Tirukkural is one of the most important works of Ancient India. Padma Sankaran gives us a peep into this famed work.

Tirukkural is one of the most important works of Ancient India. Padma Sankaran gives us a peep into this famed work.

“ts;Std; jd;id cyfpDf;Nf je;J thd; Gfo; nfhz;l jkpo;ehL”
"By giving Tiruvalluvar to the world, Tamil Nadu has acquired unparalleled fame", wrote the modern Tamil poet Bharathi, referring to Tiruvalluvar and his work Tirukkural written about two millennia ago. Tirukkural and Tiruvalluvar have become synonymous with the Tamil language and Tamil Nadu.

Tirukkural constitutes one of the most important literary works in Tamil. This classic was composed during the Sangam Period of literary achievements in Tamil, roughly between 500-200 BC. There are references to Tirukkural in two of the Tamil Epics, namely, Silappathikaram and Manimekalai which fall in the last period of the Sangam Era, said to be between 200 BC and 100 AD. Tirukkural is also believed to be the first work to focus on ethics, among the Buddhist-Jain literature of India.

During the Sangam Period, the Tamil society enjoyed high standards in art, culture and literature. This was largely due to the fact that the Tamil Country in this period enjoyed political independence. For example, the invasions of the great rulers of North India stopped well outside the northern boundary of the Tamil country. Iravatham Mahadevan, the well known scholar in Tamil epigraphy and Indus Valley script says, “Another noteworthy feature of ancient Tamil literacy was its popular or demographic character, based as it was on the language of the people. Literacy seems to have been widespread in all regions of the Tamil country, both in urban and rural areas and encompassing within its reach all strata of the Tamil society”. The Tamil country of that age was also free of caste divisions. Instead, Tamil society was divided on an occupational basis, such as Arivar (scholars), Ulavar (farmers), Ayars (shepherds), Padayatchier (soldiers), Valayar (fishermen), Veduvar (hunters), Kannalars (smiths) and Pulayars (tanners). Land was classified on the basis of almost the modern ‘agro-climatic’ regions such as Kurinji (mountainous), Mullai (forest), Marudam (agricultural), Naithal (littoral) and Palai (desert and wasteland).

That Tiruvalluvar was born into such a secular society and wrote in such a milieu is evident from the total absence of reference to castes in Tirukkural. The concepts and precepts are universal in their scope and content and are as valid today as they were two millennia back. Its universality is such that the work is as relevant to the whole world as it is to the Tamil people. No wonder Tirukkural ranks with the Bible as one of the most widely translated pieces of literature.

Tiruvalluvar, the saint poet, and his wife Vasuki lived in Mylapore which is a part of modern Chennai. There are many stories about the absolute harmony in their marriage.

Tirukkural consists of 1330 Tamil couplets, organised into 133 chapters, covering a wide variety of themes and ideas, all grouped under three heads – Arathupal, book of Dharma, Porutpal, book of material wealth and Kamathupal, book of love and joy. Tiru means sacred, Kural means something short. The poet takes up a subject and allocates 10 couplets to it, and when all the 10 are taken together, a full comprehension of the subject is revealed. All 1330 couplets are examples of Venpa, a form of classical Tamil poetry. Tirukkural comes under a sub-category of Venpa called Kural Venpa, wherein each Kural has only two lines, the first line consisting of four words and the second line three. A set of well defined metric rules define the grammar for Venpa.

Each chapter in Tirukkural has a specific subject ranging from "ploughing a piece of land" to "ruling a country". On the subject of politics and governance the poet explains the relationship between the ruler, his ministers and his subjects, what should be the qualities of a ruler and his ministers, etc. Some of the subjects he covers are medicine, learning, farming and social service. Learning, he says, is useless unless passed on to others. In short the saint is able to put forward a guide to life at home and in the community. A few excerpts for example:

fw;f frlwf; fw;git@ fw;wgpd;
epw;f mjw;Fj; jf.
Which means, learn thoroughly whatever you are learning; after that act according to that learning.

FbjoP,f; NfhNyhr;Rk; khepy kd;dd;
mbjoP, epw;Fk; cyF.
This means, a king who rules according to the wishes of his subjects will have the support of the people.

ntW te;;j nra;njhOFk; ntq;Nfhyd; Mapd;
xUte;jk;, xy;iyf; nfLk;.
If a king’s rule brings hardships to his people, his rule will end soon.


Smt Padma Sankaran is a spirited social activist,
 campaigning for the rights of women and other disadvantaged sections of people.


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