"The following works of art and literature are among the most remarkable contributions of the Tamil creative genius to the world's cultural treasure and should be familiar to the whole world and admired and beloved by all in the same way as the poems of Homer, the dramas of Shakespeare, the pictures of Rembrandt, the cathedrals of France and the sculptures of Greece:....The school of Bhakti ... Saiva, which is one of those most sincere and passionate efforts of man to grasp the Absolute; and its supreme literary expression in the works of Manikkavasagar..." Tamil Contribution to World Civilisation - Professor Dr. Kamil Zvelebil in Tamil Culture - Vol. V, No. 4. October, 1956)
"It has been repeatedly asked, 'Of what possible use can the republication, translation and editing of books like Thiruvasagam be?' - and 'Who can be expected to desire to make themselves acquainted with such works?'
... If the Tamil people and the English are ever in a degree to understand one another, and to appreciate each other's thoughts and feelings regarding the highest matters... our English people must have the means of obtaining some insight into the living system which exercises at the present day such a marvelous power over the minds of the great majority of the...Tamil people.
"For under some form or other, Saivaism is the real religion of the South of India and of North Ceylon; and the Saiva Siddhanta philosophy has, and deserves to have, far more influence than any other. The fifty one poems (of the Thiruvasagam) ... are recited daily in all the great Saiva temples of South India, are on every one's lips and are as dear to the vast multitudes of excellent people there, as the Pslams of David are to Jews and Christians.
"The sacred mystic poetry of a people reveals their character and aspirations more truly than even their secular legends and ballads... The attentive consideration of the system here developed must lead to a sympathetic appreciation of what the hopes, fears, aspirations of the devoutest Hindu minds in the South are, and have been from time immemorial...
"In matters of religion the greatest hindrance - and the most irreligous thing - is the spirit of ignorant, unreasoning, unsympathetic antagonism. Every system has its truths and profounder thoughts; and these lie deeper than 'full fathoms five' in man's nature; and must fundamentally and essentially in large measure be the same for all men and for all time. It is only by recognising these common truths.... that it is possible to gain a true religious development."
Today, Rev.G.U.Pope's comment, that "if the Tamil people and the English are ever in a degree to understand one another, and to appreciate each other's thoughts and feelings regarding the highest matters, our English people must have the means of obtaining some insight into the living system which exercises at the present day such a marvellous power over the minds of the great majority of the best Tamil people" may also apply with equal force to the English speaking Tamil diaspora living in many lands and across distant seas - a nation without a state.
This Tamil diaspora may have a need not only to read the English translation of Thiruvasagam but also dip into the Tamil original and connect with poetry which has exerted 'such a marvelous power' over Tamil minds and hearts for several centuries.
It has been repeatedly asked, 'Of what possible use can the republication, translation, and editing of books like the Tiruviçagam be? '— and, ' Who can be expected to desire to make themselves acquainted with such works? ' This consideration has delayed the publication for some time ; and it is not at all to be anticipated that the circulation of the book, at least in Europe, will, for some time to come, be encouraging. Still, this is a work that ought to be done !
If the Tamil people and the English are ever in any degree to understand one another, and to appreciate each other's thoughts and feelings regarding the highest matters ; if any progress is to be made in the developement of a real science of Hinduism, as it now is, our English people must have the means of obtaining some insight into the living system which exercises at the present day such a marvellous power over the minds of the great majority of the best Tamil people.
For, under some form or other, Caivism is the real religion of the South of India, and of North Ceylon ; and the Cain Siddhanta philosophy has, and deserves to have, far more influence than any other. The fifty one poems which are here edited, translated, and annotated, are recited daily in all the great Caiva temples of South India, are on, every one's lips, and are as dear to the hearts of vast multitudes of excellent people there, as the Psalms of David are to Jews and Christians.
The sacred mystic poetry of a people reveals their character and aspirations more truly than even their secular legends and ballads ; for sacred hymns are continually sung by the devout of all ages, and both sexes ; and all classes of the community are saturated with their influence. The attentive consideration of the system here developed must lead to a sympathetic appreciation of what the fears, aspirations, and yearnings of the devoutest Hindu in the South are, and have been from time immemorial. I have occasionally ventured in notes to go beyond the province of editor and translator and have criticized many things here and yet I feel quite sure -that my kind and candid friends in South India will be in no danger of misunderstanding the spirit in which I have written.
These are times when in regard to all religious systems thorough rational investigation, searching historical criticism, and a careful candid consideration of the meaning of the symbols by which doctrines are supposed to be expressed, are, quite necessary everywhere. The result of this searching, yet reverent, analysis has been and is,—ever more and more,— of the utmost value in the West. Whatever is TRUE will bear the test of the severest scrutiny, though men may feel obliged from time to time to modify the expressions of their belief, and to readjust their most cherished formulas. There is an evolution of religion.
Meanwhile, TRUE DIVINE FAITH lives on, and grows more vigorously for the conflicts in which it is ever, of necessity, engaged.
It is much to be desired that our friends in South India should recognize this, and consent to enter upon a thorough scientific investigation of the historical foundations of their popular beliefs, the precise import of symbolical expressions, and the practical bearing of every portion of their wonderful Siddhantam.'
In matters of religion the greatest hindrance,--and the most truly irreligious thing,—is the spirit of ignorant, unreasoning, unsympathetic antagonism. Every system has its truths and profounder thoughts; and these lie deeper than ' full fathoms five' in man's nature ; and must be fundamentally and essentially in large measure the same for all men, and for all time. It is only by recognizing these common truths, and making them the basis of inquiry, as to further alleged Divine communications, that it is possible to gain a true religious development.
Very many things celebrated in these remarkable poems are doubtless without even the shadow of historic foundation, but it is yet possible to feel a lively interest in some, at least, of them as poetic fancies. What seems graceful and touching to one people often excites laughter, or scorn, or even detestation, among others. So, in regard to symbols, it is quite certain that many expressions, figures of speech, and allegories, very, dear to peoples in the West, have no significance whatever to those of the East. And very, very much that seems to Oriental minds edifying, is repellent to those of the West. Still, I think the time has really come when thoughtful and candid people may do much to remove the hindrances, that undoubtedly exist, to the closer union of the convictions and sentiments of devout men in East and West. I may add that nothing can be further from my purpose in this work, and more utterly distasteful to me, than theological controversy ; and if in this work any one word of mine should give pain to any of my valued Tamil friends, I ask forgiveness in advance.
It seems also most desirable that all Europeans whose lot it is to dwell in the Tamil lands, or who anywhere set themselves to benefit their Tamil fellow-subjects,—and especially missionaries and teachers,—should take pains to know accurately the feelings and convictions of those for whom, and in the midst of whom, they work. For many years I have not ceased to say,—there in India, and here in Oxford,—to successive classes of students, 'You must learn not only to Think in Tamil, but also to feel in Tamil, if you are to be intelligible and useful among the Tamil people.'
This publication (the fruit of much weary toil) may help, it is trusted, all who desire to be helped, along this certainly difficult road.
It must be confessed, moreover, that I very earnestly wish also that my valued Tamil friends may be led to make the closer acquaintance of some of the magnificent collections of sacred poetry' existing in English.. And this not only for the benefit (which must be great) of the individual student, but of Tamil literature. For no literature can stand alone.
I may safely take it for granted that my indulgent Tamil friends will not shrink from these Christian compositions, because they are full of the unstinted praises of Him Whom all acknowledge as the noblest, purest, best, and most self-sacrificing of those who have worn the garment of our mortality,—any more than I have shrunk from long and appreciative study of poems containing very much with which I can have but scanty sympathy 1. Scrutinize all things : hold fast that which is good !
I may add that my experience as a translator has taught me that to get even a glimpse of the thought of a real poet, the student must often go down into the depths, must use every means to put himself in sympathy with his author, must learn to think and feel with him, and so—it may be—at last come to understand him.
Some German and Latin hymns were translated 150 years ago by that wonderful Tamil scholar and poetic genius, the missionary Fabricius ; and Fabricius 'hymn-book' has been, and deserved to be, the basis of nearly all the Christian Tamil hymnology.
Though it is hardly classical, it is so vigorous and real in its tone, that it does not seem likely ever to lose its hold upon the affections of the Tamil Christian community. Nevertheless it is to be earnestly desired that the transfusion of much great European and sacred poetry into popular, easy, rhythmic Tamil verse resembling that of Manikkavaçagar, should be attempted. If a foreigner has bestowed infinite pains (would that it had been with greater results!) on the study of the Tiruvaçagam, perhaps some of the native scholars of South India, versed in English and Tamil, may be induced to inquire whether they cannot find fitting material for study, imitation, and translation in that inexhaustible mine of beauty, and profound thought which is opened up in English sacred verse, from the Hebrew psalms down to the Christian poetry of the present day. Nothing of this sort can be expected to live and be effective among a people if not expressed in their own vernacular language, the vulgar tongue, in which they were born.
The speech of a dying people may, perhaps, be allowed to die ; but this cannot be said of the Tamil race. Heaven forbid ! Dead languages have great uses. Even in their ashes live their wonted fires.' De mortuis nil nisi bonum! --yet, in many ways, the living tongues are better! One cannot tell what flowers may yet bloom, what fruits may yet ripen, on the hardy old trees. Let Tamilians cease to be ashamed of their vernacular!
There exists now much of what is called Christian Tamil, a dialect created by the Danish missionaries of Tranquehar ; enfiched by generations of Tanjore, German, and other missionaries ; modified, purified, and refrigerated by the Swiss Rhenius and the very composite Tinnevelly school ; expanded and harmonized by Englishmen, amongst whom Bower (a Eurasian), was foremost in his day ; and, finally, waiting now for the touch of some heaven born genius among the Tamil community to make it as sweet and effective as any language on earth, living or dead.
Of that unique genius Beschi (see Preface to my Kurral, for a history of this great man), and of De Nobilibus, and (in after days) of Ellis and Stokes,—with a multitude of others, such as Drew, Caldwell, and Percival, who advanced Tamil culture,— space forbids me here to speak.
Beschi—with his unnamed collaborators—has left what is a literature in itself, but—except certain prose books—tending more and more to become obsolete.
There has been at least one real native Christian poet, Vethanayaga Sastriyar of Tanjore, whose writings should be collected and edited. Christian lyrics, of unequal value, abound. Mr. Webb, an able American missionary of Madura, did much to develop these. The ' Pilgrim's Progress' has been versified ; and the first book of 'Paradise Lost,' by V. P. Subramanya Mudaliar, is a courageous attempt. Many more works might be cited, but this must suffice for Christian Tamil.
Amongst many others, Tirumular's Tirumantra,Tayumanavar's poems, Pattanattu Pillars poems, the Devaram, the Tiruviçaipa, with various articles in The Light of Truth, by N, B. and by P. A., exhibit at once the capabilities and needs of popular Tamil poetry.
Of old classical Tamil and its stores I have spoken elsewhere.
I am afraid I cannot recall more than two recent works which seem to me to give promise of a veritable re-descent in more modern attire of the Tamil Sarasvati.
The distinguished author of Manomaniyam, P. Suntharam has—too early for us—passed into the unseen. The copy he sent me (inscribed with characteristic modesty), 'Submitted to ---- with the author's best respects,' is to me a valued companion.
The little anonymous 2 volume—a first instalment—entitled Tani-paçura-togai ' seems to herald the advent of a new school to be heartily welcomed.
But Tamil—like Latin in the early Christian ages—must learn to adapt herself to the new order of things! Horace and Virgil would hardly have consented to part with their metrical system for the rhythms and rhymes of a later time ; yet Dies Irae ' and Veni Spiritus,' the poems of Richard and Adam of St. Victor, St. Bernard, and a multitude of others, came to dwell in the world's heart for ever; while Dante and all the great Italians are Latins!
The work of translation was here and there difficult, and I had to compare a great number of similar verses to get at the meaning. An anonymous scholar 3, who has written the only commentary I know on the Tiruvacagam, confesses himself at a loss to explain, among others, Poems I-IV. 1 have altered a few things in accordance with his interpretations, but have often seen reasons for differing. The work is very able and learned.
Generally my translation runs line for line with the original, and preserves something of its rhythm, where this did not interfere with fidelity to the sense.
Of the Tiruvacagam itself nothing need be added to what is elsewhere said.
My thanks are due to the Secretary of State for India for a liberal subsidy; to the Delegates of the Clarendon Press; and to many Tamil friends (who do not desire their names to be mentioned).
A full list of subscribers and donors will be duly published.
To Mr. Pembrey (as in my former writings) I owe very much for his indefatigable co-operation.
I date this on my eightieth birthday. I find, by reference, that my first Tamil lesson was in 1837. This ends, as I suppose, a long life of devotion to Tamil studies. It is not without deep emotion that I thus bring to a close my life's literary work.
Some years ago, when this publication was hardly projected, one evening, after prayers, the writer was walking with the late Master of Balliol College in the quadrangle. The conversation turned upon Tamil legends, poetry and philosophy. At length, during a pause in the conversation, the Master said in a quick way peculiar to him, You must print it.' To this the natural answer was, Master ! I have no patent of immortality, and' the work would take very long.' I can see him now, as he turned round,--while the moonlight fell upon his white hair and kindly face,— and laid his hand upon my shoulder, saying, To have a great work in progress is the way to live long. You will live till you finish it.' I certainly did not think so then, though the words have often come to my mind as a prophecy, encouraging me when weary ; and they have been fulfilled, while he has passed out of sight.
To the memory of Benjamin Jowett, one of the kindest, and best, and most forbearing of friends,—to whom I owe, among much else, the opportunity of accomplishing this and other undertakings, - I venture to inscribe this volume with all gratitude and reverence.
May the blessing of his Master and mine crown the very imperfect work!
G. U. POPE
April 24, 1900.