“PULAVAR” R. VISWANATHAN considers himself as a student of Tamil literature even at the age of eighty (Date of Birth 30-10-1931). Born in a middle class ordinary family, Tamil language and its rich classic literature inspired him and he used to enjoy nuances contained therein. Though studied commerce and graduated to support his family, his fanatic love for Tamil literature neither faded nor diminished. He moved to Delhi in July 1955 for his livelihood and living there since then. Delhi Tamil Sangam revived his inherent love of Tamil literature and Dr. Saalai Ilanthiraian nurtured and rejuvenated his enthusiasm to study Sangam literatures, Thirukkural, Silappadhikaram, Kamba Ramayanam, poems of Bharathiyar etc and helped him to obtain diploma title “PULAVAR” and the degree of B.Lit. in Tamil literature. Commitments in office prevented him further studies but never curbed his passion in Tamil literature.
After retirement from Government service NPULAVAR Viswanathan had been helping many Ph.D. students of history including a visually impaired student by teaching them Tamil literature for their thesis.
“PULAVAR” participated in Second World Tamil Conference held at Chennai in January 1968 and Fifth World Tamil Conference held at Madurai in January 1980. This Book on Thirukkural is his maiden attempt but it fringes out the rich experience of “PULAVAR”. Its success is sure to persuade him to write many more books to unfold his multifarious knowledge in other Tamil literary works.
“PULAVAR” is married and he has a son and a daughter - both settled in USA. With everlasting happiness he lives in Delhi with his wife and enjoys life in the company of literary figures, his good friends and Tamil books.
Thiruvalluvar wrote the greatly renowned Thirukkural and en encomium on it goes on to say that the couplet resembles a cavity created by piercing a minute atom, and which can accommodate all the seven seas within itself:
kuRugath thariththa KuRaL”
This work reflects ethical values through which a person can attain salvation. We can identify here values that are common to all universal philosophies of diverse ideologies. It conveys the essence of Bagwat Gita, Upanishads etc which exhibit the Advaita philosophy. For example, the Gita utterance “yathoo yathoo nivarthathee thathaSthathoo vimusyathee” is rendered in Kural as:
“yaathenin yaathenin n-iinggiyaan n-oothal
Athanin athanin ilan”
Similarly, the Kural 370 which says,
“aaraa, iyaRkai Avaan-iippin an-n-ilaiyee
Peeraa iyaRkai tharum”
is just what the Kadopanishad expresses with
“yathaa Sarvee pramusyanthee kaamaa yee aSyahruthi Sthitha Atha marthyoo amrutha pavathyathra prahma Samasnuthee”
In this way many Kurals render the Advaita Siddhanta, so say many researchers.
Thirukkural has had many commentators of which Parimelazagar is one. Legend has it that he worked in the Ulagalancia Perumal Kovil in Kancheepuram in Tamjl Nadu, India as priest looking after the various rites of worship.
We are pleased to note that this commentary has now been rendered into English by Mr. A. Viswanathan a devoted disciple of this Mutt. His translation is in simple English that is comprehensible to one and all and this is praiseworthy. In line with our Guru’s desire, he has been functioning as one of the trustees to the Uttaraswamimalai temple in New Delhi, India. That in addition to this act of Dharma, he is now rendering this great service to Saraswati, the Goddess of learning, through this translation deserves a matter of praise worthy. By the Grace of Lord Chandramaujeeswara may he continue rendering such great services and get all the blessings of this as well as other world. Our blessings to this effect are always with him.
Tirukkural is one of the important Tamil ethical works written by the author Tiruvalluvar approximately two thousand years ago. It is basically a book of maxims for good living composed in pithy couplets with multiple levels of meaning and literary beauty. The historical details of the life of the author are shrouded in mystery and whatever available is based on legends and folklore.
What makes it unique is its cosmopolitan outlook transcending caste, creed and nationality .lt exudes an air of universal brother hood, life affirmation and teaches the art of successful and harmonious life in compatibility with the high ethical codes enunciated by great minds. It is not only a guide to life but also a compendium of political and management principles for good governance based on equity and morality. Tiruvalluvar was a Jam but is eclectic in his choice of ideas drawing from all sources at hand and made a coherent philosophy of life based on egalitarianism, non violence and moral uprightness. Though written in Tamil its language and style are not barriers for understanding and it makes an instant communication with the readers like a sign language. His use of language is very skillful that makes the tailor made collection of maxim of ideas captivatingly literary and enjoyable. That is for the same reason it has been translated into 34 languages of the world for 130 times till A.D.2000.ln English alone there are more than hundred translations. In Tamil it has been continuously studied and commented upon several times, among which the commentary by Parimelazagar is scholarly and thorough. Each of these efforts has their merits and demerits with their own distortions deviations and loss of original sense.
Now Pulavar Viswanathan has come out with a lucid prose translation of Tirukkural mostly on the lines of the commentary of Parimelazagar.The
main aim of his present work seems to be to make it available to the Tamil Diaspora who are increasingly become less comfortable with their mother tongue due to various reasons. Now the Tamil diaspora can read and enjoy Tirukkural in Tamil original either in Tamil script or in English translation with a brief English commentary provided by the translator. On the other hand a non Tamil reader can also profitably use it and can be lured to learn the Tamil language.
The English translation of Kural by Pulavar Viswanathan is the outcome of his passion for the language, literature and the universal ideas found in Kural. His dedication, sincerity and labor are evident in his adherence to the original and his care to details. His diligent effort to bring out the seminal ideas found in each Kural is admirable. I hope he will come out with a Tamil version of the same soon. I congratulate him for doing this service in the propagation of the ‘gospel of mankind’. I commend this for closer reading by readers of all kind.
Kulapathi K.M. Munshi founder of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan described Thirukhural as a “gem and justly famous classic of Tamil literature”.
He went on to say“
It is a treatise par excellence on the art of living The author Thiru Valluvar diagnoses the intricacies of human nature with such penetrating insight, perfect mastery and consummate skill absorbing the most subtle concepts of modern psychology that one is left wondering at his sweep and depth. His prescriptions, leavened by godliness, ethics, morality and humaneness are sagacious and practical to the core. They cut across castes, creeds, climes and ages and have a freshness which makes one feel as if they are meant for the present times.”
This epic of 133 chapters of 10 verses of two lines each, 38 dealing with individual ethics, 70 with social ethics, and 25 with matters of love and desire was written in chaste Tamil a century or two before the birth of Christ, (though some place it in the 2 century A.D). It has been referred to in many ancient texts of Tamil literature and there were as many as 10 known commentaries of which five are presently stated to be available. In modern times, several leaders, Mahatma Gandhi, Vinobaji and Rajaji among them, have been influenced by it. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan published a selection of Rajaji’s translation and commentaries as part of its Book University in 1965 and this has run into 12 editions (the latest in 2009). A comprehensive modern commentary by Dr. O.R. Krishnaswamy has also been published in 2004 by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan under the title, “The Wisdom of Thirukkural”. This comprehensive text takes into account all the various other ancient and modern commentaries and has a foreword by Sri Swami Satchidananda.
But the jewel’s luster is such that the more the attention of discerning, the greater is its sheen and brilliance. This latest English translation and commentary by Delhi based “Pulavar” Viswanathan makes it own unique contribution by its simplicity and also by its adherence to the well known 13th century commentary on Kural by Parimelazagar. Of the ancient commentaries, this is considered the most reliable and popular. Viswanathan has given us the substance of the commentary on each verse, with his own additional annotation where necessary. The original verse is given in Tamil script as well as in English transliteration, with the substance of the commentary following the same. The adherence to the original commentary ensures that we do not read into the verse, what we in today’s context wish to read into that.
However ancient the message, it is timeless and therefore very modern. The importance of education is one such message. The school in which Pulavar Viswanathan and I studied in the 1940’s the Hindu High School, Triplicane, Chennai had as its motto Kural’s verse, which asks one to learn what is worth learning, to learn it perfectly and without blemish, and having learnt, to adopt one’s life style in tune with that learning. In the same school Sunday lectures on Kural used to be given by a very distinguished high functionary of Tamil Nadu Government, Shri Murugesa Mudaliar. He spared his valuable time and took considerable effort at no cost to the school or to the students. These programmes were organized by Shri T.V. Venkataraman a student of the same school who later became the Chief Secretary to the Govt. of Tamil Nadu. Education in those days gave primacy to values with the installation of value laden software of verses in the young minds even from 1t standard onwards. It was thus culture, tradition and heritage were preserved, and foundations of ethical approaches were laid.
Kural is not a book on religion or asceticism though in the first chapter the importance of worship of God and asceticism is emphasized. But thereafter the Kural is essentially about individual and social virtues and actions including domestic life and love. Virtue is linked to wealth as when it says “virtue yields not only special and great salvation ultimately but also wealth, prosperity and glory.” It underlines the greatness of virtuous domestic life and the importance of love and affection. In a classic passage, it says, “persons without any semblance of love, as they are of no use to others, consider everything on earth belongs to them. A person brimming with love will feel not only his love but everything belongs to others. Love begets enthusiasm and passion which in turn yields unique universal friendship of excellence. “(Verse 74). There is also a caustic reference to extreme Puritanism in verse 77 when it says “just as the scorching sun burns out the boneless worm, the soul without the warmth of love is scorched by virtue.”
There is great emphasis on domestic happiness and hospitality. It asks every one to be hospitable to guests and declares that even heavenly nector should be shared with the guests. Verse 83 declares that the domestic life of a person who is in the habit of extending hospitality to a guest every day will never be hampered by poverty at any time. Kural also emphasizes the importance of being sweet and pleasant. Verse 97 declares that sweet words bonded with culture and civilization and imparting benefits to others will bring justice and good in this birth as well as in the next. Kural also emphasizes the values of gratitude, impartiality, forbearance, self restraint, discipline and decorum, non covetousness, fruitfulness etc.
That Kural is not just about individual ethics and development but also about social obligations and governance is well known. There is also much useful advice to courtiers or advisers who are near the ruler. They are asked to be neither too far nor too near as with fire, as the rulers’ minds are changeable and undependable. They are asked to avoid talks on things that do not matter even if the ruler shows interest but always speak to him on matters that touch his interests even without waiting to be asked. A wise minister is asked to act as if he were on probation and not to take the prince’s confidence for granted. There is also the specification of six essentials of a prosperous state namely,
1. An Adequate army
2. Industrious people
3. Wise and Vigilant ministers
4. Ample food resources
5. Friendship of foreign princes
6. Dependable forts.
And the wise counsel to the King,
“Men should be appointed to duties who have the ability needed for their performance and resourcefulness to meet the situation arising therein. Everything will go wrong if you nominate one out of mere friendship or admiration.”
Written 2000 years ago, Kural’s maxim (verse 385) is equally applicable to any government today that it “should conceive several justified sources of revenue for welfare measures for its subjects, collect them judiciously and take adequate safeguard to protect the revenue so collected and appropriate them for the intended welfare schemes.” Parimelazagar in his commentary on this verse says that revenues collected should be protected from the enemies, thieves and even from the relatives of the King as well as from persons responsible for administration of such revenue.
I have highlighted the above just to indicate how practical and relevant to our time is Kural in its advice to citizens and rulers alike. There is no subject which is not touched by Thiruvalluvar and no subject touched by him is left without a sparkle. All aspects of what he touches on are dealt with in a comprehensive manner, making Thirukkural an outstanding epic. Kural with all its intricacies, beauty and nuances can be discovered only if read with the commentary of Parimelazagar. These have stood the test of time, transcended all barriers and occupied a place of pride as unique universally accepted classic literary documents of excellence today and for eternity.
There is much in common in terms of individual values and approaches between the 1330 verses of the Kural and the 700 verses of the Bhagavad Gita. But while most of the Bhagavad Gita explores the relationship of the mind, the soul, the universe and the beyond and is profoundly philosophical in its approach, exhortation and articulation. The Kural by and large deals with day to day life and action. Hence K.M. Munshi’s characterization of it as a treatise on the Art of Living.
Pulavar Viswanathan is the right person to present this volume on the Kural. He is not only a scholar on the Kural, but has lived by its values and therefore understands the Kural in all its deep insights. As a civil servant his contribution has been of a high order and even during service and especially after retirement he has dedicated himself to social and cultural work. His many writings and speeches in Delhi Tamil Sangam and elsewhere and deep knowledge of Tamil literature have rightly earned him the title of Pulavar (poet and scholar). His contribution to the growth of Delhi Tamil Sangam has been immense. Under the guidance of the former President Shri R. Venkataraman to whom he was very.close, he has guided the construction and management of the famous Swami Malai Temple in R.K. Puram, New Delhi. He has exemplified the teachings of the Kural in his own life in every possible way and is best fitted for interpreting the Kural and commentary thereon. We owe him our grateful thanks for making available this excellent work for the benefit of readers in India and abroad and Bhavan is privileged to publish the same. On behalf of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and the author, I would like to thank Shri Balasubramaniam of Reliance known popularly in Delhi as “Reliance Balu” for making this publication possible.
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