The Nālaṭiyār (Tamil: நாலடியார்) is a Tamil poetic work of didactic nature belonging to the Patiṉeṇkīḻkaṇakku anthology of Tamil literature. This belongs to the post Sangam period corresponding to between 100 – 500 CE. Nālaṭiyār contains 400 poems, each containing four lines. Every poem deals with morals and ethics, extolling righteous behaviour.
There is an old Tamil proverb praising the Nālaṭiyār that says "Nālaṭiyār and the Tirukkuṛaḷ are very good in expressing human thoughts just as the twigs of the banyan and the acacia trees are good in maintaining the teeth."
ஆலும் வேலும் பல்லுக்குறுதி; நாலும் இரண்டும் சொல்லுக்குறுதி.
(Aalum vaelum pallukkuruthi; naalum irandum sollukkuruthi)
Literal translation: "Banyan and acacia maintains oral health; Four and two maintains moral health."
(Here "four" and "two" refer to the quatrain and couplet of Nālaṭiyār and Tirukkuṛaḷ, respectively.)
Nālaṭiyār was composed by Buddhist monks, who flourished in what is now Tamil Nadu during the reign of the Kalabhras or Kalaparayar (Buddhist) dynasty and delivers the didactic messages that are characteristics of the period. It is divided into three sections, the first section focusing on the importance of virtuous life, second section on the governance and management of wealth, and the third smaller section on the pleasures.
Nālaṭiyār is unique in the employment of similes, which help to teach the moral codes using simple examples from daily life. For example, one of the poems states that just like a calf placed in front of a vast herd of cows seeks out its mother unerringly and attaches itself, the deeds of the past home in on the doer and exact their price unfailingly.
- Mudaliyar, Singaravelu A., Apithana Cintamani, An encyclopaedia of Tamil Literature, (1931) - Reprinted by Asian Educational Services, New Delhi (1983)
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