and literature. The teachers were American, including G.Dashiel for Sanskrit and P.K.Haselltine for Tamil.   H.R.Hoisington, a graduate of Cambridge University, who arrived in 1836, and became principal in 1845, mastered Tamil and Sanskrit, (presumably after he arrived in Jaffna.)   He studied Saivism and astronomy    and translated writings on these two subjects into English.  He also compiled a treatise on Hindu astronomy.

The Triennial reports of the Seminary stated that ola manuscripts of Tamil works were held by elite Tamil families, but that orthodox Tamils hid their books from the American Mission. The missionaries needed these as they were looking for points of contact between Christianity and the native religions. They were able to obtain, translate and study the Skanda Purana, a Hindu religious text, but when Batticotta wanted to teach Scanda Purana in 1828 there was a boycott. the Hindus had interpreted it as a move to ridicule the text.

Batticotta taught a range of other   Tamil writings,   by 1830,  including ‘Thirukural’ (Sangam literature) and ‘Nanool’ (Tamil grammar).   Ramayana was added later.    Tamil composition was encouraged at Batticotta  and there were exams on Tamil studies. Batticotta set up a Tamil class in 1828 to train Tamil teachers.  The Batticotta seminary, it is held, was responsible for the emergence of a Tamil intellectual elite and a Dravidian identity   in Jaffna.

The American Mission had two printing presses at Nellore and Manipay dating from 1820. Ancient Tamil texts were printed for the first time in the Mission press in 1835.    The Mission started a newspaper ‘Morning Star’ in 1841. It had four pages, two each in English and Tamil. Many journals were started in Jaffna thereafter.  In 1853 there was the ‘Vithyatharpanam’ with two equal sections in Tamil and English.  Weslyan missionary Rev Peter Percival’s Anglo-Tamil dictionary (1838) and A Collection of Proverbs in Tamil with their Translation in English, were published by Jaffna Book Society.

The linguistic and religious awakening among the Tamil Hindus in Jaffna was largely due to the pioneering efforts of Arumuka Navalar (1822-1879). His interest was in reforming the Saivite religion, not Tamil studies but he contributed to the revival of Tamil by making Tamil the language of the Saivite revival. This was an important contribution to the development of modern Tamil studies both in Ceylon and South India, said K.M. de Silva. His school, though only for Vellala, also promoted literacy and Tamil studies. Arumuga Navalar had a profound knowledge of Tamil classical texts and published critical editions of these. He was one of the early adaptors of modern Tamil prose, introducing Western editing techniques. He adopted a simple and lucid style of Tamil prose writing, said K.M. de Silva.

Navalar had two printing presses, one in Madras and the other in Jaffna. He bought his first press in 1849.He was one of the first to use the modern printing press to preserve the Tamil literary tradition.  His Madras press issued two texts prepared by Navalar, a teachers guide and a poem. These were the first efforts at editing and printing Tamil works for Saiva students and devotees. These were followed by graded readers, such as Bala Potam (Lessons for Children) in 1850 and 1851. They were simple in style, similar to those used in the Christian schools.

According to information held on the internet, Arumuga Navalar produced approximately ninety-seven Tamil publications of which twenty three were original writings. There were also forty   edited versions of works on grammar, literature, liturgy, and theology that were not previously available in print, as well as eleven commentaries. Commentaries on grammars included Kandihai Urai on the Nanool.  With this ‘recovery, editing, and publishing’ of ancient works, Navalar laid the foundations for the recovery of lost Tamil classics.

But much more had to be done to upgrade Tamil literature in Madras and younger alumni from Batticotta went across to help, notably C.M. Thamotharampillai (1833-1901). Thamotharampillai and Navalar were contemporaries and good friends (Hoole, 1997). Thamotharampillai learnt Tamil under his father, a first generation Christian, who had briefly attended Batticotta. Thamotharampillai also studied at Batticotta where he did a Tamil translation of the Book of Genesis from the Bible. He graduated from Batticotta in 1852.

Thamotharampillai did a stint at ‘Morning Star’ then moved to Madras to become the editor of the Tamil daily ‘Thinavarthamani’  started by the Wesleyan Mission. He also taught at Presidency College, Madras and gave Tamil tuition to high officials. He became ‘highly influential’ by 1855. Thamotharampillai got a Bachelor of Arts degree from Madras University in 1858 and passed the law exams of Madras University in 1871.  He was a High court judge for Puthukkodai, Tamilnadu, from 1887 to 1890.  But his main interest was in the Tamil literature available in Madras area.

Thamotharampillai advertised for Tamil manuscripts, obtained them, edited and published them, in Madras, using his earnings to do so.  He collated manuscripts, noting variant readings. His approach was philological and historical not       devotional. He published around 13 Tamil manuscripts including ‘Veerasoliyan’. He published several works which were considered lost, where only parts of the manuscripts   were found in olas here and there.  These included ‘Ilakkana vilakkam’   and, more importantly, the third part of Tholkayam, the ‘Porulathikaram.’ Thamotharampillai ‘searched high and low’ and brought this manuscript to light in 1885. He handed over manuscripts that he was not using to others to process. Thamotharampillai’s contribution to the Tamil language in discovering and publishing lost manuscripts is well recognized in Tamilnadu.

It is useful to compare the situation of the Tamil language with the status of Sinhala. The Tamil kingdom was conquered by Karnataka in the 14th century. The kingdom was thereafter administered in Telegu. The kingdom later splintered into small, weak kingdoms, Madura, Trichinopoly, and Tanjore, with Madura going under the Muslim Nawab of Arcot in 1734.  The language continued to be Telegu. The Nayek families, who supplied the Udarata kings in the 18th century, spoke Telegu, not Tamil.  There was a Telegu literature in Madras in the 19th century  and the British   rulers recognized Telegu. Telegu manuscripts numbering 3335 collected during British rule were sent to Hyderabad in 1960.

The neglected Tamil language was rescued and elevated by the Christian missionaries who arrived in Tamilnadu from the 17 century .They had to learn Tamil to convert the natives to Christianity and in the process they helped to revive Tamil language and literature. The leading personalities in this were two Italian Jesuit priests, Roberto de Nobili (1606-1656) and Constanzo Beschi (1680-1742) also German Lutheran priest B. Ziegenbalg (1682-1719). They collected Tamil manuscripts,   made translations and compiled grammars.

G.U.Pope (1830- 1857) a Wesleyan priest, translated many Tamil texts into English and British Civil Servant F.W.Ellis (1810-1819) made a large collection of Tamil manuscripts.  Rev. P.Percival (Wesleyan then Anglican) was appointed first Professor of Vernacular Literature at Madras University in 1857. He knew both Tamil and Telegu. Rev. Robert Caldwell introduced the notion of a separate group of Dravidian languages in his  ‘A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages, ‘(1856).

The situation was very different in Sri Lanka. Sinhala maintained its status as a sovereign language up to 1815 and continued in use thereafter, throughout British rule.   Sinhala literature and Sinhala grammar were carefully preserved and looked after by generation after generation of bhikkus and laymen. Complete manuscripts of major Sinhala writings, such as Mahavamsa and Jataka pota were available in plenty in personal and temple collections in the 1930s. Unlike Tamil, Sinhala literature was not in bits and pieces and no outside intervention was needed. The Christian missionaries only had to prepare Sinhala-English dictionaries for their own use. (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=142866)


  1. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Americans wanted to start their missionaries (conversions) in Colombo. At the time, British
    were the superpower and they disliked the americans jumping on the gravy train. So they were shown the ‘door’
    and they reluctantly started their business in jaffna. They saw a very good tool to get the job done easily; the
    caste system. So they started catholic schools and took on low caste people. Not just that, they were given
    english names as well. How nice? Immediately giving them a feeling of emulating suddha fellow even though
    colours didn’t match. Bingo! two birds with one stone.

    Today jaffana, batticaloa areas have more missionary schools than any other place in Sri Lanka. There are
    more schools with A/L education than the Colombo district. They can write in tamil, and marked up by tamil
    examiners (through backdoor?) and go to any university depriving Sinhalese children of their share. Any university actually. Medicine, engineering, law, dental only please.

    Sinhalese children, in their own country, are not supposed to go any of the universities in the north or the
    east. Sinhalese in their own country are not supposed to live in the north and the east since foreigners
    think they are the natives of this land. They forget tamil nadu (meaning country in tamil) is just 16 miles across
    the waters. They are the only race on this planet with two motherlands. Very very unique. Still Sinhala
    modayas, while giving everything they ask for, promised to give more and more believing these ungrateful
    lots’ mantra national question, national question. What a joke? What a bunch of idiots Sinhalese are to
    fall into these
    never grateful,
    never happy,
    never enough,
    never Sri Lankan always heart and loyalty in tn,
    never a good word
    foreigners’ lies? No wonder they call us Sinhala modayas.

  2. Dilrook Says:

    None of these Tamil artwork belongs to Sri Lanka. They are all Indian. Skanda Purana, ‘Thirukural’ and ‘Nanool’ are all Indian, not Sri Lankan. It is very important to make this distinction.

    It is a fact that Tamil is a South Indian language with absolutely no ancient artwork found in Sri Lanka belonging to the island.

  3. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Dilrook is right. They all originated in india. South india including the so called neonatives of Sri Lanka. For
    any race on this planet, there is only one motherland. That’s why you call german a german, or french a frenchman
    etc etc since they originated there. These neonatives should be able to name one race on this planet with two motherlands.
    The answer to that lies in a mirror. If they go in front of a mirror then they can see the answer for themselves.
    That should be enough proof to forfeit their ridiculous claim to be the natives of Sri Lanka. If they still in doubt,
    they should be able to show us an ancient tamil brick older than 500 years. We all know, except them, that first
    lot of these neonatives were brought to Sri Lanka by the dutch to work in tobacco plantations in the north.

    Problem is their heart and loyalty is in tn where they came from. After getting more than the native Sinhalese,
    they are still not happy. Why don’t you all leave to your beloved tn where you belong if you can’t be Sri Lankan?
    Nobody going to cry, nobody going to stop you, nobody will miss you! Your only contribution to Sri Lanka are
    killing 100,000+ Sinhalese (mainly Buddhists) with the support of catholic-run UNPatriotic party and destroying
    Mother Lanka in every way possible nationally and internationally after receiving FREE education (universities
    through back door), FREE medicine etc. etc.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2019 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress