Renowned Tamil scholar and Marxist ideologue Kovai Gnani dies

He has written 28 books on literary criticism, five essay collections and three poetry collections

As a Marxist scholar, Kovai Gnani had introduced the Marxist ideology in Tamil in the early 90s. Photo: By special arrangement

Kovai Gnani, renowned Tamil scholar and one of the pioneers in the introduction of Marxist ideology in Tamil, died in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district on Wednesday (July 22) due to age-related ailments. He was 85.

Born as Palanisamy at Somanur in Coimbatore district in 1935, Gnani studied Tamil literature in Annamalai University and worked as a Tamil teacher in various schools. As a Marxist scholar, he had introduced the Marxist ideology in Tamil in the early 90s. He was a close associate of SN Nagarajan, a veteran Marxist scholar who developed his own version of Marxism that would be suitable for India.

Gnani opposed the classical Marxism, which has approached the culture purely on economic terms. For the last 30 years, he advocated the need of Mannukketra Marxism (Marxism that is suitable for India) and explained it through his writings and speeches. He introduced the thoughts of Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci in Tamil to a large audience. He used to write under the pseudonym ‘Kovai Gnani’.

He ran three magazines — Puthiya Thalaimurai, Nigazh and Tamil Neyam — through which he had kindled interest in a lot of young writers like Jeyamohan, who later became popular. Puthiya Thalaimurai was the first Tamil magazine that discussed the ideologies of Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong, when other small magazines were discussing Marxist ideas.


“Being a literary critic, Gnani had critically evaluated the modern Tamil literature from a Marxist view. That could be his major contribution (to Marxism),” writes Jeyamohan in one of his articles.

From 1988, due to diabetes, he started losing vision in both eyes. However, that impairment did not stop Gnani from reading and writing. With the help of his family members, friends and followers, he got access to books. He used to ask them to read those books to him and share his thoughts on various subjects.

He has written 28 books on literary criticism, edited 11 books, written five essay collections and three poetry collections. His book Marxiyam Periyariam (Marxism and Periyarism) had won the Tamil Nadu government’s best book award in 2006.

In 1998, ‘Vilakku’ award was conferred on him by the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America, ‘Iyal’ award by Canada Literary Garden in 2010 and ‘Parithimar Kalaignar’ award by SRM University’s Tamil Perayam in 2013.

His wife Indrani died a few years ago and he is survived by two sons.