Maṇimēkhalai in its Historical Setting


[vii] The study of Maṇimēkhalai presented in the following pages was intended to be delivered as the ninth of my courses of special lectures at the Madras University in the last term of the academic year 1925-26, but was held over as some points required further study. The course was ultimately delivered in March and April of the current year rather later than usual in the academic year to suit the exigencies of other University fixtures. This classic and its twin, the Śilappadhikāram, formed part of my study in connection with the investigations on the age of the Tamil Śangam, which was undertaken at the instance of the late Mr. L. C. Innes, a retired Judge of the Madras High Court and an ex-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Madras, in the early years of the century. The first fruit of this study was published as the Augustan Age of Tamil Literature, the first constructive effort on my part to solve this problem on which a few remarks and criticisms were made, in a paper on the Age of Kamban written by the esteemed scholar above mentioned, in the pages of the Asiatic Quarterly for the year 1898. The Augustan Age of Tamil Literature contains matter taken both from the Śilappadhikāram and Maṇimēkhalai. This naturally led to a considerable amount of criticism as to how far these two works, distinct from the various collections generally known as the Śangam collections, could be regarded as Śangam works, directly or indirectly.

The late Mr. V. Venkayya, Epigraphist to the Government of India, was willing to admit that the age of the Śangam was the [viii] second century A.D., but was in doubt whether these two works could be regarded as belonging to that collection. Mr. K. V. Subramania Aiyar of the Department of Epigraphy, took a similar line and wished to draw a distinction between the Śangam works as such, and these romantic poems. The matter, therefore, required further investigation, and I have had to re-consider the whole question both from the point of view of the Śangam works themselves, of which two or three important collections had become accessible to me, some in print and some in manuscript. My further study of this subject was incorporated in a course of lectures delivered before the University, constituting the second of the Series, Beginnings of South Indian History, which was published in book form in 1918.

In the course of work ranging over a score of years on this particular classic, books XXVII, XXIX and XXX remained but little used as a specific item of investigation for lack of leisure for the subsidiary studies that that investigation would have involved. In the course of a controversy, however, as to the actual date of the Śangam in which my late esteemed friend, Mr, L. D. Swamikannu Pillai had joined issue on astronomical grounds based on poem II of the Paripāḍal, a newly published Śangam work, the suggestion that the philosophical systems of the Maṇimēkhalai may be usefully studied was made by Professor Jacobi of Bonn in a letter that he wrote to me in May 1922.

I took up the question then and have been at work at intervals when current University work permitted. My first idea was to get a translation of these chapters made for publication in the Indian Antiquary with a view to stimulate discussion on the question. My friend, Professor C. S. Srinivasachari of the Pachaiyappa’s College, undertook to study the chapters and make a [ix] translation of them, and brought his manuscript to be annotated and published in the Indian Antiquary by me. Notwithstanding the trouble that he took not only by himself alone, but even with the assistance of one or two other scholars (the late Mr. Kanakasundaram Pillai and another), it struck me that that kind of translation would not serve the purpose which I had in mind. I had therefore to let the matter lie over till I could attempt it myself with adequate preparation in the subsidiary studies as a necessary pre-requisite. I took up the question and have been at it continuously for the last three years more or less, amidst other work. The result is published in the following lectures.

The lectures themselves constitute the first part of the work. Then there is a slightly abridged translation of the whole of the classic so as to give an idea, of the narrative and the setting, to the reader unacquainted with Tamil. In translating this part, I have had it before me all the time to give the reader as much of an idea of the poem as a translation could at all give. I have omitted no material point and even attempted to keep the tone of the original to the best of my ability. The three books, XXVII, XXIX and XXX dealing respectively with ‘the Heretical Systems’, ‘Buddhist Logic’, and ‘the Teachings of Buddhism’ are translated literally, so that apart from the use I have made of it, the translation may be helpful to those who may not be able to go to the original itself. I hope the translation will prove to be of value for this purpose.

In the course of this work, I took advantage of the progress of my studies to submit three tentative papers (1) on ‘the Buddhism of Maṇimēkhalai’ to a collection of Buddhist Studies in course of publication by my friend, Dr. B. C. Law of Calcutta; (2) another paper ‘A [x] Buddhist School at Kāñcī’ was presented to the Fourth Oriental Conference held in Allahabad in November last, and is in course of publication in the proceedings of the Conference; (3) and the last ‘A Tamil Treatise on Buddhist Logic’ to the Vasanta Silver Jubilee Volume in honour of Principal A. B. Dhruva of the Benares University by his friends and admirers, and the work is expected to be published soon in Ahmadabad.

In the course of the work Pandit M. Raghava Aiyangar of the University Tamil Lexicon Office did me the favour by putting book XXIX of the poem in prose order at my request with a view to facilitating the work of translation. I found, however, that the version was not of as much value as I had anticipated, as the difficulty of understanding it lay not so much in the Tamil as in a knowledge of the technicalities of Indian Logic as such. But the good Pandit’s work was of some assistance and I acknowledge it with pleasure. Since the matter was put in final form, my friend, Mr. T. C. Srinivasa Aiyangar, B.A., B.L., M.L.C., Secretary, Tamil Śangam, Madura, drew my attention to a brochure by Pandit Tirunarayana Aiyangar of the Tamil Śangam. It is an exposition of the technical terms of logic with a view to elucidating book XXIX of Maṇimēkhalai. It is a very useful piece of work and enabled me to make a correction or two. I need hardly add that this attempt of mine would have been impossible but for the labours of Pandit Mahamahopadhyaya V. Svaminatha Aiyar whose excellent edition of the work leaves little to be desired. His notes on books XXVII and XXX were of the greatest value and go only to enhance his character for wisdom when he deliberately omitted to annotate book XXIX. His previous work was of undoubted advantage to me even in translating book XXIX. [xi]

Before concluding, I must acknowledge my obligation to my venerable friend, Professor H. Jacobi of Bonn. His suggestion that the philosophical systems may throw light up on the chronology of the poem supplied the stimulus for my taking up this work, although exigencies of oth’er work prevented my doing it as soon as I might, under more favourable circumstances, have done. He seems to have gone to work on the subject himself on the basis of the abridged account given in Mr. Kanakasabhai Pillai’s Tamils, Eighteen Hundred Years ago, and sent me a proof copy of a paper he contributed to a ‘Festschrift’ in honour of the late Dr. E. Hultzsch. He must be given credit for the independent discovery of the similarity of the Buddhist logic of Maṇimēkhalai to the Nyāyapravēśa of Dignāga. I received the proof after I had delivered my lectures and before I sent him my manuscript for criticism.

When the lectures had been delivered, I sent a copy of my lectures and translation of the relevant chapters for his criticism which he had the great kindness to send me freely and fully, for which I am specially grateful to him. It is a matter for great regret to me that we cannot bring ourselves to agree in regard to the main thesis of the relation between book XXIX of the Maṇimēkhalai and the treatises of Dignāga on Logic. I have re-considered the position on the basis of his criticism and I regret very much indeed that I am not able to see eye to eye with him on this particular point. This examination of the learned Professor’s critical remarks is appended to my lectures. None the less, I feel deeply indebted to him for the time and trouble that he bestowed upon a careful study of the manuscript and giving me the benefit of his views thereon in a letter concluding with ‘it is my sincere opinion that by making accessible to scholars [xii] at large the contents of the “Maṇimēkhalai”, specially by a faithful translation of the chapters bearing on Indian Philosophy and Buddhism, you are entitled to the gratitude and admiration of all who take an interest in Indian culture and the history of South India’. It is to be hoped that the work will serve the purpose so well indicated by the Professor, and I seek no more reward than that for the labour that I have been able to bestow upon it.

I acknowledge with pleasure my obligations to the Publishers, Messrs. Luzac and Co., Oriental and Foreign Book-sellers, London, and to the Diocesan Press, Madras, the Printers, for the careful printing and excellent get-up of the work. Mr. A. V. Venkatarama Aiyar, M.A., L.T., Curator, Madras Records, read the final proof; and Mr. R. Gopalam, M.A., of the Connemara Library prepared the index at a time when I was badly in need of assistance owing to inconveniences and ill health. I acknowledge with gratitude the valuable and timely assistance they gave me on this as on other occasions. The Madras School Book and Literature Society, on the motion of their President, the Rev. Canon Sell, have resolved to bear a part of the expenses of publication of this work. I acknowledge this assistance with pleasure and gratitude.

S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar

Vijayadasami, October 6th, 1927,
Marine Villa, Madras University.