The Development of Tamil Language and Literature in Penang

(A Summary of the original paper in Tamil)
Karu Thiruvarasu(President, PTWA)

Tamil Language in Penang:
Tamil education in Malaysia and in Penang presumably has its origin during the immigration of the Tamils as workers to Malaya in 1786. However to pin point a date for the formal teaching of Tamil via an institution, we have to turn to the Penang Free School which started teaching the language in 1816. However, the first dedicated Tamil school in Penang was started in 1908 in Nibong Tebal.

Today there are 28 Tamil schools in the state (list provided) where in 2001 there are 4858 children pursuing their primary education.

In Malaysia Indians constitute the third big group by race, with Tamils as the majority ethnic group. Tamil is today used as the representative language for the Indians in radio, television, in the education system and other government information channels.

However, the conditions of Tamil schools are not much better today from the time Malaya attained independence. Rather the situation can be said to have deteriorated a little.

Tamil Literature in Penang:
The first known Tamil magazine called Thangai Nesan was published in 1876. Two other magazines Ulaka Nesan and Hindu Nesan were published in 1887 and 1888 respectively. We also know that in 1887 a book entitled Sathiya Vedha Sarithira Saaram (The Essence of the Bible) by Palavendhiram Rayappan was published here. In 1890 Pathaanandha Maalai (A garland of Praise) was published by Mohamed Sultan Maraikkayar. (A list of early books provided.)

Many of these books and magazines were produced by Indian immigrants and much of the literary output was in the form of poetry and some of the notable poets of recent times were Swami Ramadasar, Panaikkulam M. Abdul Majid and N.Karim. This tradition continues today with home-grown writers and poets.

In the early fifties Tamil Murasu, a Singapore Tamil daily, began a student supplement called Maanavar Manimandra Malar (Supplement for Students Bell Club). This served as a training ground for budding writers in Tamil. The Thamilar Thirunaal (Tamils Festival, also sponsored by this daily, provided motivation and training for writers with its various literary competitions.

Following these examples, several- associations were formed in Penang to promote and nourish Tamil writing. Among them were the Tamil Youth Bell Club, Valluvar Debating Society, Bharathi Debating Society, the Senthamizh Kala Nilayam and North Malaya Tamil Writers Association.

Poetry can be said to be the most. prolific of the literary output. (A list of significant poets and poetry provided.) Following this is the significant production of short stories. The Penang based writers’ list is long, but among them are Murugaiyan, Dato P. Shanmugam, A. Kadir, CT. Ramasamy, Anthony Muthu, S. Anbanantham, M. Sultan etc. (List provided.)

Significant contribution from Penang to Malaysian Tamil literature includes writings of K.Sonaimuthu with several of his biographies and essays, and R. Karthigesu with his novels. While writers like Karthigesu and Seeni Naina Mohamed came into Penang from other states, Penang has also lost some of its illustrious writers like M. Asan Gani, M.Sultan, and Karaikizhaar to other states.

A current list of writers is appended. Almost all the writers in our list belong to an older generation, and it is a thing of great concern that writers from the younger generation are scarce.

Tamil Magazines
Although many Tamil magazines originated from Penang in the past, all of them had become defunct and Penang is not known anymore as an originator of Tamil magazines. The only magazine that is currently being published here is Ungkal Kural (Your Voice) edited by Seeni Naina Mohamed.

The Penang Tamil Writers Association (formerly North Malaya Tamil Writers’ Association)
The attempt to form an association for Tamil Writers was started in 1959 and an association by the name of North Malaya Tamil Writers’ Association was formerly registered on May 16th, 1960. It has the distinction of being the first such association in Malaya. Its first president was Mr. J.M. Hussein.

Year President Secretary
1960 J.M. Hussein N.Kairm
19 K.K.T Mohamed Ibrahim V.K.Subramaniam
1981 K.Sonaimuthu K.Thiruvarasu
1987 R.Karthigesu K.Thiruvarasu
1991 K.Thiruvarasu A.S.Francis
1994(to date) K.Thiruvarasu S.Kamala

In 1987, North Malaya Tamil Writers’ Association became a member of the Federation of Tamil Writers’ Associations and in accordance with its constitutional requirement amended its name as Penang Tamil Writers Association. The Association celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 1987 with the then Political Secretary to the Penang Chief Minister, Dr. Koh Soo Khoon, officiating the celebration.

The Association also hosted the annual conference of the Federation of Tamil Writers Associations in. The conference honoured three senior writers in Malaysia, K.Sonamuthu, K.Kaliaperumal and M. Dhurairaj.

The association continues to do its contribution to the development of Malaysian Tamil literature, although its activities have waxed and waned over time. It also co-operates and collaborates with the Penang state government in all its promotion of literary activities.