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Maraimalai Adigal


Maraimalai Adigal

Maraimalai Adigal
Maraimalai Adigal
Born Vedhachalam
(1876-07-15)July 15, 1876
Nagapattinam, Madras Presidency, British India
Died September 15, 1950(1950-09-15) (aged 74)
Madras, Madras State, India

Maraimalai Adigal (15 July 1876 – 15 September 1950) was an eminent Tamil orator and writer. He was a devout Hindu as a staunch follower of Saivism. He has authored more than 100 books, including works on original poems and dramas, but most famous are his books on his research into Tamil literature. Most of his literary works were on Saivism. He founded a Saivite institution called Podhunilaik Kazhagam. He was an exponent of the Pure Tamil movement and hence considered to be the father of Tamil puritanism. He advocated the use of Tamil devoid of Sanskrit words and hence changed his birth name Vedhachalam to Maraimalai.

Politically he was inclined towards non-Brahminism and hence he and his followers considered that the Self-respect movement was born out of his efforts. Nevertheless, the atheist ideologies of Periyar E. V. Ramasamy were shunned by Maraimalai Adigal and caused years of differences between the two. Maraimalai Adigal spent most of his income on buying his books and after his death his collection were made into a library according to his will.


  • Early life 1
    • English and Sanskrit Learning 1.1
  • Education in Tamil literature 2
  • Career 3
  • Works in Tamil literature 4
  • As Swami Vedhachalam 5
  • Pure Tamil movement Tanittamil Iyakkam 6
  • Maraimalai Adigal and Self-respect movement 7
    • Non-Brahminism 7.1
    • Differences with Self-respect movement 7.2
    • Reconciliation 7.3
  • Maraimalai Adigal Library 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11

Early life

Maraimalai Adigal was born on 15 July 1876[1] to Cokkanata Pillai and Cinnammai.[2] His birth name was Vedhachalam. He did his early schooling at Wesley Mission High School in Nagappattinam, but had to abandon his formal education with Fourth Form after his father's death.[3]

English and Sanskrit Learning

His stint as a student in Wesley Mission High School Nagapattiam made him proficient in English language. When refused to be taught Sanskrit by a Sanskrit teacher on his being a non-Brahmin at his early age, he found a way out by teaching a fellow Brahmin student English, learnt from that boy Sanskrit on daily basis and became proficient in Sanskrit.

Education in Tamil literature

Maraimalai Adigal in spite of discontinuing his formal education after 9th grade, continued learning Tamil from the Tamil scholar Narayana Pillai, who was making his livelihood by selling Tamil palm-leaf manuscripts.[3] He learnt Sanskrit and English through his own effort.[2] He later authored several articles in Tamil monthly called Neelalochani. He later studied Saiva philosophy under Somasundara Naicker. With the help of Sundaram Pillai, author of Manonmaniam, he learned Tamil poetic dramas and thus acquired employment as a Tamil teacher in a school in Trivandrum.[3]


At the age of seventeen, he got married to Soundaravalli and soon after his marriage, he moved to Madras to work as a sub-editor to a journal Siddantha Deepikai. Later, in March 1898, he quit this job to work with V. G. Suryanarana Sastri as a teacher in Madras Christian College. In his time in Madras Christian College he toured throughout Tamil Nadu giving lectures on Saivism.[3] At about the same time he started a society for Saivism called Saiva Siddhanta Maha Samajam.[1] As a young teacher he was popular with his students who would visit his house to listen to his lectures.[2]

In 1910 a decision was made by the Madras University to make the vernacular Tamil language optional for graduation in Arts subjects, leaving English as a medium of education. This decision caused many Tamil teachers to lose their jobs. Realising the vast knowledge and his great capacity as a teacher, Miller, the then Head of Christian College Madras, and other friends insisted that Adigal be given a job in the college. As the opportunity to teach Tamil was considerably reduced and few students opted to study it, the need for a full-time teacher was not a required. Adigal refused the offer and resigned to lead an ascetic life in a serene atmosphere outside the city and to study and do research in Tamil.

Works in Tamil literature

Apart from being a good orator, Adigal composed several Tamil poems.[3] He authored more than 100 books. Other than essays and novels he wrote books dealing with literary criticism, philosophy and religion, history, psychology and politics.[4] His collections of poems to the Hindu god Murugan, which he composed during the times of illness were published as Thiruvotri Muruhar Mummanikkovai in 1900. He also wrote poems from recollections of his teacher Somasundara Naiker in 1901 as Somasundarak Kaanjiaakkam. This has been considered as one of his best works. He also released his research work on Tamil literature Mullaip Pattu Aaraichi for students of Tamil literature.[3] He translated Kalidasa's 'Abhijñānaśākuntalam' into Tamil as Sakuntalai.[1]

Some of his prominent works include:[4]

  • Pattinapalaai Aaraaichi-yurai (1906)
  • Tamizhthaai (1933)
  • Sinthanaikatturaikal (1908)
  • Arivuraikkothu (1921)
  • Chiruvarkaana Senthamizh (1934)
  • Ilainarkaana Inramizh (1957 - posthumous publication)
  • Arivuraikkovai (1971 - posthumous publication)
  • Maraimalaiyatikal paamanaikkovai (1977 - posthumous publication)

In 1911, he published his first novel, Kumuthavalli allathu Naahanaattarasi, an adaptation of English novel Leela by G. W. M. Reynolds.[4]

He also wrote books on the subjects of self-improvement, self-help and personality development. These included Maranathin pin Manithar Nilai (Human Life stage After Death), Mesmerism and Hypnotism and Tholaivil unarthal (Telepathy).

As Swami Vedhachalam

After quitting his teaching job on 10 April 1911, Adigal moved to Pallavaram, a suburb of Madras. There he began to dress as a Sanyasin from 27 August 1911 and became known as Swami Vedhachalam. He became a devout follower of Saivism and started an institution named Podhunilaik Kazhagam. The motto of the institution was set at Ondre Kulam, Oruvanae Devan (Mankind is one, and God is one). The Kazhagam made efforts to make people of all castes, creeds and religions to worship together. He started the Thiru Murugan Press (TM Press) in his residence at Pallavaram and published a number of books and magazines. He also started a monthly called Gnaana Saaharam (Ocean of Wisdom).[3]

Pure Tamil movement Tanittamil Iyakkam

In the year 1916 he became an expert of pure Tamil movement advocating the use of Tamil language devoid of loan words from Sanskrit. Thus he changed the name of Gnaana Saaharam to Arivukkadal and his title of Swami Vedhachalam to Maraimalai Adigal (where Adigal is Tamil for Swami).[5] Thus he is referred to as the "Father of Tamil Puritanism".[5][6][7]

Maraimalai Adigal and Self-respect movement


Apart being the called as father of pure Tamil movement, Maraimalai Adigal is also considered as father of Non-Brahmin Tamil movements.[7] Maraimalai Adigal himself claimed that the non-Brahmin stance of Self-respect movement was born out of his views and principles.[8] Nevertheless, the atheist stance of Periyar E. V. Ramasamy, who was heading the Self-respect movement, was observed by Maraimalai Adigal and his followers as counter productive.[9] On this issue, Ilavalaganar, a student of Maraimalai Adigal wrote:

Differences with Self-respect movement

Although initially a supporter of the Self-respect movement, which he saw as a non-Brahmin movement, he vehemently opposed the atheistic views of its leadership. At one stage he asked Ulaganatha Mudaliar, brother of Thiru. Vi. Kaliyanasundara Mudaliar (Thiru Vi. Ka as he was popularly known) and an eminent Saivite scholar himself, to arrange for a state-wide tour to counter the propaganda of the Self-respect movement.[10] Maraimalai Adigal looked upon the Self-respect movement as a handiwork of the Vaishnavites. On this Maraimalai Adigal wrote

Kalyanasundara Mudaliar, although a Saivite himself, disagreed with Maraimalai Adigal. Kalyanasundaram refused to publish Maraimalai Adigal's essay against Self-respect movement in his journal.[10] The antipathy between Maraimalai Adigal and the members of Self-respect movement was also explicit with Kudiarasu, the political organ of Self-respect movement claiming that Maraimalai Adigal was calling for Periyar to be murdered.[11]


Eventually after years of disagreement, both Maraimalai Adigal and Periyar realised that the disagreement is harmful for their interest and worked towards a rapproachement.[12] Periyar offered an unconditional apology to Maraimalai Adigal and in reply, Maraimalai Adigal wrote a series on the Ramayana in Periyar's English language weekly Revolt.[13] Although the apology and reconciliation were at a personal level between Periyar and Maraimalai Adigal, the difference in ideologies still made their followers to cross swords.[13]

Maraimalai Adigal Library

Maraimalai Adigal spent most of his income on buying books.[5] Research on the readership of his book collections show that between 20 April 1923 to 10 August 1930 a total of 1852 people had borrowed his books.[5] The readership included people from Madras Presidency, Sri Lanka, Burma and Malaysia.[5] Upon his death, on 15 September 1950,[1] according to his will, the books were left for the people of Tamil Nadu and thus a library named after him was started in 1958 by the then MD, Padmashri V.Subbiah Pillai of South India Saiva Siddhanta Works Publishing Society Ltd. at Linghi Street, Chennai. by adding more no of rare collection of Tamil books[5] The library was a repertoire of books and journals, some printed way back in 1779. In May 2008, the Tamil Nadu Government helped by allocating a space at Connemara Public Library but the library management is still with the present MD Rajagopal Muthukumaraswamy of South India Saiva Siddhanta Works Publishing Society.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d One Hundred Tamils of the 20th century on
  2. ^ a b c Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature Page 213
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Encyclopaedia of Indian literature vol. 1 Page 82
  4. ^ a b c Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature Page 214
  5. ^ a b c d e f Encyclopaedia of Indian literature vol. 1 Page 83
  6. ^ Early Novels in India Page 92
  7. ^ a b Vaitheespara,R The Question of Colonialism and Imperialism in Tamil Nationalist Thought: The Case of Maraimalai Adigal (1876-1950) Tamil Studies Conference. Toronto, Canada.
  8. ^ In Those Days There was No Coffee Page 117
  9. ^ a b In Those Days There was No Coffee Page 116 - 117
  10. ^ a b c In Those Days There was No Coffee Page 118
  11. ^ In Those Days There was No Coffee Page 119
  12. ^ In Those Days There was No Coffee Page 120
  13. ^ a b In Those Days There was No Coffee Page 121
  14. ^ Mohammed, Peer. "Rare library turns 50". Deccan Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 


  • V.Ravi Vaithees,
  1. Religion, Caste, and Nation in South India
  2. Maraimalai Adigal, the Neo-Saivite Movement, and Tamil Nationalism, 1876-1950, Oxford University Press, 2015.978-0-19-945181-4;
  • Encyclopaedia of Indian literature vol. 1. Sahitya Akademi. 1987. pp. 82–83.  
  • Zvelebil, Kamil (1992). Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature. Brill. pp. 213–214.  
  • Mukherjee, Meenakshi (2002). Early Novels in India. Sahitya Akademi. p. 92.  
  • Vēṅkaṭācalapati, Ā. Irā (2006). In Those Days There was No Coffee. Yoda Press. pp. 116–121.  

Further reading

  • V.Ravi Vaithees, Religion, Caste, and Nation in South India

Maraimalai Adigal, the Neo-Saivite Movement, and Tamil Nationalism, 1876-1950, Oxford University Press, 2015.978-0-19-945181-4

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