Back of the Book
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a living legend, yoga master and author of Merging with Siva, recognized the immense value of the Tirukural in 1949 as a young seeker in Sri Lanka. Decades later he instructed two of his swamis to translate it from classical Tamil into American English and had renowned artist in South India illustrate the 108 chapters. For the first time, a long-neglected and much-needed rendering into modern Tamil is included, making the obscure verses accessible to one and all. Here is the fruit of those efforts-the gentle, profound world of Asian ethics and simple humanness. Yet, Tirukural's universality makes it a book you can share wit anyone. Its charming wit and common sense will uplift and inspire you and your whole family.
"There hardly exists in the literature of the world a collection of maxims in which we find such lofty wisdom."
Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Humanitarian
"Only a few of us know the name of Tiruvalluvar. The North Indians do not know the name of the great saint. There is none who has given such a treasure of wisdom like him."
Mahatma Gandhi, Father of Modern India
"The Kural is the masterpiece of Tamil literature ? one of the highest and purest expressions of human thought."
M. Ariel, Historian
" Tirukural alone is enough to edify the world. It contains all things, and there is nothing which it does not contain."
Tiru Naganar, Tamil Scholar
Form the Jacket
Tiruvalluvar, the poet-saint, or rather the saint-poet, lived in the hamlet now called Chennai about 2,000 years ago. Tirukural, his work, is a book for universal acceptance, ulakappodumarai . The very first votive offering is unto the Omnipotent. "Adi Bhagvan mudatre ulagu," and reflects the very words found in the Ishavasya Upanishad, "Ishavasyam-idam Sarvam. "The aphorisms (couplets) are full of practical wisdom touching on all aspects of an ideal life. Though there have been several English translations, the present one is excellent in that the verses are lucid and in simple style. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, of international renown, has done a monumental service in having Tirukural translated in English and modern Tamil so that this work of wisdom from the Weaver reaches a very large number of aspirants.
Tirukural not a mere book to gain wisdom but a means for knowing Truth. Such an authoritative source of knowledge has been crowned by the holy hands of His Divinity, Sivaya Subramuniyaswamigal, whose continuous, untiring dedicated service will become the canon to destroy the forts of ignorance. His devoted, undiluted work for twenty years to complete this Herculean task in a flawless manner reflects his adoration and faith in Sri Tiruvalluvar and Tirukural . I have studied many commentaries on Tirukural in Tamil, but I felt the spirit was missing in all of them. But in this unique book, the life, spirit and meaning are well preserved. It will enlighten millions of people to gain the wisdom herein and lead a meaningful life. I am sure this book is bound to correct the cankered mind of the youth and show them the path of reclamation. The pictorial representations in the book will help the children and youth to understand easily the valuable message of this ancient great epic. Hail Hinduism!
I am amazed at the depth and clarity of this American English translation of the Tirukural . This work, which has been undertaken by two sannyasins with great love and devotion under the guidance of Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, makes the words of wisdom of the Tamil Sage Tiruvalluvar relating to many aspects of human activity as relevant to the modern world of today as they were 2,200 years ago.
To comment on this holy book Tirukural, translated into modern American English from the holy devotional Tamil language, "is like carrying coal to Newcastle." It is an accepted fact that the Tamil language is the Gods' language given to the Tamils by Lord Ganesha. It is as old as Saivism. It has stood the test of times, such as wars, earthquakes and foreign invasion. Surely and certainly Tirukural will become a handbook to those interested in a humble and modest life.
The translation of this great classic has been done to honor Satguru Siva Yogaswami of Sri Lanka, the Self-realized mystic of the highest order and spiritual beacon light who preached universal love: every country is your country and every person your kinsman, seek God within and see God in everyone and everywhere. The introductory chapters and comments by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami give luster to the translations. The watercolor paintings appearing with each chapter give the cultural background for those not familiar with Hindu Culture. This book should adorn the libraries of the world and find a place in every home. It is a happy significance that the book is being published at the time of the installation of the 133-foot-tall Tiruvalluvar granite statue at Kanya Kumari in South India to proclaim India's cultural contributions to the world.
Now, the 2.200-year-old Kural, ever youthful, presents itself in popular American English and modern Tamil. We see the genesis of this project in the ever-fulfilling sankalpa will, of our venerated Satguru Sivayoga Swamigal. We sense the universal transmission of our Satguru Yogaswami's grace through Gurudeva Sivaya Subramaniyaswami's dedicated service. Eppavo Mudintha Kerrym ? Accomplished is His will. Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy says, "A man is only qualified to translate an ancient text when he has really participated in, and not merely observed the outer and inner life of its time and identified this time with his own. All this evidently requires a far longer, more roundabout and self-denying discipline," This criterion is met here by the translator of Tirukural, whose life has been molded by the religious, ethical and social codes enunciated in the Kural. Sage Tiruvalluvar's Kural, translated into American English and modern Tamil, has retained its power to transform one's psyche.
Vimala Krishnapillai, Ph.D., Lecturer. Faculty of Education, University of Colombo; Joint Trustee of the Sivayogar Swami Thiruvadi Trust; Colombo, Sri Lanka
The divine poet through his gift of Tirukural gives maxims to serve as guidance for all classes, sections, denominations, etc., in the world. Tirukural couplets have the added significance of providing invaluable advice for all times, as it takes into consideration the wider aspects, with necessary changes, of human nature beyond national, religious and linguistic boundaries. Tirukural gives added value because the author, Tiruvalluvar, had the rare distinction of having lived the ideal life as portrayed in his immortal work. Tirukural shows a way of life applicable to all sections of society, from kings and nobles down to the common man. This teaching echoes the sentiments expressed in many other religious texts, such as Tirumantiram, Naladiyar, Saiva Tirumuraigal of the Nayanars and Vaishnava Prapanthams of the Alwars. Good conduct with abiding moral values and sincere brotherhood are the centerpieces of Tiruvalluvar's teachings. Kindness to fellow human beings, full sense of humanity and human values will ensure a better world, according to the tenets of Tirukural . In a world full of turmoil, the Tirukural stands as a beacon to a peaceful way of life, and this coupled with the daily recitation of the Panchakshara Mantra, "Namasivaya, "found at the heart of the Vedas, will ensure peace and well being.
The Tirukural was very dear to Satguru Siva Yogaswami of Jaffna. Under his holy feet I have been brought up as one of his devotees from my early age of eight years. Whenever I visited, he spoke to me, directed and blessed me always through the sacred Kural . In 1949 with Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami made a vow to bring together the best of both the East and West. In 1999 with his latest book, Tirukural, he has successfully brought this to the West. Referring to the statue of Saint Tiruvalluvar at Kanya Kumari, Subramuniyaswami states, "While America's Statue of Liberty is a metal monument to political freedom and social promise. Tiruvalluvar stands as a stone statement of political wisdom, social duty and the spiritual promise of dharma." We should not confine Tiruvalluvar only to Tamil Nadu. He belongs to the world. Tirukural is beyond race, religion and nationality. It will enrich the life of a person as he or she journeys along this Eternal Path. The wisdom of the weaver is a vital part of our lives, and it will pave the way for success in life.
This dedication is three-fold: First to honor my Satguru, Siva Yogaswami, the lauded and proclaimed pontiff of the three million Jaffna Tamil People, the 161st successor in the esteemed line of the Nandinatha Sampradaya's Kailasa Parampara, and to Tiru Mylvaganam, whom Yogaswami requested to squeeze grapes into juice for me with his own hands while I sat facing the devotees at the satguru's left side in 1949. Mylvaganam was also present at the opening of the Sri Subramuniya Ashram in Alaveddy in the early 70s, and years later at the opening of the Subramuniya Kottam in Kopay, where he lives today. In recent years, despite the terrible conflicts in his country, this great man translated 800 of our English verses into modern Tamil which appear in this edition for the next generation. Long ago, Yogaswami gave a sadhana to him to memorize Tirukural and to recite some of the verses daily. Humorously, the youthful, Oxford-educated Mylvaganam said, "Swami, what if I forget some days?" Yogaswami said, "Then I will come as a centipede and bite you." Mylvaganam has testified now, at 90 years of age that he has been bitten forty times or more, always soon after he had neglected to recite the verses. He said, "I now see that Yogaswami was preparing me to translate for Gurudeva into modern Tamil all the verses I memorized so many years ago." We also dedicate this book to Justice of Peace Tiru S. Subramaniam, who witnessed Satguru Yogaswami's giving me, as a gesture of ordination, a slap on the back as I was leaving his compound one morning, by which he transferred his samskaras, or vital divine spiritual energies.
MANY YEARS AGO WHEN I WAS FIRST IN SRI LANKA- THAT WAS IN 1949-1 MADE A VOW TO BRING TOGETHER THE BEST OF THE EAST AND THE BEST of the West. Living with a traditional Saivite family that in- formally adopted me in those early days, I was introduced to the Tirukural. I found it to be one of the most important scriptures in all of Asia, so enchanting and so very practical. It contains wondrously no-nonsense insights on life, teaching us how to deal with the various feelings and circumstances that we encounter in our internal life and our interactions with others. In this sense, the Tirukural is the most accessible and relevant sacred text I know, applying to everyday matters and common concerns.
The Tirukural is a 2,200-year-old South Indian Dravidian classic on ethical living. Not unaware that there are advocates of later dates (from ca 200 bce down to ca 400 ce) we honor here the prevalent Tamil tradition. Its 1,330 verses were written by a Tamil weaver sage named Tiruvalluvar. His work is called Tirukural in the Tamil language. Tiru means "holy" or "sacred," and kural describes a brief verse or literary couplet.
The poetic masterpiece you are holding in your hands is one of the most revered scriptures in South India, where every child learns to recite its verses by heart. Hindus there regard it with the same reverence that Buddhists regard the Buddha's Dhammapada and Christians regard Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount." In fact, other religions also claim it as their own. The Jains proclaim it theirs, saying it expresses precisely their ideals of nonviolence, of dharma, of asceticism, vegetarianism and other aspects of Jainism. The Christians have argued that the Tirukural is so profound and filled with such compassion that it must have been influenced by the Christian missionaries who, their legends say, carne to South India in the first century CE (300 years after native historians assert it was written). Many are surprised to find that the Tirukural is still sworn upon in the courts of law in South India's state of Tamil Nadu, just as the Christian Bible and Muslim Koran are sworn on elsewhere. Just as the Sikhs worship their holy text, Adi Granth, devout Hindus venerate with a sacred ceremony, called puja, the weaver's scripture in temples and home shrines. Albert Schweitzer, medical missionary and Christian theologian in Africa, considered it one of the grandest achievements of the human mind, writing, "Like the Buddha and the Bhagavad Gita, the Kural desires inner freedom from the world and a mind free from hatred. You find the quintessence of the best gems of thoughts in the Kural, a living ethic of love and liberation." Indeed, many claim that the Tirukural is man's earliest statement of the ostensibly contemporary ecumenical tenets, for it is free of the dogmatic bias that commonly attends religious scriptures. The Father of modern India, Mahatma Gandhi, took to these verses in his own spiritual life, telling his people, "Only a few of us know the name of Tiruvalluvar. The North Indians do not know the name of the great saint. There is none who has given such a treasure of wisdom like him."
One of the hallmarks of Saint Tiruvalluvar's genius was his ability to deftly define and subtly delineate Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Spiritual Path, to all men equally, never limiting his audience to a sectarian view. Even when he speaks directly of God, Whom he addresses as Adi Bhagavan, Iraivan and Kadavul-ancient Tamil words for Supreme God Siva- the weaver's broad heart praises not the God of this faith or that, but sings his panegyric to "God Primordial," "the Incomparable One," "the Gracious One" or "the Compassionate One." In other words, everyone's God.
Having honored the Worshipful One, the weaver then praises rain, for without rain's gift of life all the human experience would be impossible. The third chapter speaks of renunciation, santivasa, for to him the renunciate monk is the most noble exemplar of humanity, the highest of souls, the minister of Sanatana Dharma, nowadays called Hinduism in English, Indu Samayam in Tamil, Hindutva in Sanskrit, Hindouisme in French, Hinduismo in Spanish, Religione Hindu in Italian, and Hinduismus in German. He exalts renunciation as a way of life opposed to that of the householder, encouraging ardent souls seeking the realization of their own True Being to take up their faith with vigor and to live the detached, selfless life of a renunciate-noninvolvement in the joys and sorrows of the world, which he also describes in minute detail in other chapters. Without giving us a hint of what he is up to, the weaver has thus defined in his first three chapters the three fundamental dimensions of Saiva Siddhanta philosophy- God, world and soul, known in Tamil as Pati, pasam and pasu. It is indicative of his subtle literary style that Tiruvalluvar begins the very first verse with the first letter of the Tamil alphabet, "A," and ends the last line of verse 1,330 with the final letter, "N," quietly informing us that he has covered all human concerns, from A to Z.
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