Mylapore Ponnuswamy Sivagnanam (Ma.Po.Si) was a Veteran Tamil Scholar and the Champion of Tamil Language and Culture.
Ma.Po.Si was an example of self-made leader, an embodiment of whatever is noble and great in Tamil tradition and culture. He belonged to a rare group of eminent personalities who, having had no formal education worth the name in a background of poverty and lack of social status, have risen. By dint of sheer self-effort to an exalted position.
Ma.Po.Si was born in the toddy-tapper community and overwhelming all odds, achieved distinction, as an eminent Tamil Scholar, a prolific writer, a silver tongued and persuasive orator who could hold spell bound the masses as well as classes, a true nationalist, with the seal of recognition earned through stints in jail for his activities in pursuance of the struggle for national independence.
A Gandhian, an educationalist, and protagonist of state autonomy without being a secessionist, and a crusader for a pre-eminent place for Tamil at all levels in education and the administration. Ma.Po.Si was a multi-faceted personality, a humanist with a cultivated taste for the Tamil Classic tradition. As a dedicated leader of Tamils, Ma.Po.Si gained recognition from the prince and the peasant alike. Ma.Po.Si with no formal education to his credit, was able to earn the honour of being conferred a doctorate, the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature Honoris causa by the Madras University in 1981, a recognition of his well earned distinction in various fields including high level research in Tamil Classics.
Ma.Po.Si was born on 26th of June 1906 of humble parentage in Salvankuppam in Thousand Lights of Madras City, to God –fearing Parents, Ponnuswamy and Sivakami, belonging to the Gramani Community, a counterpart of the Nadars of the Southern Districts.For long, Sivagnanam was known as Sivagananm Gramani, which denominational suffix he shed later.
His early education was through his devout mother, and his school term ended at the commencement of Standard III, due to poverty, his father could not buy for him the class text books. Thereafter, the wide world was his school. Sivagnanam was the eldest of the surviving three of his parents’ ten children. Sivagnanam worked on daily wage for some time and later as a weaver for eight years. Subsequently he started life as a compositor in the Pres of a Tamil Journal. Sivagnanam married Tilottamai, daughter of his maternal uncle in 1927, and after her death six months later, chose to remain single for nine years. He later married Rajeshwari in 1937, and the couple gave birth to a son named Thirunavukkarasu after the Tamil mystic poet Thirunavukkarasar and two daughters named Kannaki and Madhavi after the leading heroines of Silappathikaram, the Tamil Classic chosen by him for his research.
Serving as a compositor in a Tamil Press eked his lively-hood, he took advantage of the opportunity it gave him to study Tamil books and biographies of great men like Mahatma Gandhi. Sivagnanam earned reputation as an authentic researcher in Tamil Classics, especially Silappadhikaram for which he was conferred the title of ‘Silambu Selvar’.
In fact, he earned his credential as an eminent researcher through his work “Kappalottiya Tamizhan”, on the life of the nationalist and freedom fighter V. O. Chidambaram of the National Steam Navigation Company fame.As a freedom fighter who has faith in national integration wrote a book, Vallalarum Orumaipadum for which the Sahitya Academy awarded a prize of Rs. 5,000. His 1,000 page book entitled My Struggle (Enathu Porattam) is acknowledged as a well-written autobiography for which the Tamil Nadu Government gave a prize of 2,000 in 1981. His magnum opus was on the history of the Freedom Fighter Struggle in Tamil Nadu, published in 1982, for which the State Government presented him a cheque for Rs. One lakh in recognition of his praiseworthy Endeavour. Sivagnanam’s political career started when he enrolled himself as a Congress volunteer during the Madras Congress Session in 1927. Since then he was drawn into national movement in its various phases. He participated in the boycott of the Simon Commission in 1928 and had his first baptism of police arrest, lathi charge and imprisonment when he took part in the Salt Satyagraha on Madras Beach in 1930. The news of Gandhiji’s arrest on 4th January 1932 on his return from London ignited the spark of nationalism in Sivagnanam and that marked the beginning of his two decades of active association formally under the banner of national organization.
Since then he took taken part in all the activities of the Congress with enthusiasm, and this gave him an opportunity to cultivate his oratorical skills by address public meetings. Simultaneously, his association with trade unions also began which brought him in contact with well known trade union leaders like V. V. Giri. Ma.Po.Si went to jail six times as a Congress worker.While undergoing a jail term in Amaravati under hard conditions in 1943 his health suffered a serious setback he narrowly escaped death.He has written in his autobiography that it was when he got a message that his beloved wife was in her death bed, and that on similar crisis, his firm faith in God helped him maintain his mental calm. Ma.Po.Si was elected as a member of the Madras District Congress Committee in 1936; as a Join Secretary in 1937; as Secretary in 1938 in which post he served till 1946. In 1951 he was elected as Vice-President of the Madras District Congress Committee.
Sivagnanam’s interest in Tamil Classics grew and his silent and sustained research on Silapadhikaram progressed. Ma.Po.Si was an enlightened lover of Tamil.. His prime aim was to see that Tamil becomes the medium of instruction at all levels of education and the language of administration in the State.All along in his public life, Ma.Po.Si had managed successfully to evince interest both in politics and literary activities side by side. He has written nearly 120 books big and small in Tamil both political and literary aspects.
Sivagnanam was also a writer of repute in Tamil. He was the editor of Senkole which became the vehicle of his ideas on matters of political and literary. His style is simple, direct and appealing alike to the common man and the learned scholar. He wielded a facile and versatile pen. He was noted for his sense of humor. Of no robust health, Ma.Po.Si lived long with gastric ulcer, an ailment which started when he was in Amaravati prison. But he never allowed his disability to impede his political and literacy activities. Having started his life in acute poverty and being by non means affluent, he did not allow the lack of material resources to deter him from his work. Recognition came to him unasked, and his work, his dedication to nationalist, literary and cultural causes compelled acknowledgement.
Ma.Po.Si became an M.L.C in 1952. He later became the Chairman of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council,having been Deputy Chairman before.Sivagnanam had taken part in the international Tamil Conferences and has visited foreign countries wherever Tamil Speaking people live and flourish. A review of Ma.Po.Si’s work will be incomplete without a reference to his activities as an Alderman of Madras City Corporation (1948-1954) when he served on the Education Committee. Posterity cannot afford to forget the valuable services rendered by him as Chairman, Local Library Authority, Madras (1954-1957).
He was an Member of Legislative Assembly elected from T-Nagar Constituency of the City of Madras.He was an indefatigable worker, a scholar, a politician, an inspiring and convincing campaigner and orator, a real nationalist bound by Gandhian ethics, a Journalist with a mission, a writer of number of books and articles, and above all a servant for Tamil Cause.
Many are the titles conferred on him in recognition of his services. He was awarded Padmashri in 1972. Ma.Po.Si’s association with the University of Madras dates back to 1952. When he was elected to the Senate by legislators of the composite Madras State. Later on, he was nominated twice by the Chancellor of the University of Madras to serve on the Syndicate from 1972 to 1976. He was the unique honor of being invited by the Madras University to deliver the Convocation Address on December 31, 1981.
Silambu Selvar died on October 3rd 1995.Hon'ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Dr. Kalaignar M Karunanidhi on August 15th tuesday 2006 released commemorative postage stamp issued by the Department of Posts on freedom fighter and Tamil scholar Silambu Selvar M.P. Sivagnanam(Ma.Po.Si.) and also unvieled statue of Silambu Selvar on February 9th in T.Nagar,Chennai. Check Out The Works of Dr. Ma.Po.Si