Sacred Couplets - Thrukural

1328057532000 » Tagged as: Tamil Poets , Tagged as: Thiruvalluvar , Tagged as: Thrukural

Sacred Couplets

daya dissanayake

The painting was on the wall in the house of the Kurukkal of Maviddapuram kovil. A painting which had survived the ravages of the war, because the Kurukkal family held it as a precious and sacred object. It was a portrait of the poet Thiruvalluvar.

The 1330 couplets written 2000 years ago did not have a name. It has been known through the ages only as the 'Thiru Kural' (Sacred Couplets), and we do not know the name of the genius who wrote it, so we call him Thiru Valluvar (the respected weaver). The time and place of his birth is not known, but we accept it to be in the district of Kanyakumari and that he died in Mylapore in Chennai.

He is one of the earliest Tamil poets, of South Indian origin. That is all we know. That is more than enough. The place of birth is not important. A poet does not belong to a country or a race. He belongs to all mankind. The time of birth is not important, because he belongs to all time.

Valluvar has been accepted as his name, with the honorific "Tiru" which means "Shri". Valluvan is a name associated with weavers, and it could be that the poet belonged to a weaver family, and Valluvan became Valluvar out of respect for him. Tiru Valluvar would have lived sometime between the 2nd century B.C. and 8th century A.D. There is no historical or archaeological evidence to confirm the date, or even his place of birth, as it is with most ancient philosophers and poets.

Most people believe that all 1330 couplets in the Thirukural were written by Thiruvalluvar himself, though some have raised the possibility that there could have been later additions.

However, all five commentators who had studied the Kural during the 12th and 13th centuries have presented an almost identical text, with only some variations in the arrangements. Originally the work was known as 'Muppal' meaning divisions, because it is divided into three themes, Aram (Virtue) the moral value of human life, Porul (Wealth) socio-economic values, and Inbam (Love) psychological values.

All through history, later scholars have often tried to identify the influence of other great men, when they study great works of great men. It has happened to the Kural too. Western scholars have tried to find the influence of St. Thomas in Valluvar's writings, because St. Thomas had arrived in India a few years after the crucifixion. North Indian scholars have tried to find the influence of Manu and Kautilya, and also of Buddha and Mahavira. Some are even trying to claim that he was a Jain.

He would have been aware of the works of Manu and Kautilya, and known of the teachings of the Buddha and Mahavira, and also of Jesus if he had lived after the beginning of the Christian era. That does not mean that he would have borrowed his ideas from others. Anyway all knowledge is universal and is available for anyone who pursues it. The same thoughts, the same realization could be reached by anyone, if correctly pursued. There can be no new discoveries or new ideas which had not been stated by anyone else previously.

The Kural has been translated into many languages, by many writers. Probably the first translation into a foreign language was done by Fr. Constanzo Beschi S.J. into Latin during the 17th century. An English translation was done by Rev. Dr. G. U. Pope, Rev. W. H. Drew, Rev. John Lazarus and Mr. F. W. Ellis and was published in 1886. Since then it has been translated into 60 languages. A Sinhala translation was done by Ms. Misihami Gorokgoda in 1964.

Translation is a tricky subject and when a Tamil poem written 2000 years ago has to be translated into English by writers born and grew up in England, learned and believing in the Christian faith, grasping the original Tamil idea and putting it across in a language which does not have the correct words for them, would have been really tricky. Since the original translation several translations into English have been done by Tamil scholars, among them the translation by Maharishi Shuddhananda Bharatiar and another by Prof. P. S. Sundaram.

Thiruvalluvar Day falls on the day after Pongal and is a public holiday in Tamil Nadu. This year it fell on 16th January. Unfortunately it is developing into another political, commercial and insensitive function with people sending text messages to each other wishing 'Happy Thiruvalluvar Day', while we find in the Kural, "Virtue alone is happiness" (4.39).

A 41 m (133 feet) high statue has been built in honour of Thiruvalluvar, at the Southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent in the town of Kanyakumari, which is probably the tallest statue ever built in memory of a poet. When Valluvar wrote the second Muppal, the Porul, about good governance, he would never have expected political leaders to garland his statue, on a day named for him.

It is about time for all of us to read The Kural with an open mind, ignoring his place of birth, his religious and political beliefs. Valluvar describes our world, and mankind. His writing concerns all of us and is equally applicable to all of us, whatever our race or creed may be. Like all religious leaders and philosophers he belongs to all of us. He deserves our respect and the best way to honour him is to study his message and try to learn from it to lead a life useful and peaceful.

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