The earlier Indologists (with only a few exceptions) associated India exclusively with the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Him- padesa and the poet
Kalidasa. This was a result of the discovery of Sanskrit by the British and German Savants in the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries which led to
something like a second Renaissance in the world of learning. Sanskrit was hailed as the mother of all the Indo-Germanic languages; or at any rate their eldest sister.
Sir William Jones described it as a language "of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than
However, what these scholars soon came to see was that India was not limited culturally to the Aryan north. The Dravidian south was actually older, in the sense that
prior to the Aryan invasion the civilization which spread throughout the country was almost certainly Dravidian. A great deal of this pre—Aryan civilization still exists
in the south, and traces of it have been preserved in the earliest surviving Tamil poetry of the Sangam age.
An American missionary, Dr M. Winslow, the author of an admirable Tamil. English Dictionary brought out in 1862, perhaps had Sir William Jones in mind when he
made the same claim for Tamil that Jones had made for Sanskrit eight decades earlier. It is, he said
not perhaps extravagant to say that in its poetic form Tamil is more polished and exact than Greek, and in both dialects (common and- literary) with its borrowed
treasures more copious than Latin. In its fulness and power, it more resembles English and German than any other living language.
Tamil among all the Indian languages, next only to Sanskrit, has the oldest literary records. But unlike Sanskrit it is a living language. Its continuity is such that a Tamil
of today will have less difficulty in understanding the Tamil poetry of the seventh, eighth or the ninth century than an Englishman of today will have in understanding
Beowulf or The Battle of Maldon.
The name Tirukkural comprises two parts, rim and kural. Tim corresponds to the Sanskrit Sri and means "sacred, excellent, beautiful". As an honorific meaning
‘Hon’ble’ it is preferred by many in the south to the otherwise universally Indian ‘Sri’. Kumi! May be explained as something which is "short, concise, abridged”. It is
applied as a literary term to “a metrical line of two feet, or a distich or couplet of short lines, the first of four and the second of three feet". These definitions are Dr
Winslow’s and correspond to both the traditional and the actual.
Though the work is popularly known by the form in which its stanzas have been written, its earliest admirers and perhaps even the author himself referred to it as the
muppaal, meaning three divisions; this definition has to do with the organization of the book into three themes: Virtue, Wealth and Love. These are the first three of the
four purushaarthas, the supreme aims in life, which every man must seek, the fourth being moksha or the release from the unending cycle of birth and death. It is said
in explanation of the omission of this fourth, the summum bonum, that the proper pursuit of the other three will inevitably lead to the fourth, which in any ease admits of
no description. There is also a precedent for such an omission in the Suntiparva of the Mahabharata which mentions only the trivargas, the three divisions.
Valluvar, the author of the Kural also invariably has the honorific ‘Tiru’ as a prefix to his name. Whether Valluvar was the poet’s name or that of the sub - caste to
which he belonged (determined by the occupation or vice-versa) is not certain. Valluvan was a name associated with a weaver, It was also the name given to a
drummer proclaiming a king’s orders on an elephant-back. The rin Valluvar instead of the it as in Valluvan is a plural indicating respect.
Those who could not accept that a non-Brahmin could have produced a work of such great merit are credited with the invention of a legend that Valluvar was the
illegitimate son of a Brahmin Father and a Harijan mother. His birthplace was by tradition held to be Mylapore, a part of Madras, where there is a temple built to
honour him. But, in recent years, Dr S. Padmanabhan has propounded a theory based on epigraphical and other evidence that Tiruvalluvar was probably born in
what is now the district of Kanyakumari, in the extreme south of Tamil Nadu, and was perhaps the chieftain-king of Valluvanadu who probably, like Mahavira and
Gautama Buddha, turned from royal personage to spiritual thinker. Mylapore might well have been the place of his death rather than his birth.
It is not easy to fix the date of the Kural. Scholars place it anywhere between the second century BC and the eighth century AD. Vaiyapuri Pillai, the author of the
Scholarly History of Tamil Language and Literature, suggests that Valluvar probably was a contemporary of the Saivite saint-poet Appar (AD 600). There are also
those who think that certain sentiments in the Kural—for instance, the sovereign quality of forgiveness and the supremacy of love for all things created——might have
been the result of Valluvar’s leanings to the preachings of the followers of St. Thomas, who apparently came to India a few years alter the crucifixion of Christ. But
both Jainism and Buddhism are older than Christianity and the most valuable part of their teachings is compassion. It is therefore, not necessary to attribute whatever
is best in the Kural to foreign influence.
There is evidence in the Kumi of Valluvar’s indebtedness to Manu's Dharmasastra, Kamandaka’s Nitisara, Kautilya’s Arthasastra and certain ayurvedic treatises all
written in Sanskrit. Valluvar might also have been acquainted with Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra, if it existed in his time. In his delineation of the romantic pangs of a lover,
he is more influenced by the earlier Tamil conventions than by anything he may, have found in Sanskrit literature. The proportion of pure Tamil words to those
borrowed from Sanskrit or modelled after Sanskrit is much greater in the Kumi than in any devotional poetry of the Saivite and - the Vaishnavite saints of the Bhakti
school. But, it is less than those used in the poetry of the Sangam period.
For the text of the Kumi in its complete form, we were until recently ‘indebted to Parimeelazhahar’s reproduction with his own commentary on it. The date of this
work is said to be AD 1272. There is an ancient ‘verse which says that there were nine other commentators on the Kural in addition to Parimeelazhahar. Of these,
the commentaries of Manakkudavar, Pariperumal, Parithiar and Kalingar are now available. Manakkudavar probably belonged to the eleventh century and his
commentary is now considered to be the earliest. The word arrangement of Manakkudavar is often found to be more satisfactory than that of Parimeelazhahar. His
division of words makes better sense without any sacrifice of the metrical requirements. But Parimeelaz- hahar, who seems to have been a Vaishnavite, as his
references to Nammalwar indicate, won encomiums for his wide and deep ‘knowledge of both Sanskrit and ancient Tamil literature, the sharpness I of his mind in
detecting the errors of earlier commentators, and both the fulness and the brevity of his own comments.
The text of the Kural with the live commentaries by the above-mentioned commentators shows a surprising similarity. The numbers and the arrangement of the
chapters is the same, and the chapter headings, are also identical. While Parimeelazhahar begins his commentary on each chapter of the Kural with a justification for
its placement in the sequence, Kalingar makes the justification at the end of each chapter.
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. Each commentator was presumably led by his own sense of logic in the arrangement. As regards difference in the text,
according to M. Shanmugham Pillai, who has studied the matter carefully, in the 1,330 couplets there are only about 305 variations.
It is a matter of some debate as to whether Valluvar himself was responsible for all these stanzas and their arrangement in 133 chapters, each consisting of exactly tell
stanzas, or whether it was the work of some later editor. The rigid adherence to the number ten has often resulted in the same idea appearing in different words in
order to make up the prescribed number of stanzas, for instance, couplets 8 and IU under Chapter l of the Proerm. In cases where a topic has not been exhausted in
ten couplets, it has been spread over several chapters as for example in ‘Friendship’.
A question often raised is whether the ‘Proem’ was a part of the Kural as it was first composed. V.V.M. Raghaviyengar, a great scholar, was of the view that the
four chapters which make up the Proem are in conformity with a prescription in Tolkaapiyam, a treatise on grammar and the oldest surviving Tamil classic. The third
book on Love in the Kural certainly owes more to the Tolkaapiyam than to Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra.
A string of fifty-three verses called the Tiruvalluvarmalai contains praise from various admirers of Valluvar and the Karat. Their literary value lies in the light they throw
on the groupings of the Kural’s stanzas. Book III for example is described in one of these verses as consisting of not two divisions as in Parimeelazhal1ar’s version
but three. But the total number of stanzas mentioned by many of these authors remains the same—1,330. Since all surviving manuscripts contain these verses and
attribute them to one single author viz., Valluvar, he has as much right to his identity as the author of the Kural As Homer to his as the author of the Hind and the
Ancient writers in Tamil enumerating works of antiquity placed the muppaal among the eighteen kilkanakku-Tamil classical literature that was written after the golden
age of Sangam literature. In their reckoning, reappear' was just one among these numerous writings, practically all of which were didactic. It may be for purely
metrical reasons that the muppaal is mentioned after five other works headed by the Naladiyar. But neither on the basis of intrinsic merit, nor from the point of view of
chronology can it come after the Naladiyar, which seems even to a casual reader a work derived from the Kural. The tendency to moralize is perhaps more ingrained
in the Eastern psyche than the Western. But the Kumi is miles ahead of the didactic pieces with which it was associated, because of the way it comes home to our
business and bosoms, its author seldom passing on second hand what he has not himself felt in his blood and felt along his heart.
The Kural was among the earliest of the Tamil classics to be translated by the Christian missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant. Fr. Beschi of the Society of Jesus
(1700-1742) translated it into Latin; though it is likely that he worked only on the first two books, the manuscript of which "the only one in existence", according to
GU. Pope (1820-1908) is in the India Office Library, London. Francis White Ellis, of the East India Company, who came to India in 1796 (d. 1819) as a ‘writer’
and rose to become the Collector of Madras, translated 120 couplets, sixty-nine in verse and the rest in prose. His translation and commentary have been published
by the University of Madras and run into nearly 390 pages. Amongst others who translated the Kumi into English are Dr Pope, the Rev. W.H, Drew and the Rev.
John Lazarus, There are also versions in the French (Ariel) and German (Graul).
The great attraction of the Kumi especially for the missionaries was its ethical content. Its first chapter is in praise of God, but the praise is universal in content and
thus could apply to any God, Hindu, Jain or even Christian. There are some indications in the Kural of Valluvar having been a Jain, but Parimeelazhahar, who seemed
to have been a Vaishnavite, didn’t appear to have found anything heretical in the verses.
The Kural’s concern is primarily with the world, a world which is the world of all of us. There is very little here of Advaita philosophy, still less of the transcedental. It
is not the work of a mystic but of a down-to-earth man of the world, concerned with the home and the community. But while Valluvar is eminently practical he is no
opportunist. He is a statesman not a politician, a realist who is not a cynic.
Valluvar was obviously well—acquainted with the Dharmasastra of Manu, but while to the latter, varna (caste) was not less important than ashrama (a stage in life),
Valluvar makes no distinction between mar and man on the basis of the caste into which he is born. “Call them Brahmins”, he says:
Back of the Book
Tiruvalluvar probably lived and wrote between the second century BC and the eighth century AD though these dates have not been conclusively established. The
work by which he is known, the Kural, comprises 1,330 couplets and is divided into three section-Virtue, Wealth and Kama (love)-and is based on the first three of
the four supreme aims prescribed by Hindu tradition: dharma (virtue), artha (wealth) and moksha (salvation). Taken together, the three books of the Kural informs,
criticize and teach the reader, in brilliantly styled and pithy verse, about life, love and he ways of the world.
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