Translations of Kural in different languages
பிற மொழிகளில் திருக்குறள்
“No translation can convey any idea of its charming effect.
It is truly an apple of gold in a network of silver”
(In his introduction to the Kural in German)
The Tamil classic, Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets), has been translated into many major languages of the world. Attributed to Thiruvalluvar, who probably lived during the 2nd or 3rd century A.D., the Kural (as it is often referred) occupies a leading place amongst the wisdom literatures of the world. The popularity of the Kural amongst all ancient Tamil literatures can be judged from the fact that the next most translated work in Tamil comes no where near the Kural when compared to the number of times and number of languages the Kural has been translated. The Tamils believe that the Kural has been translated into most languages, next only to the Bible and the Qur’an., There are other texts with similar claims of having been translated several times in many languages. The Hindus claim that their most popular scripture the Bhagavad Gita is the second most widely translated book after the Bible. It has been translated into at least 24 languages [*] and probably more. The Chinese claim that their classic Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu is the world’s most translated Book. Victor Mahir, a translator of Tao Te Ching, had this to say: “Next to the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching is the most translated book in the world”. Ninety one different translations of Tao Te Ching in 15 different languages (35 translations in English alone) are available at a single website on the net [*]. The Confucian Analects (Lun Yu) attributed to Confucius has also been translated to many languages. The Confucian Publishing Co. Ltd has presented this Confucian Classic in 26 languages of the world on the internet [*]. The Qur’an has been translated into 47 languages [*] and the Bible into 303 languages [*] and many translations of these scriptures in different languages are available on the net. Dhammapada, the most popular of all Buddhist sacred texts, must have also seen several translations.
Like the Baghavad Gita, the Kural is a product of India, the home of at least 14 officially recognized languages. Naturally they have been translated into many of these 14 languages. The Kural has seen more than five translations in some of these languages (like Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Sanskrit and Telugu). The Chinese in their country have only two languages to deal with and therefore the claim of Tamils that the Kural has been translated into most number of languages, next only to the Bible and Qur’an, is not a tall one. According to one source of information, the Kural has been so far translated, either in parts or in full, into 80-90 languages.[6,14] The Tao Te Ching has to be the most translated, but not necessarily in a diversity of languages like the Kural and Gita.
The Kural differs from the above sacred texts in two respects: Firstly, it does not have the backing of any religious community to promote its translations into many languages. The Kural has therefore been translated mainly because of its poetical merit and strong ethical content. Secondly, all these sacred texts except the Bible are much smaller in size than the Kural. When compared to the Kural which has 1330 cryptic couplets of two lines each, the Tao Te Ching has 81 poems of varying sizes, the average coming to 10-12 lines per poem. The Analects has 499 sayings, Dhammapada has 423 verses and the Gita 700 slokas. Translators obviously find translating smaller works like Tao Te Ching, Analects and also the Kural easier when compared to larger works.
Translating the Kural
At least the moral values which are integral to the Kural never get lost when properly translated. Over the last three centuries, numerous scholars have taken the task of translating the Kural into various languages. It has now been translated into all major languages of the world like French, Latin, Polish, Russian, Swedish, German, Japanese, Dutch, Czech, Finnish, Malayan, Burmese, Korean, Chinese, Singhalese, Italian, Urdu, Arabic and at least eight Indian languages. Notable exceptions appear to be Assamese, Thai, Tibetan, Greek, Afrikaans, Turkish, Hebrew, Mangolian, Persian and Irish. If the claim that the Kural has been translated into 80 languages is true, then some of these languages might have also been covered. Considering the fact that Tamil is a classical language of great antiquity, Tirukkural (திருக்குறள் =Sacred Verses) must have been translated into the classical Greek language too. As of now, I have only the following translation of a couplet to offer in Greek. Translations of the same couplet has been presented in other languages also below (Note: Translations in German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese have been done with the help of Google's translation option).
"Πώς μπορεί κάποιος, που τρώει τη σάρκα άλλων για να
How can one command
Tiruvalluvar, Sacred Verses: 251
தன்னூன் பெருக்கற்குத் தான்பிறி தூனுண்பா
திருவள்ளுவர், திருக்குறள்: 251
Тируваллувар, Священные стихи: 251
Tiruwalluwar, Tirukkural: 251
Comment celui qui
mange la chair d’un autre être animé,
Qui ut sua caro pinguoscat, alienas carnes comedit quinam eum
viveutibus lenitatem et clementiam exercere dicetur?
Tiruvalluvar, Tirukkural: 251
Tiruvalluvar, Verses Sacred: 251
माँस-वृद्धि अपनी समझ, जो खाता पर माँस ।
कैसे दयार्द्रता-सुगुण, रहता उसके पास ॥
तिरुवल्लुवर, तिरुक्कुरल: 251
كيف يكون احد رؤوفا ورحيما إن يأكل الحيوانات
لا زدياد شحمه ودسمه فى جثـتـه وجسمه
تروولوور- الأبْيـَاتُ المـقـدّسَــة -251
Wie kann er zutreffendes Mitleid üben, das das Fleisch eines Tieres ißt,
um sein eigenes Fleisch zu mästen?
그는 어떻게 그 자신의 살을 살찌기 위하여 동물의 살을 먹는
진실한 연민을 실행해서 좋은가?
Tiruvalluvar, 신성한 운문, 251
The Kural was popular in the neighbouring country Sri Lanka (the Ceylon) even before it was officially translated. S. Maharajan in his book on Tiruvalluvar (Sahitya Academi) mentions about Dr. Xavier S. Thani Nayagam who produced the earliest record of a non-Indian use of Thirukkural. This is found in the Fernao de Queyroz’s “Conquest of Ceylon” in which the Franciscan Missionary Fra Joam de Vila Conde, in a religious debate at the court of Bhuvanaika Bahu of Kotte, Ceylon (1521-1551) cited the Kural in support of the doctrines which he preached: “Read, one of the books you have which you have maliciously hidden, composed by Valuer (evidently Valluvar) a native of Melipur (Mylapore) and the contemporary of St. Thomas. There you will find the union of the Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son, the Redemption of Man, the cause of his fall, the remedy for this faults and miseries and finally the preservation of his state”. The fact that the missionary cited the Kural may be true but none of us would agree with what he said of the Kural for it never mentions about Trinity, Incarnation, Redemption or Fall!
The first translation of the Kural into a European language was that of C.J. Beschi of the Society of Jesus (1700-1742) who translated the Kural into Latin. Interestingly the first translation of Dhammapada to a European language was also in Latin (by Dr. Fausboll), but this happened only in 1855! A Latin translation of Bhagavad Gita appeared only in the year 1823 by Schlegel. The first translation of the Kural into English (as selections) happened in 1794 by Kindersley (Extracts from “Ocean of Wisdom”) only nine years after the first English edition of the Gita appeared. The Kural was translated into German by A.F. Cammera in 1803 and into French by Ariel in 1848, just two years after the Gita was translated into French by Lassens. It is interesting is to compare this with the history of translating Bhagavad Gita. It was first translated into English in 1785 by Charles Wilkins. It was translated into Latin in 1823 by Schlegel, into German by Von Humbolt in 1826, into French by Lassens in 1846 and into Greek by Galanos in 1848. However, the first ever Indian work translated into an European language appear to be a selection of 200 slokas of Bhartrihari into Dutch.
Some of the well known translations in English include those by G.U. Pope, W.H. Drew & John Lazarus, V.V.S. Iyer, K. Srinivasan, C. Rajagopalachari and P.S. Sundaram. Some of these English translations and many others' are now available on the net.
Some important translations of Tirukkural in English on the internet
It spite of its translation into more than 30 languages of the world (perhaps into 60 or 80 languages as mentioned before), hardly any translations – other than in English – are available on the net. The only complete translation of the Kural in a foreign language other than English available on the net is Russian [*]. The idea here is to present the Kural in all the major languages of the world including all the Indian languages. The most difficult part in this exercise is procuring copies of the Kural that were translated during first half of 20th century. Many of them are out of print and subsequent editions have not been produced. In some languages like English, Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali and Kannada new translations continue to be produced every year, while in some like French, Latin and Urdu new editions or reprints of the old translations are published. However for many other languages like Marathi, Chinese and Sinhalese, the only source is the old publications available in libraries. Some languages like Fijian, French, Japanese, Russian and Polish have seen newer translations.
The translations being presented here are not necessarily the best ones available in that respective language. In most cases there is no choice as it is difficult to obtain more than one translation for comparison. Another hindrance is my lack of knowledge in languages other than Tamil, English and to some extent Malayalam. There is no choice in the case of Arabic, Punjabi, Finnish and Konkani as the Kural has been translated into only once in these languages. I have given preference to translations in verse, but the Kural has been translated only in prose in many languages (like Arabic, Konkani, Marathi).
Before we proceed to the different translations, a word of caution about translation of any classic. The Kural contains maxims of mandatory ethics and at least the message does not get lost if properly translated. What about its poetic excellence? Kamil Zvelebil, the renowned Czech Tamil scholar had this to say:
“It is almost impossible to truly
appreciate the maxims of the Kural through a translation.
So if you know Tamil, click here to view the original couplets along with interpretation in modern Tamil
 Mahapatra, R. 1999. Translations of Tirukkural into English and other Indian languages – some aspects. In: On Translations. International Institute of Tamil Studies. Pp 51
 Ramasamy, V. 2001. On translating Tirukkural. International Institute of Tamil Studies, Tharamani, Chennai. Pp 29
 R.L. Wing, 1986. (Translator). The Tao of Power. Double Day, New York. Page 10
 Mair, V.H. 1990. Introduction and notes for a translation of the Ma-wang-tui manuscripts of the Lao Tzu (Old Master). Sino-Platonic Papers, 20. (http://spp.pinyin.info/abstracts/spp020_lao_tzu.html )
 S. Jayabarathi of Project Madurai. A short introduction to Thirukkural. http://www.tamilnation.org/literature/kural/Jayabarathi.htm
 Reviewer Jmh. 1992-1998. Fringe Ware, Inc. for the book Tao Te Ching by Lao Tse, translated by Stephen Mitchell.
 Padmanabhan, S. Thiruvalluvar. Released on the occasion of unveiling of the 133 feet high statue of the immortal bard Thiruvalluvar. Kanyakumari Historical and Cultural Research Centre, Nagercoil and Dakshinaa Publishing House, Chennai.60 pages.
 Maharajan, S. 1979. Thiruvalluvar: Makers of Indian Literature. Sahitya Academi. P 22.
 Ramasamy, V. 2001. On translating Tirukkural. International Institute of Tamil Studies, Chennai. Pp 30
 Dr. Harichanda Kvairatna, 1980. Oriental Institute, Batapola, Sri Lanka. (http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/dhamma/dham-hp.htm)
 Kamil Zvelebil, 1973. The Smile of Murugan of Tamil Literature of South India. P. 169
 Sampath Kumar, 2004. Indological similarities in Tirukkural and Telugu literature. In: இக்கால உலகிற்குத் திருக்குறள். Part III. Editor: S. Krishnamoorthy. International Institute of Tamil Studies. 165-172
. Tandon, R. 2005. Preface. Sringarashatakam. Rupa and Co. pp xi-xv
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