Fr. Thani Nayagam Birth Centenary: “All humanity is my fraternity”

by K. Thirukumaran

The Birth Centenary celebrations of Fr. Xavier Stanislaus Thani Nayagam have been held at the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America convention (FeTNA) venue from July 5-6th at the Sony Centre in Toronto.


An exhibition of publications, photographs and mementos of Rev. Thani Nayagam was held open both days and a panel discussion on various aspects of Rev. Thani Nayagam’s vocation, scholarship, and commitment to language rights were held on July 6th. A key note address was delivered at the convention on the life and work of Rev. Thani Nayagam along with a short documentary and a book, ‘Tamilaram’ was also released.

‘Tamilaram’ was first published in 1983, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka as a compilation of tributes written by friends and colleagues of Rev. Thani Nayagam following his death in 1980. The second edition was released by Canadian Tamil Congress at the FeTNA convention in Toronto to mark the centenary commemoration.

‘Tamilaram’, reading or browsing the pages of this ‘garland of tributes’ replenishes with what the presence of Father Thani Nayagam would have been; the elegance of humanism, service and humbleness are felt; and ecstatic it is – finding the first article in ‘Tamilaram’ is by Fr. C.A. Joachim Pillai OMI, professor emeriti at St. Augustine’s Seminary and Toronto Theological School of The University of Toronto.

Fr. C.A. Joachim Pillai’s tribute is titled, “The Grace of Experiencing Nature” – One way of looking at Fr. Thani Nayagam’s Life:

The following excerpted from Fr. C.A. Joachim Pillai’s tribute sums up Father Thani Nayagam for those who do not know about him:

“As an internationalist, Fr. Thani Nayagam remained open to all cultures not merely in theory, but in real practice. He knew English and Italian literature as much as his own Tamil literature, not to mention his competence not only in the classical languages of India, but also in Latin and Greek. He understood well that true unity can be built only on the uniqueness of diverse cultures. He wanted that Tamil culture – so ancient and so new – be allowed to grow and blossom and radiate in the world its own particular fragrance of communion with self, nature, neighbor and the Unseen.”

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Fr. Thani Nayagam was born in Kayts – Sri Lanka’s Northern Province on August 2, 1913.

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He had primary education in St. Anthony’s College, Kayts and secondary schooling at St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna

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Fr. Thani Nayagam was the first Jaffna Tamil to go to Rome for ecclesiastical studies and ordination as a priest.

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He began the long trek to priesthood in 1931.

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Fr. Thani Nayagam joined Annamalai University as a student in 1945. His M. Litt. thesis on ‘Nature in ancient Tamil Poetry’ was praised as an excellent introduction to Sangam literature

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Rev. Dr. Thaninayagam followed the path of great catholic missionaries and priests who contributed towards the development and research in Tamil language, culture.

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Tamil world recognizes Rev. Dr. Thani Nayagam as one Tamil classical language sculptors of the 20th century.

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Several bools carrying articles about his life and contribution to Tamil Mother are displayed in the centenary exhibition.

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Fr. Thani Nayagam pioneered the way to expand Tamil studies in American Universities as an academic area.

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Rev. Dr. Thani Nayagam has authored several books.

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Endowment lectures in honour of Rev. Dr. Thani Nayagam have been held at the International Institute of Tamil Studies, Chennai.

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His contributions are felt the status of Tamil language as a classical language in the academic world as well as popularizing of its implications among the Tamil people, writes Rajan Philips – in the biographical sketch of Rev. Dr. Thani Nayagam published in ‘Thamilaram’.

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Rev. Dr. Thani Nayagam joined University of Ceylon in 1952.

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Publications paying homage to Rev. Dr. Thaninayagam. “Tamilaram’ is a garland of tributes and reminiscences written by several of Fr. Thani Nayagam’s friends and colleagues from around the world, and includes as biographical sketch and a bibliography of his writings.

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Fr. Thani Nayagam is well known as the ‘Roving Ambassador of Tamil‘ through an article penned by Amudhan Adigal in The Hindu in August, 2003.

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He held academic appointments in Ceylon, Malaya, Italy and France.

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Statues of Rev. Dr. Thani Nayagam have been erected in Madurai, Delft, Tutucorin and Trichy. Plans are underway to unveil statues in Mannar and Jaffna.

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Rev. Dr. Thani Nayagam established/founded several international institutions, organizations and societies.

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Books paying tribute to Fr. Thani Nayagam Adigal.

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Thani Nayagam means ‘unique or singular leader’

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Rev. Dr. Thani Nayagam was committed to linguistic and cultural pluralism.

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Fr. Thani Nayagam would often hail Tamil as the language of bhkati or devotion, if English could be considered the language of commerce, French the language of diplomacy, Latin the language of law, German the language of philosophy, Greek the language of music and Italian the language of love.

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When Fr. Thani Nayagam passed away on 1 September 1980, Tamil leader Appapillai Amirthalingam expressed gratitude of a people for a life and service dedicated to their language and culture.

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The ‘Global Tamil Ambassador’ visited over 50 countries in 5 continents.

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Rev. Dr. Thani Nayagam joined the Tamil National Leaders and actively participated in the struggle for equal rights for Tamils.

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What can we do to continue Rev. Dr. Thani Nayagam’s Vision and Mission?

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The Birth Centenary celebrations of Fr. Thani Nayagam are being held throughout this year across the globe.

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Relevant books on display at the exhibition in Sony Centre, Toronto.

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Fr. Thani Nayagam immensely contributed to the fields of journalism and publications.

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Life time achievement in organizing the International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies.

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The Second International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies was held in Madras, India.

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The Third Conference of International Association Tamil Research was held in France.

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Proceedings were edited and published by Rev. Dr. Thani Nayagam.

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” – Fr. Thani Nayagam never quite recovered from tragic deaths during the Tamil Conference held in Jaffna – and he hoped agaianst hope that unity and justice will prevail”, writes Fr. C.A. Joachim Pillai in ‘Tamilaram’.

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“Fr. Thani Nayagam tried to make his discreet, prudent and non violent word heard over the clashes of extremists on both sides”, further states Fr. C.A. Joachim Pillai in ‘Tamilaram’.

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Books in Tamil honour Fr. Thani Nayagam – he seen as “A Citizen of the World” by C.R. Boxer, Professor Emeritus, University of London, in ‘Tamilaram’.

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Souvenirs and magazines devote special issues to honour Rev. Dr. Thani Nayagam.

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Jaffna’s Francis Xavier Major Seminary has held Memorial Lectures in honour of Rev. Thani Nayagam since 1993.

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First lecture was delivered by Rt. Rev. Dr. B Deogupillai

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Second lecture was delivered by Rt. Rev. Dr. S. Jebanesan

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Seventh lecture was delivered by Mr. Athanasa Jesurasa indicating the wider interests of Fr. Thani Nayagam and on Tamil Cinema – “Main Trends and Efforts to Reform”.

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Fr. Thani Nayagam was the discoverer of several Tamil manuscripts and Tamil books in European libraries.

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Fr. Thani Nayagam – he seen as “Soft spoken Apostle of humanism”, by James T. Rutnam of The Evelyn Rutnam Institute, Jaffna – in ‘Tamilaram’.

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Rt. Rev. C.L. Wickremasinghe, Bishop of Kurunegala, Sri Lanka calls Fr. Thani Nayagam “A Pioneer ecumenicist and a courteous humanist”

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Fr. Thani Nayagam delivered public lectures in honour of great people in recent history

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Fr. Thani Nayagam preached a homily on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the late Rev. Fr. T.M.F. Long, former Rector of St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

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Fr. Thani Nayagam took inspiration from canonical and classical tomes.

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Fr. Thani Nayagam’s favorites included – Sangham literature, Tolkaappiyam, Silappathigaram, Holy Bible and Thirukural. He translated the Puranannorru verse of poet Kaniyan Poongundranar – “Yaathum Oore, Yaavarum Kelir as “All the world is my world, all humanity is my fraternity”

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“There are thousands of people who know more Tamil than he did..(but) for the last 1,000 years no one has done more for the Tam’l language than he” – Bishop Kulandran, Church of South India-Jaffna

The following are the concluding paragraphs of Fr. C.A. Joachim Pillai’s tribute to Fr. Thani Nayagam:

“Having spent as much time of his life in the South as in the North, he loved deeply the whole country, all its people and the total mosaic of cultures that Sri Lanka is blessed with. He did not want to lose any of it. He lived and died as a citizen of Sri Lanka, in spite of all his extended sojourns abroad. One need not lose one’s identity as a Tamil because of one’s citizenship.

Rather, one can be enriched by interacting with other cultures with their different contributions to the perception of the good and beautiful within nature and human life.

To a country that confused with various political, economic, religious and social conflicts, he repeated in contemporary terms, and lived out in such simple way that poet Kapilar expressed to succinctly in his Ahaval (which my father used to sing so beautifully at home in Jaffna):

குலமுமொன்றே; குடியுமொன்றே
இறப்புமொன்றே; பிறப்புமொன்றே;
வழிபடு தெய்வமொன்றேயாதலால்
முன்னோருரைத்த மொழிதவறாமல்
எந்நாளாயினும் இரப்பவர்க் கிட்டுப்
புலையுங் கொலையுங் களவுந்தவிர்ந்து
நிலைபெற அறத்தில் நிற்பதை யறிந்து
ஆணும்பெண்ணுமல்லதை யுணர்ந்து
பேணியுரைப்பது பிழையெனப் படாது
சிறப்புஞ் சீலமு மல்லது
பிறப்பு நலந்தருமோ? பேதையீரே!”