Midweek Review
As I Like It
Who are these Colombo Chetties?
by K.S.Sivakumaran

As I Like It One of the e-zines in Thamil is called Kuviyam (www.kuviyam.com). This electronic magazine is originating from Toronto, Canada. From this centre there are other e-zines in Thamil as well. Two of these are Tamilweek and Pathivukal. Kuviyam had articles not only in Thamil but also in English and French. However in Spring 2005, I happened to read a printed version of selected material from the web of this e-zine. The magazine was edited by Pon Kulendiran, a Canadian of Lankan origin. He was earlier a senior executive engineer for the Sri Lanka Telecommunications.

Among the articles in the printed version was one on the Colombo Chetties. I found it interesting and thought that our readers would like to know something about an influential community in Sri Lanka, if I cull out some details from the article. The article was signed by Pon-Canada. Probably, it was written by the editor himself. The writer has acknowledged reference to a book called History of the Colombo Chetties compiled by Reggie Candappa. Here are some gleanings: Rev. Fr. Boschi has classified the Colombo Chetties as Vaishnavars (those who worship Lord Vishnu). They came through the northern and northwestern parts of India and settles in Coorg and Banaras. Because of the Islamic invasion led by Mohammed Ghazani in the 11th century, these people were driven to the southern parts of India- Nagapattanam, Thirunelveli, Thanjavoor, Malabar, Mathurai and other areas. From these places they came down to Sri Lanka and engaged in business. They settled in Colombo before the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505. The word Chetti comes from Cheththi in Pali. In an inscription in Polonnaruwa dated 1205, the name of Kulanthai Chetty is found. In the 16th century Galdeniya inscription, too, there were mentions about Chetties. The Alageswara families in the Kotte kingdom (1400-15210) were Chetties. Chettinathar among the three that rebeles against Vijayabahu I, was also a Chetty. The late President Jayawardene's ancestors were Chetties. The Colombo Chetties spoke Thamil until the late 19th century. Their names were a combination of Thamil and Telugu. But, within the next 60 years they changed their names to Sinhala and English oriented. Ondaatji, Candappa, Muttukrishna, Muttupillai, Anandappa, Perumal, Murugappa, Casie Chetty are Thamil names of the Colombo Chetties. The ending names of Chetties in Negombo areas are Pulles. Simon Casie Chetty was born in Kalpity near Puttalam. He was fluent in eight languages. He wrote books in English, Thami and Sanskrit. He published a newspaper in Thamil. A stamp was issued in his honour in 1989. Soma Thera of Bambalapitiya Vijairamaya, born in 1898, adopted Buddhism and was the first to spread Buddhism in Germany. The Colombo Chetties built many Hindu temples in Colombo and Yaalpanam. Chetty became Hetti in Sinhala. Hettiyawatta, Hettiarachchi, Aadhihetty, Hettigoda, Hettige, Hettiyamulla are Sinhala names that remind the Colombo Chetties.

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A Grandiloquent Event with Splendour Tomorrow Thursday, May 31, 2007, Poya Day, a four- day cultural event with all the trimmings of Lankan Thamilian Culture  begins at the Ramakrishna Hall, Wellawatta  to celebrate in honour of a Thamil Poet of the 12th century-Kamban. Kamban was an Epic Poet that lived during the Golden Age of splendour during the Chola period in South Indian History. He transcreated Valmiki's Ramayana into Thamil. He did that in the context of Thamilian culture and created it in the form of a traditional Thamilian Epic Writing. Kamban was a Vaishnavite worshipping Rama, who was understood to have been an incarnation of lord Vishnu.

Kamban Vila is an annual organized by the Kamban Kalagam. The livewire of this Literary Club is Kambavarathy Jeyaraj, an eligible bachelor with a silver tongue. He is deeply immersed in ancient Thamil Literature, particularly on Kamba Ramayanam. Associated with him are a battalion of youngsters and ably supported by eminent public figures in Colombo, the retired justice, C. V. Wigneswaran, Business Magnate Eaeswaran, P. Balasundaram and S. A. Balendran just to mention a few. Kamban Kalagam was earlier functioning from Yaalpaanam, but for the last few years it holds three cultural events on what is called Iyal, Isai and Naadagam (in this context, it is Bharatha Natyam) Scholars, academics and artistes from Thamilnadu and Sri Lanka are participating in this year's festival too. Apart from scholarly talks and discussions and debates and poetry reading, awards are also being given to people who have contributed towards Literature and Culture. Prizes for winners in contests held earlier are also distributed by several Trustees. There is also a launch of a book titled Nadaga Mayil published by Srithar Singh of the Poobalasingham Book Depot in Colombo. The youth are directed to develop their thinking and speaking power through debates and discussions in carious sessions during the four day programme. While the first day's programme begins at 5.00 p.m. on other days the programme is worked out from 9.30 a.,m with a lunch break and continues into the evening. Indeed, for the Thamil people such cultural events help them in a small way to revitalize them and move away from the agony that all of us are undergoing. Six well known figures are honoured at the end of the festival. They are: Brammasri P. Shanmugaratna Sarma, (Revered Hindu priest), Deshamanya Dr. A. M. Muhammed Sahabdeen (Scholar and Philanthropist), S. Pathmanathan (Emeritus Professor in History), Anu Y. Nagarajan (Educationist and writer especially of children literature) Dr. S. Anandarajah (reputed physician) and S. A. Samy (Managing Director of the influential Thamil newspaper- Thinakural. Earlier on Thursday, the prizes to winners of the late Thurai Visvanathan Memorial competitions, Indian Thamil poet and academic Abdul Rahman's Trust offering prizes would be distributed. Also an Award from the Trust of N.Govindasamy Mudaliar of Thamilnadu would be given to Lankan scholar M. Thiyagarasa. An award is also given to young poet and artist Kanivumathi (Mathi Pushpa) as an encouragement by Indian commentator in Thamil studies and Living, Solomon Pope Iyah.

Unwittingly, I also have to mention that yours truly, who writes in Thamil as well, is also receiving an award from the Abhirami Kailasapillai Trust. May I thank Mrs Abhirami Kailasapillai and the Kamban Kalagam for the great honour they have conferred on him as a writer.

Contact: sivakumaranks@yahoo.com

 

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