Monday, September 1, 2014

Inscriptions of Madras: Francis Whyte Ellis - English Civil Servant's Tamil Inscription

The plaque of FW Ellis held at Thirumalai Nayakar Museum at Madurai

FW Ellis made the die block  showing the figure of Thiruvalluvar for minting the East India company coin from the Madras mint. The die block was published by Iravatham Mahadevan.

Francis Whyte Ellis (1777–1819) aka. 'Ellis Durai',  a British civil servant in the Madras Presidency and a scholar of Tamil and Sanskrit, was the first scholar to recognize the Dravidian languages as a separate language family. This Englishman is being considered as great Tamil scholar for his contribution in 'Tamil Prose' writing. 

Life of FW Ellis

Ellis was recruited as a writer East India Company's service at Madras in 1796. The civil servant was elevated to hiher posts in the Board of Revenue i.e, offices of assistant-under secretary in 1798,  deputy-secretary in 1801, Secretary in 1802, judge of the zillah of Machilipatnam in 1806, Collector of Land Customs in 1809 and finally the Collector of Madras in 1810. He died at the age of 41 Ramnad of cholera on 10 March 1819.

The Dravidian Proof

In 1816 his groundbreaking conceptualization of the Dravidian language family of South India known as the “Dravidian proof.” Ellis' Dravidian Proof is a step by step attempt to establish  that the languages of South India are related to one another but are not derived from Sanskrit. These concepts are valid still today, even after centuries later.

College of Fort St. George and College Press

Ellis,  a Member in Madras Literary Society was responsible for founding the College of Fort St. George in 1812 at Madras with Britishers and Indians as registered members. In 1813 he was also  instrumental in setting up of the College Press with a printing press and Tamil type faces. 

The press first published its Tamil book by Constanzo Beschi's (Veeramamunivar) Tamil grammar "Kodum Tamil" in 1813. It also brought out two Tamil books by Chitthambala Desikar -  'Tamil grammar primer Ilakkana surukkam'  and 'Tamil translation of Uttara Kandam of Ramayana.' Ellis' published works include 'Thirukkural: Translation and Commentary' and five Telugu works including Campbell's grammar. The press also continued to publish books in Kannada, Malayalam and Arabic till 1830s.

Tamil as Language for Administration

 As chairman of the committee, Ellis insisted the necessity to learn the basic structure of the South Indian languages by the civil service officers for effective functioning of duties in South Indian villages and towns. He has also taken note of the 'common features of five South Indian "dialects" - High Tamil, Low Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada and recommended the teaching of Tamil as a representative of all five.' He also made assigned the College of Fort St. George as well as its press to prepare grammer and some other text books for the 'Language training'.

Thomas R. Trautmann, Marshall Sahlins Professor of History and Anthropology at the University of Michigan, United States and the editor of the journal Comparative Studies in Society and History, was influenced by A.L. Basham and showed interest in Indian studies. Trautmann after publishing three books - Kautilya and the Arthasastra (1971), Dravidian Kinship (1982) and  Invention of Kinship (1985), came to Chennai  on August 19, xxxx to launch another book. He also gave a talk on F.W.Ellis at  Roja Muthiah Research Library (RMRL), Taramani, Chennai and also interacted with Theodore Baskaran, a historian from Chennai.

Thomas R. Trautmann also rediscovered the stone slab with Tamil Inscription by F.W.Ellis. The colonial administration has dug twenty seven wells in 1818 as per the orders of Ellis, then Madras Collector to quench severe drinking water shortage in Madras. Periya Palayathamman temple at Royapettai, Madras being one of these twenty seven wells. Ellis' long inscription appreciated Thiruvalluvar and quoted one of his Thirukural couplet to justify the steps initiated during drought. The Poetical Tamil inscription composed in Asiriyapaa meter is shown below:

எல்லீசன் கல்வெட்டு

சயங்கொண்ட தொண்டிய சாணுறு நாடெனும்
ஆழியில் இழைத்த வழகுறு மாமணி
குணகடன் முதலாக குட கடலளவு
நெடுநிலம் தாழ நிமிர்ந்திடு சென்னப்
பட்டணத்து எல்லீசன் என்பவன் யானே
பண்டாரகாரிய பாரம் சுமக்கையில்
புலவர்கள் பெருமான் மயிலையம் பதியான்
தெய்வப் புலமைத் திருவள்ளுவனார்
திருக்குறள் தன்னில் திருவுளம் பற்றிய்
இருபுனலும் வாய்த்த மலையும் வருபுனலும்
வல்லரணும் நாட்டிற் குறுப்பு
என்பதின் பொருளை என்னுள் ஆய்ந்து
ஸ்வஸ்திஸ்ரீ சாலிவாகன சகாப்த வரு
..றாச் செல்லா நின்ற
இங்கிலிசு வரு 1818ம் ஆண்டில்
பிரபவாதி வருக்கு மேற் செல்லா நின்ற
பஹுதான்ய வரு த்தில் வார திதி
நக்ஷத்திர யோக கரணம் பார்த்து
சுப திநத்தி லிதனோ டிருபத்தேழு
துரவு கண்டு புண்ணியாஹவாசநம்

Elleeson Inscriptions

It is me, Elleesan (எல்லீசன்) the resident of city of Chennai Pattinam (Chennai city's colonial name), a part of Jayamkonda Thondiya (Thondai) Naadu (1), the beautiful piece of land, amidst ocean bounded by Western Ghats Hills  (குணகடன்) in the west and eastern (Bay of Bengal) ocean (குட கடலளவு) looking the like sparkling jewels; and while carrying my official duties of Mint Superviser (Employed in the Colonial Madras, Madras Presidency), I got totally absorbed by the real meaning of the classic of couplets or Thirukural composed by Thiruvalluvar (Tamil: திருவள்ளுவர்), a celebrated "Poet's Poet" (புலவர்கள் பெருமான்) aka. Divine Poet (தெய்வப் புலமை) from Mylapore (மயிலையம் பதியான்):

3. Essentials of a State (அங்கவியல்): Chapter 74 The Land (நாடு) - குறள் எண் 737.

Waters from rain and springs, a mountain near and waters thence;
Thee make a land, with fortress' sure defence - The-Sacred Kural by Rev G U Pope

 "இருபுனலும் வாய்ந்த மலையும் வருபுனலும்
வல்லரணும் நாட்டிற் குறுப்பு" - திருக்குறள்

தமிழ் விளக்கம்:

ஆறு, கடல் எனும் இருபுனலும், வளர்ந்தோங்கி நீண்டமைந்த மலைத் தொடரும், வருபுனலாம் மழையும், வலிமைமிகு அரணும், ஒரு நாட்டின் சிறந்த உறுப்புகளாகும்.

I have commissioned 27 wells on an auspicious day confirming beneficial Varam (Solar day), Tithi (Lunar day), Nakshatra (Star Constellation), Yogam (Star and Weekday combination) and Karanam (Half of the part of Tithi) according to Hindu almanac (Panchang); during the English Calendar year 1816; the equivalent Shalivahana calendar year (aka. Saka year) being  1740; and the equivalent Tamil calendar year being  Vehudhanya (வெகுதானிய), the 12th year of  60 years cycle followed in Tamil Calendar system.

1. Jayamkonda Thondiya Naadu: Thondai means very ancient long time back. Naadu means province. Tondai Naadu was an ancient (historical) region of Tamil country located in the northernmost part of Tamil Nadu. The province included traditional Pallava kingdom comprising roughly the present districts of Kancheepuram, Chennai, Tiruvallur, Vellore and Tiruvannamalai. The capital of Thondai Naadu was Kancheepuram.  It was captured by the second Chola monarch, Aditya (r. ca. 871-907). he defeated the armies of the Pallavas of Kanchipuram and claimed all of Tondai Nadu as Chola territory. Therefore the region was known as Jeyamkonda Thondai Nadu)

His tomb at Dindugul bears the following Tamil poems:

'திருவள்ளுவப் பெயர்த் தெய்வம் செப்பிய 
அருங்குறள் நூலுள் அறப்பா லினுக்குத்
தங்குபல நூலுதா ரணங்களைப் பெய்து
இங்கிலீசு தன்னில் இணங்க மொழிபெயர்த்தோன்'.

Meaning: Of the three sections of Thirukural composed by godly poet Thiruvalluvar, I, F.W.Ellis, have translated the first section Righteousness (அறத்துப்பால்) in English after confirming several reference texts.

  1. Francis Whyte Ellis Wikipedia
  2. Mahadevan, Iravatham. "The Golden coin depicting Thiruvalluvar -2". (in Tamil)
  3. Venkatachalapathy, A. R. "A Scholar called Ellis". Kalachuvadu Magazine (in Tamil`).
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