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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
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  • 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

Right of Nature: Are Rivers Living Beings?

Should rivers be considered Living Entities?

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Right of Nature
Many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

By Dr. Bharti Raizada, Chicago

Science says that water bodies are not living entities, as water does not need food, does not grow, and reproduce. Water is required for life, but in itself it is nonliving.

However, many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

The Maori tribe in New Zealand considers the Whanganui River as their ancestor and the Maori people fought to get it a legal status as a living being. In 2017, a court in New Zealand gave this river the status of living being and same rights as humans, to protect it from pollution. Thus, now if someone pollutes in it then it is considered equivalent to harming a human.

ALSO READ: Worshiping mother nature part of our tradition: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Right of Nature
Rivers are sacred in many religions, including Hinduism. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

Rivers are sacred in Hinduism also. Hindus believe that the Ganga descended from heaven and call her Ganga Maa. A few days after New Zealand’s court decision, Uttarakhand high court in India gave the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries the status of living human entities. The Court-appointed three officials as legal custodians. However, the court did not clarify many aspects related to this decision.

After this verdict some of the questions, which naturally came to mind, were:

Can Hindus still do rituals of flowing ashes, leaves, flowers, diyas in river or no? Can a dam be built on the river after this judgment? If some damage, to a person, animal, plants, or property, occurs because of river e.g. overflow, hurricanes, flooding etc., how the river will pay the liabilities? What if all rivers, oceans, ponds etc. are given the status of living beings? Will drinking water from river become a crime? What about taking water and using it for routine needs,  agriculture or building structures? Will it be illegal? If a child throws a stone in water, will it be a criminal act? Will fishing be considered stealing? What about boating? If someone is using heat near water and water evaporates, is it equal to taking the body part of a human being? What about taking a bath in the river?

Right of Nature
If the river gets a living status, as human, then we cannot use it for anything without its permission, so everyone has to stop touching the water. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: Decoding supernatural: What is the nature of entities and gods who influence human behavior

Other queries, which arise, are:

Will animals and plants get the same status? What if you kill an ant or a chicken etc. or cut a tree? Will all animals and plants get a legal custodian?

Where is all the waste supposed to go? It has to go somewhere back in nature, right?

Uttrakhand state government challenged the judgement in Supreme Court and the latter reversed the judgment.

Right of Nature
So where do we stand? In my opinion, granting living status to nature is a different thing than giving protected status or preserving nature. Image by Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: How nature destroys the negative tendencies in a positive manner

Ecuador’s constitution recognized the Right of Nature to exist, specifically Vilcabamba river, in 2008.

Then Bolivia passed the law of the right of mother earth and granted Nature equal rights as humans.

Many communities in the U.S.A. passed the Right of Nature law.

These laws are creating a dilemma or quandary also, as people need to use these resources. We cannot live without using natural resources. However, there is a difference between using natural resources and afflicting or destroying these. So, please use natural resources very diligently. Try not to vitiate nature.

On World Water Day (March 22), please start taking care of rivers, so that there is no need for future celebrations. It should not be a one-day celebration anyway, we should scrupulously look out for nature all the time.

Dr. Raizada is a practicing anesthesiologist.