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The First Tamil Layman Arumuga Navalar: Protector Of Hinduism in British Ceylon

Over 100 primary and secondary schools were built based on Arumuga Navalar's teaching methods

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Map of Ceylon. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Arumuga Navalar (1822-1879) is considered the first Tamil layman to undertake as his life’s career the intellectual and institutional response of Saivism to Christianity in Sri Lanka and India
  • The title ‘Navalar’ means  ‘one who is learned’ was bestowed upon him by a Saiva monastery in India in 1849
  • He distributed a series of tracts and pamphlets for the public, expounding the principles of Hinduism and answering all criticisms of the missionaries head on

The native traditions and religious knowledge needed reviving and reforming as they had come under a long period of dormancy and decline during the 400 years of colonial rule by various European powers. The 18th and 19th century Tamils in India and Sri Lanka found themselves in the midst of intrusive Protestant Missionary activity and conversions.

The masses of the Hindu faith needed to be schooled to prevent these conversions. Arumuga Navalar (1822-1879) is considered the first Tamil layman to undertake as his life’s career the intellectual and institutional response of Saivism to Christianity in Sri Lanka and India. The Saivite revival in Jaffna, the capital city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka is dominated by him.

Arumuga Navalar was born in Nallur, Jaffna as Arumugam Pillai. The title ‘Navalar’ means ‘one who is learned’ was bestowed upon him by a Saiva monastery in India in 1849. His father was a Tamil poet and mother, a devout Hindu. He was a student of the Christian missionary school system that assisted in the translation of the King James Bible into Tamil.

He studied at the Jaffna Central College, a Wesleyan mission school and was educated in both the Saivite and Christian traditions but never converted to. He not only prevented large-scale conversions to Protestantism but also founded schools that produced pupils who were well versed in Hinduism and could successfully defend Saivism against Christian charges.

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According to the LankaWeb article, Arumugam started to question Christianity from his early years. He published a comparative study of Christianity and Saivism pointing out the weakness in the argument that Protestant missionaries had used against local Saiva practices in the Morning Star.  He concluded the seminar letter stating that there was no difference between Christianity and Saivism as far as idol worship and temple rituals were concerned, thus admonishing the missionaries for misrepresenting their own religion.

Arumuka Navalar.jpg
Arumuka Navalar Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

Using the same techniques adopted by the missionaries to educate and promote their religion, Arumugam wanted to establish Saiva schools in every village, where Hindu education could be imparted in a Hindu environment with the aid of school textbooks specially written for the purpose. He found value in English education and founded the Saivanagala Vidyasalai in 1872 which later became Jaffna Hindu College, the premier Hindu English School in the island.Over 100 primary and secondary schools were built based on his teaching methods and they flourished producing pupils who could also function effectively in a western oriented world.

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Having realised that the Hindus of Jaffna needed a clearer understanding of their religion if they were to stop Christian conversion, Arumuga Navalar decided to provide an authoritative restatement of the Saiva doctrine and a systematic compilation of its ideas. With his efforts, he succeeded in building confidence in Hindus and in their religion which they had previously lacked, says the LankaWeb post.

With the help of the printing press he established in 1849 at Vannarponnai and another in Madras, Arumugam published two texts,  a teachers guide Cüdãmani Nikantu and Saundarya Lahari, a Sanskrit poem geared towards devotion.The  Saiva dusana parihara, (the abolition of the abuse of Saivism) published in 1854, a training manual for the use of Saivas in their opposition to the missionaries had done the maximum damage to the Christian missionaries.

He served as a true hero who took all the necessary steps in protecting the faith of the believers. He even distributed a series of tracts and pamphlets for the public, expounding the principles of Hinduism and answering all criticisms of the missionaries head on. His efforts earned him the respect of the missionaries who admitted that the adroitly anticipated every possible objection and replied them.

– This article is compiled by a staff-writer at NewsGram.

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  • AJ Krish

    Leaders and heroes like him are required even now as conversions still carry on.People seem to have forgotten their ideals and have no pride to belong to the oldest living tradition.

Next Story

The Exclusivism of Religion Terrorizing The Humanity

Acknowledging, respecting other faiths, and mingling together in their celebrations doubtlessly awaken our dormant godliness. This will certainly help purify our mind and steady our devotion. 

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humanity
At least to allow the grand idea of “humanity” to survive? Amidst of technological advances and luxuries we are fast getting away from basic realities of life!

BY: Salil Gewali 

The terror bombings that ripped through three churches and four luxury hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka have left 359 people dead and 500 others injured. World-wide condemnation has been expressed against the perpetrators. This is nothing more than the usual “ritual”. Almost all such deadly explosions are followed by strong denunciation and the offering of condolences and prayers. But will mere hollow condemnations and condolences enough? How many such cold-blooded blasts have happened at scared place of worship like Church, Mosques, Temples, Synagogue in past three years? Could we not rather find out the core causes leading to the incidents? At least to allow the grand idea of “humanity” to survive? Amidst of technological advances and luxuries we are fast getting away from basic realities of life! The frequent terror bombings have made us more worried and apprehensive than ever before. Should this not bring the world leaders — spiritual, political and also thinkers, to one table and find the solution? But that will not happen, and the innocent people will continue to die at the hand of such bloodthirsty people.

What a big irony that the evils of intolerance, dogmatism and hatred explosively originate from the holy altar of religions! Now the world should fear the religious fanatics more than humane atheists. Moreover, if we dig deeper, we shall find the causes of such bloody hostility lies in the misinterpretation of GOD and the holy books we are following. We have foolishly cut the “inconceivable” GOD to our size. We have regarded others as “non-believers” if they worship HIM in a little different way. We undermine them, we belittle their holy scriptures, we sniff at their culture and mock their tradition and rituals. Not just that, we even find our own ways to misinterpret their scriptures and thereby defame their whole culture and ethos. This has often become a sort of “hubby” among a certain class of people. They are no less than terror bombers, I say this with conviction. Their works insidiously contribute to bring the “division and hatred” among people, communities and their faiths. Such people literally hurt the heart and soul of the people, which is far worse than the “hurt” of those killed in the bomb blasts.

Bombing
So, the nonsense bickering, hatred and inhuman cruelty that originates from our “religious exclusivism” has only kept us away from the tenets of humanity.

Indoctrination of exclusivity of one’s practiced religion is doubtlessly one of the prime causes that has driven many to this blind extremism. So much so — they even dedicate that evil acts to the Supreme Almighty and their sacred scriptures!

Why can’t we love our neighbor and fellow others? Is it not the most COMMON and FUNDAMENTAL teaching of the holy scriptures of all religions? Let other notions and handed down beliefs that are “potential” to cause division and disruptive be just set aside. One believes, God will never punish us if we get together and work towards mutual love and brotherhood than being fanatic and hurting others and then hurt oneself. After all we are from one fountain source of His divinity.

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Indoctrination of exclusivity of one’s practiced religion is doubtlessly one of the prime causes that has driven many to this blind extremism.

Of course, the more we go deeper and more we “understand” His “CREATION”, the more we “laugh” at ourselves. We regret our own stupidity too. For instance — in HIS limitless and infinite number of galaxies (just “one” galaxy spreading out in a span of 150000 -200000 light-years) there consists an infinite number of “earths” having their own religions as ours here. Is not their God and our God same? Should we call them heathen because they don’t follow our religion?  Our idea of religious “exclusivism” in the UNIVERSE is not just narrow but it is utterly “childish”. It is exactly like a small kid crying and insisting that her doll is the most expensive and most beautiful on earth! So, the nonsense bickering, hatred and inhuman cruelty that originates from our “religious exclusivism” has only kept us away from the tenets of humanity. Our cruelty arising from the extremism just chases away the divinity from within.

Also Read: Eating Comfort Food in Stress Will Add Extra Kilos, Says Study

So, let’s learn first to make peace with other believers and their cultural values. Our paths may be different but the goal is the same. Acknowledging, respecting other faiths, and mingling together in their celebrations doubtlessly awaken our dormant godliness. This will certainly help purify our mind and steady our devotion.  No one’s devotion to Him should ever end up in blasts and human degeneration.

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.