|Subject||Ethics and morality|
|Published||Palm-leaf manuscript of the Tamil Sangam era (possibly between 4th and 1st centuries BCE)|
|1812 (first known printed 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 Valluvar, also known as 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 Deyva (Deiva) nūl (divine text). Translated into at least 82 languages (as of 2014), Tirukkural is one of 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 Silappatikaram (1st century CE) and Manimekalai (between 1st and 5th centuries CE), since they both acknowledge the Kural text.
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.
The overall organisation of the Kural text is based on seven ideals prescribed for a commoner besides observations of love.
- 40 couplets on God, rain, ascetics, and virtue
- 200 couplets on domestic virtue
- 140 couplets on higher virtue based on grace, benevolence and compassion
- 250 couplets on royalty
- 100 couplets on ministers of state
- 220 couplets on essential requirements of administration
- 130 couplets on morality, both positive and negative
- 250 couplets on human love and passion
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 lived sometime between the 4th century BCE and the 1st century BCE. The Tamil poet Mamulanar of the Sangam period mentioned that Thiruvalluvar was the greatest Tamil scholar, also mentioning the Nanda Dynasty of northern region of India, which ruled during the 4th century BCE, lasting between 345 and 321 BCE. This estimate is based on linguistic analysis of his writings. However, there is no historical evidence for when and where he lived.
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 the 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 eastern 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.
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. Only in a couple of introductory chapters (Chapters 1 and 3) does Valluvar sound religious. Even here, he maintains a tone that could be acceptable to people of all faiths.
It is believed that Valluvar composed every chapter in response to a request to produce ten best couplets on a particular subject. Nevertheless, he seldom shows any concern as to what similes and superlatives he used earlier while writing on other subjects, purposely allowing for some repetition and mild contradictions in ideas one can find in the Kural text. Despite knowing its seemingly contradictory nature from a purist point of view, Valluvar employs this method to emphasise the importance of the given code of ethic. Following are some of the instances where Valluvar employs contradictions to expound the virtues.
- While in Chapter 93 Valluvar writes on the evils of intoxication, in Chapter 109 he uses the same to show the sweetness of love by saying love is sweeter than wine.
- To the question 'What is wealth of all wealth?' Valluvar points out to two different things, namely, grace (Kural 241) and hearing (Kural 411).
- In regard to the virtues one should follow dearly even at the expense of other virtues, Valluvar points to veracity (Kural 297), not coveting another's wife (Kural 150), and not being called a slanderer (Kural 181). In essence, however, in Chapter 33 he crowns non-killing as the foremost of all virtues, pushing even the virtue of veracity to the second place (Kural 323).
- Whereas he says that one can eject what is natural or inborn in him (Kural 376), he indicates that one can overcome the inherent natural flaws by getting rid of laziness (Kural 609).
- While in Chapter 7 he asserts that the greatest gain men can obtain is by their learned children (Kural 61), in Chapter 13 he says that it is that which is obtained by self-control (Kural 122).
Tirukkural was originally known as 'Muppaal', meaning three-sectioned book, as referred to by its author himself, since it contained three sections, viz., 'Aram', 'Porul' and 'Inbam'. The word Kural applies in general to something that is short or abridged. More specifically, it 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. Thiru is a term denoting divine respect, literally meaning 'holy' or 'sacred'. 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"
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. John 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 Nalatiyar 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 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. Karl 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 translations were made by N. E. Kindersley in 1794 and then by Francis Whyte Ellis in 1812. While Kindersley translated a selection of the Kural text, Ellis translated 120 couplets in all—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, Parimelazhagar'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 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, T. S. Ramalingam Pillai, and Gopalkrishna Gandhi. At present, the Thirukkural has been translated into 37 languages. It is the most translated Tamil literature and also, the most translated non-religious text of India. In 2015, the first Arabic translation by a native Arabic speaker has been completed in full (all 1330 couplets) and published by Amar Hasan, from Syria. Not a literal translation, Mr. Hasan's work maintains the original verse form.
To honor the Kural literature and its author, a monument named Valluvar Kottam was constructed in Chennai in 1976. The chief element of the monument includes a 39-m-high chariot, a replica of the chariot in the temple town of Thiruvarur, and it contains a life-size statue of Thiruvalluvar. All 133 chapters and 1330 verses of the Kural text are inscribed on bas-relief in the corridors in the main hall.
To honor Thiruvalluvar, a 133-feet (40.6 m) statue, sculpted in stone, was erected in 2000 atop a small island near the town of Kanyakumari on the southernmost tip 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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- A stone inscription found on the walls of a well at the Periya palayathamman temple at Royapettai indicates Ellis' regard for Thiruvalluvar. It is one of the 27 wells dug on the orders of Ellis in 1818, when Madras suffered a severe drinking water shortage. In the long inscription Ellis praises Thiruvalluvar and uses a couplet from Thirukkural to explain his actions during the drought. When he was in charge of the Madras treasury and mint, he also issued a gold coin bearing Thiruvalluvar's image. The Tamil inscription on his grave makes note of his commentary of Thirukkural.Mahadevan, Iravatham. "The Golden coin depicting Thiruvalluvar -2". Varalaaru.com (in Tamil). Retrieved 25 June 2010.
- The original inscription in Tamil written in the Asiriyapa meter and first person perspective: (The Kural he quotes is in Italics)
சயங்கொண்ட தொண்டிய சாணுறு நாடெனும் | ஆழியில் இழைத்த வழகுறு மாமணி | குணகடன் முதலாக குட கடலளவு | நெடுநிலம் தாழ நிமிர்ந்திடு சென்னப் | பட்டணத்து எல்லீசன் என்பவன் யானே | பண்டாரகாரிய பாரம் சுமக்கையில் | புலவர்கள் பெருமான் மயிலையம் பதியான் | தெய்வப் புலமைத் திருவள்ளுவனார் | திருக்குறள் தன்னில் திருவுளம் பற்றிய் | இருபுனலும் வாய்த்த மலையும் வருபுனலும் | வல்லரணும் நாட்டிற் குறுப்பு | என்பதின் பொருளை என்னுள் ஆய்ந்து | ஸ்வஸ்திஸ்ரீ சாலிவாகன சகாப்த வரு | ..றாச் செல்லா நின்ற | இங்கிலிசு வரு 1818ம் ஆண்டில் | பிரபவாதி வருக்கு மேற் செல்லா நின்ற | பஹுதான்ய வரு த்தில் வார திதி | நக்ஷத்திர யோக கரணம் பார்த்து | சுப திநத்தி லிதனோ டிருபத்தேழு | துரவு கண்டு புண்ணியாஹவாசநம் | பண்ணுவித்தேன்.
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