A typical published original Tamil version of the book
|1812 (first known printed edition)|
Published in English
|Tamil Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
The Tirukkural (Tamil: திருக்குறள், literally Sacred Verses), or shortly the Kural, is a classic Tamil text consisting of 1,330 couplets or Kurals, dealing with the everyday virtues of an individual. It is one of the two oldest works now extant in Tamil literature in their entirety, the other being the Tolkappiyam. Considered one of the greatest works ever written on ethics and morality, chiefly secular ethics, it is known for its universality and non-denominational nature. It was authored by Valluvar, also known in full as Thiruvalluvar. The text has been dated variously from 300 BCE to 5th century CE. The traditional accounts describe it as the last work of the third Sangam, but linguistic analysis suggests a later date of 450 to 500 CE.
Traditionally praised as "the Universal Veda" and "the Universal Code of Conduct," the Kural emphasizes on the vital principles of non-violence, moral vegetarianism or veganism,[a] human brotherhood, absence of desires, path of righteousness and truth, and so forth, besides covering a wide range of subjects such as moral codes of rulers, friendship, agriculture, knowledge and wisdom, sobriety, love, and domestic life. The work is commonly quoted in vegetarian conferences, both in India and abroad. Considered as chef d'oeuvre of both Indian and world literature, the Kural is one of the most important works in the Tamil language and is often called the masterpiece of Tamil Literature, both in its philosophical and literary caliber. This is reflected in some of the other names by which the text is given by, such as the Work of Three Books, Modern Veda, Divine Work, Faultless Word, and Tamil Veda.
The Kural has influenced several scholars across the ethical, social, political, economical, religious, philosophical, and spiritual spheres. Authors influenced by the Kural include Ilango Adigal, Kambar, Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Constantius Joseph Beschi, Karl Graul, George Uglow Pope, Alexander Piatigorsky, and Yu Hsi, many of whom have translated the work into their languages. Translated into at least 40 languages as of 2014, the Kural is one of the most widely translated works in the world. Because the life, culture and ethics of the Tamils are considered to be solely defined in terms of the values set by the Kural, the government and the people of Tamil Nadu alike uphold the text with utmost reverence. Along with the Gita, the Kural is a prime candidate nominated to be the national book of India, for which a declaration was passed at the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 2006.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Organization of the work
- 3 Date
- 4 Author
- 5 Structural and linguistic plan of the work
- 6 Substance of the work
- 7 Comparison with other ancient literature
- 8 Publication of the work
- 9 Commentaries and translations
- 10 Reception
- 11 In popular culture
- 12 Memorials
- 13 Legacy
- 14 See also
- 15 Notes
- 16 Citations
- 17 References
- 18 Further reading
- 19 External links
The term Tirukkural is a compound word made of two individual terms, tiru and kural. Tiru is an honorific Tamil term that corresponds to the universally Indian, Sanskrit term sri meaning "holy, sacred, excellent, honorable, and beautiful." The term tiru has as many as 19 different meanings. Kural means something that is "short, concise, and abridged." Etymologically, kural is the shortened form of kural paattu, which is derived from kuruvenpaattu, one of the two Tamil poetic forms explained by Tolkappiyam, the other one being neduvenpaattu. According to Winslow, kural is used as a literary term to indicate "a metrical line of 2 feet, or a distich or couplet of short lines, the first of 4 and the second of 3 feet." Thus, Tirukkural literally comes to mean "sacred couplets."
The Kural is unique among ancient works that it did not have a name nor did it have any mention of the author's name in it at the time of its release at the ruler's court at the city of Madurai, the seat of the Third Tamil Sangam. The author used the title Muppāl, meaning "three divisions," to present it to the King, since the work was written about the first three of the four ancient Indian aims in life, known as purushaarthas, viz., virtue, wealth and love, with the fourth aim, namely, salvation (moksha), implicitly said in the last five chapters of Book I. Remaining nameless for several years after its writing, the work came to be referred to by various names in the centuries that followed. Nine traditional names had already been in use to refer to the book during the time of writing of the Tiruvalluva Maalai, a eulogy written on the Kural by various poets between the 1st and 11th centuries CE. Nevertheless, the title Muppāl remained the work's primary name until the 13th century CE. It is estimated that the Kural has historically been known by as many as 44 names given at various periods over the millennia, making it one of the numerously titled works.
Organization of the work
- Book I – Aṟam (அறம்): Book of Virtue (Dharma), dealing with virtues independent of the surroundings (Chapters 1-38)
- Book II – Poruḷ (பொருள்): Book of Polity (Artha), dealing with virtues with respect to the surroundings (Chapters 39-108)
- Book III – Inbam (இன்பம்): Book of Love (Kama), dealing with virtues involved in conjugal human love (Chapters 109-133)
Aṟam refers to ethical values for the holistic pursuit of life, poruḷ refers to wealth obtained in ethical manner guided by aṟam, and inbam or kāmam refers to pleasure and fulfilment of one's desires, also in an aṟam-driven manner. Although poruḷ and inbam are desirable pursuits in human life, they both need to be regulated by aṟam. One must remain unattached to wealth and possessions, which can either be transcended or sought with detachment and awareness. Similarly, pleasure needs to be fulfilled consciously and without harming anyone. It is said that there exists an inherent tension between poruḷ and inbam. Thus, wealth and pleasure must be pursued with an "action with renunciation," which is nothing but an aṟam-driven action that is craving-free, in order to resolve this tension.
Each kural or couplet contains exactly seven words, known as cirs, with four cirs on the first line and three on the second, following the kural metre. A cir is a single or a combination of more than one Tamil word. For example, the term Thirukkural is a cir formed by combining the two words thiru and kuṛaḷ. The book on Aṟam (virtue) contains 380 verses, that of Poruḷ (wealth) has 700 and that of Inbam or kāmam (love) has 250.
The overall organisation of the Kural text is based on seven ideals prescribed for a commoner besides observations of love. This includes 40 couplets on God, rain, ascetics, and virtue; 200 on domestic virtue; 140 on higher yet most fundamental virtue based on grace, benevolence and compassion; 250 on royalty; 100 on ministers of state; 220 on essential requirements of administration; 130 on morality, both positive and negative; and 250 on human love and passion.
The Kural has been dated variously from 300 BCE to 5th century CE. According to traditional accounts, it was the last work of the third Sangam, and was subjected to a divine test (which it passed). The scholars who believe this tradition, such as Somasundara Bharathiar and M Rajamanickam, date the text to as early as 300 BCE. Historian K. K. Pillay assigned it to the early 1st century CE.
Linguist Kamil Zvelebil is certain that Tirukkuṛaḷ does not belong to the Sangam period, and dates it to somewhere between 450 and 500 CE. His estimate is based on the language of the text, its allusions to the earlier works, and its borrowing from some Sanskrit treatises. Zvelebil notes that the text features several grammatical innovations, that are absent in the older Sangam literature. The text also features a higher number of Sanskrit loan words compared to these older texts. According to Zvelebil, besides being part of the ancient Tamil literary tradition, the author was also a part of the "one great Indian ethical, didactic tradition," as a few of his verses seem to be translations of the verses in Sanskrit texts such as Mānavadharmaśāstra and Kautilya's Arthaśāstra.
S. Vaiyapuri Pillai assigned the work to c. 650 CE, believing that it borrowed from some Sanskrit works of 6th century CE. Zvelebil disagrees with this assessment, pointing out that some of the words that Pillai believed to be Sanskrit loan words have now been proved to be of Dravidian origin by Thomas Burrow and Murray Barnson Emeneau.
In 1921, in the face of incessant debate on the precise date, the Tamil Nadu government, taking the latest of the estimated dates, officially declared 31 BCE as the year of Valluvar at a conference presided over by Maraimalai Adigal. On 18 January 1935, the Valluvar Year was added to the calendar.[c]
Very little is known about Valluvar, the author of the Kural. In his work The Smile of Murugan, Czech Scholar Kamil Zvelebil cites a tradition suggesting he was an outcaste by birth, the issue of a union between a Brahmin man and a Pariah woman. Some think that he was a weaver by caste. He is believed to have been born under a punnai or mastwood tree (Calophyllum inophyllum) in the temple town of Mylapore, a locality within the present-day Chennai, and is said to be a simple weaver by profession who wrote the kurals with divine inspiration. He was married to Vasuki. He remained a close friend to and the mentor of Elelasingan. The first instance of the author's name mentioned as "Valluvar" is found to be several centuries later in a song of praise called the Tiruvalluva Maalai. Just as the book remained unnamed at the time of its presentation at the court of the ruler, the author too did not name himself in the writing of the book. Over the centuries that followed, people started calling the work "Tirukkural" and its author as "Thiruvalluvar". Monsieur Ariel, who translated the Kural text into French, thus praised it as "the book without a name by an author without a name." There are also claims and counter-claims as to the authorship of the book and to the exact number of couplets written by Valluvar.
Valluvar 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 moral vegetarianism (or veganism)[a] and non-killing reflects the Jain precepts, where these are stringently enforced. The three parts that the Kural 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. His mentioning of God Vishnu in couplets 610 and 1103 and Goddess Lakshmi in couplets 167, 408, 519, 565, 568, 616, and 617 suggests the Vaishnavite beliefs of Valluvar. Other eastern beliefs of Valluvar found in the book include previous birth and rebirth, 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. The only other book that is attributted to Valluvar other than the Kural text is Gnanavetti, a text that deals with spiritual aspects, due to which the author is also known as "Gnanavettiyan."
Structural and linguistic plan of the work
Having written by a single author, the Kural literature reveals a single structural plan. The Kural is not an anthology for there is not any later additions to the text. According to Kamil Zvelebil, the content of the Kural text is "undoubtedly patterned." The entire work has been structured very carefully without an allowance for any structural gaps in the text such that every couplet remains indispensable for the structured whole. Thus, one can find two distinct meanings for every couplet in the Kural literature, namely, a structural one and a proverbial one. In their isolated form, that is, when removed from the content-structure, the couplets lose their structural meaning, the most important of the two, with the isolated distiches still remaining charming and interesting in themselves. This simply makes the isolated couplet a wise saying or a moral maxim, "a 'literary proverb' in perfect form, possessing, in varying degree, the prosodic and rhetoric qualities of gnomic poetry." On the other hand, within the content-structure, the couplets acquire their structural meaning in relation to other couplets, forming higher patterns, and finally, in relation to the entire work, they acquire perfection in the totality of their structure.
Scholars opine that the work was composed by Valluvar in the purest Tamil of his time. According to John Lazarus, of the 12,000 words that Valluvar employed in the work, there are scarcely fifty of Sanskrit origin. According to Pavalareru Perunchithiranar, Valluvar has employed at least 28 different methods of conveying thoughts in the Kural text.
Substance of the work
Written with the contemporary society in view and marked by pragmatic idealism, the Kural text is unique among the ancient literature in terms of both its poetic and its intellectual accomplishments. In poetic terms, it fuses verse and aphoristic form in diction in a "pithy, vigorous, forceful and terse" manner. In intellectual terms, it is written on the basis of secular ethics, expounding a universal, moral and practical attitude towards life. Unlike religious scriptures, the Kural 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).
Nevertheless, the basic ideas of Valluvar is found in the introductory section of the Kural, which includes the first four chapters of the text. Valluvar begins this portion with the invocation of God and continues to praise the rain for being the vitalizer of all life forms on earth and describe the qualities of a righteous person, before concluding the introduction by emphasizing the value of aṟam or virtue. Valluvar extols rain next only to God for it provides food and serves as the basis of a stable economic life by aiding in agriculture, which Valluvar asserts as the most important economic activity later in Book II of the Kural text.
The entire writing of all the three books of the Kural text bases aṟam or dharma as its cornerstone, which resulted in the Kural being referred to simply as Aṟam. Contrary to what the Manusmriti says, Valluvar holds that aṟam is common for all, irrespective of whether the person is a bearer of palanquin or the rider in it. The greatest of virtues according to Valluvar is non-killing, followed by veracity, which he plainly indicates in couplet 323, and the two greatest sins that Valluvar feels very strongly are ingratitude and meat-eating. As observed by P. S. Sundaram in the introduction to his work, while "all other sins may be redeemed, but never ingratitude," Valluvar couldn't understand "how anyone could wish to fatten himself by feeding on the fat of others." The Kural differs from every other work on morality in that it follows ethics, surprisingly a divine one, even in its Book of Love. In the words of Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Valluvar maintains his views on personal morality even in the Book of Love, where one can normally expect greater poetic leniency, by describing the hero as "a one-woman man" without concubines.
Comparison with other ancient literature
Unlike the mystic philosopher of Lao Tzu or the law-giving prophets of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, Valluvar remained a philosopher concerning with the day-to-day conduct of a common individual. Scholars compares the codes of virtue, nobility, propriety, just governance, conduct, social obligations, self-control, education and knowledge with other ancient thoughts such as the Confucian sayings in Lun Yu, Hitopadesa, Panchatantra, Manusmriti, Tirumandiram, Book of Proverbs in the Bible, sayings of the Buddha in Dhammapada, and the ethical works of Persian origin such as Gulistan and Bustan, in addition to the holy books of various religions.
Similarities with ancient Indian literature
Several ancient Indian literature such as Manusmriti, Kautilya's Arthashastra, Kamandaka's Nitisara bear likeness with the second book (Porul), the book on wealth, of the Kural text, while Vatsyayana's Kamasutra shares similarities with Inbam, the third book of the Kural text (the book on love). However, the attitude and approach of Valluvar in expounding the virtues remain entirely different from any of these contemporary works. While the Artha Shastra is based on subtle statecraft, the Porul of the Kural text bases morality and benevolence as its cornerstones. The social hierarchies and discrimination found in Manusmriti are contrasted with Valluvar's concept of universal brotherhood and oneness of humanity. Unlike Kamasutra, which is all about eros and techniques of sexual fulfillment, the Kural text of Inbam remains a poetic appreciation of flowering human love as explicated by the Sangam period's concept of intimacy, known as aham in the Tamil literary tradition.
Similarities with Confucian thoughts
The Kural text and the Confucian sayings recorded in the classic Analects of Chinese (called Lun Yu, meaning "Sacred Sayings") resemble each other in many ways. Both Valluvar and Confucius focused on the behaviors and moral conducts of a common person. Similar to Valluvar, Confucius advocated legal justice embracing human principles, courtesy, and filial piety, besides the virtues of benevolence, righteousness, loyalty and trustworthiness as foundations of life. Incidentally, Valluvar differed from Confucius in two respects. Firstly, unlike Confucius, Valluvar was also a poet. Secondly, Confucius did not deal with the subject of conjugal love, for which Valluvar devoted an entire division in his work. Child-rearing is central to the Confucian thought of procreation of humanity and the benevolence of society. The Lun Yu says, "Therefore an enlightened ruler will regulate his people’s livelihood so as to ensure that, above they have enough to serve their parents and below they have enough to support their wives and children."[d]
Publication of the work
Save for the highly educated circle of scholars and elites outside the Tamil land, the Kural remained largely unknown to the outside world for close to one-and-a-half millennia. It had been passed on as word of mouth from parents to their children and from preceptors to their students for generations within the Tamil-speaking regions of South India. It was not until 1595 when the first translation of the work appeared in Malayalam that the work became known to the wider circle outside the Tamil-speaking communities. The work first came to print in 1812, with the Kural text getting published in Tamil, chiefly by the efforts of the then Collector of Madras Francis Whyte Ellis, who established the "Chennai Kalvi Sangam." It was published by Thanjai M. Gyanaprakasam. It was only in 1835 that Indians were permitted to establish printing press. Thus, the Kural became the first book to be published in Tamil, followed by the Naladiyar. Subsequent editions of the work appeared in 1831, 1833, 1838, 1840, and 1842. The work has been continuously in print ever since. By 1925, the work has already appeared in more than 65 editions.
Soon after the first publishing of the work, commentaries to the work began to appear in print. Mahalinga Iyer published the first 24 chapters of the Kural with commentaries for the first time. Parimelalhagar's commentary was published for the first time in 1840 and became the most widely published commentary ever since. In 1850, the complete work of the Kural was published with commentaries by Vedagiri Mudaliar, who published a revised version later in 1853. This publication was later used by 'Vallalar' Ramalinga Adigal to teach the Kural to the masses. Although the Kural text first came to print in 1812 becoming the first book ever published in Tamil, Manakkudavar's commentary, however, did not appear in print until the 20th century. It was only in 1917 that Manakkudavar's commentary for the first book of the Kural text was published by V. O. Chidambaram Pillai. Manakkudavar commentary for the entire Kural text was first published in 1925 by K. Ponnusami Nadar. As of 2013, Perimelalhagar's commentary appeared in more than 200 editions by as many as 30 publishers.
In December 2018, the first edition of the Kural text in Tamil Brahmi script, the script that was in vogue during Valluvar's time, was published by the International Institute of Tamil Studies (IITS). This made the Kural text available for the first time in a script in which the work might have originally written probably during the 1st century BCE or 1st century CE.
Commentaries and translations
The Kural is arguably the most reviewed of all works in Tamil literature, and almost every notable scholar has written commentaries (explanation in prose or verse) on it.[e] According to R. Ilankumaran, there are four necessary pre-requisites for writing commentaries to the Kural text:
- The awareness that the meaning of everything that is written in the Kural text is available in the work itself
- A workable knowledge of the Tolkappiam
- A thorough knowledge of the Sangam literature and landscape
- A practical knowledge of how things work in their nature.
There have been several commentaries written on the Kural over the centuries. Many poets of the first few centuries of the common era used various Kural couplets to illustrate their works. These include Ilango Adigal, Seethalai Satthanar, Sekkilar, and Kambar, to name a few. These can be considered the first commentaries to the Kural text, albeit in verse form and incomplete. In the centuries that followed, numerous commentators of various other works employed Kural couplets to elaborate their ideas, providing explanations to the couplets in the process, both in verse and in prose forms. These include Adiyarkku Nallar, Nacchinaarkiniyar, Mayilainathar, and Shankara Namacchivayar.
Exclusive commentaries on the Kural text started appearing much later. There were at least ten medieval commentaries written by pioneer poets of which only six are available today. The ten canonical medieval commentators include Manakkudavar, Dharumar, Dhamatthar, Nacchar, Paridhiyar, Thirumalaiyar, Mallar, Pari Perumal, Kaalingar, and Parimelalhagar, all of whom lived between the 10th and the 13th centuries CE. Of these, only the works of Manakkudavar, Paridhi, Kaalingar, Pari Perumal, and Parimelalhagar are available today. The works of Dharumar, Dhaamatthar, and Nacchar are only partially available. The commentaries by Thirumalaiyar and Mallar are lost completely. The pioneer among these commentators are Parimelalhagar and Manakkudavar. Among the ten medieval commentaries, scholars have found spelling, homophonic, and other minor textual variations in a total of 900 couplets, including 217 couplets in Book I, 487 couplets in Book II, and 196 couplets in Book III.
Besides the ten canonical medieval commentaries, there are three more medieval commentaries written by unknown authors. One of them was published under the title "Palaiya Urai" (meaning ancient commentary), while the second one was based on Paridhiyar's commentary. The third one was published in 1991 under the title "Jaina Urai" (meaning Jaina commentary) by Saraswathi Mahal Library in Thanjavur. Following these medieval commentaries, there are at least 21 venba commentaries to the Kural, including Somesar Mudumoli Venba, Murugesar Muduneri Venba, Sivasiva Venba, Irangesa Venba, and Vadamalai Venba, all of which are considered commentaries in verse form.
Several modern commentaries started appearing in the 19th and the 20th centuries. Some of the commentaries of the 20th century include those by Iyothee Thass, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai, Thiru Vi Ka, Bharathidasan, M. Varadarajan, Namakkal kavignar, Thirukkuralar V. Munusamy, Devaneya Pavanar, M. Karunanithi, and Solomon Pappaiah.
The first translation known of the Kural text is a Malayalam translation that appeared in about 1595. However, the manuscript remained unpublished and was first reported by the Annual Report of the Cochin Archeological Department for the year 1933 to 1934. The Christian missionaries who came to India during the colonial 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 Kural, 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, Parimelalhagar'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 Kural to the western world.
By the end of the 20th century, there were about 24 translations of the Kural in English alone, by both native and non-native scholars, including those by V. V. S. Aiyar, K. M. Balasubramaniam, Shuddhananda Bharati, A. Chakravarti, M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, C. Rajagopalachari, P. S. Sundaram, V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar, G. Vanmikanathan, Kasturi Srinivasan, S. N. Sriramadesikan, and K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar. At present, the Kural has been translated into 37 languages. It is also said that the work has also been translated into Vaagri Booli, the language of the Narikuravas, a tribal community in Tamil Nadu, by Kittu Sironmani. It is the most translated Tamil literature and also the most translated non-religious text of India.
With a highly compressed prosodic form, the Kural text employs the intricately complex Kural venba metre, known for its eminent suitability to gnomic poetry. This form, which Zvelebil calls "a marvel of brevity and condensation," is closely connected with the structural properties of the Tamil language and has historically presented extreme difficulties to its translators. Talking about translating the Kural into other languages, Herbert Arthur Popley observes, "it is impossible in any translation to do justice to the beauty and force of the original." Zvelebil claims that it is impossible to truly appreciate the maxims found in the Kural couplets through a translation but rather that the Kural has to be read and understood in its original Tamil form.
Besides these inherent difficulties in translating the Kural, some scholars have attempted to either read their own ideas into the Kural couplets or deliberately misinterpret the message to make it conform to their preconceived notions. The Latin translation by Father Beshi, for instance, contains several such mistranslations noticed by modern scholars. According to V. Ramasamy, "Beschi is purposely distorting the message of the original when he renders பிறவாழி as ‘the sea of miserable life’ and the phrase பிறவிப்பெருங்கடல் as ‘sea of this birth’ which has been translated by others as ‘the sea of many births’. Beschi means thus ‘those who swim the vast sea of miseries’. The concept of rebirth or many births for the same soul is contrary to Christian principle and belief."
While it has been widely acknowledged that Valluvar was of Jain origin and the Kural 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 moral vegetarianism (Chapter 26) and non-killing (Chapter 33), which the Kural emphasizes emphatically unlike the Bible or other Abrahamic religious texts, suggest that the ethics of the Kural is rather a reflection of the Jaina moral code than of Christian ethics. John Lazarus observes that, in stark contrast to the Bible’s concept of killing, which refers only to the taking away of human life, the Kural’s chapter on killing “deals exclusively with the literal taking away of life,” of both humans and animals. J. M. Nallaswamy Pillai dismisses Pope’s statement as “an absurd literary anachronism,” citing the Kural text as “a stumbling block which can browbeat the most sublime ideas of Christian morality.”
The Kural is praised for its universality across the globe. The ancient Tamil poet Avvaiyar observed, "Valluvar 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 its author "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 called it "the Hindu Kural," and Mahatma Gandhi 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. 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." Edward Jewitt Robinson said that the Kural 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, the Kural is praised for its veracity. An age-old Tamil maxim has it that "banyan and neem maintain oral health; Four and Two maintain moral health," where "Four" and "Two" refer to the quatrains and couplets of Nalatiyar and the Kural, respectively.
In popular culture
With the rediscovery of the image of Valluvar in 1959, the portrait of the author with matted hair and a flowing beard, as drawn by artist K. R. Venugopal Sharma in 1960, was accepted by the state and central governments as the standardised version. It soon became a popular and the standard portrait of the poet. In 1964, the image was unveiled in the Indian Parliament by the then President of India Zakir Hussain. In 1967, the Tamil Nadu government passed an order stating that the image of Valluvar should be present in all government offices across the state of Tamil Nadu.[f]
The Kural does not appear to have been set in music by Valluvar. However, a number of musicians have set it to tune and several singers have rendered it in their concerts. Modern composers who have tuned the Kural couplets include Mayuram Viswanatha Sastri and Ramani Bharadwaj. Singers who have performed full-fledged Tirukkural concerts include M. M. Dandapani Desikar and Chidambaram C. S. Jayaraman. Madurai Somasundaram and Sanjay Subramanian are other people who have given musical rendering of the Kural. Mayuram Vishwanatha Shastri set all the verses to music in the early 20th century. In January 2016, Chitravina N. Ravikiran set the entire 1330 verses to music in a record time of 16 hours. It can be said that it was cinema that made the general public hear Tirukkural being sung. For instance, K. Balachander's Kavithalayaa Productions opened its films with the very first couplet of the Kural sung in the background.
Several Tirukkural conferences were conducted in the twentieth century, most famously by Tirukkural V. Munusamy in 1941 and by Periyar E. V. Ramasamy in 1949. The 1949 conference, headed by Thiru. Vi. Ka, T. P. Meenakshisundaram, and A. Chakravarti, was held for two days on 15 and 16 January, with several scholars and celebrities participating in it, including S. Somasundara Bharathi, Kandhasami Mudaliyar, Tirukkuralar Munusamy, C. Ilakkuvanar, S. Mutthaiyah Mudaliyar, K. Appadurai, Pulavar Kulandhai, Actor N. S. Krishnan, and the later-day Chief Minister of the state C. N. Annadurai.
In 1818, the then Collector of Madras Francis Whyte Ellis, who had a high regard for Valluvar and his work, issued a gold coin bearing Valluvar's image when he was made in charge of the Madras treasury and mint.[g][h] In the late 19th century, the South Indian saint Vallalar launched a movement in Vadalur to teach Tirukkural to the masses. In 1968, the Tamil Nadu government made it mandatory to display a Kural couplet in all government buses. The train running a distance of 2,921 kilometers between Kanyakumari and New Delhi is named by the Indian Railways as the Thirukural Express. Kural also remains an integral part of the lifestyle of Tamil-speaking populations that it is propagated through various means such as music, dance, street shows, recitals, activities, and puzzles and riddles.
The Kural text and its author have been highly venerated over the centuries. In the early 16th century, a temple was constructed in Mylapore, Chennai, in honor of Valluvar. It was extensively renovated in the 1970s. There are also temples for Valluvar at Periya Kalayamputhur, Thondi, Kanjoor Thattanpady, Senapathy, and Vilvarani.
In 1976, Valluvar Kottam, a monument to honor the Kural literature and its author, was constructed in Chennai. 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 Valluvar. All the 1,330 verses of the Kural text are inscribed on bas-relief in the corridors in the main hall.
Statues of Valluvar have been erected across the globe, including the ones at Kanyakumari, Chennai, Bengaluru, Haridwar, Puttalam, Singapore, and London. The tallest of these is the 133-feet (40.6 m) stone statue of Valluvar erected in 2000 atop a small island in the town of Kanyakumari on the southernmost tip of the Indian peninsula, at the confluence of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean. This statue is currently India's 25th tallest.
The Kural remains one of the most influential texts of ancient India and the chief text of the Tamil language, influencing generations of scholars at a pan-Indian expanse. The work had influenced people from all walks of lives, which can be inferred from the parallels found in the literatures of various languages within the Indian Subcontinent. Although translations of the work into other Indian languages were not available until at least the 16th century, the work had been studied by other language scholars for centuries before the foreign invasion of India. With its translations into European languages starting from the early 18th century, Kural began to have a global influence. Besides perhaps numerous poets of the late Sangam era including Avvaiyar I and Kapilar, authors influenced by the Kural include Ilango Adigal, Seethalai Satthanar, Sekkilar, Kambar, Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Vallalar, Monsieur Ariel, Constantius Joseph Beschi, Karl Graul, August Friedrich Caemmerer, Nathaniel Edward Kindersley, Francis Whyte Ellis, Charles E. Gover, George Uglow Pope, Vinoba Bhave, Alexander Piatigorsky, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, and Yu Hsi. Many of these authors have translated the work into their languages.
Historically, the Kural experienced a few centuries of hiatus soon after its writing, dubbed the "Dark Age," following which it enjoyed a revival period when the teachings of the Kural started to influence people greatly. A notable example was from the period of Karikalan during the 1st century CE, when the Chola ruler was influenced by the Kural to undertake several historically significant agricultural reforms, including reclaiming lands and building dams. Another example was during the Pallava Dynasty when the people had to face the Kalabhra invasion around 250 CE.
Kural remains the only work that was honored with an exclusive work of compiled paeans in the Sangam literature, believed to have been authored by 55 different poets, including legendary ones. Kural also remains the most quoted Tamil work ever since the post Sangam period. Classical works such as the Purananuru, Manimekalai, Silappathikaram, Periya Puranam, and Kamba Ramayanam all cite the Kural by various names, bestowing numerous titles to the work that was originally untitled by its author. In Kamba Ramayanam, poet Kambar has used as many as 600 couplets of the Kural. Kural couplets and thoughts are cited in 32 instances in the Purananuru, 35 in Purapporul Venba Maalai, 1 each in Pathittrupatthu and the Ten Idylls, 13 in the Silappathikaram, 91 in the Manimekalai, 20 in Jivaka Chinthamani, 12 in Villi Bharatham, 7 in Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam, and 4 in Kanda Puranam.
The Kural text was first included in the school syllabus by the then British government. However, only select 275 couplets have been taught to the schoolchildren between III to XII Standards. Attempts to include the Kural literature as a compulsory subject in schools were ineffective in the decades following Independence. On 26 April 2016, the Madras High Court directed the state government to include all the 108 chapters of the Books of Aram and Porul of the Kural text in school syllabus for classes VI through XII from the academic year 2017–2018 "to build a nation with moral values." The court observed, "No other philosophical or religious work has such moral and intellectual approach to problems of life."
The Kural has inspired many to pursue the path of ahimsa or non-violence. Leo Tolstoy was inspired by the concept of non-violence found in the Kural 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. Gandhi then took to studying the Kural in prison, which eventually culminated in his starting the non-violence movement to fight against the British. It is said that Gandhi had learnt Tamil only to read the original text of the Kural. Vallalar was inspired by the Kural at a young age and spent his whole life promoting compassion and non-violence, emphasizing on a compassionate, non-killing, and meatless way of life.
a. ^ The Kural insists on strict "moral vegetarianism", the doctrine that humans are morally obligated to refrain from eating meat or harming sentient beings, known as "veganism" since the 20th century, as described by Mylan Engel in his "The Immorality of Eating Meat" (2000). The concept of ahimsa or இன்னா செய்யாமை, which remains the moral foundation of veganism, is described in the Kural chapter on non-violence (Chapter 32).
b. ^ The couplets are generally numbered in a linear fashion across the three books, covering all the 1,330 couplets. They can also be denoted by their chapter number and couplet number within the chapter. Thus, the third couplet in Chapter 104 (Agriculture), for instance, can be numbered either as 1033 or, less commonly, as 104:3.
d. ^ Compare this with Chapter 7 of the Tirukkural—the Kural chapter on bearing children.
e. ^ Commentary refers to prosaic interpretations written by various scholars for the original verse form of the Kural couplets. These commentaries are chiefly written in Tamil by pioneer writers over the millennia. In highly canonical literary works and works of poetry, such as the Silappathikaram and Kamba Ramayanam, commentary can also appear in verse form, often blending with the work inseparably. Translation, on the other hand, refers to any interpretation, either in prose or in verse, verbatim or otherwise, of the Kural couplets in other languages. Thus, any commentary written in a language other than Tamil is considered a prose translation of the Tamil original in that particular language.
g. ^ A stone inscription found on the walls of a well at the Periya Palayathamman temple at Royapettai indicates Ellis' regard for Valluvar. 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 Valluvar and uses a couplet from the Tirukkural 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 Valluvar's image. The Tamil inscription on his grave makes note of his commentary of Tirukkural.
h. ^ The original inscription in Tamil written in the asiriyapa metre and first-person perspective: (The kural couplet 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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Journals and Magazines
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THE HINDU KURAL
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- Thirukkural with English Couplets L'Auberson, Switzerland: Editions ASSA, ISBN 978-2-940393-17-6.
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- Yogi Shuddhananda Bharati (Trans.). (1995, May 15). Thirukkural with English Couplets. Chennai: Tamil Chandror Peravai.
- Zvelebil, K. (1962). Foreword. In: Tirukkural by Tiruvalluvar (Translated by K. M. Balasubramaniam). Madras: Manali Lakshmana Mudaliar Specific Endowments. 327 pages.
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