By Kumar Punithavel
Ever since the 133 ft. tall statue of Thiruvalluvar was erected in the southern tip of India in 1999, there has been much interest shown about this poet, who lived in South India about two thousand years ago. Today the Sacred Thirukkural, the only book, Valluvar, as he was commonly called, was known to have authored, stands out as a work acclaimed throughout the world as the embodiment of universal wisdom and ethics. Here are some observations made by scholars from various parts of the world that I wish to bring to the awareness of today’s Tamil youth.
The book is composed of 1330 couplets, on three subjects, namely Virtue, Wealth and Love. Apart from Thirukkural, there is extant only one quatrain written by him. It was ostensibly written following the demise of his beloved wife, and it goes as follows:
‘Sweet as my daily food! Oh, full of love! Oh wife,
Amenable ever to my word! Massaging my feet,
The last to sleep, the first to rise, Oh! gentle one!
By night, henceforth, wherefore slumber to mine eyes?’
There are many folk-tales about him, such as, he was born to a low cast woman and a high cast man; and that of he was a weaver and more. I do not intend to touch upon these, for a poet who should be judged by his works and not by his power, position or lineage. We judge the great bard William Shakespeare was not judged by his birth and life, and it was his great works keep him immortalised.
Here, let’s consider some of the observations made by the academicians and scholars, made about Valluvar’s magnum opus Thirukkural.
- I shall begin with the observation of a renowned Canadian born Tamil scholar and evangelist, Rev. G.U. Pope. Rev. Pope was born in Prince Edward Island, in the Province of Ontario, two hundred years ago, in 1820. He translated the Sacred Thirukkural into English, in 1886. The title of the book was ‘The Sacred Kural’. In the introduction he says, that “in all that the west has to impart. we will find little to unteach in the moral lessons of the Kural rightly understood”. He further states, “Tamil is a sophisticated unique language, with a rich vocabulary”. It is the mother of all South Indian Languages. Tamil literature embodies high moral standards and ethical codes. Thirukkural is as clear as an unpolluted spring. Yes, Thirukkural is unique in its power to wash away the impurities of the world.
- Another significant observation about Thirukkural was made by Leigh Lisker in The Encyclopaedia Americana Vol.XV, Page 26. Identifying the Kural (literally couplet) as “perhaps the most widely known Tamil classic,”, he states, “this is a work of didactic morality whose 1330 couplets are remarkable for their economy and clarity of style, for the wide range of human situations for which they provide guidance, and for their unique blend of worldly wisdom and idealistic ethics.”
- Karl Graul, a German scholar who translated Kural into German language, had this to say: No translation and convey an idea of its (Thirukkural’s) charming effect. It is truly an apple of gold in the network of silver. Therefore, no translation can do justice to the poetical brevity of Kural and its delightful rhymes and repetitious words. (Describes Kural as “the peerless of pearls in this old and rich classical literature of the Tamilians.”
- Arno Lehman, a 19th century Dravidiologist, writing in Tamil Culture, Vol.XI, No.3, Page 218, extolled Kural as “the greatest masterpiece of Tamil literature”, embodying “the rationalisation and synthesis of the wisdom and ideas of the earlier Tamil literature.”
- Another noted encomium on Thirukkural came from Alexander Phtigorsky, the greatest philosopher from Russia of the 20th century; a philologist, well versed in the study of Russian, Latin, English, German, Italian, French, Tamil, Sanskrit, Pali and Tibetan. He joined Moscow’s Institute of Oriental Studies to study Tamil and Hinduism. He compiled the first Russian – Tamil dictionary in 1960. He proclaimed: “The Kural is rightly considered a Chefs d’oeure, of both Indian and world literature. This is due not only the great artistic merit of the work but also to the lofty humane ideas permeating it which are equally precious to people all over the world, of all periods and countries.”
- Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a Noble Peace-Prize Winner, a French-German theologian, philosopher and a physician, wrote: “Whilst the Bhagavad Gita in a forced and chilly manner gives as a motive for remaining in active life that it is in accordance with the order of the Universe, the Kural justifies it – what an advance! — by the idea of ethical activity. Work and profit place a man in a position to do good”
- To quote another scholar, Rev. Dr. J. Lazarus, one of the authors of commentary in English on Thirukkural, “Kural is composed in the purest Tamil. In about 12,000 words which the poet has employed to convey his thoughts there are scarcely fifty of Sanskrit origin. No known Tamil work can even approach the purity of Kural. It is a standing rebuke to the modern Tamil “. —I am sure, had Dr. Lazarus had read, late Mozhignaayiru Thevaneya Paavaanar’s The Primary Classical Language of the World, he would have noted that there is not a single word of Sanskrit origin in it.
- Another international scholar, Kamil Zvelabil, a Czechoslovakian Tamil scholar, declares in Tamil Culture ,Volume V, No.4, page 296 “Kural is one of the greatest books of the world, one of those singular emanations of human heart and spirit which preach positive love and forgiveness and peace” -.
- Brother Lucien of Durban, South Africa, writes: “Large numbers of people in the West are hopefully thirsting to know what ancient India has to contribute to the philosophy of life. The Thirukkural stands with distinction amongst those treasures of an Eastern literature that go to make their hopes well founded”.
- Mahathma Gandhi, the Father of the Indian Nation and the champion of non-violence, said: “I wanted to learn Tamil, only to enable me to study Valluvar’s Thirukkural, through his mother tongue itself …… There is no one who has given such treasure of wisdom like him”. (Tamil Gurdian, September 9, 2021).
The proclamations of few of the world’s great scholars and thinkers, quoted above, show clearly that the nuggets of condensed wisdom contained in the 1330 compact couplets of Thirukkural are an endless fresh water spring to be used to cleanse the world of impurities like, anger, hatred, and injustice. Thirukkural is a non-sectarian theological book, firmly believing in God, but not in a god or any sectarian god, but in a single universal God. In the 1330 couplets, though written in Tamil, never is the word Tamil mentioned. So far, the book, strictly secular in nature, has been translated into more than forty languages and there are more than fifty different translations in English language alone.
Please take the time to read the book and cleanse your heart of impurities.