Tamil, a classical language
Valluvar, the author
A poet and teacher
Not an ascetic
A weaver, āchārya or a king?
Other works attributed to Thiruvalluvar
Kural, the book
Virtue, Wealth and Love
Not a religious text
A classic of international repute
A well preserved book
1. Tamil, a classical language
According to historian
Arnold Toynbee, only three people have produced and preserved a
literature: The Chinese, Indians and the Jews.
The Indian contribution comes through three languages: the
extinct Sanskrit and Pali, and the extant Tamil. Tamil existed in the
Dravidian south India even before Sanskrit entered through north.
Sanskrit's entry and the
impact it had on the local languages is evident from the gradual
increase in the percentage of loan words of Sanskrit origin into its
native languages including its literatures. Of all the Dravidian languages,
however, Tamil has the longest literary history and is the least subjected to Sanskrit influence. Archaeological
evidence obtained from inscriptions excavated in 2005 dates the language
to around 500 BC [*].
Its grammar is said to have been fixed around 300 B.C.
and its contribution to the field of literature is immense.
Traces of pre-Aryan Tamil poetry belonging to the Sangam Age (100 B.C.
to 300 A.D.) have survived to this day.
information on Tamil, Tamils and their history can be had from the
Prof A. Velupillai's site on "Religious
Traditions of Tamils"
[*] or [*]
Wikipedia has a good write up about
History of Tamil literature.
Forumhub on the
History of Tamil Nadu.
The ancient Tamil country
produced great saints, poets, poetesses, sages and reformers. Many
of their principal teachings were very catholic in nature and I quote
here the sayings of three great saints of ancient Tamil Nadu.
"Every country is my native and every man my
Poonkunranar in Purananuru 192 (100 BC to 300 AD)
"By birth all men are equal. The differences
in their action render their worth unequal"
Thiruvalluvar in Thirukkural 972 (200-800 AD)
"Mankind is one community and divinity is
Thirumoolar in Thirumandiram 2104 (600-900 AD)
Easily the most famous and
greatest of all Tamil classics is Thirukkural (abridged name "Kural"), written by Thiruvalluvar
(or Valluvar as he is popularly known). The Kural is one
of the earliest sets of aphorisms to have existed not in Sanskrit but in
Tamil. The prefix
Thiru, meaning 'sacred,' is often added as a mark of respect. No
other Tamil work has received so much importance like the Kural, and no
other Tamil work has seen so many translations and commentaries into almost all major
languages of the world.
2. Valluvar, the author
Valluvar must have written the Kural
sometime between the 2nd century B.C. to 8th century A.D. As is the case
with most Indian works, scholars are divided in their opinion about the
period of this great poet. Though the most commonly stated period is 2nd
the Tamils in Tamil Nadu have traditionally considered 31 B.C. as the
year of his birth as accepted by the Tamil Academy of Madurai [*, *, *].
According to some scholars, however, he lived and wrote during Post Sangam Period
(300 A.D. to 600 A.D.) [*,
Rarely do scholars place Valluvar and his work in the 7th or 8th century
AD. The Kural is considered posterior to Arthaśastra (between 250 B.C.
& 150 A.D.)
as the author seems to have clearly borrowed some of Kautalya's ideas
into his work. The work is considered anterior to the two
Tamil epics of 2nd to 5th century A.D. namely Manimekhalai and
Silappadikaram as they clearly contain few references to Valluvar's couplets in them.
Therefore it appears that the author of Tirukkural would have lived
sometime between the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D.
2.1. A poet and teacher
Valluvar was a poet, thinker and teacher, all moulded into one. He was
not a mystic philosopher like Lao Tzu, but a man concerned with the day
to day conduct of man like Confucius. Neither was he a law giver like the prophets of
Judeo-Christian tradition or for that matter like the Vedic law makers
Manu and Yajnavalkya. Whenever Valluvar talks of virtue, nobility,
propriety, just governance, conduct, social obligations, self control,
education and knowledge, his maxims remind us very much of Confucian
sayings in Lun Yu, to a great extent to the Proverbs in the Bible and to
some degree to the sayings of Buddha in Dhammapada. Many scholars
consider that the second division in Tirukkural "Wealth" resembles a
great deal to Chanakya's Artha and Níti Sāstras.,
Besides this likely influence, many couplets
in Tirukkural bear surprising resemblance to verses in Dharma sāstras
like Manu Smriti, Buddhist works like Dhammapāda and Lankavatāra sutra,
Tamil ethical-philosophical works like Nālatiyār and Thirumandiram,
Tamil Sangam classics like Kalithogai and Natrinai, Chinese works like Lun Yu
and Chuang Tzu, Sanskrit fables and tales like Hitopadésa and Panchatantra,
Persian fables and tales like Gulistan and Bastan, Biblical chapters
like Proverbs, Sanskrit ethical treatises like Vajjālaggam, Nitisatakam
and Nitivisastika, and even to Prakrit love poems of Jayavallabha and
King Hāla. These resemblances will be dealt separately in this
article: Tirukkural in light of other ancient texts. The Kural also
deals with some miscellaneous topics like agriculture, rain and
medicine and poet Madurai Tamilnāganār was not wrong when he said that the Kural
deals with everything and there is nothing that it does not deal with.
எல்லாப்பொருளும் இதன்பால் உள;
இல்லாத எப்பொருளும் இல்லையால்.
Those who are amazed with Valluvar's ability to
provide poetic maxims of wide ranging subjects, consider him a Divine
Poet. Umapathy Sivacharya, a Saivite poet of the 14th century, was so
overpowered with contents of the Kural that he quoted a
verbatim and called Valluvar the 'divine poet' and his
'words speaking the truth'.
திருவள்ளுவர் உரைத்த மெய்வைத்த சொல்லை...."
leave alone Tiruvalluvar
who lived a 1000 years before him. It took a Western scholar McLeod
(1968) to show that most of the stories attributed to the founder of
Sikhism, mostly found in the traditional collection called Janam Sākhis,
were nothing but hagiographical.
 Writers on Kālidāsa do not fail to mention that only seven of
the 11 or 12 works ascribed to him are considered authentic.,
The reason for the non-mention of Thiruvalluvar's others works appears
to be the very obvious spurious nature of the claims of Valluvar's
authorship to these works. The fact that most of these are
Siddha literatures composed during the 16th and 17th centuries with
plenty of words of Sanskrit origin in them accounts for their outright rejection
as the works of Tiruvalluvar (see *,
"The words of truth spoken by the
Divine poet Thiruvalluvar...."
The Thirukkural (திருக்குறள்)
(or the Kural as it is popularly called) is a small
collection of 1330 aphorisms, written in metrical verses of two lines.
Considered as the Bible of South Indiaor the fifth Veda of Tamils,
the Kural is easily the most popular contribution from Tamils to the
storehouse of Indian literature. The word "Thirukkural" is composed of
two words Thiru and Kural
which mean `Sacred' and `Couplet' respectively. Like the Confucian
Lun Yu, which is translated as "Sacred Sayings", the common English
rendering of Thiruk-Kural is Sacred Couplets.
3.1. Virtue, Wealth and Love
Valluvar's couplets reflect the vast amount of
knowledge he had in all walks of life: domestic, social, political, and
even spiritual. The Kural consists of 3 cantos or books or divisions,
namely Virtue, Wealth and Love. Almost all scholars are of the view that
this division is based on the 4 aims of human pursuits (purukshātrā)
of the Indian tradition, namely Virtue, Wealth, Love and Liberation.,
The reason why Valluvar left out the fourth "Liberation" and focused
only on the first three (called Trivarga in Sanskrit and
Muppāl in Tamil) is unclear. Valluvar, like Manu, Chanakya
and Jayavallabha, held that the attainment of Trivarga
(i.e. an aggregate of all these three) is the
real objective of man.
We see this mentioned even in the Sangam literature Puranānūru: "Your
wealth can nourish the three aims of life, Righteousness, Prosperity and
Thirukkural may be the first work to have been organized under these
three human pursuits of Trivarga but certainly not the only one. Two of the other classics organized under these thematic
divisions are Naladiyār in Tamil and Vajjalaggam in Prakrit. In
Sanskrit, Bhartrihari's Śātakās also appeared under three heads,
namely Dharma (Renunciation), Artha (Polity and Ethics) and
Indeed, Valluvar's Aram, Porul and Inbam
are universal in character and secular in nature unlike those explained
in the Sanskrit works like Dharma and Artha sastras. Valluvar's third
book or division Inbam (Love), unlike Kama Sutra, is not an
analysis of sexual methods but a poetic exposition of the love between
man and woman set in different dramatic situations.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that the three divisions are based on the
of Indian tradition.
In "Love", Valluvar keeps himself in the background and allows his
characters to speak in a dramatic monologue.
He is no longer a well
wisher or teacher here, but a poet expressing the joy, anguish and
emotions that are usually associated when two people are involved in an
intimate relationship. Apart from the fact that the 25 chapters in this
third book LOVE are also written in the same kural venba (couplet
meter), the subject matter is quite different from what we see in the
first two divisions, namely Virtue and Wealth. The 3 divisions in the Kural are covered under
133 chapters, the first six chapters of these 3 divisions have
been given in the following table.
Since the Kural concerns largely with ethics and the
conduct of man in this world, it cannot be grouped along with some of
the philosophical treaties like the Upanishads, Baghavad Gita or
Thirumandiram. Valluvar talks about the responsibilities of individuals,
community and the ruler. He talks about the relationship between a
husband and wife, between king and his people and between the people of
the community. Indeed he also talks a bit about the relationship between God
and man, though he didn't advocate a separate division (Moksha)
Unlike some Tamil
works like Thirumandiram, the Valluvr does not claim his work to be a revelation.
The Kural in this sense does not belong to any religious group. Its
secular outlook has in fact led some to consider it as India's National
The Kural is taught in schools and colleges as part of the Tamil
literary curriculum and is equally accepted by people of all faiths. Only
two chapters (1 and 3) and a few couplets scattered in other chapters,
could be considered `religious' in nature. Even here, the first chapter (Praise of
God) could be acceptable to people of all faiths.
Having been brought up in a community which
believed in the doctrine of Samsara (rebirth), his work naturally
contains some verses on this. Even here he avoids giving Ultimate
Reality any name.
The KURAL's sentences are
as binding as the TEN commandments on the Jews.
KURAL is as important and
influential on the Tamil mind
as Dante's great work on the
language and thought of Italy.
- Mr Charles E. Gover
language, structure and content evident throughout the work. The
Kural we now have in circulation follows the chapter and couplet
arrangements seen in the work of the great Kural commentator
Parimelazhagar who lived during the 13th century A.D. According to an
ancient Tamil verse (Perunthogai, line 1538), there were ten commentators of the Kural.
Five of these nine commentaries, by Manakkudavar, Pariperumaal,
Parithiar, Parimelazhagar and Kalingar, have survived in full to the present. The text of the Kural used by these commentators were apparently very similar. Says P.S.
Sundaram in his introduction:
"The text of
the Kural with the five commentaries by the above mentioned commentators
shows surprising similarity. The numbers and the arrangement of the
chapters is the same, and the chapter headings are also identical"
"Except for three stanzas in Book III
(Love), which in Kalingar's version are distributed differently, among
the chapters in the same book as compared with the other commentaries,
the stanzas are all the same in the various commentaries. However,
within each chapter, there is a variation in the arrangement of the ten
couplets making up the contents of that chapter".
The textual variations of the Kural have been studied in detail by
according to whom there
are only about 305 variations in the whole book. These variations are
minor and do not change the meaning of the couplets in any way. Some
instances of these minor variations are:
ஒரு நாளை in 156 as
இவை மூன்றன் in
நின்றான் in 176
தரலான் in 131 as
While many of the ancient Tamil works like Valaiyapati,
Perunkatai, and Kuntalakeci have been either lost entirely or
available to us only in fragments, the Kural has survived to this day
fully intact. Thanks to the tradition of commentators, Valluvar's work
has retained its originality unlike the works of many other ancient
authors. Kalidasa's works, for instance, have undoubtedly come down to
us not in their original form, but in several recessions current in
different regions of the country.26