Friday, 21 February 2014

Tagore on UVeSa

On November 11, 2013 writer Narasiah, author of Kadalodi and MadrasPattanam, asked me to accompany him to the UVeSaminatha Iyer library in Adayar. I had heard of this library and its collection of palm leaf manuscripts and UVeSa books, but never visited it. It is inside the Kalakshetra campus.

Viceroy's Sanad
The palm leafs are kept in archives, not accessible to the public, except with special permission, but there is an exhibition of important UVeSa memorabilia in a hall. This includes his diaries, turban, writing materials, titles and honours conferred upon him, and photographs of his parents, mentors such as Meenakshi Sundram Pillai and Thiagaraja Chettiyar.

 I had only recently read Subramania Bharati’s poem lauding UVeSa, in the company of Balu sir {writer Nagupoliyan, mathematician, cryptologist, my Samskritam adhyaapakaH}. I am yet to read UVeSa’s autobiography “En Charithram (My History)” or any of his commentaries on the Tamil classics, either of the Sangam period or others. Sanskrit, Mathematics and Subramania Bharati are vast oceans recently revealed to me thanks to Balu sir. I think Mr Narasiah (novelist, historian, litterateur, raconteur,  Engineer on INS Vikrant, India’s first aircraft career, Salt of the Seven oceans) is opening the UVeSa door to me and pushing me to Tamil Literature in a way that I have not engaged with it before.

Dairy Entry: "Received Sanad"
At the Library, Narasiah the eighty year old became Narasiah the five year old in a sweet shop. His energy level jumped. Kapilar, Baranar, TipputoLar and Seethalai Saathanaar and Sempulapeineerar coursed through his veins, and the Tamil Thaatha welcomed this childlike Thaatha. He showed me Doctorate conferred by Madras University and the Sanad of Mahamahopadhyaya bestowed on UVeSa by the then Viceroy. The showcase had a copper plate and the writing materials of UVeSa. There were diaries, with handwritten daily notes by UVeSa – with matters both literary and mundane. I saw one dairy entry that merely stated “சன்னது கிடைத்தது [Received Sanad]’ on the day he received the honor from the Viceroy! 

Diary entry - daily life 
Diary entry - literature references
“Show the Tagore poem,” said Mr Narasiah. This was a stunner. Rabindranath Tagore had written a poem in Bengali, congratulating UVeSa for “For bringing to light the ancient palm leaf treasures from their darkness. For, like Agastya, elevating your mother <Tamil> to the throne. For submitting at her feet the great Epics ManiMekalai, ChintaamaNi and NupuraKatha <Silappathikaaram>. For making the flowers of Sangam poetry blossom in the moonlight.”

Tagore's Bengali poem on UVeSaminatha Aiyar
Tamil Translation of Tagore's Poem
Mr Narasiah has written an article in this month’s – February 2014 - Kaniyaazhi கணையாழி about this poem by Tagore. Please read it – the magazine is only available online by subscription.
February 19 was his birthday, celebrated with a small function at the library, with a song by Kalakshetra students. They sang Bharathi’s song on UVeSa. Sorry I missed the first couple of lines.


  1. I enjoyed your article. Mr.Narasiah is my friend and I value the way you mention him.