In Appreciation of Professor Karthigesu Sivathamby, Man of Letters

Chelvathamby Maniccavasagar,  in Daily News, 11 July 2011

Professor Karthigesu Sivathamby who passed away inColomboat the age of 79 was an internationally renowned intellectual and Man of Letters. He was a towering figure whose name will be written large in the annals of Sri Lanka’s literary, religious, social and cultural history. His profound scholarship, his brilliant record as Professor of Tamil Language and his significant service in the fields of Tamil Language, Tamil Literature, social, cultural and customs of Tamils and above all his high moral character marked him out as one of the greatest Sri Lankans of modern times. Professor Sivathamby was in every sense of the term a Himalayan personality, lofty serene and unshakable. He was capable of withstanding storms and blizzards with total and natural equanimity.

Professor Sivathamby was born on May 10th, 1932 at Karaveddy inJaffnainto an orthodox and conservative family who were very much involved in the promotion, propagation and development of Hindu religion, Hindu culture, Tamil Language and Tamil Literature. His father, late T P Karthigesu was a Tamil Pandit, Saiva Pulavar and a great Tamil scholar who was held in high esteem by the people of Vadamarachchy.

Research Scholar: Professor Sivathamby received his primary education atVigneswaraCollege, Karaveddy and his secondary education at Zahira College, Colombo and for a short period he was a teacher at Zahira. Thereafter, he entered the University of Peradeniya and obtained his Bachelor of Arts Degree (BA) Honours and Masters Degree specializing in Tamil language.On completion of his MA, at the University of Peradeniyahe proceeded toUnited Kingdom and joined the prestigious University of ‘Birmingham’ and obtained his PhD. Thereafter, he joined the University of Jaffna and served as a lecturer, senior lecturer and Professor in Tamil for nearly 17 years. Subsequently he served at theEasternUniversityfor two years. Further, he served as Research Professor for one year and was a Visiting Professor inIndia,England,Germanyand various other countries.

While he was at the University he was greatly involved in Tamil dramas. He had not only written scripts for dramas but even had acted in several dramas in the university and Radio Ceylonwhich were produced by late Professor Vidyanandan. As a research scholar Professor Sivathamby had done research on Tamil dramas, Greek drama, Tholkapiam Sangam Literature, Silapadikaram and several other researchers. All his research works were published in book form in 1980 and won the Tamil Nadu Award. Further, he had encouraged several university students to participate in dramas.

In recognition and appreciation of his tremendous service for the Tamil language, Tamil literature, religious and art and culture, he was presented with ‘VK Award’ by the Tamil Nadu and ‘Sri Lanka-Japan Friendship Award’ for his immense contribution in the sphere of art and culture. Furthermore, art, drama, music as well as other cultural activities are the natural result of development of the mind and heart of man. It is a reflection of his individual and social ethos. It is also a very effective means of communication and interaction between different cultures and communities.

Their diversities cannot but be considered a blessing and if any nation is to develop, it has to foster not only the growth of its own cultural heritage but also intra-cultural and inter-cultural exchanges. By way of his dramas, he developed a spirit of amity and unity between the Tamil and Sinhala communities inSri Lankawhich was very much needed for the process of reconciliation and peace.

Professor Sivathamby’s academic brilliance, his persuasive eloquence and his missionary spirit were rare. His sense of responsibility was unscrupulous, his behaviour was modest. He had the gift of understatement and using the soft word to mitigate wrath. Further, he was consistently pragmatic in his approach and willing to seek out and accept solutions wherever they could be found. This brought him the personal esteem even of his opponents.

Humane qualities: His secret as a great professor of literature were his humane qualities. He practised what he preached and discharged his duties without fear or favour, guided by the philosophy and teaching of Bhagavad Gita. He was truly a great Hindu gentleman wishing well to others, harbouring no ill-will and offensive to none. His face was always lit with smiles, deep piety and integrity of character. Further, whatever task he undertook, he accomplished them with dedication, devotion, high degree of discipline and total commitment. No field of human endeavour was left untouched by the amplitude of his imagination encompassing sweep of his thought and felicity of his words.

Professor Sivathamby’s selfless, inestimable and admirable services had been duly recognized and immensely appreciated by all national and international communities irrespective of caste, creed and religion. He rose above narrow parochialism, regionalism, sectarianism and communalism and was held in high esteem by the people of various countries for his contribution in the spheres of Tamil Language, Tamil literature and Hindu Culture.

Prof. Sivathamby always believed in noble means, noble ideas and noble actions and was of the view that convoluted thinking and contorted behaviour would definitely lead to calamitous consequences. He always quoted from ‘Purananooru’ a Tamil poem written about 2000 years ago and its meaning is as follows:- “All villages are mine, all human beings are my relatives. Good and bad are the outcome of our actions and not of others.”

It is very often said that “a woman is always behind a man’s success in life. His wife Rupavathy was a tower of strength and source of encouragement in all his endeavours.” In the words of the poet, late Professor Sivathamby was a “Statesman, yet friend to truth, of soul sincere. In action, faithful and in honour clear, who broke no promise, served no private end, who lost no friend. He was noble, nobility itself.”

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One response to “In Appreciation of Professor Karthigesu Sivathamby, Man of Letters

  1. cdw

    Sivathamby worked at Vidyodya Ubniversity as the head of the Tamil department untill 1974 when the Jaffna campus (as it was then called) was opened under Kailasapathy who was appointed the President of the Jaffna campus. I remember signing the release letters for Sivathamby and Vijesurendra after much discussion. Mr. Vijesurendra were an assistant registrar of Vidyodaya who also agreed to go to Jaffna together with Sivathamby. As the political climate in Jaffna deteriorated, Vijesurendra and Sinhalese students in Jaffna was assaulted and they returned to Colombo. Sivathamby was very helpful to Vijesurendra and others during that difficult period.

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