|Published||Palm-leaf manuscript of the Tamil Sangam era (possibly between 3rd and 1st centuries BCE)|
|1812 (first known edition)|
Published in English
|Tamil Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
The Tirukkural or Thirukkural (Tamil Name: திருக்குறள்), or shortly the Kural, is a classic Tamil sangam literature consisting of 1330 couplets or kurals, dealing with the everyday virtues of an individual. Considered one of the greatest works ever written on ethics and morality, it is known for its universality and non-denominational nature. It was authored by Thiruvalluvar.
Considered as chef d'oeuvre of both Indian and world literature, the Tirukkural is one of the most important works in the Tamil language. This is reflected in some of the other names by which the text is given by, such as Tamiḻ maṟai (Tamil veda), Poyyāmoḻi (words that never fail), and Deiva nūl (divine text). Translated to about 80 global languages, Tirukkural is the most widely translated non-religious work in the world. The work is dated to sometime between the third and first centuries BCE and is considered to precede Manimekalai and Silappatikaram, since they both acknowledge the Kural text.
Tirukkural was originally known as 'Muppaal', meaning three-sectioned book, since it contained three sections, viz., 'Aram', 'Porul' and 'Inbam'. Thiru is a term denoting divine respect, literally meaning holy or sacred. Kural is a very short Tamil poetic form consisting of two lines, the first line consisting of four words (known as cirs) and the second line consisting of three, which should also conform to the grammar of Venpa, and is one of the most important forms of classical Tamil language poetry. Since the work was written in this poetic form, it came to be known as 'Tirukkural', meaning 'sacred couplets'.
Originally mentioned as 'Muppaal' by its author, Tirukkural has been known by many names in various literature works:
- முப்பால் (Muppāl) – "The Three-Chaptered" or "The Three-Sectioned" (Original name given by Thiruvalluvar)
- பொய்யாமொழி (Poyyāmoḻi) – "Statements Devoid of Untruth"
- உத்தரவேதம் (Uttharavedham) – "Northern Veda"
- வாயுறை வாழ்த்து (Vāyurai Vāḻttu) – "Truthful Utterances"
- தெய்வநூல் (Teyvanūl) – "The Holy Book"
- பொதுமறை (Potumaṟai) – "The Universal Veda" or "Book for All"
- தமிழ்மறை (Tamiḻ Maṟai) – "The Tamil Veda"
- முப்பானூல் (Muppāṉūl) – "The Three-Sectioned Book"
- ஈரடி நூல் (Iradi ṉūl) – "The Two-Lined Book"
- திருவள்ளுவம் (Thiruvalluvam) – "Thiruvalluvarism" or "The Work of Thiruvalluvar"
There are claims and counter claims as to the authorship of the book and to the exact number of couplets written by Thiruvalluvar. The first instance of the author's name mentioned as Thiruvalluvar is found to be several centuries later in a song of praise called the Garland of Thiruvalluvar in Thiruvalluva Malai.
Thiruvalluvar is thought to have belonged to either Jainism or Hinduism. This can be observed in his treatment of the concept of ahimsa or non-violence, which is the principal concept of both religions. Valluvar's treatment of the chapters on vegetarianism and non-killing reflects the Jain precepts, where these are stringently enforced. The three parts that the Tirukkural is divided into, namely, aram (virtue), porul (wealth) and inbam (love), aiming at attaining veedu (ultimate salvation) follow, respectively, the four foundations of Hinduism, namely, dharma, artha, kama and moksha. The Vaishnavite beliefs of Valluvar are bolstered in his mentioning of God Vishnu in couplets 610 and 1103 and Goddess Lakshmi in couplets 167, 408, 519, 565, 568, 616, and 617. Other Hindu beliefs of Valluvar found in the book include previous birth and re-birth, seven births, and some ancient Indian astrological concepts, among others. Despite using these contemporary religious concepts of his time, Valluvar has limited the usage of these terms to a metaphorical sense to explicate the fundamental virtues and ethics, without enforcing any of these religious beliefs in practice. This, chiefly, has made the treatise earn the title "Ulaga Podhu Marai" (the universal scripture).
There is also the recent claim by Kanyakumari Historical and Cultural Research Centre (KHCRC) that Valluvar was a king who ruled Valluvanadu in the hilly tracts of the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu.
Structure of the book
- Aṟam (Tamil: அறத்துப்பால், Aṟattuppāl ?) (Dharma) dealing with virtue (Chapters 1-38)
- Poruḷ (Tamil: பொருட்பால், Poruṭpāl ?) (Artha) dealing with wealth or polity (Chapters 39-108)
- Inbam (Tamil: காமத்துப்பால், Kāmattuppāl ?) (Kama) dealing with love (Chapters 109-133)
Each kural or couplet contains exactly seven words, known as cirs, with four cirs on the first line and three on the second. A cir is a single or a combination of more than one Tamil word. For example, Thirukkural is a cir formed by combining the two words thiru and kuṛaḷ. The section Aram contains 380 verses, Porul has 700 and Inbam has 250.
Tone of the book
Tirukkural expounds a secular, moral and practical attitude towards life. Unlike religious scriptures, Tirukkural refrains from talking of hopes and promises of the other-worldly life. Rather it speaks of the ways of cultivating one's mind to achieve the other-worldly bliss in the present life itself. By occasionally referring to bliss beyond the worldly life, Valluvar equates what can be achieved in humanly life with what may be attained thereafter.
The Tirukkural is praised for its universality across the globe. The ancient Tamil poet Avvaiyar observed, "Thiruvalluvar pierced an atom and injected seven seas into it and compressed it into what we have today as Kural." The Russian philosopher Alexander Piatigorsky called it chef d'oeuvre of both Indian and world literature "due not only to the great artistic merits of the work but also to the lofty humane ideas permeating it which are equally precious to the people all over the world, of all periods and countries." G. U. Pope called him "A bard of universal man." According to Albert Schweitzer, "there hardly exists in the literature of the world a collection of maxims in which we find so much of lofty wisdom." Leo Tolstoy was inspired by the concept of non-violence found in the Tirukkural when he read a German version of the book, who in turn instilled the concept in Mahatma Gandhi through his A Letter to a Hindu when young Gandhi sought his guidance. Mahatma Gandhi, who took to studying Tirukkural in prison, called it "a textbook of indispensable authority on moral life" and went on to say, "The maxims of Valluvar have touched my soul. There is none who has given such a treasure of wisdom like him." Sir A. C. Grant said, "Humility, charity and forgiveness of injuries, being Christian qualities, are not described by Aristotle. Now these three are everywhere forcibly inculcated by the Tamil Moralist." E. J. Robinson said that Tirukkural contains all things and there is nothing which it does not contain. Rev. J. Lazarus said, "No Tamil work can ever approach the purity of the Kural. It is a standing repute to modern Tamil." According to K. M. Munshi, "Thirukkural is a treatise par excellence on the art of living." Sri Aurobindo stated, "Thirukkural is gnomic poetry, the greatest in planned conception and force of execution ever written in this kind." Monsieur Ariel, who translated and published the third part of the Kural to French in 1848, called it "a masterpiece of Tamil literature, one of the highest and purest expressions of human thought." According to Rev. Emmons E. White, "Thirukkural is a synthesis of the best moral teachings of the world." Rajaji commented, "It is the gospel of love and a code of soul-luminous life. The whole of human aspiration is epitomized in this immortal book, a book for all ages." Zakir Hussain, former President of India, said, "Thirukkural is a treasure house of worldly knowledge, ethical guidance and spiritual wisdom."
Along with Nalatiyar, another work on ethics and morality from the Sangam period, Tirukkural is praised for its veracity. An age-old Tamil maxim has it that "banyan and acacia maintain oral health; Four and Two maintain moral health," where "Four" and "Two" refer to the quatrains and couplets of Nālaṭiyār and Tirukkural, respectively.
Although it has been widely acknowledged that Thiruvalluvar was of Jain origin and the Tirukkural to its most part was inspired from Jain, Hindu and other ancient Indian philosophies, owing to its universality and non-denominational nature, almost every religious group in India and across the world, including Christianity, has claimed the work for itself. For example, G. U. Pope speaks of the book as an "echo of the 'Sermon on the Mount.'" In the Introduction to his English translation of the Kural, Pope even claims "I cannot feel any hesitation in saying that the Christian Scriptures were among the sources from which the poet derived his inspiration." However, the chapters on the ethics of Vegetarianism (Chapter 26) and non-killing (Chapter 33), which the Kural emphasizes unambiguously unlike other religious texts, suggest that the ethics of the Kural is rather a reflection of the Jaina moral code than of Christian ethics.
Commentaries and translations
Tirukkural is arguably the most reviewed work of all works in Tamil literature, and almost every major writer has written commentaries on it. There have been several commentaries written on the Tirukkural over the centuries. There were at least ten ancient commentaries written by pioneer poets of which only six are available today. The ten commentators include Dharumar, Manakkudavar (11th century CE), Dhaamatthar, Nakkar, Paridhi, Thirumalaiyar, Mallar, Kaliperumal or Pari Perumal (11th century CE), Kaalingar (12th century CE), and Parimelazhagar. The pioneer commentators are Manakkudavur and Parimelazhagar (13th century CE). In 1935, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai had written commentary on the first part of the Tirukkural (virtue) and was published in a different title, although it was only in 2008 that the complete work of his commentary on the Tirukkural was published. Other Tamil commentaries include those by Thiru Vi Ka, Bharathidasan, M. Varadarajan, Namakkal kavignar, Devaneya Pavanar, M. Karunanithi, and Solomon Pappaiah. Almost every celebrated writer has written a commentary on the text.
The Christian missionaries who came to India during the British era, inspired by the similarities of the Christian ideals found in the Kural, started translating the text into various European languages. The Latin translation of the Tirukkural, the first of the translations into European languages, was made by Constantius Joseph Beschi in 1730. However, he translated only the first two parts, viz., virtue and wealth, leaving out the section on love assuming that it would be inappropriate for a Christian missionary to do so. The first French translation was brought about by an unknown author by about 1767 that went unnoticed. The first available French version was by Monsieur Ariel in 1848. Again, he did not translate the whole work but only parts of it. The first German translation was made by Dr. Graul, who published it in 1856 both at London and Leipzig. Graul's translation was unfortunately incomplete due to his premature death. The first, and incomplete, English translation was made by Francis Whyte Ellis, who translated only 120 couplets—69 of them in verse and 51 in prose. W. H. Drew translated the first two parts in prose in 1840 and 1852, respectively. It contained the original Tamil text of the Kural, Parimelazhakar's commentary, Ramanuja Kavirayar's amplification of the commentary and Drew's English prose translation. However, Drew was able to translate only 630 couplets, and the remaining were made by John Lazarus, a native missionary. Like Beschi, Drew did not translate the part on love. The first complete English translation of the Kural was the one by George Uglow Pope in 1886, which brought the Tirukkural to the western world. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the Tirukkural has been translated to more than 37 languages across the world by various authors. By the end of the twentieth century, there were about twenty-four translations of the Kural in English alone, by both native and non-native scholars, including those by V. V. S. Aiyar, K. M. Balasubramanian, Shuddhananda Bharati, A. Chakravarthy, M. S. Purnalinga Pillai, C. Rajagopalachari, P. S. Sundaram and T. S. Ramalingam Pillai.
To honor the author of Tirukkural, a 133-feet (40.6 m) Thiruvalluvar's statue was built in stone. It is located atop a small island near the town of Kanyakumari on the southernmost Coromandel Coast of the Indian peninsula, where two seas and an ocean, viz., the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean meet.
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