The Tamil language has a unique tradition of didactic and ethical literature, not paralleled by many among the languages of the world. Apart from the philosophical and moral strands that define a considerable body of what is known as the Cankam poetry of the old, Tamil is the proud possessor of a whole corpus of eighteen full length works of avowed humanistic and ethical content, with Tirukkural at the head. These works are not just compilations of isolated proverbs, maxims and sayings, but compositions of unified thematic motifs, structures and imports. They verily constitute bodies of social and moral philosophies rooted in the living mores of the people at large, as also in their visions of what is good and abiding
Nalatiyar is one of these classics ranked next to Tirukkural in terseness and vigour of language and integrity of theme. It like Tirukkural has transcended the varied sectarian myths surrounding its authorship and content, and merits comparison with similar works in other languages.
Any classic is a multi-layered whole, whose strands of meaning no single hand can unravel. It applies to translations also. The existence of the translation of the Rev. G.U. Pope does in no way render the present translation redundant or invalid.
The translator Mr. Pl. M. Annaamalai has brought in a diction to his translation that is racy and simple, bringing Nalatiyar thereby to the access of the lay men and the learned alike. We gratefully acknowledge his contribution towards the Institute's objective of making Tamil classics available to the non-Tamils.
Ancient Tamil Literaute was later divided into two categories-melkanakku works and kilkkanakku works. The first category consists of eighteen works, namely Pattuppattu and Ettuttokai (pattu = ten; pattu = poem; ettu = eight; tokai = collections).
The second category, ie., kilkkanakku of another eighteen works. They are: 1. Nalatiyar, 2. Nanmanikkatikai, 3. Iniyavai Narpatu, 4. Inna Narpatu, 5. Kar Narpatu, 6. Kalavali Narpatu, 7. Aintinai Aimpatu, 8. Aintinai Elupatu, 9. Tinaimoli Aimpatu, 10. Tinaimoli Nurraimpatu, 11. Tirukkural, 12. TiriKatukam, 13. Acarakkovai, 14. Palamoli Nanuru, 15. Cirupancamulam, 16. Mutumolikkanci, 17. Elati, and 18. Kainnilai.
The first said Nalatiyar comprises three divisions: Morality, Wealth and Love and Pleasure. It contains forty chapters, each made up of ten poems, thus making a total of four hundred poems in all. Nalatiyar in Tamil means four lines (quatrain). Since each poem contains four lines, the literature is called Nalatiyar.
In Tamil, Nalatiyar and Tirukkural have been all along considered equal. This is well indicated by the Tamil proverb,
alum velum pallukku uruti
nalum irantum collukku urutti
It means: banyan and margosa are good for teeth; Nalatiyar and Tirukkural are good for tongue. Banyan and margosa sticks whiten and strengthen our teeth, when we brush our teeth with those sticks daily. Similarly, Nalatiyar and Tirukkural enlighten us, strengthen our knowledge and thereby help us lead a highly cultured and fully equipped happy life, when we read them and follow them in our daily life.
Those who study Nalatiyar and Tirukkural deeply and follow them, will be very careful in their words and deeds, and so they will protect themselves from all possible evils.
Nalatiyar was not written by a single poet. The poems were written by several saints of Jain religion. There is a story about this. Hundreds of years back, a severe famine occurred in North India; at that time, eight thousand Jain saints moved towards the South and reached Maturai, the capital of the land ruled by Pantya kings. The then king, Ukkirap Peruvaluti received them and supported them with great benevolence. After some time, when the famine disappeared, the saints wanted to return, and they expressed their desire to the king. The saints were great scholars; their knowledge was so profound and beneficial to humanity. The king did not want to lose them. So he found some excuse or other to detain them, and dragged on for an unduly long time.
The saints found no other way but to leave Maturai silently one night. Next morning, without seeing the saints, the king felt very unhappy and extremely sad. He ordered to check the seats of the saints in his courtyard. In every seat, there was found a poem of four lines written on palm leaves. The king ordered the palm leaves to be left in the flood of the Vaikai river. Of those thousands of leaves, four hundred leaves floated against the current of the river and reached the shore. Those leaves were collected and the poems published by the order of the king, as Nalatiyar.
Nalatiyar has been appreciated by all, for its wonderful similes. Speaking about the instability of wealth, the poet says, 'like the wheel of a cart, it will go round up and down'. There can be no better example; how swiftly cash changes hand! It rotates innumerable times, just like the rotating wheel of a cart. A miser leaving his wealth to be enjoyed by some stranger after his death, is aptly compared to the bees loosing their hard saved honey to somebody.
While speaking about the youth who are intoxicated by the pleasure of tender youth, the poet compares them to the sheep which eats the tender green leaves with great joy without knowing that it is about to be killed shortly.
In chapter 3, poem 1, the king produly sitting on the elephant, with white silk umbrella, is compared to the moon rising above the mountain. It is to be noted that both mountain and elephant are black in colour. To match the moon's colour, stands white silk umbrella.
In poem 9, to explain the instability of body, it is said, "Like the dew on grass, your body will be dead one day suddenly."
In poem 10, life departing from the body is beautifully illustrated. "Birds abandon their nests in the trees and fly far away; human beings also desert the bodies with their relatives and pass away".
In chapter 4, poem 4, it is said, "Best use should be made of birth, like extracting juice out of sugarcane; like the residue of the sugarcane the body will one day decay." In some other poems also, sugarcane has been used as a simile.
Chapter 5, poem 4, how ackward will be the face of a beautiful woman, when her eyeballs are removed? The cavities will be so horrible as the palm shell without fruits. This is a very simple, but fine example.
In chapter 7, people who insult noble men are compared to the fly which sits, in our head not purposely, but by its nature; great people's anger is beautifully compared to hot water which cools down quickly when stopped boiling.
The following are some remarkable similes found in Nalatiyar.
Dog bites man; but man does not bite back; great people will not repeat the indecent words thrown by mean people.
If a man licks the head of a poisonous snake, it will kill him; if he ventures to embrace another's wife and enjoy, he will lose his valuable life, when caught.
A tender calf will easily find its mother among the crowd of cows; similarly, acts of previous birth will easily find out the author of them, wherever he may be put. Generally when we do things, particularly immoral or illegal, hiding ourselves, we think that nobody has seen our act and feel happy; but in fact, the God above is watching each act of everybody in this world keenly and recording the same. The punishment for it will certainly be given to us wherever we be; likewise the reward for our good acts also will reach us without fail.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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