Jayakanthan was born in 1934 in a family of agriculturists in Cuddalore, in the South Arcot district of Tamil Nadu. He quit school after completing grade 3 education. He was then considered a problematic child. He was close to his mother and grandfather. He had a rocky relationship with his father. Unable to bear the harsh treatment meted out to him at home and in the village, he ran away from home at the age of 12 to Villupuram. There, he grew up under the aegis of his uncle from whom he imbibed communist ideologies and was also introduced to the works of Subramanya Bharathy. At this stage, his mother took him to Chennai and requested a friend/family member associated with Communist Party of India (CPI) to bring some sense to him for she was frustrated that he was a school drop-out. It was here where Jayakanthan first worked as a minion in the CPI party office. Jayakanthan has written a lot about his days in the office and seems to cherish his boyhood days there. During this period, he became acquainted with some great CPI leaders of Tamil Nadu such as Mr. Jeeva Jeevanandam and Mr. Baladandayutham and many others. Thus, the CPI office in Chennai became his primary school, the members of the communist party his immediate family.
Jayakanthan grew up listening to the discussions of these leftists during his formative years. It can be seen that this had a serious impact on his outlook and literary works. Jayakanthan once wrote that Mr. Jeeva was horrified to read his Tamil with full of grammar mistakes. This led to Jeeva offering the fee needed for proper education under a Tamil pandit. Thus he learned proper Tamil from a pandit. Later he moved around in various jobs forced by circumstances. He worked in the party's printing press and spent his evenings selling the magazine JanaSakthi on street corners. But in 1949, unexpected political developments resulted in extreme restrictions on the activities of the CPI. Jayakanthan was forced to work in a shoe shop in Thanjavur for a short period of time, after which he came back to Chennai. This period was an important phase for Jayakanthan as he found more time to think and read. During this period, the CPI also was eclipsed by the emergence of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the DK, whom Jayakanthan termed "fascists".
Internal rifts within the CPI and his difference of opinion on many political issues forced him to gradually withdraw from CPI and active politics. His frustration with CPI can be seen through his short story "Karungali" (The traitor). Equally he broke ranks with his fellow Tamil writers in opposing E.V. Ramasamy (Periyar) (a noted rationalist movement leader in Tamil Nadu) and his view of brahminism in Tamil Nadu. Only a personality like Jayakanthan who could have the courage and wisdom to oppose Mr. E.V. Ramasamy openly in a public forum. Jayakanthan was greatly praised for his public speech in Tiruchi. Before this, he also tested waters in other political philosophies including Congress. He was fascinated with the former Chief Minister and Congress party leader Kamaraj and briefly served as a member of that party and actively compaigned for him and his party members during election time.He worked as an editor of two politicised daily journals "Jaya berighai" and "Jaya kodi" in leanings towards Congress party in later 60's He also served as the editor of "Nava-Shakthi" a daily with leanings towards Congress party philosophy.
Jayakanthan himself has accepted that he had no patience to do a systematic research and do a complete work. It was this lack of scholarly approach to his work led to more short stories than fiction writing. It was only later he matured enough to write fictions. Once Jayakanthan wrote that all his true friends lived in Soviet Russia. Of course Russia loved it and invited him as a state guest and gave him a "Nehru literary award".
Jayakanthan started his literary work at a young age. He started writing from around 1953 in Tamil magazines such as Saraswathi, Thamarai, Grama Uzhiyan and Anantha Vikatan. He called himself "the first Tamil writer to earn a living by writing". He went on to become one of the most prolific and powerful Tamil writers of the twentieth century. He also had a stint in Tamil Cinema and tried his hand at making films. He made a film based on his novel, Unnaippol Oruvan, which became the first Tamil film to get an award at the national level in India. It was awarded the President's award (third prize) in "The Best Regional film" category . It was then that he developed a relationship with a stage actress. Jayakanthan was already married to his uncle's daughter. This chapter in his life was fictionalised in the novel Oru Nadigai Naadagam Paarkkiral(An actress witnesses a play).
His stories are vivid portrayals of life as he sees them and they embrace humanity as a whole. His later works also witnessed a strong dose of his philosophical musings.Despite not having formal education, Jeyakanthan has a great knowledge on wide variety of subjects.He is one of the renowned speakers of Tamil Nadu who could give soul stirring speeches.He has changed his views, changed his ideologies based on his life experiences,however he has never made any kind of compromises when it comes to his writing and thinking and has led a respectful life of integrity. He is considered as one of the most influential writers Tamil Literature has ever produced.
Jayakanthan is infamously known for his arrogance and his multi-dimensional personality. Significantly, his personality became ideal characters of a writer—many movies and writers later adopted such characters as protagonists for their creations. Jayakanthan's criticism of DMK writers has to be considered by DMK loyalists as a form of 'sour grapes syndrome' that he couldn't garner such popularity for his creations as that of C.N. Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi and Kannadasan at the political and cinematic arena. Jayakanthan gained respect and admiration from the above mentioned politicians for his writings. He was sure of his position in the literary world. The only person Jayakanthan admired was poet Kannadasan.He did not consider Annadorai and Karunanithi as writers of any merit.
Works of Jayakanthan
- Oar Ilakkiyavaadhiyin Arasiyal AnubavangaL Oct 1974
- Oru Ilakkiyavaadhiyin Kalaiyulaka AnubavangaL Sep 1980 L
- Oru Ilakkiyavaadhiyin Aanmeega AnubavangaL
- Vazhavaikka Vandha Gandhi 1973 (Translation of Romain Rolland's French biography of Gandhi)
- Oru Kadhasiriyarin Kadhai May 1989 ( Life of Munshi Premchand )
Novels and novelettes
|Vazhkkai Azhaikkiradhu||Aug 1957|
|Yarukkaga Azhuthan||Feb 1962|
|Brahma Upadhesam||May 1963|
|Karunaiyinal Alla||Nov 1965|
|Parisukkup Po!||Dec 1966|
|Kokila Enna Seythu Vittaal?||Nov 1967|
|Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal||Jun 1970|
|Oru Nadigai Naadagam Paarkkiral||Jan 1971|
|Oru Manidhan Oru Vidu Oru Ulagam||Apr 1973|
|Jaya Jaya Sankara...||Sep 1977|
|Gangai Engey PogiraaL||Dec 1978|
|Oru Kudumbaththil Nadakkirathu||Jan 1979|
|Pavam, Ival Oru Paapathi!||Mar 1979|
|Engengu Kaaninum||May 1979|
|oorukku Nooru Per||Jun 1979|
|Karikkodugal||Jul 1979 N|
|Moongil Kaattunile||Sep 1979|
|Oru Manidhanum Sila Erumaimaadugalum||Dec 1979|
|Ovvoru Kooraikkum Kizhe||Jan 1980|
|Paattimaargallum Peththimaargalum||Apr 1980|
|Appuvukku Appa Sonna Kadhaigal||Aug 1980|
|Indha Neraththil ival||1980|
|Kaaththirukka Oruththi||Sep 1980|
|Ayudha Poosai||Mar 1982|
|Sundhara Kaandam||Sep 1982|
|Isvara Alla Tere Naam||Jan 1983|
|O, America!||Feb 1983|
|Idhaya Ranikalum Ispedu Raajakkalum||Jul 1983|
|Katru VeLiyinile||Apr 1984|
|Kazhuththil Vizhundha Maalai||Sep 1984|
|Andha Akkaavaiththedi||Oct 1985|
|Innum Oru Pennin Kadhai||Jul 1986|
|cinemavukkup Pona siththaal||Sep 1972|
|Unnaippol Oruvan||Oct 1989|
- oru nadigai nadagam parkiral
- Yaarukkaga Azhudhaan
- Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal
- Cinemavukkup Pona Siththaal
- Unnaipol Oruvan
- Ooruku Nooruper
- Oru Pidi Soru Sep 1958
- Inippum Karippum Aug 1960
- Dhevan VaruvaarA 1961
- Maalai Mayakkam Jan 1962
- Yugasandhi Oct 1963
- Unmai Sudum Sep 1964
- Pudhiya Vaarppukal Apr 1965
- Suyadharisanam Apr 1967
- Irandha Kaalangal Feb 1969
- Gurupeedam Oct 1971
- Chakkaram Nirpathillai Feb 1975
- Pugai Naduvinile... Dec 1990
- Kansimittum Vinmeengal
- Naan Irukkiren, 23 July 2000
- Illathathu Ethu, 20 August 200
- Poo Uthirum, 27 August 2000
- Thuravu, 24 September 2000
- Pommai, 8 October 2000
- Irandu Kuzhanthaigal, 3 December 2000
- Yanthiram, 4 March 2001
- Kuraip Piravi, 7 April 2001
- Bharathi Paadam
- Imayaththukku Appaal...
- 2009 – Padma Bhushan:-very first time for Tamil Literature was given to Mr.D.Jayakanthan.
- 2002 – Jnanpith Award: The 2002 Jnanpith Award was announced for D. Jayakanthan. His works were described as one that delicately unveiled every depth of human emotion and equations. Announcing the award, L. M. Singhvi said "He has not only enriched the high traditions of literary traditions of Tamil language but has also made outstanding contribution towards the shaping of Indian literature. His literature presents a deep and sensitive understanding of complex human nature and is an authentic and vivid index of Indian reality." (The Hindu)
- 1996 – Fellow of Sahitya Akademi
- 1972 – Sahitya Akademi Award: He was awarded Sahitya Akademi award in 1972 for his work on Tamil novel Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal. (Sahitya Akademi)
- 2011 – Order of Friendship Russia has announced
- There was a time when I numbered among my close friends rickshaw- drivers, prostitutes, rowdies, pickpockets and cigarette-butt scavengers. Perhaps because of that fact I can never work up disgust towards their kind. There is a sense of involvement among them. Sometimes I even wonder whether I wouldn't have been happier if I had decided to live among them as one of the family. Truly, an attraction for their life came to be planted in my youthful mind . . . There is in the life of such people a flaming passion, a liveliness, and truth!
- They hold a notion that I have all along been writing about people of the lower strata. But haven't I really been writing about high level people among the so-called lower strata. Who belongs to the higher strata and who to the lower strata? That cannot be determined by their position or by their place of living. It is by how they are – how they live – that a determination should be made.
- However lowly and decadent are the matters that I have to take up broadly for depiction in my story, I tend to place special emphasis on whatever is elevating and meaningful for life embedded in them. And thus I sing of the glory of life
- T.Jeyakantan – Life and Works
- Jayakanthan Page – With photos and other info
- Collection of Short Stories of Jayakanthan – Part-1 and Part-2 at Project Madurai, a free Tamil e-text collection project
- Jayakanthan @ Tamil Friends