Logo for Stony Brook University
News and Media Relations header
  • Search Press Releases
University News


​New Professorship to Study One of the World’s Oldest Languages
Bala and Prabha Swaminathan Establish Anandavalli and Dr. G. Swaminathan Endowed Research Professorship in Tamil in Stony Brook University College of Arts and Sciences
Bala and Prabha Swaminathan

STONY BROOK, NY – December 11, 2017 –  With literary works dating as far back as 300 BCE, the Tamil language is nearly as old as Hebrew (335 BCE), and stands next to Chinese as the most enduring classical language still spoken today. Yet remarkably, while dozens of U.S. colleges and universities have Hebrew or Chinese language and cultural studies programs, only a handful offer Tamil.

Bala Swaminathan and his wife, Prabha, are determined to change that. The couple has created the Anandavalli and Dr. G. Swaminathan Endowed Research Professorship in Tamil at Stony Brook University in honor of Bala’s mother and father.  Studying an ancient yet still relevant Tamil language and its literature, said Swaminathan, offers scholars insights into humankind’s earliest worldview providing context for our life today and our collective, global future.

“Tamil language is more than something to speak,” said Bala Swaminathan. “It harbors a culture’s history and traditions, and perpetuates identity and pride. Ultimately, when its wisdom is shared, Tamil language creates better cross-cultural understanding and cooperation.”

While the University is also home to a thriving India Studies Center (which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary), the Swaminathans deliberately established the Tamil professorship in the College of Arts and Sciences to leverage interdisciplinary, scholarly research collaborations with linguistics, anthropologists, musicians and sociologists.  

“I have a very high regard for Stony Brook’s research capabilities,” said Swaminathan.  “I expect the professor in Tamil will be an active contributor on campus, publishing many papers, offering Tamil language classes and creating the new knowledge that will perpetuate and celebrate the language that still has so much to teach us.”  

It was the wisdom of one of Tamil’s oldest texts, the Kural, that first captivated Swaminathan as he grew up in the southern Indian town of Madurai.  His father “lived by” the Kural. Written by the 4th century BCE poet and philosopher Valluvar, the Kural is one of the most venerated texts of secular ethics and most widely translated works in the world. Coincidentally, Valluvar was also born in Madurai, preceding Swaminathan by more than 2,000 years.   

Before Swaminathan’s father became a prominent doctor, he had little to give to others. Still, his father followed the Kural precept to be charitable, once explaining to his son, “Whatever we earn is to provide for others who do not have the same opportunities.”  

While creating a successful career in the U.S. and founding the New York Tamil Academy for school children, Swaminathan says he’s most proud of the life of purpose and meaning he shares with Prabha and their two sons, Isai Maran and Kavin Mathi. 

Creating the professorship in Tamil at Stony Brook University, just minutes from the Swaminathans’ home, was the natural next step in the couple’s quest to help sustain the language and culture that have served them so well. 

“Offering endowed faculty appointments, such as the Anandavalli and Dr. G. Swaminathan Endowed Research Professorship in Tamil, helps us attract the most talented teachers and researchers,” said Stony Brook University President  Samuel L. Stanley Jr. “We are grateful to Bala and Prabha for their incredible leadership in keeping Tamil and the ideas of the Kural alive for future generations. ”    


  About Stony Brook University
Stony Brook University is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become a flagship as one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 26,000 students and 2,600 faculty members, and 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty have earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 50 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University is a driving force in the region’s economy, generating nearly 60,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of more than $4.6 billion. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.



© Stony Brook University