Tirukkural

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Tirukkural literally means ‘holy treatise composed in the meter “kural-veṇbā”.

The Tirukkural is an ancient didactical work in Tamil, which is extremely popular even today. It perhaps got this name since it is composed in the special meter called ‘kural-veṇbā’. The prefix ‘tiru’ is the Tamil substitute for the Sanskrit showing respect. Muppāl (group of three) is the other name by which it is known since it deals with the three puruṣārthas.

Author of Tirukkural

Its famous author is Tiruvalluvar who might have lived in the 1st century A. D. Actually, Valluvar is the name of one of the lowest castes of the pariah group. In the olden days they were employed by the kings and rulers to make royal announcements by beating drums.[1] The author belonged to that caste and his actual name has been buried in the womb of history.

Tiruvalluvar is said to have lived in Mylapore.[2] He was a weaver by profession. According to the local legends, he was an orphan abandoned by his real parents but brought up by a couple of the vellāla[3] caste. His contact with holy men at a tender age of five made him inclined towards a spiritual life, which ultimately resulted in his becoming a saintly person. His wife Vāsuki proved to be an ideal companion for him. She died earlier than him. Later, he embraced monastic life and engaged himself in spreading spiritual knowledge and wisdom. His work, the Tirukkural, when presented before the Saṅgam[4] at Madurai in Tamil Nadu, was thoroughly examined and then acclaimed as a great work.

Content of Tirukkural

The work has 133 chapters, each containing 10 verses, the total thus being 1330 verses. They have been divided into three sections dealing with the first three pururṣārthas, as follows:

  1. Arattuppāl - It is a section on Dharma having 38 Chapters
  2. Porutpāl - It is a section on Artha having 70 Chapters
  3. Kāmattupāl - It is a section on Kāma having 25 Chapters

Synopsis of the Content

A brief synopsis of the subjects is:

Arattuppāl

The topics covered in this section are:

  • Praise of God
  • Rain
  • Greatness of renunciation
  • Dharma
  • Family life
  • Hospitality, kindness and sweet words
  • Gratitude
  • Right conduct
  • Evils to be avoided like envy and backbiting
  • Liberality
  • Not eating meat
  • Penance
  • Truth
  • True knowledge
  • Fate

Porutpāl

The topics covered in this section are:

  • Who a real king is
  • True marks of a good king
  • Various actions and policies to be followed by a king
  • Righteous rule versus tyranny
  • Spies
  • Embassies
  • Fortresses
  • Acquisition of wealth
  • Importance of the army
  • Friendship with others kings and allies
  • Things to be avoided like ignorance and discord
  • Wine and women
  • Need to cultivate good conduct and modesty

Kāmattupāl

This section deals in details with the various aspects of kāma[5] between a couple before marriage, in the married life, during pangs of separation and so on. Unlike some Sanskrit works on erotics, this section is much more decent and refined.

Commentaries on Tirukkural

There are ten commentaries, all in Tamil, on this work. Out of them, the one by Parimel Azhakar is considered the best.

Epilogue

Though the Tirukkural deals with only the first three puruṣārthas, the fourth puruṣārtha which is mokṣa or liberation has been indirectly dealt with in chapters 1, 3, and 4. Recently in A. D. 2000, a huge statue of Tiruvalluvar, 40 metres or 133 feet in height, has been installed on the smaller rock in the sea near Kanyākumārī in Tamil Nadu.


References

  1. Drums are also referred as tomtom.
  2. It is now a part of the city of Madras or Chennai.
  3. Vellāla is the farmer caste.
  4. Saṅgam is the assembly of great scholars.
  5. Kāma means erotic love.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore