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The Thembavani (A Garland of Unfading Honey-Sweet Verses, An Epic in Pure Tamil)

The Thembavani (A Garland of Unfading Honey-Sweet Verses, An Epic in Pure Tamil)
Item Code: NAW601
Author: Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi & M Dominic Raj
Publisher: M. Dominic Raj. Publisher, Chennai
Language: English and Tamil
Edition: 2019
ISBN: 97853610180
Pages: 750
Other Details: 11.00 X 9.00 inch
weight of the book: 1.99 kg
About the Authors
Costanzia Giuseppe Beschi was born in the town of Castiglione delle Stiviere in the district of Mantua on November 8, 1680. He finished his secondary education at the Jesuit School in Montero where the three subjects of rhetoric, humanities and grammar were taught.; Desiring to become a priest, he joined the Society of Jesus imp 1698 and studied philosophy for three years from 1701-1703 in Bologna, and theology for four years from 1706-1710. He was ordained priest in 1709. His studies included not only philosophy and religion but also the learning of languages like Latin, French, Portuguese, Greek, and Hebrew.

On hearing about the work done in India by the Jesuits returning to Italy from India, Beschi was eager to come to India. He was sent by his superiors to India in 1710 and landed in Goa and then came to join the Madurai Province of the Jesuits. Though he was given priestly duties in plenty which involved a lot of travelling, he passionately followed his desire to master the local language, literature and culture. He studied Sanskrit, Tamil as well as Telugu from pundits. He gained mastery in Tamil and because of his boldness in defending the correctness of his convictions; he was fondly called by people as Dhairiyanathar (The Fearless Guru). His magnum opus Thembavani was presented for ratification as a classic in the Academy of Poets (Sangam) and received their approval and the poet was given the title Veeramanunivar (The Courageous Ascetic). His other works on Tamil grammar, lexicon, minor poems, translation of the first two parts of Thiruk-kural into Latin, books on religious matters, commentaries on Tamil literature, the first Tamil prose novel Parramatta Guruvum Seedarkalum (Parramatta Guru and his Disciples), and verses in praise of Mary are too many to be mentioned in detail here. Not much is known about his last years spent in India and we are only told that his mortal remains are buried in a cemetery in the town of Sampler in Kerala. Most writers claim that he died at Manapar (near the Coromandel Coast) in 1747.

But, the first biographer of Beschi, A. Mutt swami Pilli (Manager of the College of Fort St. George) who wrote the biography first in Tamil at the instance of F. W. Ellis, and later himself translated it into English and published it in 1840 through the same College at Madras writes on page 23 thus: "He died at Manapar in the year 1742." Beschi's last days, death, place of burial, and other such things are as amazing as his life and his works.

M Dominic Raj was born on January 6, 1942 at Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu. He completed his schooling at Campion High School in 1958 and his PUC in 1960 at St. Joseph's College, Tiruchirapalli (both run by Jesuits). He completed a three year course in philosophy in Latin medium at Salesian College, Yaracuy when he was with the Silesians of Don Bosco for a few years. After working for five years as a school teacher, he resigned his job and joined M. A (English) course at St. Joseph's College, Tiruchi, and passed it securing the 3rd rank in the undivided University of Madras in 1972. He learnt his English from Fr. Hession S. J. while in school and from Fr. T. N. Sequiera, Fr. Lawrence Sundaram, (Jesuits) and Professors P. Marudanayagam, A. Joseph, M. S. Nagarajan and others. He learnt the audacity to criticize even the canons of Philip Sidney, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Arnold and others from Prof. S. Ramasamy, who was engaged by the college to take classes after his retirement from service as Head; Dept. of English, Presidency College. In 1975, he left St. Joseph's College and joined VHNSN College, Virudhunagar as Asst. Prof. of English. In 1981, he completed the Post Graduate Diploma in the Teaching of English course conducted by the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad. He obtained his Ph. D. degree in1989 from Madurai Kamaraj University after research on the topic 'Indian Contribution to English Literary Criticism' under the table guidance of Prof. P. Marudanayagam. He retired as Reader and Head of the Department of English, VHNSN College, in the year 2000.

His interest in Tamil Classical Literature came about when he worked as Chief Resource Person, Department of Translation, Central Institute of Classical Tamil, and Chennai (from 2009 to 2013). He had to edit the English translations of Classical Tamil Texts (some in verse and some in prose) carried out by some of the highly reputed translators at that time A. K. Ramanujan, PremaNandakumar, Alan Danielou, J. V. Chellaiah, Nalladi R. Balakrishna Mudaliar, P. N. Appusamy, K. G. Seshadri and several more. After leaving the Institute, thinking of contributing something to Tamil literature, he thought of translating Thembavani which was much talked about but about which no worthwhile scholarly work had been done. In fact, the text itself was not easily available, much less the facts about Beschi's life and his works. It is hoped that through this translation Themba-vani will no longer be discarded by the very people for whom it was written and that it will spur the younger generation to engage itself in serious academic work, and that all who read it will enjoy the extraordinary poetic genius of Veeramamunivar and the sweetness of his poetic diction.


Ph. D. (English), Ph. D. (Tamil), D. Litt. (Tamil) Former Director, Pondicherry Institute of Linguistics & Culture (PILL) Former Officer In-Charge & Fellow - The Department of Translation Central Institute of Classical Tamil (CICT) (An Autonomous Institute under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Govt: of India) Taramani, Chennai - 600 113 Tamilnadu, India

Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi (1689-1747), calling himself Viramdmunivar, spent thirty-six years of his life as a Catholic missionary in South India. As a prolific writer who could master Tamil language and literature, he has several scholarly works in prose and verse to his credit. The huge list includes Grammar of Kotuntamil (1728), Grammar of Centamil (1730), Tonniil Vilakkam (1730), Caturakarati (1732), Tempavani (1726), Kitteriyammal Ammanai (1723), Tirukkavaliirkkalampakam, Vetavilakkam (1727), Petaka Maruttal (1728), Vetiyar Olukkam (1730), Paramartta Kuruvin Katai (1744), of which the epic Tempavani is his acknowledged magnum opus.

About Beschi's zealous study of Tamil, Louis-Noel de Bourzes wrote in the Annual Letter of 1715:

Father Beschi gave himself to the study of Tamil Poetry; for nothing in the country is esteemed more than this study. In the space of a few months he made more progress in it than any other missionary since the foundation of the Mission. The result is that he writes Tamil verses most elegantly, and what is more difficult, he has read the ancient poets with much profit. From these poets he will one day be able to make a choice of beautiful maxims for the formation of good manners, and of excellent arguments in support of the Faith with these people who trust implicitly only their poets.

That the Tamil community had great regard for its poets and admiration for literary Tamil was often emphasized by him. Like Rev. G. U. Pope, who did it much later, Beschi advised his missionary students to learn the higher dialect of Tamil in order to win the respect and trust of the natives:

That the study will be one of considerable difficulty, I do not pretend to deny; but the labor will not want its reward Among the natives themselves, very few can now be found who masters of the higher dialect are. He among them, who is acquainted even with its rudiments, is regarded with respect; but should he quote their abstruse works, he is listened to with fixed admiration; what praise, then, would they not bestow on a foreigner, whom they should find deeply versed in a science which they themselves consider scarcely attainable? They will readily attend to the teaching of one whose learning is the object of their admiration.

It is reliably reported that Tempavani, an epic containing 3,615 tetrastichs in thirty-six cantos, was completed in 1726 and that a prose interpretation was added to each verse in 1729. Following the character-is tics of a traditional Tamil epic, Beschi's long poem narrates the story of Saint Joseph from his birth to his sanctification after death. That Beschi was aware of the salient features of the prestigious Tamil genre and took the utmost care to follow in the footsteps of the great Kamban, the celebrated author of Ramayana, is evident from what he he says about the Tamil epics.

They generally take up the narrative or fable above, at the beginning. It is also an invariable rule, after the invocation, and the statement of the subject, to open the poem with a description of the hero's country, and the capital where he is supposed to have reigned or flourished; and these are represented in the most favorable colors, not such as they are believed to have been, but such as the poet chooses to describe them. In this description. The rains which descend in the mountains, the streams which flow from them, and the con-sequent fertility of the country, never fail to have their place.

Tempavani was praised by many European scholars who could recognize its supreme merit as a Tamil epic. Robert Caldwell, for instance, feels that it is comparable to some of the greatest works in Tamil:

The Tempavani is not only remarkable as being the production of a European pen, but in itself is a poem of wonderful excellence as regards its poetical conception, its structure, its style, its beauty of versification, and the vast erudition displayed in it. I am not aware of a poem, written by a European, in any of the languages of India, and acknowledged by Hindu pandits as a thoroughly classic production; save this one . . . the beauty of its verscation is unparalleled in Tamil literature. As a poetical production, it ranks with the works of Tayumanavar, Tiruvalluvar, the authors of Milatiyar, the author of the Cintamaui and Kamban. Higher praise" can scarcely be accorded ...even when the great Italian gets into metaphysics, and involves himself in abstruse controversial statements with reference to the attributes of the deity, fate, and the origin of sin, his language is as vivid and his periods as sonorous, as Milton's verse, when he rolls out merrily a catalogue of Chaldaic names, and holds the reader amazed and entranced by the grandeur and magic of his thunderous rhythm.

Though some of the German and French missionaries of the nineteenth century both Catholic and Protestant admired "the beauty of its poetry and of the events it portrays", they had their own reservations about Tempavani’s value as a guide to "an understanding of the true religion and eternal salvation," leading to the conversion of a large number of Hindus to Christianity. It was F. W. Ellis (1777-1819), a distinguished member of the Madras Civil Service, who was largely responsible for the revival of interest in Beschi's writings. He arrived in India as a young civilian and passionately devoted himself to the cause of political, social, religious and linguistic histories of the southern part of India. The Life History of Veeramamunivar was commissioned by him and Appavu Muttuswami Pillai wrote what Stuart Blackburn calls 'the first modem literary biography in Tamil'. We come across learned discussions of Hinduism, Christianity and Jainism in his commentary on Tirukkural. For an authoritative presentation of the Christian views on theological subjects such as the name and nature of God, the soul and its spiritual progress, the cycle of births, and human destiny, the source that Ellis prefers is Beschi's Tempavani. While commenting on the eight-fold attributes of God referred to in one of the couplets of Tirukkural, Ellis includes his own English rendering of the two stanzas 156 and 157 together with the prosaic gloss, of the twenty-seventh patalam of Tempavani.

Infinite goodness extending to all and the absolute deprivation of all defects, these two are the appropriate and unvarying attributes of the true God, worthy to be adored by all. From this root the six attributes by which the wise have endeavored to convey a knowledge of the true God have arisen like branches; they say that he who possesses all these is God, but that he who is deficient in one must, also, be deficient in the rest and consequently, not God Therefore, said Joseph, even as they attempt to depict in ink the sun with unnumbered beams, will I in language all inadequate endeavor to explain the six attributes of the deity.

Existing by himself, existing without beginning; existing independently of the organs of sense; being possessed of everlasting and universal goodness; pervading all space; being the first cause by which all things were created at once and without assistance; these six attributes describe the divine nature of the true God, worthy to be adored in the heavens, shining like gold, and in all worlds (pp. 20-21).


Former: Reader & Head (Dept. of English): V H. N. S. N. College, Virudhunagar Former: Chairman: P G. Board of Examiners (semester) of Madurai Kamaraj University U G. Board of Paper Setters (semester) of Monomania Sundaranar University Former: Chief Resource Person, The Department of Translation Central Institute of Classical Tamil (CICT) An Autonomous Institute under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Govt. of India, Taramani, Chennai - 600 113, Tamilnadu, India.

This translation is an attempt by me to capture for the reader, who does not know Tamil or has only a basic knowledge of it, the innumerable beauties of Thembavani that was written nearly three hundred years ago not by a Tamilian but by an Italian. That Italian is Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi who came to India to work as a Jesuit priest in the Madurai Province. His life and works are detailed in the biography written by A. Muttuswami Pillei and can be read in electronic format on the internet. Here, I am dealing only with Beschi the poet and writer.


In the opening stanza itself Veeramamunivar (`Munivar' for short) says that the aim of his writing the epic was "in order to primarily propagate virtue".

O Marvelous God, mighty Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of the three worlds, O Transcendent One, with nothing to compare with directly, let me prostrate myself

At Your pure, honeyed, lotus feet, praise you so that my past sins may be removed,

And narrate the story of Valan the Excellent in order to primarily propagate virtue!

The narration of the story of Valan (Valan) (Joseph) is only a means to that end. Hence, this translation has tried to capture the richness of the epic characteristics of the poem. Munivar wrote this epic to demonstrate the richness of the Tamil language, Tamil traditions, Tamil poetics and prosody, as also the epic conventions in Tamil poetry. His masterly knowledge of these factors is in evidence in his two major works written in Latin A Grammar of the Common Dialect of the Tamil Language (1728) and A Grammar of the High Dialect of the Tamil Language (1730). In the second book (translated into English by Benjamin Guy Babington from Latin and published in 1822 by The College Press, Madras) Munivar deals extensively and in depth with all aspects of Tamil prosody taking examples from several other Tamil Classical works like Viracoliyam, Nannul, Civakacintamatti (simply called Cintamani by Munivar), Tirukkural, and Kamparamayanam. Munivar gives half a dozen examples from his own Thembavani. Space does not permit me to deal in detail with the English translation of those six stanzas.


Pious Christian scholars concentrate on the Biblical episodes found in the epic and think that it was written to explain Christianity and to propagate it. Munivar has written several other books connected specifically with the Christian religion like Veta Vilakkam (1727) and Vetiyar Olukkam (1730) which explains the Catholic religion and the guidelines that must be followed by Catechists (lay preachers). Hence, there was no need for him to deal with Christianity in the epic.

I have used the term 'religious' and not 'Christian' in describing the epic. Throughout the epic Munivar uses the term 'true religion' to contrast it with the religious beliefs of the Egyptians when Joseph was in Egypt as a refugee. Joseph died m6ch before Jesus Christ's starting of his ministry and hence to say that it deals with Christianity is not proper. Munivar has skillfully woven the episodes in the Old Testament and the New Testament to serve his poetic structure. One example will suffice. When the Divine Son (as a lad) reveals to Joseph the way He would die by saying:

But, I, by myself suffering so that no one else will suffer to attain salvation, by shedding my blood establishing itself as an ambrosial medicine, and dying, will gain victory.

Joseph asks Him how men may be able to keep themselves away from sin and the devils after His death. To this question the lad says that He would appoint worthy men as His followers who will continue His work and that He would institute seven sacraments that will help them lead virtuous lives from birth to death. This is how religious elements are woven into the epic. The religion of the Divine Son is referred to as 'true Scriptures' (mey curuti), 'excellent religion' (Nan marai), and so on. More than religious text it is a spiritual treatise in pure poetry that will make anyone who reads it become a virtuous person.

Among the texts of the epic in circulation I have mostly used the text provided by Prof. V. Maria Anthony, who has written a wonderful prose rendering of the epic and has also commented on some tricky passages. His text is most probably the most recent of the texts available. He himself put together his text after studying all the earlier texts that were available. His work in three volumes was published in 1982. I have also used the sub-tiles provided by him. Munivar did not use any sub-titles for the sub-sections in his epic. As was the tradition, he indicated a change or sub-section in the narrative with the heading `veru' (different). He gave titles only to each Section (patalam).

I have given the sandhi-separated text as a free "add-on" to help the newcomers to Classical Tamil poetry. Though Classical Tamil poetry does not carry punctuation marks, I have used them in the text for an easier understanding of the text by those unfamiliar with pure Classical Tamil texts.

Book's Contents and Sample Pages

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