Caldwell, Dravidian Linguistics (Was: : Tamil words in English)

Tue Feb 24 15:01:54 UTC 1998

Francis Whyte Ellis, a British administrator, is a very interesting
figure. He is the original founder of the idea of Dravidian language
family. This is given in Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

He appointed A. Muttusami Pillai of Pondichery as a Munshi (language-pundit)
to teach Tamil in the College of Fort St. George, Madras. It was at
the instigation of F. W. Ellis that Muttusami Pillai began collecting
Tamil manuscripts.

In point of fact, it was most probably Muttusami Pillai who was the
*first* scholar to make an extensive tour of Tamil Nadu, in 1816,
with the explicit purpose to search for, collect and classify Tamil
palmleaf manuscripts in particular the works of Beschi (1680-1747),
a Jesuit missionary, who tamilized his name as Veeramaamunivar.

Ellis visited the palace of the Sethupatis of Ramnad, because
he can get in touch with erudite scholars. The fate of the
Ellis collection of South Indian manuscripts, mainly with the
help of A. Muttusami Pillai, was unfortunate.

The successor to Ellis in Madras was not interested in S. Indian languages.
His name is Peter, I recollect. Collector Peter's
butler used Ellis' 2 or 3 rooms-full manuscripts to
kindle the oven fires, for the Collectors' evening parties.
It seems this information is given in an obituary to
an English scholar of Tamil that appeared in Sunday Times, London.
F. W. Ellis' life, his manuscripts, their fate etc., is well worth
investigating. Or, is it already done? I read about the manuscripts and
their burning about 15 years ago in
K. Meenakshisundaram, The contribution of European scholars
to Tamil, Univ. of Madras, 1974, 370 p.

Ellis published his translation of 13 short chapters of Tirukkural
when he was alive. From his handwritten manuscripts,
Prof. R. P. Sethu Pillai edited for the whole of Arattuppaal section
of Tirukkural.
Tirukkural: Ellis' commentary.
Edited by R. P. Sethu Pillai, Univ. of Madras, 1956, 406 p.

It appears some more of Ellis' manuscripts, translations remain
R. E. Asher, Notes on F. W. Ellis and an Unpublished fragment of
His Commentary on Tirukkural.
Proc. of the First International Conference Seminar of Tamil studies,
Kuala Lumpur, (2 vol.), 1968-69

It is interesting that Beschi(1680-1747) wrote the Christian epic,
Tembavani in chaste Tamil on the life of St. Joseph. Likewise,
F. W. Ellis composed several poems that are included in
tanippaaTal tiraTTu (Anthology of solitary verses).
After Beschi and Ellis, I do not know of non-south-asian scholars
who can compose tamil poetry using ancient or medieval meters.
May be, in 18th/19th centuries, in order to
prove oneself in tamil scholarship, composing poetry was
deemed essential. Nowadays, prose would do.

N. Ganesan

Some related references:
1) R. E. Asher, 250 years after: Some features of Ziegenbalg's study of
Tamil, Proc. I Int. Conf. Seminar of Tamil studies, Kuala Lumpur, 1968-69.

2) K. Zvelebil, One hundred years of Dravidian comparative philology,
Archiv Orientalni, 24, 1956, p. 599-609

3) K. Zvelebil, A note on early history of Dravidology,
J. of Tamil Studies, Madras, 27, 1985, p. 1-23

4) K. Zvelebil, Dravidian Linguistics today,
J. of Asian studies, Madras, 2, 1, 1984, p. 1-40

5) K. Zvelebil, Beginnings of the history of Dravidian civilization
in South India
J. of Tamil studies, Madras, 23, 1983, p. 17-25

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