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Monday, March 4, 2024

Scholar M.V.Ramanujachariar who translated Sanskrit Mahabharata into Tamil

Sri Manalur Veeravalli Ramanujachariar was the first person to translate, MAHABHARATHAM– the longest poem in the world- (more than One Lakh Verses) from Sanskrit Language into Tamil.

Sri Ramanujachariar was born in 1866 in a small village Manalur in Tamil Nadu located near Kumbakonam.  He lost his father at a very young age. He was brought up by his mother. Young Ramanujachariar showed keen interest in mastering languages, grammar, and ancient literature. He learnt Sanskrit from his maternal uncle Sri U Ve. Veeraraghavacharyar, an expert in Vyaakarana Sutras. After completing his matriculation, Sri Ramanujachariar went to Kasi to pursue higher learning in Sanskrit. 

In Kasi, the principal of Queen’s college Dr.Thibault, who was well-known for his translation of Saint Ramanuja’s Sri Bhashyam into English,  conferred the title of Pundit on Ramanujachariar. Achariar stayed at Kumaraswamy mutt (connected to Tirupanandal Adheenam) in Kasi and continued his studies. Due to his mother’s inability to bear the separation, he had to discontinue his studies and come back to his hometown. He then moved to the Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam and pursued his learning together with the junior Thambiran Ambalavana Desikar who later became Head of Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam. There Ramanujachariar met Tamil Thatha U Ve Swaminatha Iyer at Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam and there began a lifelong association between the two of them.

U Ve Swaminatha Iyer asked Sri Ramanujachariar to join the Native High school, Kumbakonam, as a Tamil teacher and also asked him to assist him in his works like Manimegalai, Civaka Sinthamani etc. Sri Ramaujachariar worked at Native High School between 1893-1911.

Ramaujachariar subsequently joined the Kumbakonam Arts college as a lecturer in 1911. During his stay at Kumbakonam, his learned friends encouraged him to take up the translation work of Mahabaratham into Tamil. The work started in 1905 and the first Sanchikai/journal on Aadhi Parvam came out in 1908. Despite the daunting task filled with huge financial commitments and difficulties in deciphering meaning of complex Sanskrit Verses, he undertook the task with courage, wisdom and confidence. Thanks to the encouragement and financial support from Sri U.V.Swaminatha Iyer and other eminent people in society such as the Heads of Tirupanandal Adheenam and Tiruvaduthurai Adheenam, Sarva Shree Rao Bahadur   V.T.Krishnamachariar, Diwan of Baroda,  Brahmasri Sundarama Iyer, Colombo Ramanatham Chettiar,, M.C.T.Muthiah Chettiar and Annamalai Chettiar and many others.

Since he found that translating the great epic Mahabharata was a time-consuming job, he quit his job from Kumbakonam college as a Tamil Pundit and dedicated his entire attention on completing this precious divine work. He sought the help of some learned Sanskrit scholars of the time for precise translation.; To name a few, Sri T.V. Srinivasachariar, Painganadu Ganapathy Sastrigal, Kadalungudi Natesa Sastrigal, T.E, Srinivasachariar and a few more.  It took nearly twenty-five years to complete this Mahabharata translation work and the 45th and last Sanchikai/journal was published in 1932.  The Tamil Mahabaratham translated by him is known as Kumbakonam edition and it is an extensive and complete translation done in a precise manner for the first time in Tamil.

Sri Ramanujachariar’s Kumbakonam edition of Mahabharatham is considered by great scholars for critical analysis of events in Mahabharatha.   On completion of his work, The Hindu newspaper praised him saying that the author has rendered a great job to the excellent Tamil language, and to the Tamil literature lovers! Likewise, the great Tamil scholar, Sri U V Swaminatha Iyer in his Auto biography ‘En Saritham’ has praised Sri M V Ramanujacharyar for his marvellous contribution to the Tamil literature. Dr. Annie Besant praised the contribution of Sri Ramanujacharyar as an excellent work and mentioned his Mahabharata translation in Tamil would help the Tamil people to reading it in their own language!

Sri Ramanujacharyar served in the Madras University academic council nearly for 21 years as its member and contributed a lot for the growth of Tamil language. Especially, he fought hard for Tamil teachers’ pay to be brought on par with other language teachers. The prestigious Sanskrit Academy of Chennai honoured him with the title “Bhasha Bharathadurandara”. meaning a great scholar of many languages. The Governor General and Viceroy of India Lord Linlithgow conferred on him the, Title Mahamahopadyaya’   in 1936 – a title accorded to the scholars achieving greatness in various fields.

Sri MV Ramanujachariar reached the abode of almighty in 1940.  Ananda Vikatan, one of the popular Tamil weekly Magazine, published a tribute and obituary after his passing mentioning ‘Bageerathar Maraindhar’. All India Radio announced his death.  Sri MV Ramanujachariar’s name would be remembered forever as one of the noble sons of our Bharata (Bharatam) for his yeoman service and great contribution to Tamil Literature and Society.

-R. Harishankar

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