Celebrating a scholar

Print edition : February 10, 2006

THE Tamil cultural world was witness to a rare event recently. Tamil scholars from different parts of the world converged in Chennai in mid-December to celebrate 73-year-old K. Sivathamby for his pioneering studies in Tamil language, literature and history in the past four decades and more.

They came together for an international seminar organised by the Tamil Literature Department of the University of Madras and the South Asia Research Centre of Toronto University on the "The role of K. Sivathamby in the Tamil Studies of the 20th Century". As many as 24 papers were presented at the seminar. According to V.C. Kulandaiswamy, Chairman of Tamil Virtual University and former Vice-Chancellor of Anna University, this is a rare honour usually reserved for Tamil poets and politicians.

Among those who felicitated Sivathamby were Iravatham Mahadevan, who explained how the Sri Lankan scholar's doctoral thesis written about 50 years ago contributed to his epigraphical research that led to his book Early Tamil Epigraphy. From the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D., considered a milestone in the history of epigraphy; and. R. Champakalakshmi, former Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, who acknowledged that Sivathamby's Thinai concept helped her work on the early Tamil social history.

The discussions centred mainly around Sivathamby's studies on the Sangam age, Tamil grammar and its links to social history (acknowledged by linguists and grammarians as a pioneering work), Tamil media and culture. The use of his inter-disciplinary expertise in evolving a new methodology to study Tamil culture, where literary sources play a major role, was another point that won appreciation.

An Emeritus Professor of Tamil in the University of Jaffna, Sivathamby, along with the late K. Kailasapathy, is considered an outstanding Tamil scholar. He has written more than 70 books and monographs and presented and published 200 papers at international seminars and journals. In recognition of his scholarly achievements in Tamil Studies, the Tamil Nadu government conferred on him in 2000 the Thiru V. Kalyanasundara Mudaliar Award. Sivathamby is a Visiting Professor of Tamil to universities in India (the University of Madras and the Jawaharlal Nehru University), England (Cambridge), Finland and Norway.

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