When we utter the term encyclopaedia, most English Encyclopaedia come readily into our thought; The Brittanica Encyclopaedia, Encarta Encyclopaedia etc are the ones that most of us remember, and most recently the online free encyclopaedia – The Wikipedia, is gaining its grounds among the people. Only a few of us know that an Encyclopaedia in Tamil Literature also exists. Earlier in Tamil Literature, dictionaries that are so organised, as the English counterparts, did not exist, however they existed in the form of a composition called Nigandu.

Later people started to realise the need of a Tamil Dictionary and started composing dictionaries. During those days, composing a dictionary is a herculean task, as they did not have the power of computers that could sort the entries at the touch of a button. But still there wasn’t a work that matched to that of an Encyclopaedia. And, nearly a century ago, a great man named, Mr. A. Singaraveloo Mudhaliyar, took the pains to compose the Encyclopaedia of Tamil Literature. He was a Tamil Pandit in the famous Pachaiappa’s College in Chennai. His mentor was Mr. C Gopalarayar, the Headmaster of the institution, who gave the encouragement and the material to start of the work.

Singaraveloo Mudhaliyar, started off the work just like that around the year 1890 AD and he named his work as “Puraana Naamaavali”. As the work progressed, he began to feel it to be hard and tough to continue as he had to go looking for many resources. But the resources and the material he had in had was not sufficient to continue with his work.

So he went to many places in search of information, indeed a lot. His money reserves were quite low being a Tamil Pandit in those days was not so lucrative, but people had high respect for teachers and professors. In spite of that he took the pains to gather information from all sources he had access.

The real pain was to collect those information and write then in the correct alphabetical order. It was the days of pre-computing civilisation, where all the work had to be done manually. Rearranging and organising those entries, is almost rewriting them again and again as new information is being obtained. We could feel the pain if we imagine the amount of work he would have done just to organise the entries as new information flows in.

These pains that Singaraveloo Mudhaliyar underwent resulted in one of the great masterpieces, “Abithana Chinthamani” (Puraana Naamaavali renamed). The initial edition was around 1050 pages. But this was not all and it seems Singaraveloo Mudhaliyar’s fate decided that the pains he underwent were not enough.

He went to many people, who were then wealthy in Madras (The then Chennai), with the manuscripts of his great work, Abithana Chinthamani. All admired and even praised his work but simply stated, without offering any help, that publishing this would cost more. Then he thought of publishing it as a periodical and printing leaflets about his work, but only a few subscribed. He got dejected and he felt sad that his work and efforts could be a failure.

But then the copies of his work reached the then Zamindar of Palavanatham and the President of the Madurai Tamizh Sangam, Mr. Pandithoraiswami Thevar. The Zamindar went to Chennai to meet Singaraveloo Mudhaliyar and gave instructions to the Madurai Tamizh Sangam Press to write a clean copy of it and ordered it to be printed in the printing press in Madras. And thus came into existence in 1910 AD, the 20 twenty years of hard work of Singaraveloo Mudhaliyar, Abithana Chintamani.

The book became popular and can be considered a de facto standard for Tamil Encyclopaedia. Even after that the author gathered many information. And on 1931 AD, he passed away and he left his additional work with his son, Sivaprakasa Mudhaliyar – a postmaster, who also took pains to publish the second edition with the help of a person named Thiruvarur Somasundar Desikar who worked in the Lexical Department of the Madras University, the position held by Singaraveloo Mudhaliyar before his death. The second edition of Abithana Chinthamani was published posthumously in the year 1934 AD and it contained 1634 pages of information. Now the work has been edited and now has about 2000 pages of information.

Had it not been for Singaraveloo Mudhaliyar, we would not have got the great work, the Encyclopaedia for Tamil Literature, Abithana Chintamani. Lets honour this great man and his work, and if possible we should buy a copy of his work in his honour.

More to come, until then…