Obituary: Dr. Ayyadurai Dhamotharan (1935-2019)

Dr. A. Dhamotharan, a Tamil scholar and former Lecturer of Tamil at  Heidelberg University, passed away on Friday, the 14th of June 2019, at the age of 84 in his hometown Thirumoolasthanam, Kattumannarkoil, Tamil Nadu.

Dhamotharan completed his schooling in and around his native town and  went to Annamalai University for higher studies. There, he earned his  B.A. (Honours) in Tamil literature (1956-59). Then, serving as a lecturer of Tamil in a college for two years, he enrolled for Ph.D. under the guideship of Prof. V.I.Subramoniam, Department of Tamil, University of Kerala. His topic of research was “The Language of Thirukkural”, a well-known classical text in Tamil. To which he applied the syntactic theory, Tagmemics, expounded by the American linguist Kenneth L. Pike, who was all helpful in sending research materials related to theoretical and applied Tagmemics. Dhamotharan submitted his Ph.D. thesis in 1966. The external examiner for his thesis was Prof. Kamil V. Zvelebil, who highly commended it. While Dhamotharan was working as a lecturer (1967-68) at the Centre for Advanced Studies in Linguistics in Annamalai University, his alma mater, he got an invite from the South Asia Institute to join the language faculty.

In 1969, Dr. Dhamotharan was appointed as Lecturer of Tamil at the South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University, Germany, by the then head of the Department of Indology Prof. Hermann Berger on the recommendation of the great Tamil and Dravidian scholar Kamil V. Zvelebil. With the appointment of Dr. Dhamotharan at Heidelberg University and Dr. P.R. Subramanian, Lecturer at Institute of Indology, University of Koeln (1972-83), Tamil Studies in Germany made a progress.

Dr. Dhamotharan worked at Heidelberg University for the next 30 years. He mastered the German language very quickly. During the ensuing three decades he taught Tamil to German students in the medium of German on all levels of the then Master’s program of Indology. While teaching Tamil in a German environment for so many years, Dr. Dhamotharan developed a fine sense of Tamil and German lexicality. He put this linguistic acquisition in use in many Tamil-German translation classes with texts of his favourite Tamil author Jeyakanthan for the great benefit of his students. He also started working on a German-Tamil dictionary. Unfortunately, this project could not be completed.

During his time at Heidelberg University, Dr. Dhamotharan co-supervised all Tamil Ph.D. projects done at the South Asia Institute; for instance, the theses on Tamil guardian deities by Eveline Meyer, on Tamil reduplication by Thomas Malten, on the grammar of Old Tamil by Thomas Lehmann, and on the Tamil verbal participle and infinitive by Jacques Deigner.

His main research interest was the editorial work of the medieval Tamil grammatical text Naṉṉūl and its various commentaries. But, first he painstakingly collected the Thirukkural quotes employed by various commentators. He classified those quotes according to the purpose for which they were cited, and his work got published in 1970. Having published also his Grammar of Thirukkural (South Asian Studies No.5, University of Heidelberg, 1972) and a Bibliography of Tamil dictionaries in 1978, Dr. Dhamotharan prepared two fine editions of the Tamil grammatical text Naṉṉūl with the commentary by Kūḻaṅkaittampirāṉ (considered lost, till he found the mss at British library and copied it in his own, highly legible handwriting and published it as it is) in 1980 and with the Viruttiyurai commentary by Caṅkaranamacivāyar (with additions of Civañāṉa Muṉivar) in 1999. In his editorial work he was highly accurate and meticulous and showed his high degree of exact scholarship. In his 1999 edition of Naṉṉūl, Dhamotharan introduced a new feature in Tamil text editing and the format was well received in Tamil Nadu.

In the year 2000, Dr. Dhamotharan retired from Heidelberg University at the age of 65 and one year later in 2001 he returned to Tamil Nadu. Known for his great expertise in Tamil text editing, he was invited by the Central Institute of Classical Tamil, Chennai, to participate in their project of preparing definite (critical) editions of classical Tamil texts.

The task of preparing a critical edition of the 8th century text Iṟaiyaṉār Kaḷaviyal was entrusted to him, which he did diligently by comparing the available palm-leaf manuscripts (published in 2013). He worked as a consulting editor for the Tamil Lexicon revision project by Madras University and also for the revised and enlarged edition of Cre-A’s Dictionary of Contemporary Tamil (2008). He served as Honorary Professor at the International Institute of Tamil Studies (2001) and as a trustee of Mozhi, A Trust for Resource Development for Language and Culture, Chennai (2003–07). He brought out another edition of Kūḻaṅkaittampirāṉ’s commentary on Naṉṉūl with additions and notes (Cre-A, 2010).

Though he had a good grounding in modern descriptive linguistics, his outlook and approach were more historical which helped him delve into the grammatical traditions of Tamil medieval commentaries.

Because of illness he lived the last few years of his life secluded at his native place in Tamil Nadu. He will always be remembered as an excellent and patient teacher, a fine and erudite scholar and a good friend to many Tamil students and scholars both in Germany and India. He is survived by his wife and two sons. He has been blessed with granddaughters and grandsons.

Dr. Thomas Lehmann
South Asia Institute, Heidelberg

Dr. P.R. Subramanian
Mozhi Trust, Chennai


A Grammar of Tirukkural – e-book

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