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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.

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Bollywood Films That Focus on Patriotism and Nationalism

From patriotism to nationalism, all that bollywood has focused on

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Bollywood patriotism
During the 1940s, the freedom struggle reached its peak and, as an alternate way to build up on patriotism and promote the freedom movement, films were used as a medium to promote these fervour. Pixabay

BY VINOD MIRANI

When the bollywood film industry started in India, the best and the safest theme to draw audience was to make mythological films or films with a religious story to tell. Dada Saheb Phalke, the founder of the film industry in India, made his first film, “Raja Harishchandra”. The first Indian talkie film, “Alam Ara”, also dealt with a religious theme.

While the religious/mythological films held sway as it had a captive audience that was familiar with the stories told on screen, the narrative soon shifted to family socials. That again was a subject everybody identified with in the joint family era.

During the 1940s, the freedom struggle reached its peak and, as an alternate way to build up on patriotism and promote the freedom movement, films were used as a medium to promote these fervour.

The censoring of bollywood films was rather strict, and the patriotically fired up filmmakers had to take recourse to surrogate promotion of patriotism. Patriotism was the flavour, all pervading and all over India. And, we had some great films promoting patriotism.

This mood lived on till, say, the end of the 1950s. It waned gradually all over except on the streets of the cities. Every August 14 and January 25 — on the eve of Independence Day and Republic Day, respectively — patriotism blurted out of microphones on the streets of every city and town.

Bollywood patriotism
Swades is a well known film for its theme based on patriotism. Wikimedia Commons

As the films gave up on patriotism, so did the street celebrators. Patriotism took a break from films and, hence, also from public life. This was till it was revived momentarily following the 1965 war with Pakistan, and the ensuing Indian victory that revived patriotism in films, but only briefly.

Since the wars of 1948 and 1962, India had, for the first time, outcomes that were emphatically in the nation’s favour. Taking cue from the slogan ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’, coined by the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Manoj Kumar scripted a perfect film, “Upkar”.

Dara Singh, the wrestler-actor, and some others were also inspired to follow patriotism as the theme. But, patriotism in India and, hence, in Hindi films, seems to be a seasonal trend.

After the 1962 India-China war, the feeling was that of delusion. India was humiliated and the limited patriotism that followed was that of self-pity. So, what we had in the aftermath was the depiction of how a badly ill-equipped India lost in the war in the film “Haqeeqat” and the song “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon” rendered live by Lata Mangeshkar. None of the two were inspiring for the masses.

Today, people even feel that the song should not be played anymore because it has a depressing narrative about a losing nation.

“Haqeeqat” failed despite entertainment exemptions from various state governments. Its music lived, not the film. Another attempt by the director with “Hindustan Ki Kasam” also did not work.

Patriotism resurfaced one again post the Kargil operation. Producer-director J.P. Dutta, who has this bend towards war films (his brother was an Air Force pilot who died in action), directed “LOC: Kargil”, immediately after India regained the peak.

The film was screened for the leading financiers and diamond merchants of Mumbai along with other trade leaders a few days before its theatrical release. It was unanimously declared a boring dud. May be, their observations were on the merit of the film, but they failed to read the national mood. The film emerged as a hit.

As mentioned earlier, patriotism is a seasonal trend in India. Because, after its first run, when “LOC” was released in cinemas as a gap filler (when a cinema hall has no new film listed, an old hit is repeated as a gap filler), it could not even recover the theatre rental. Dutta followed up with some more patriotic films, but to no avail.

Over a period of time, a lot many patriotic films have been made like “Jeevan Sangram”, “Saat Hindustani”, “Shaheed”, “Vijeta”, “Border”, “LOC: Kargil”, “Swades”, and “Mangal Pandey”.

Bollywood patriotism
Mission Mangal is an event-based film that revolves around patriotism and nationalism. Wikimedia Commons

People were not quite aroused and remained indifferent to most of these films. The one hit was “Shaheed” after which the man behind this film, Manoj Kumar, established himself as the best filmmaker of patriotic films as he followed it up with movies like “Upkar”, “Purab Aur Paschim” and “Kranti”, after which his expertise stopped working.

Things have changed. Patriotism has now broadened its scope and is described as nationalism. And, this seems to be in tune with the people’s state of mind. We have had a line-up of films in recent years that promote nationalism and many of them met with a favourable response. There are films that are event based. These are: “A Wednesday!”, “Airlift”, “Uri: The Surgical Strike”, ” Mission Mangal”, “Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran”, “Raazi”, “Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi”, “The Ghazi Attack” and, this year’s biggest hit so far, “Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior”.

In fact, one of last year’s biggest hits also happens to be one such film, “Uri: The Surgical Strike”. Another way to inspire nationalism is through films that make the nation proud. These are films like “Dangal”, “Gold”, “Dhoni: The Untold Story”, “D Day”, “Rang De Basanti”, “Padmaavat”, “Mary Kom”, “Kesari”, “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, “Ek Tha Tiger”, “Super 30” with many more in the offing.

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As they say, reel life is a reflection of real life. Post-Independence, all kinds of films were made, and romance and family socials with music worked well till early 1960s. During the mid ’70s, the trend was of anti-establishment films. This was followed by a period of uncertainty when nobody knew what will work. Only making romantic musicals was considered safe.

But the decade that just got over has rekindled the spirit of nationalism. It is all about how the nation is made to feel. (IANS)