Veeramamunivar

  • Tamil is the oldest living language. There are many reasons why this classic language has stood the test of time. That is why the great poet Subramanya Bharathi wrote ‘Of all the languages I know, I don’t think there is a language as sweet as my mother tongue Tamil.’ As if to prove Bharathi’s words true, a foreigner who came to Tamil Nadu not only learnt Tamil, but became a scholar of Tamil and contributed to its rich literature. The owner of this extraordinary feat is Veeramamunivar. He was an Italian whose given name was Constantine Joseph Beschi.

  • He came to Tamil Nadu in 1910 with the aim of spreading Christianity. He first reached Goa and then entered Kerala through the Cochin port. From Kerala, he walked to Madurai. He understood that he needed to speak the language of the land, if he had to live here and establish a rapport with the people. He became a disciple of Supradipa Kavirayar and learnt Tamil literature from him. Along with learning the language, he appropriated the lifestyle of Tamil people. He wore saffron clothing, got his ears pierced, used a walking stick – it almost became hard to believe that he was from another country.

  • He first chose the name of ‘Dhairyanaathar’ for himself. After realising that the name had its roots in Sanskrit, he changed it to Veeramamunivar. This became the name that went into the pages of history.

  • With every literature he read, his love for Tamil started growing stronger and stronger. He walked to various parts of Tamil Nadu in search of ancient texts that were written on palm leaves. Such palm leaves with scriptures on it are called ‘Olai Chuvadi’ in Tamil. Having gone in search of such texts, the people of Tamil Nadu started addressing him as ‘Chuvadi Samiyar’.

  • Veeramamunivar’s contribution to Tamil is immeasurable. His love for Tamil drove him to categorise 93 short texts, translate huge texts such as Thevaram, Thirupugazh, Nannool, Aathichudi into European languages. He also translated Aratthuppaal and Porutpaal, two divisions of the mighty Thirukkural to Latin. He is also credited with writing grammar texts such as ‘Aindhilakkanam’, ‘Sennool Ilakkanam’, and a grammar text for conversational Tamil.

  • With Joseph, Jesus Christ’s father, as the protagonist, Veeramamunivar wrote ‘Thembaavani’, which is considered his Magnum Opus. He gave the main characters Tamil names to establish a sense of belonging. For example, Joseph was named ‘Valan’. Historians and literature lovers celebrate this text as one that will remain in the sands of time, no matter how many years pass.

  • His notable works include ‘Thirukkaavalur Kalambagam’ and ‘Kittheri Catherine Ammaal Ammaanai’. ‘Parmaartha Guruvum Seedargalum’ written by him is the first Tamil prose in the genre of humour.

  • Latin to Tamil dictionary, Tamil to Portuguese dictionary are also some of his noteworthy contributions to Tamil. Calling Veeramamunivar a reformer of Tamil language would not be an exaggeration. He was the one who introduced the system of writing a dot above consonants (Mei Ezhutthu). Prior to that lines were used to signify the stress on the sounds. He also refined the language by systemising the short-sounded letters and the long-sounded letters.

  • No other foreigner had the calibre to learn Tamil and contribute to its literature so much. That is the fact that distinguishes him from other Tamil scholars. He has written prose, dictionaries, short texts, and many more. Our forefathers praise him using the phrase ‘Thaame Thamizhaanar, Tamizhe Thaamaanaar’, which means Veeramamunivar and Tamil are inseparable.

  • His purpose of coming to India was to spread Christianity and he excelled at executing it. Nawab of Arcot ruled most of Tamil Nadu during that period. Veeramamunivar was a good friend of Nawab’s commander, Chanda Sahib. Veeramamunivar toiled hard to ensure the welfare of Christians. In 1936, he received 4 villages as donations. Veeramamunicar established churches in these villages and paved the way for Christianity to flourish. He then visited the places of Dindukkal, Aavur, Gaandhalur and Naanjur to propagate Christianity. That is when Christianity started gaining a good population in India.

  • Despite being born in another country, Veeramamunivar lived as a Tamilian in spirit. He left for the heavenly abode in 1967. In the list of G U Pope and Caldwell, Veeramamunivar’s history will also be celebrated by Tamilians with pride. Dream Tamil Nadu will also strive to carry the legacy he left for us Tamilians.