Sunday, December 7, 2014

Saint Pavanandi, Critic and Teacher.*

[* Reprinted from the Indian Patriot with kind permission for the benefit of our readers – Ed. L. T.]

    The devotion of the Jains to the enrichment and extension of Tamil Literature cannot be overrated. Amon their immortal works may be mentioned the Nannul, composed by the Jain ascetic, Pavanandi of Janakapuram, about Conjevaram, at the request of Siva Ganga, a tributary prince under Kulottungachola III. Though based on Tolkappiyam, the oldest Tamil grammar extant, and though the prefatory lines refer to the work having been perfected in all its five parts of letters, words, matter, prosody and rhetoric, the renowned and most popular work of the ascetic treats of the first two sections alone; and whatever be the fate of the other three parts devoured by time or by white ants, the fragment shows what a clear thinker, analyst and systematiser the author was and how the lapse of seven centuries has not robbed it of a tithe of its original freshness and charm. The exordium to this excellent treatise affords materials to us wherewith to form a true estimate of the sage in his double capacity of critic and teacher.

    As a critic he has laid down canons of criticism which, examined under the search-light of modern works on the subject, are a medley of processes of thought and diction but, looked at with the spectacles of seven hundred years ago, speaks volumes of the author's keen judgment and judicious selection of materials. According to him a classic is god - given or god –inspired, supplemental or derivative; and a supplemental classic is marked off from the derivative by the degree and extent of their divergence from the original in respect of subject-matter and treatment. If the divergence be small and in minor matters, it is called supplemental; if large and in important items, it is known as derivative classic. But both supplemental and derivative classics are bound to quote the textual sutras without garbling or mutilation. Every classic is intended to teach virtue, wealth, pleasure and bliss, and to embody one of the seven objects contemplated by the author. It is the critic's first function to see if the composer of a classical work has fallen in or out with the long established truths or doctrines, or accepted and rejected then in part, or refuted them, or has established a brand new truth, or has, in cases if dilemma, when doctors disagreed, embraced a cause most convincing to aim or has picked holes in the writings of others, or has expounded his own view of a matter independent of the light shed upon it by the others. After he has made out the motif or the rationale of a classic the critic then begins to sit in judgment upon it with a view to display its beauties and to ferret out its flaws, and demonstrates that his function is not, as it is popularly imagined, one-sided, viz., the detection of weak points, but two-sided, discovering faults and excellence alike. The faults that an expert eye lights upon in examining a new work as it does upon specks in precious gems, are ten in number. Excessive brevity leads to obscurity. Diffuseness is its antipodes. Frequent repetitions induce disgust and tediousness. Inconsistency is flat contradiction. Impurity consists in the use of foreign, slang, vulgar or provincial terms in a dignified composition. Ambiguity leaves the mind in doubt as to meaning. Verbosity is applied to a collection of words full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. Digression is a disproportionate expansion of a subordinate idea which distracts the mind from the main topic. By languid close is meant the gradual weakening of the strength in thought and expression as the work comes to a close. Pleonasm is a redundant use of words which needs to be lopped off. A good classic must then shun these faults - over brevity, diffuseness, iteration, inconsistency, impurity, ambiguity, verbosity, digression, flagging, pleonasm; and it must possess the ten beauties enumerated below: perspicuity, interest, exquisite expression, depth, good mapping of the subject, systematic ordering of the topics, pregnant significance, conformity with good usage, choice-illustrations. The critic's next function is to examine the use or employment of the yuktis or devices, which are thirty-two as mentioned in the Nannul. These include the afore-mentioned seven topics, ten faults and ten beauties, to which are added five points anew. The theme must be stated at the outset. The old and archaic things must be brushed off and new ones espoused. Testimony and authority must be relied on. Reference must be made, prospective and retrospective. Relevancy and cogency must be demonstrated. All these thirty-two devices were pressed into service in the composition of a measurable work, and the sutras of which it consisted required commentaries or bhashyas on account of their laconism. Since the bhashyas often formed part and parcel of old classics and were classics in themselves, the critic was enjoined the additional duty of pronouncing his opinion and passing his Judgment on the worth of the commentaries in respect of each of their fourteen characteristics viz, pure text, purport, construing, word-meaning, paraphrasing, citing parallel passages, questioning, answering queries, adding fresh explanatory matter, free exposition, the relevancy of the sutras comprising chapters or sections, giving the meaning boldly in doubtful cases, the result of this, and quoting authority. If the commentaries comprise a few of these points, as purport, lexicon, illustration and catechism, they are called Kandihais or brief bhashyas; if they exemplify all and are lucid in their exposition, they are known as elaborate or diffuse bhashyas or Viruthis.

    The Pedagogics of Pavanandhi fall into two main divisions, (a) the qualifications of the teacher and the qualities of the pupil, and (b) how to teach and to learn. A teacher, according to the sage, must be a man of high birth. Those that have risen from the ranks have generally none of the ring of magnanimity and broad-mindedness; and however high their intellectual culture, the narrowness of their heart peeps out at times and tinges all their sayings and doings. He must have a rich endowment of good-will and mercy and patience. Where these virtues are wanting, the schoolmasters are the veritable brethren of Mr. Squeers in Dicken's Nicholas Nickleby, and their schools are none other than Do-the-boys-halls. Where love rules, the rod has no place. The impatience of modern teacher is much to be regretted, and the deterioration in the quality of the present-day-product is due to the lack of this essential element of success. Good temper counts more than intellectual equipment, and a knowledge of the ways of the world is a necessary supplement and corrective to the bookish or ideal view of life and its doings. It is a common reproach that the Schoolmaster is an unpractical man. The prince of dramatists and the prince of novelists have not spared him. A teacher must be in touch with everything that goes on the world and is expected to be a walking cyclopedia. A clouded mind is worse than a vacant brain. Above all a teacher must have faith in God, respect himself, and command the respect of the world. Lack of self-respect leads to loss of public esteem, and the status of the teacher has gone down of lack Busbyism. † [† Dr. "Richard Busby" (1606 – 1695), the most famous of English Schoolmasters, was appointed Headmaster of Westminster School in 1640, and discharged the duties of his office until his death. He is the type of pedagogues alike for learning, assiduity and the application of the birch. As a most successful teacher for over half a century, he bred up the greatest number of learned scholars that ever adorned any age or nation. Once when the Sovereign of the land paid a visit to his school, Dr. Busby took his Majesty over the class-rooms with his hat on, and when he was asked how he had dared to neglect that politeness which was due to kings, he replied that he had dared to neglect that politeness which was due to kings, he replied that he was the monarch of his realm and that within, the four corners of his little kingdom, his pupils should not know that there was a greater man then he.] Pavanandhi has compared a teacher to the earth, a mountain, a balance, and a flower. Like the earth, his knowledge must be wide and deep and solid, his patience exemplary, and his teaching productive. Like the mountain, his intellectual wealth must be inexhaustible and varied, his eminence conspicuous and unassailable, and his generosity disinterested and unequitable. Like the balance, he must resolve doubts, be true, just and impartial to all. Like the flower, he must draw the world to himself by his personal fascination, amiable manners, and sine qua nou character. The saint deprecates incommunicativeness, meanness, deceit, envy, avarice, intimidation on the part of a teacher and likens such an incompetent teacher to a pot of marbles, a rough palmyra, a cotton-stuffed Demi-John, and a slanting coconut tree. The immethodical teacher is like a jar of marbles and works without a plan. The inaccessible teacher is like the rough-barked palmyra whose fruit cannot be reached unless it drops of itself. The imperfect teacher is like the Demi-John, hard to put in and hard to take out. The negligent teacher, like the slanting coconut palm, helps strangers and not his own benefactors. A good teacher selects a suitable place, chooses a fit hour, invokes god on a dais, and imparts his knowledge in a clear and methodical manner, amiably, willingly and directly with a due regard to the capacity of the learner. The learner may be his own son, the son of his Guru, a prince, one who will pay well, or who will be serviceable to him in the years to come, or who is very intelligent. Learners are of three orders. The wrangles or the top men are discriminative like the swan and reflective like the cow. The optimes or middling class are receptive like the sand and unoriginal in their talk like the parrot. The wooden spoons or the lowest resemble cracked pots that let out everything, are capricious like goats, muddling like buffaloes, and retentive of drugs like the ghee-strainers. The Saint proceeds to tell us who are unfit to learn and to whom no instruction should be imparted. They are the lazy, the sleepy, the indigent, the tipsy, the conceited, the dull-headed, the lusty, the sickly, the thievish, the sulky, the despondent, the cruel, the vile, and the lying. The reclamation of these unworthiness is engaging the attention of the modern educators and statesmen; and as there is a soul of goodness in things evil, the good points in them must be taken advantage of and improved lest they bye damned as irretrievables and incurables. According to the Saint, punctual attendance, willing, cheerful, and implicit obedience, thirst for knowledge, mental concentration, a ready ear, an eager mind, and a retentive memory are the distinguishing marks of good pupils, which he calls their duties.

    The next section of his Pedagogics deals with the methods of study. Every careful student aims at a mastery of the usages of the language he learns, revises and re-revises what he has learnt, digests and assimilates what he has received, repairs to his master to clear his doubts and to bring on what is sublime, seeks the society of enlightened men, and discusses with them what he takes to be difficult or knotty or intricate. A study of the usages is of greater importance than the parrot-like learning and facilitates clearer understanding. By going to the master often, the pupil gains opportunities to know at first-hand what is to be learnt in cases of doubt and difficulty and to revive in his mind what has passed into the limbo of things forgotten. Digestion and assimilation are operations as essential to the health of the mind as they are to bodily health. Undigested or ill digested crudities breed diseases. To be in constant touch with learned men is a way of adding to and improving one's stock, and to debate and discuss with them clarifies one's powers of understanding and makes things, otherwise formidable, very easy to learn and to keep. No pupil can attain perfection by merely sitting at the feet of his Guru and gleaning his sapience. He must supplement what he has gathered from his teacher by moving in learned societies and when he turns out a teacher his progress approaches completion, and when he makes a debut on a public platform, he becomes perfect in thought, word and action. Such a perfect scholar has the greatest respect for his master, follows him like his shadow, does whatever pleases him, and lives a virtuous life.

    Thus, I have run over Saint Pavanandhi's art of criticism and his pedagogy pointing out en route that his critical canons are a jumble of the fundamental processes of composition, and that his pedagogy, bearing as it does all the marks of imperfection of the age in which he lived, offer some good points and happy suggestions to the modern thoughtful Educationist who is bent on revolutionizing the current system of godless or irreverent Education and who hopes to plant in its place a system of body and soul saving learning with the hearty Cooperation of apt, disinterested, and self sacrificing teachers and docile, attentive and reverent pupils.

    M. S. P.

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