Hundred Years of Hindu Education Some Reminisces

The Hindu and Buddhist revivals heralded by Arumuga Navalar and by the Anagarika Dharampala, saw the birth of Jaffna Hindu and Ananda Colleges and their branch schools. Their sacred duty was to wean the Hindu and Buddhist children from the proselytising influence of Christian Missionary schools, which held the monopoly of education for many years; and Hindu and Buddhist children had to change their faith, or pretend to do so, if they wished to satisfy their thirst for learning. Most of them soon reverted to their own faith. Many prominent Hindu Families, even today, bear the brand of apostasy by retaining their Christian names. It must, however, be acknowledged with gratitude that the coming of the Christian Missionaries and their services, especially in the field of education, benefited us and gave us a head start over other communities.
The late Justice V. Siva Subramanian, writing in the 75th anniversary number of “The Hindu” and quoting Wordsworth says (I am quoting from memory) that the thoughts of the past engender benediction -benediction on these great men, Advocate Nagalingam, Pasupati Chettiyar, Nevins Sithamparapillai, Chellapahpillai, who, actuated by the resolve to preserve our religion and with courage as their only asset, founded a Hindu School in Vannarponnai, to impart to Hindu children an education based on Hindu ideals and the Hindu way of life; benediction on the Principal, Nevins Selvadurai and his dedicated band of assistants who fostered the fledgling and saw it grow a mighty giant; and benediction on those young men, who by their achievements brought honour to the school and made it rank as the equal of older institutions.
Principal Nevins Selvadurai used to tell us of the travails they went through in the early days in running a school with meagre resources, how the few pupils his father brought from his school in Main Street grew in numbers, how the school was affiliated to the Madras and the Calcutta Universities, how C. Coomaraswamy (later High Commissioner) was the first to pass the First in Arts examination, and was followed by others and how A.R. Shanmugaratnam (later Vice- Principal of Royal College and Principal of Palaly Teachers Training College) created a record, passing the Cambridge Senior with First Class Honours and five distinctions. It was a moving saga of adventure in education.
In an article like this it is not possible to avoid a personal note and I hope my readers would forgive me if I let a little egotism creep into it. It is a natural for a person to boast that his generation in school and in life was the best and in that way, I regard my two eras, one as a pupil and the other as a teacher in JHC, were the best.
I joined Jaffna Hindu in 1918, when JHC won championships both in Football and Cricket and had record passes in the Cambridge Senior. In the very first week of my joining, there was a meeting of the Literary Association presided over by the Principal. The chief item was extempore speeches, that is unprepared speeches on subjects which had been drawn by the speakers by lots. The subject, which fell to me, was ‘ideals’. I had come from Manipay Hindu, wher I had memorised for an elocution contest, a passage from Annie Beasant’s speech on ‘Hindu Ideals’ - I repeated it word for word and held my fellow students almost spell bound. When all the others had spoken, one of whom was Nadesen, the eminent QC of later years, the Principal rose and said, “We have heard a real orator today.” Thus it came to pass that the sobriquet ‘orator’ has stuck to me all these years and given me an undeserved status. Years later, I told my friend Nadesan, the secret of how, once in my life, I had got the better of him.
I happened to play both in the Cricket and Football first teams for three years, not because of my prowess in the playing field, but because I could speak English a little better than others. At the end of the matches, there used to be tea and the visiting team had to thank the host team and our captains used to pass on that duty to me. I was in the college hostel which had about sixty resident pupils. The principal lived in the premises and so we were a disciplined lot. He was an eminent educationist and was on many boards of education and as such he used to be away in Colombo most of the weekends and then pandemonium was let loose. There were coconut trees all round the well and we used to climb them to pluck young coconuts. One day the Principal had returned from Colombo earlier than expected and awakened by the noise we made, came up to investigate. On seeing him we dispersed in all directions. M.C. Nadarajab, later the Chief Audit Examiner, then a puny little creature, climbed up one of the plantain trees. When the Principal saw him, his anger vanished, and he burst into fits of laughter saying, “This is the first time I see a human being up a plantain tree.”
In 1922, we won the Inter Collegiate Athletic Championship and Rev. Peto who had come to St.Johns as Principal, from Cambridge rated Sivasubramaniam as good as a Cambridge blue. Balasingham, later doctor and doyen of the Manipay Green Hospital, ran the mile with his tuft of hair and verbg tucked up in the ‘sandi kattu’ fashion, and got the first place.
Nevins Selvadurai went to Trinity College as Headmaster on the invitation of Rev. Fraser. He was away for about four years during which period Siva Rao and Sanjiva Rao were Principals. When he returned, he was a changed man especially in sartorial elegance, having given up his “Tharu” and donned Chesterfield coat, trousers and turban. He was a regular martinet and believed in the efficacy of the cane. When he emerged from his home in stately splendour and strode the quadrangle, there was hush all round and pupils and teachers alike settled down to serious work. Sometimes he used to walk into the tea shops in front and thrash pupils playing truant there. Once one of the victims was bold enough to remonstrate and say “I am not a pupil of Hindu but of Kilner College.” (A school near by) “If you are a pupil of Kilner College, run upto Kilner College” said our Principal, redoubling his strokes. In Vannarponnai, a centre of Hindu Culture, and where in certain parts, thugs, bullies and nautch girls haunted, he held undisputed sway and protected us and the school from harm. His testimonials carried great weight and were much sought after. In giving one to a boy of dubious conduct, he would say, “Wretched fellow, I know what you were up to here, but go and do well.” Such boys always did well in life. He attended the Ottumadam Church on Sunday mornings and on his return taught us scripture, Gospel of St. Matthew and Acts of the Apostles, a subject for the Cambridge Senior and I am glad to say I obtained distinction in it. When he retired, he lived like Mr. Chipps, close to the school. He contested and won a seat in the State Council and took a leading part in the public life of the country till he died full of years and honours.
While our Principal was an imperialist, some of the senior teachers were nationalists. Those were the days of the Home Rule Movement in India. Tilak had died and Gandhiji had returned from South Africa and was organizing the Non-Co-operation agitation. Our teachers used to tell us of those stirring times. V. Muttucumaru M.A. taught us English and History. He pioneered agriculture and colonization in Paranthan and Kilinochi in the Iranamadu area. He was also an active temperance worker and secretary of the YMHA. A man of high ideals, he tried to inculcate them in his pupils. V. Nagalingam, N. Sangarapillai, C.M. Kulasingham were the other great teachers and they were my coleagues later in JHC.
I returned to Jaffna Hindu as assistant teacher in 1940 almost in the middle of the Coomaraswamy Era, which is justly regarded as the Golden Age of JHC. Against the opposition of some directors of the college, who were always enamoured of Principals brought from other lands, A. Coomaraswarny, who had returned from the University of London with the prestigious Masters degree in Education, was appointed Principal. He set about his work very systematically and sustained it and organized the work with a perfection unknown before. V.M. Asaipillai, the Vice-Principal and V. Ponniah later a PhD, ably assisted him. V. Nagalingam, who had passed on the special post due to him, to Asaipillai to induce him to leave Parameshwara College and join JHC, and who commanded the confidence and respect of the pupils, was liaison between them and the authorities. There were vast changes and glorious achievements. A playing field adjoining the college became a reality. In our days we used to go to the esplanade for games. The carnival of 1940 proved that Hindus too could organize such fetes and set a standard for similar school carnivals. The OBA had its first annual dinner on western lines but with a strictly vegetarian menu, plantain leaves bring put over the plates to satisfy the orthodox. I proposed the toast of the guests as I did later in 1965, when Albert Pieris, the Speaker of the Parliament was the chief guest. Sir Ivor Jennings, the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ceylon, was the chief guest at our Prize Day in 1942. We won the Inter Collegiate Championships in Football first and second elevens, for three years in succession, 1941-1943, beating St. Patricks College for the first time in 1942. Captains Murugesu and Jeevaratnam, Janakan, Ramalingam, Nadarajah, Thurairatnam, Packiyarajah and Kanagalingam were outstanding. I was very helpful to Thiagarajah in coaching the team as many of the above players were in my class and I could enforce their regular attendance at practice. Valuable additions were made to the library. I taught English and Latin in the S.S.C. and English and Logic in the London Inter Arts class. Nagalingam taught the Shakespeare part of the syllabus. Five candidates sat the London Inter Arts in 1943 and all passed. Coomaraswamy had plans to start a regular under-graduate Dept. and laid the foundation for an administration block and buildings to house the laboratories; but they were abandoned when Free Education was introduced. The upper floor of the administration block is now spacious Coomaraswamy Hall. He paid the penalty for his hard work and died in harness of a heart attack, thus ending a glorious era of Jaffna Hindu.
The Pannai tragedy took place in 1943 when a launch carrying school children sank and four of our hostellers lost their lives. V. Subramaniam, called the miler, later Asst. Commissioner of Labour, and I went to Pungudutivu to pay our last respects. Subramaniam carried me on the pillion of his bicycle and he carried the bicycle into the boat at crossings of the seas. One of the dead, Muttucumaru, son of the saintly Pasupatipillai, was a very bright pupil. When we were leaving his home it was mid-day, and Pasupatipillai, in the midst of his grief, sent a man after us, offering to arrange our lunch in a brahamin’s home. This was typical of the proverbial Tamil hospitality and especially that of our brethern in the Islands.
Sir W. Duraiswamy, the Speaker of the State Council was manager and held the scales evenly and justly in the appointment of teachers. The college gained in prestige and efficiency under his management. I left JHC to become Principal of Skantha Varodaya College in December 1943. I tried to follow my Principals’ methods and whatever success I achieved in this school, I owe a good part of it for the training I received under them.
I wish to make special mention of some teachers who contributed to Hindu’s greatness. KS. Subramaniam (K.S.S.) will long be remembered by generations of hostellers. He organized the hostel and made it a valuable adjunct of the college. He showed that a vegetarian diet could be both nourishing and palatable, attracting resident pupils and not repelling them. We still savour the Friday Payasams.
Speaking at a reception to Sharvananda in his elevation to the Supreme Court Bench, he said that once he served on the jury to find that the Presiding Judge, the State and Defence counsels, the interpreter Mudaliar and even the accused were his old pupils. He resigned his wardenship owing to a disagreement with the Principal before I joined. I filled the vacancy and tried hard to maintain the standards he had set. We were a happy community. The hostellers used to march to Nallur Kanthasamy Temple on Friday mornings, singing Bakthi songs, and our worship used to be more fervent if there was a match that evening. P. Sivasothy and A. Vanniasingham, now doctors, and Appucutty were the organizers.
P. Thiagarajah’s work as Physical Director will always remain a landmark in the history of the college. He threw himself heart and soul into his work and infused a new enthusiasm for games, which were the breath of his life. Many championships were won and many records were established during his time. His services to school sports in Jaffna are worthy of mention. With the help of Pattabiraman, Vice President of the Cricket Board of Control, India, he organized the Jaffna schools cricket team’s tour of Tamil Nadu and Mysore. The Principals Association appointed me manager of the team. We played with remarkable success in all the major cities and with Christian and Presidency Colleges and with the Annamalai University. He was of immense help to me when the Principals Association entrusted me with the responsibility of inviting the Victorian schoolboys cricket team to Jaffna and arranging a match with the Jaffna schools team. When he passed away, Jaffna lost a great sportsman and a great sports promotor.
In this period the Biology Department was started and strengthened. S. Doraisamy MSc, N. Jayaseelan and V. Ramakrishnan were the teachers. Ramakrishnan was an Honours graduate of the Madras University and a good sportsman. He devoted all his time in teaching, writing Zoology books and helping the weaker pupils. Many of his pupils are medical men all over the world. Jayaveerasingham and S.V. Balasingham, later Principal, Jaffna College, were history masters and the latter founded the Historical Association. We can never forget the ebullient K.V.M., who brought sunshine into any company, the ever smiling Sara who always updated us on current affairs and was a successful physics teacher and Tamboe master, my own teacher, with his witticisms and admonitions.
Space does not permit me to write a full appreciation of the late Principals; of Asaipillai, during whose time the college had record number of passes, especially in the University entrance; of C. Sabaratnam, the old boy Principal and my classmate; of N. Sabaratnam, who stuck to his Vice-Principal’s chair and declined to sit in the Principal’s chair, even after he was confirmed and who, with his quiet efficiency, maintained the earlier standards and enhanced them considerably; of E. Sabalingam, the disciplinarian; of P.S. Kumarasarny, whose appointment was hailed by us all as ensuring the future of JHC, but who, to our utter disappointment, retired early due to ill health and passed away recently; and of Ponnampalam, the present Principal, who has steered the school through very difficult times and secured the best AL results in Jaffna this year.
Our college has produced men who have enriched life in Sri Lanka, men like Coomaraswamy, the G.A. and High Commissioner, Sri Kantha, the Permanent Secretary, Professors T. Sivaprakasapillai, P. Kanagasabapathy and K. Kailasapathy, Justices Sivasubramaniam and Sharvananda, Senators Azeez and Nadesan, Attorney General Siva Pasupati, kG. Thangarajah, C.S. Mahadevan, the entrepreneur and my own partner in school escapades and others too numerous to mention. Two years ago both the Chief Justice and the Attorney General were our old boys.
We are proud of our old boys who have been in the thick of the freedom struggle and borne the burnt of the fighting: some have laid down their lives and others are engaged in restructuring resurgent Eelam. We salute the dead heroes.
Recently I passed Ananda College and envied the magnificent buildings which have risen there in recent years. Recently I passed our own JHC and it was heart rending to see the ramshackle buildings and windows hanging on single hinges. Jaffna Hindu’s achievements are not second to Ananda’s and in some fields even superior. Then why this stepmotherly treatment on the part of the State? Can’t the State be persuaded to give us equally magnificent buildings and modern equipment, aids to teaching and learning. Won’t the old boys, scattered all over the world, come forward to supply these if the State fails to do it.
The years and events I have stated here have been written entirely from memory and I request readers to overlook inaccuracies.
May God bless Jaffna Hindu College.
Mr. C. SUBRAMANIAM, Teacher - JHC (1940-1943)
Retired Principal - Skandavarodaya College.