Author - Pavithra Srinivasan
Pavithra Srinivasan is Research Fellow at Center for Soft Power, Chennai. She is an acclaimed Bharatnatyam dancer, and founder of Arsha Kala Bharathi.
"வள்ளுவன் தன்னை இவ்வுலகினுக்கேத் தந்து வான்புகழ் கொண்ட தமிழ்நாடு"
By giving Valluvan to the world, Tamizh Nadu has thereby attained sky-high fame
- Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi -poet, patriot, journalist, Indian independence activist, social reformer, polygot, 1882-1921.
There are some exceptional literary works that are not only a doorway to a world of wisdom enlarging one’s mind, but also give experiences that uplift life itself!
Tirukkural, a collection of couplets on ethics, political and economic matters, and love, is one such exceptional literature written in Tamizh. The uniqueness of the text is; both the regional language, and the author are accepted and highly appreciated on the global stage! Tirukkural stands as the most important & monumental work among the compilation of Sangam Literature-the main of the intellectual history of South India.
This classic work on Tamizh literature has influenced many scholars, intellectuals, philosophers and political leaders over the millennia. The poetry is an inspiring synthesis of ethical, economical, social, political, religious, philosophical, and spiritual teachings in the world! Even today the depth of the poetic writing is a subject of scholarly debate in conferences.
Tirukkural is considered as the chef-d-oeuvre of Tamizh & world literature.
Described in praiseworthy terms like Poyyāmoḻi (words that never fail),Vāyurai vāḻttu (truthful utterances),Ulaga pothumaṟai (universal veda), and Deiva nūl (divine text), the Tirukkural is given the status equivalent to Tamizh Veda, as it has answers to every question in life.
"Tirukkural is gnomic poetry, the greatest in planned conception and force of execution ever written in this kind.”
- Sri Aurobindo, Indian nationalist, philosopher, yogi, and poet, 1872–1950
Tirukkural consists of 1330 short couplets of 7 words each called Kural, in 133 chapters containing 10 couplets each, in rhythmic meter called kural venba.
The 3 Books
The Kural text is divided into three main books comprising various chapters, each book having an ethical theme: -
Book I – Aṟam (அறம் ) on Dharma - righteousness; deals with virtues of living, essentials of household life, avoidance of vices, desires and destiny etc.
They constitute chapters 1-38
Book II – Poruḷ (பொருள் ) on Artha - wealth; deals with socio-economic values, polity, society and administration qualities of a ruler, ways of producing wealth, an ideal country, military powers, executive abilities, family welfare, agriculture, friends, foes, medicine and more.
They form chapters 39-108
Book III – Inbam (இன்பம்) on Kama- love; speaks about beauty, pangs of love, pain of separation, dreams, longings etc from chapters 109-133.
The author of this literary composition, venerated as a great sage, is Thiruvalluvar.
He seems to have lived around 2000 years ago. Valluvar was born and lived in the heart of Chennai known as Mylapore. He came from the Valluvar - the weaver community. ‘Thiru’ is a title used in reverence to the name Valluvar.
Thiruvalluvar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai is dedicated to this poet-saint. Valluvar’s wife Vasuki was known to be a pious, dutiful woman.
Thiruvallvar statue on top of an island in Kanyakumari, Tamizh Nadu is a symbol of tribute to this great poet and philosopher. The height of the statue is 133 feet alluding to the 133 chapters of the Tirukkural. This includes the pedestal of 38 feet that represents the 38 chapters of the first book of the Kural text on Dharma.
The Mint of India, and Departments of Posts have issued coins and stamps on Thiruvalluvar. As part of the Pongal celebrations, the government of Tamizh Nadu celebrates Thiruvalluvar Day on the 15th of January & 16th on Leap years, called as the Thai month of the year.
Some insightful couplets from the Books
Book 1 Dharma
Couplet 1: On Salutation to Supreme
அகர முதல எழுத்தெல்லாம் ஆதிபகவன் முதற்றே உலகு
(agara mudala ezhutellam Adi Bhagavan mudatre ulagu)
- A is the first & source of all letters, similarly Primal God is the source of the world
Couplet 15: On Blessings of Rain
கெடுப்பதூஉம் கெட்டார்க்குச் சார்வாய்மற் றாங்கேஎடுப்பதூஉம் எல்லாம் மழை.
(keduppadom kettarakku saarvaai matrange edupadom yellam mazhai)
- Rain by its absence causes ruin, by its existence restores fortune
Couplet 30: Greatness of Ascetics
அந்தணர் என்போர் அறவோர்மற் றெவ்வுயிர்க்கும்
செந்தண்மை பூண்டொழுக லான்.
(andhanar enbore aravor matru evvuyirkkum sendhanmai poondozhuga laan)
- The Andanars are men of virtues & righteous ways, since their conduct towards all is with a loving grace
Couplet 39 : Importance of Dharma
அறத்தான் வருவதே இன்பம் மற்றெல்லாம்
புறத்த புகழும் இல.
(araththaan varuvadhe inbam Matru ellaam puraththa pukazhum ila)
- The supreme joy comes only from Dharma, anything else is devoid of glory
Couplet 45 : Importance of Household life
அன்பும் அறனும் உடைத்தாயின் இல்வாழ்க்கை
பண்பும் பயனும் அது.
(anpum aranum udaiththaayin ilvaazhkkai panbum payanum adhu)
- If love and virtue reign in the household, then it is a life of duty, grace and gain
Couplet 60 : Value of a wife
மங்கலம் என்ப மனைமாட்சி மற்று அதன்
நன்கலம் நன்மக்கட் பேறு.
(mangalam enba manaimaatchi matru adhan nankalam nanmakkat peru)
- A virtuous wife is a blessing of auspiciousness to the household, good children-the ornaments.
Couplet 304 : Avoidance of Anger
நகையும் உவகையும் கொல்லும் சினத்தின்
பகையும் உளவோ பிற?
(nakaiyum uvakaiyum kollum sinaththin pakaiyum ulavo pira ?
- Is there a greater enemy than anger, which kills both laughter and joy?
"Thirukkural is considered to provide the code of conduct for the humanity of planet earth for all time, which makes the past meet the present and creates the future.”
-Late Shri A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, Former President of India
Book II Artha (wealth)
Couplet 390: Qualities of a Ruler
கொடையளி செங்கோல் குடியோம்பல் நான்கும்
உடையானாம் வேந்தர்க் கொளி.
(kodai yali sengoal kudiyoampal naankum
udaiyaanaam vaendharkku oli)
- He is the light among kings who has these four qualities: (he is) beneficient, benevolent, has integrity and cares for his people.
"I bow to the great Thiruvalluvar. Simple and vast in scope, his thoughts & writings have been a strong influence on humanity for centuries. . . . Tirukkural does not refer to any nation, leader, society, language, religion or caste in the entire book, which is why it has been called the 'Universal Veda.’
-Shri.Narendra Modi,Prime Minister of India
In July 2020, when Prime Minister Shri.Narendra Modi addressed soldiers in Nimmoo, Ladakh he quoted the following couplet from the Kural in appreciation of the bravery of the soldiers.
Couplet 766: Strength of Army
மறமானம் மாண்ட வழிச்செலவு தேற்றம்
எனநான்கே ஏமம் படைக்கு.
(maRamaanam maaNda vazhichchelavu thaetram enanhaankae emam padaikku
- Valour, Honour, Dignity, Trust are the 4 strengths of an army.
- "That is, the tradition and credibility of valour, honour, dignified behavior, and trust; these four qualities are the strength of the army of any country. Indian forces have always followed this path," the Prime Minister said.
Couplet 1031: Significance of Agriculture
சுழன்றும்ஏர்ப் பின்னது உலகம் அதனால்
உழந்தும் உழவே தலை.
(suzhandrum yerppinnadhu ulagam adhanaal uzhandhum uzhave thalai)
- The world abides in plough. With all its hardships, farming is the best anyhow.
உழுவார் உலகத்தார்க்கு ஆணிஅஃ தாற்றாது
எழுவாரை எல்லாம் பொறுத்து.
(uzhuvaar ulagaththaarkku aani-akku aatraadhu ezhuvaarai ellaam poruththu)
- The farmers are the linch-pin of the world, they sustain & support those who plough not.
Book 111 Kama (love)
Joy of Love & Sweetness of Romance
கண்ணொடு கண்இணை நோக்கொக்கின் வாய்ச்சொற்கள்
என்ன பயனும் இல.
(kanodu kan-inai noakkokkin vaaichchorkal enna payanum ila)
- When one’s eyes meet her’s through a tale of love, the words of mouth are useless to prove.
உடம்பொடு உயிரிடை என்னமற் றன்ன
மடந்தையொடு எம்மிடை நட்பு.
(udampodu uyiridai enna matrunna madandhaiyodu emmidai natpu)
- The love between me and this damsel is like the union of body and soul.
ஊடுதல் காமத்திற்கு இன்பம் அதற்கின்பம்
கூடி முயங்கப் பெறின்.
(oodudhal kaamaththirku inbam adharkinbam koodi muyangapperin)
- Joy of love is sweetened by lover’s quarrel; joy of the quarrel is crowned by the bliss of embrace thereafter.
Valluvar belongs to all people and places
The Tirukkural has a Universal appeal as it blends aphorisms on character, country, military, relationships, and love in a seamless, subtle way in just 7 words!
Nowhere does Thiruvalluvar mention his name, language, region, religion or ritual. Even though the Kural is written in Tamizh, the word “Tamizh” does not appear at all.
It is a wonderful manual about the art of living from childhood to old age, applicable at all ages, to any livelihood and for all phases of life.
Valluvar’s advice to mankind was purely to live a life of happiness & joy, where he dreamt of a happy family, harmonious society and a world free from conflict and war.
Tirukkural has been rendered in many translations, even though none can fully reflect the wordplay of this precious treatise. Available in more than 40 major languages, including Arabic, English, Chinese, French, Japanese, Spanish, Latin it is one of the most translated works of literature in the world, along with the Bible and Quran.
"Everyone knows the Tirukkural, one of the world’s greatest works on ethics; but this is merely one of a myriad of major and extremely varied works that comprise the Tamil classical tradition. There is not a facet of human existence that is not explored and illuminated by this great literature."
- Padma Shri George L. Hart, American Indologist
Throughout the Indian civilization, the land of Bharat has always had enlightened minds: thinkers, scholars, philosophers, leaders who inherited the great legacy and have passed it on along the centuries of lofty thinking to generation after generation.
Thiruvalluvar has made Tirukkurala shining timeless jewel, in the treasure trove of world literature.
- Tirukkural, English Translation by Thiruvachakamani Balasubramaniam.
- Tirukkural - An Abridgement of Sastras by Padma Bhushan Dr.R.Nagaswamy