U. Ve. Swaminatha Iyer (Uttamadhanapuram Venkatasubbaiyer Swaminatha Iyer), 1855–1942 was a Tamil scholar and researcher who was instrumental in bringing many long-forgotten works of classical Tamil literature to light. His singular effort over five decades brought to light major literary works in Tamil and contributed vastly to the enrichment of its literary heritage. Iyer published over 91 books in his lifetime, on a variety of matters connected to classical Tamil literature, and collected 3,067 paper manuscripts, palm-leaf manuscripts and notes of various kinds. He is affectionately called Tamil Thatha (Grandfather of Tamil). 

Swaminatha Iyer was born on 19 February 1855 in the village of Suriaymoolai in the house of his maternal grandfather near Kumbakonam in present-day Tamil Nadu . Swaminatha Iyer learned Tamil literature and grammar for five years as a devoted student to Mahavidwan Meenakshisundaram Pillai, a great poet and scholar. As a student of him, he was a man of great erudition and was held in high esteem alike by his pupils and by the public. Swaminatha Iyer served as the head of the Tamil Department at the Government Arts College, Kumbakonam. 

During his tenure at the College, Swaminatha Iyer met Salem Ramaswami Mudaliar, a civil munsif, who persuaded Iyer to edit and publish the ancient Tamil classics. Swaminatha Iyer had till then confined his enjoyment of Tamil literature to medieval works. Mudaliar also gave him a handwritten copy of Seevaga Sindhamani for publication. 

As the Seevaga Sindhamani was a Jain classic, Swaminatha Iyer went to the homes of learned member of the Jain community in Kumbakonam to get some doubts cleared. He also read the Jain epics and collated several manuscript versions and arrived at a correct conclusion. It was due to his efforts that the Seevaga Sindhamani was published in 1887. From that time onwards, he began to search for Sangam classics with a view to editing and publishing them. Thus began Swaminatha Iyer& his long search for the original texts of ancient literary works during which he regularly worked with S. V. Damodaram Pillai . It was a search that lasted until his death. Many people voluntarily parted with the manuscripts in their possession. Swaminatha Iyer visited almost every hamlet and knocked at every door. He employed all the resources at his command to get at the works. As a result, a large number of literary works which were gathering dust as palm-leaf manuscripts in lofts, storerooms, boxes and cupboards saw the light of day. Of them, the Silappatikaram , Manimekalai and Purananuru were received by Tamil lovers with a lot of enthusiasm. Purananuru , which mirrored the lives of Tamils during the Sangam period, prompted scholarly research on the subject. 

Another significant contribution made by Swaminatha Iyer is in the realm of Tamil music. Until Swaminatha Iyer published the Silappatikaram , Pattupattu and Ettuthokai , music was a grey area in Tamil research. During the previous four centuries, Telugu and Sanskrit dominated the music scene in Tamil Nadu in the absence of any valuable information on Tamil music. Swaminatha Iyer & his publications threw light on the presence of Tamil music in the earlier centuries and paved the way for serious research on the subject. 

A poor teacher as he was, the Tamil Thatha sold a shawl that he had received as gift from Sethupati Raja for Rs. 300 to a Shaiva Adheenam Matadhipati in order to repay loan he had taken to publish Silappadhikaram! 

Tamil poet and nationalist Subramania Bharati , paying tribute to Swaminatha Iyer in one of his poems, equated Iyer with Saint Agasthya when he called him “Kumbamuni” (Saint Agasthiar – Who was among the first exponents of Tamil – was supposed to have been born in a ’Kumbha’ – a kind of vessel- hence the name Kumbamuni) and said: ‘So long as Tamil lives, poets will venerate you and pay obeisance to you. You will ever shine as an immortal’. The meeting of Rabindranath Thakur from Bengal and the grand old man of Tamil literature in 1926 in Chennai was a historic moment. He penned a poem in praise of Swaminatha Iyer’s efforts to salvage ancient classical Tamil literary works from palm leaf manuscripts.

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