Sanskrit constituted a common base for the culture of the Sinhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka from very early times. It has been fostered by both the communities and has its impact on their languages and cultural traditions. Sanskrit has played an important role in the evolution and development of the cultural and religious heritage of the Sri Lankans the Tamils and the Sinhalese as in the sub-continent of India. Eminent Sri Lankan Tamils had a view of importance and relevance of Sanskrit studies to our Tamil culture. In this connection, SwamiVipulananda the first Professor of Tamil in India and Sri Lanka said “The people of this country (Sri Lanka) should willingly study the ancient classical languages Pali and Sanskrit and “Scholarship in Tamil, Sanskrit and Western arts should spread in Jaffna. Further he expressed in the twenties regarding the importance of establishing a University in Jaffna. Panditamani S. Kanapathyppillai a great Saiva scholar in Navalar tradition has said “Sanskrit and Tamil are father and mother: father and mother are (like) the God”. Hindu institutions and religious movements were promoted Sanskrit studies among Sri Lankan Tamils. Sanskrit has been taught in the Gurukula traditions from very early times. Jaffna College and Paramesvara College provided Sanskrit classes for the External Degree Examinations of the University of London. At that time students opting for a degree in Arts should have offered a classical language like Sanskrit, Pali, Latin, etc. at the Matriculation/ G.C.E. (A/L) examination. The Tamil students who aspired for the arts degree mostly opted to offer Sanskrit as it was the classical language closer to their religion and culture and for which teachers were available locally. (Sivasamy V, 1992)
It was for the first time that Sanskrit teachers and others interested in Sanskrit learning in Jaffna got together to work for the promotion of Sanskrit studies in the early fifties. Jaffna Sanskrit Association functioned very effectively in the fifties with S. Natesan as President and Dr. M. D. Balasubrahmanyam as the Secretary Dr. W. P. Ananda Guruge (who was then working in Jaffna as a Civil servant) helped the association in a significant way.
The association had a conference at Paramesvara College where the then Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Ceylon, Dr. O. H. De A. Wijesekara delivered two lectures. The association published a souvenir also (Balasubramaniam M D, nd)
Impact of Sanskrit on Society
Sanskrit consciousness is alive in the life and culture of the people. Even a cursory glance at the changes taking place in the Sri Lankan Tamil Society, say during the past few years, will not fail to notice this aspect. One may very briefly refer to two aspects of Sanskrit consciousness among Tamils. One is with reference to names of children and the second regarding the growing interest for temple worship based on Saivagamas and Paddhaties .The stories and ideals of the Epics and Puranas continue to be cherished by the Hindu population. In this respect, the Skanda Purana, Ramayana and Mahabharata may be mentioned in particular.
Sanskrit at University level
Sanskrit was provided as a subject at the University College in Colombo and later at the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya since its inception in 1942. Department of Sanskrit University of Peradeniya facilitated advanced research in Sanskrit and Indological Studies by both local and international students and scholars. Sanskrit education and research culture initiated and nourished by the World-renowned Sanskrit scholars from this University, namely Prof. O. H. De A. Wijesekara, Jayadeva Thilakasiri, and Ratna Handurukande. (http://arts.pdn.ac.lk , 2021) The number of students offering Sanskrit among the Tamils was high in the University of Ceylon in nineteen sixties. Tamil educationists, especially Sir P. Ramanathan, Mr. S.Kandiah, Prof.K.Kanapathippillai, Prof.K. KailasanathaKurukkal, Mrs.B. Thanabalasingam, Mr. R. Balasubramaniyam, Prof. A. Sathasivam, and Mr.S. Murugaverl distinguished themselves as Sanskrit scholars at the University level. Currently five Universities offering Sanskrit in Sri Lanka, i.e., University of Jaffna, University of Kelaniya, University of Sri Jayawardhenapura, Universiy of Peradeniya and Swami Vipulanantha Institute of Aesthetics Studies attached to Eastern University Sri Lanaka to deliver quality undergraduate, postgraduate, and non-degree programs. They are committed to disseminate, to all interested parties, not only the knowledge of Sanskrit language and related disciplines but also that of becoming a refined person imbued with rich human values. Notably they have widened the horizons of Sanskrit studies to attract students from outside the discipline, such as those on Archaeology, History, Fine Arts, Sinhala, Buddhist, Tamil & Pali Studies, Philosophy, Hindu Civilization, Linguistics, Dance, Music, Ayurvedic Medicine, Saivasiddhanta.
Origin of the Department of Sanskrit, University of Jaffna
The University of Jaffna was first established on 6th of October 1974 as the Jaffna Campus of the University of Sri Lanka, offering Courses in Science and Humanities. In 1979 with the implementation of the Universities act no 16 of 1978; it became an independent and autonomous University as the University of Jaffna. During the year 1975 the Faculty of Humanities had 10 departments namely Economics, Geography, History, Hindu Civilization, Sanskrit, Tamil, Sinhala, English, Arabic and Philosophy. Among them only five were functional during the year 1974. (Kailasapathy, 1974)
Department of Sanskrit was one of the five departments functioning from the inception of the Faculty of Humanities, inaugurated on 6th October 1974. Sanskrit has been taught in the beginning by a lecturer from the Department of History, Mr.V.Sivasamy who happened to be qualified in Sanskrit. Later in 1975 he was the only lecturer in the Department of Sanskrit. Sanskrit was also offered as a compulsory subject by the undergraduates and postgraduates following the Special Courses in Hindu Civilizations. (Annual report, 1975). It is to be noted that the first Ph.D. degree conferred by the University of Jaffna has been on the Saivagamas and Silpasastras.
Prof.V.Sivasamy has been served as Head of the Department until 1998 from the inception. He was succeeded by Mrs.K.Ramanathan until 2000. Mrs.S.Jeganathan served as Head of the Department during the period of 2000-2004 and 2006 to 2015. Dr. (Mrs.) V.Sivasanthiran assumed headship during the period of 2004 to 2006. Mr.S.Padmanaban served as Head of Department since 2015 to 2018. Currently Dr. M.Balakailasanathasarma is serving as Head of the Department since December 2018 –up-to-date.
The Special degree course of Sanskrit was introduced in 1979. There were 07 students offering Sanskrit for the Special degree in 2001. This number has drastically come down over the years. There are only 04 students doing Sanskrit Special in 2009. But the Department of Sanskrit helps a number of other Departments in the University in teaching Sanskrit to those students who specialize in other subjects than Sanskrit. Thus basic Sanskrit is taught as a course unit for the four-year Special degree courses of Hindu Civilization, Hindu Philosophy, Tamil, Music and Dance. During the year 2009 there are 06 students offering Tamil, 36 students offering Dance and 39 offering Music as their special subjects learning Sanskrit. In 2007 there were 16 students from the Department of Hindu Culture and Hindu Philosophy who studied Sanskrit as a subject. Meddegama Udaya, Marasinghe Walter, Dhammaratana Indurugare (2009)
Presently the Department of Sanskrit has functioning with four academic staff members among them three are Senior Lecturers and one unconfirmed. The Department has also enlisted the services of one Assistant Lecturer on contract. It is endeavored to offer the richest and most comprehensive Sanskrit course in Sri Lanka for the undergraduates in Sanskrit Special and General Degree Programs.
Courses offered by the Department
Presently the Department of Sanskrit is offering two degree courses in Sanskrit, a General degree programme of three-year duration and a Special degree programme of four-year duration. Department of Sanskrit has been promoting Sanskrit teaching and learning for Post graduate degree programmes such as MA in Saivasiddhantha and MA in Tamil and research works for M.Phil and PhD programmes through the Faculty of Graduate Studies of the University of Jaffna. Department of Sanskrit is now planning to offer a self-financing coursed namely “Advanced Certificate in Sanskrit” for the beginners who do not have any knowledge of Sanskrit.
Human resources of the Department
• Mrs.S.Jeganathan Senior Lecturer Gr I
• Mr. S. Padmanaban Senior Lecturer Gr II
• Dr.M.Balakailasanathasarma Senior Lecturer Gr I
• Mr.S.Navaneethakrishnan Lecturer Unconfirmed