A scholar of great integrity


By K. S. Sivakumaran

Have the English and Sinhala media people heard of a living scholar, S Pathmanathan, in history and Thamil studies? I am afraid they may not have heard of him unless they had been students under his tutelage. This is sad because the English and Sinhala media believe their ignorance of Thamil prevents them having contacts with people like S Pathmanathan who are proficient in English and knowledgeable in Sinhala too.

It would have been an ideal situation to promote healthy reconciliation among our people if a Sinhala journalist had interviewed him at least in English. But this has not been done so far. So, I take up this task for the benefit of those English readers who are not partisan or parochial.

(It is ironical that this columnist had spotlighted not only Thamil but all others from different communities in his columns for more than 50 years, but to this date he has not been interviewed by any English medium journalist.)

The following details I gathered from an interview published in the Thinakkural of March 25, 2012.

Subramaniam Pathmanathan was born on March 20, 1940 in Araaly South in Vaddukkoddai in the northern peninsula. While he was studying for his London B A examination at the prestigious Jaffna College, he also gained admission to the University of Peradeniya in 1959. He specialized in history and later in 1968, and obtained his Ph.D from the London University.

In his career he had to face several obstacles and difficulties to assert himself as an independent historian. Since his father was an English teacher he gained proficiency in that language and studied European and British histories and he read profusely guided by some excellent teachers at Jaffna College, he says.

In his opinion researchers in history should have multidimensional knowledge and experience as if one were to research on Thamilian history, one should have a thorough knowledge of the history of Thamil literature, the history of Thamilians, a guided training in understanding history, training in deciphering archaeological  artifacts, sculpture and the like, understanding the temple culture and the means to obtain such details.

His prime concern is to serve people in unearthing the history of the Thamil people and their national customs and habits and their traditions. It is for this purpose he deviated from the academic pattern and wrote articles on history so that common people could understand these features.

As an answer to the distorted versions of history based on mythology, he concentrated on studying and exposing evidence from inscriptions. Such evidences reflect the times prevailing at the time of writing. Unlike in literary works, there is no exaggeration in such inscriptions. Most of the inscriptions speak about donations given to temple or people. The donations were made to Jain and Buddhist temples have.  Such donations included products produced both locally and in alien lands brought to the island by sailors and others coming through the land route visiting Lanka. Accordingly inscriptions are a source of information on production of goods, the barter system, trade and consumption. Such information and knowledge help us to know about the life styles of ancient people.

We also learn from the inscriptions about the development in writing, language, music, dance, art etcetera, he points out. Invariably his presentations are accepted by the international community. This is because he presents historical facts in an unbiased manner without getting emotional and with erudition and finesse. He recalls the blessings of his history teacher Sebaratnam Thambiah who praised him as a future historian when he was a student in Grade 8. The teacher has asked him to write an essay on William the Silent who led a movement for the independence of Holland. He did and was appreciated by many for the historical approach in the essay.

He loves the Thamil language and felt that the Thamil students deserve help in understanding history since they lack knowledge of English.

Professor Emeritus Pathmanathan was responsible in establishing a faculty in the Eastern University in 2007. In 2011, 13 students have specialized in history because of the encouragement and guidance of Prof. S Pathmanathan. He had also been a consultant in deciding the syllabus for Hindu Civilization and areas for lectures by the staff.

Prof S P feels that in the eastern province there are many archaeological residues that have not been explored due to ignorance and hidden by petty self-seeking people. So far no full scale research had been conducted in archaeology in this part of the island.

Lately, 15 inscriptions have been found in the Maddakkalappu and Amparai districts.

It must be noted here that even an excellent commentator on Lankan history, Kamalika Pieris too in some of her articles on her way of understanding history has quoted from S Pathmanathan’s findings. It shows the integrity he holds even among dissenters.

I attend all the seminars and workshops organized by the Hindu Religious Department under the Ministry of Religious Affairs on Thamil Literature and Historical periods in South Indian History every year under the grand direction of Prof S Pathmanathan. This is partly to listen to him speak on related matters in his fluent and measured use of words that an intellectual would use in such erudite and academic exercises.

Although I was not fortunate in learning history at academic level, I gained enough education in understanding history in general. Thanks to Prof S Pathmanathan, one of the few intellectuals left among the Thamil community in Lanka, who could explain things in both Thamil and English.

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