About the Book
Thiru Kural, the immortal didactic scripture also esteemed as Uttar Veda or Later Vedas, was composed by the ancient Tamil saint-poet Thiru Valluvar in the 2nd century A.D. it has also got the reputation of being the highest translated scripture of the world in some 75 Indian and foreign languages. Its whole-sale verse translation in Oriya was done by this author in the year 1993.
It is astonishing to find the saint-poet deal with; as many as 133 topics of primary human interest on Dharma (Piety), Arhta (Economics and A Kama (Love not just) in ten couplets under each which are as much valid today as they were in ancient times.
The reader is invited to the treated of the illuminating scripture in the pages of this book.
About the Author
The author, Shri Gananath Das, retired from the Indian Administrative Service in the year 1972. since then he has engaged himself in the study of various saint poets starting with the famous saint poet, Kabir Das, of the 15th century A.D.
On Kabir his works include Life and Philosophy of the Saint Poet in Oriya, and translation of five hundred of his couplets in English Verse, in three volumes: the first of one hundred published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan of Bombay in 1992, the second of three hundred published by Motilal Banarasi Das of Delhi in 1991 and the third of one hundred published by Writers Workshop of Calcutta in 1992, followed by Sayings of Kabir published by the same publisher in 1993.
In 1992 he published his translation of one hundred songs of Guru Nanak Dev as 'Nanak Satak' in Oriya and 100 Love Songs of Kabir in English Verse which was published by Abhinav Publications of New Delhi.
In 1994 he published his Oriya Verse translation of the entire Thiru Kural, the immortal work of the Tamil Saint Poet Thiru Valluvar, consisting of 1330 couplets in 133 chapters.
In 1994 he published his Essays on Kabir published but the Writers Workshop of Calcutta consisting of indepth studies of the Saint Poet's sayings on as many as 22 topics.
In the meantime he has completed his "Readingss from Bhagabata", being English Verse translation of over 150 Sayings of the famous scripture originally composed by Vyasa Deva and Translated into Oriya Verse by Saint Poet Jagannath Das of Pancha Sakih fame.
After decades of sterile work in Government offices Mr. Gananath Das, on his retirement from the Indian Administrative Service, has devoted himself fully to the study of the saint-poets whose teachings have laid the foundation of the collective ethos of India. In order to share the spiritual insight he gained from such studies with his fellowmen who have had no direct access to the original, Mr. Das has been interpreting and translating the thoughts of these highly evolved souls into Oriya, his mother tongue, and English. Having thus rendered Kabir and Nanak he has turned his attention to the ancient Tamil genius Thiru-Valluvar. His Oriya translation of Kural has since been published by the ‘Bidyapuri’ Publishers of Cuttack.
Thirukkural has been written in couplets ten of which form a chapter, there being in all 133 chapters. They have been arranged in three books, the First Book being on “Dharma”, the Second on “Artha” and the Third one on “Love”. Each chapter is like a poem on any aspect of the foregoing human activities, like devotion to God, ascetic life, family life, compassion, charity, kingship, military spirit, friendship, gambling, love etc. The style is terse, epigrammatical. This may be as much due to the metre used as to the form of expression. The word ‘Kural’ in Tamil means anything short and in literature it refers to a poetic form using the shortest possible metre.
Thirukkural follows the ancient prescription of the sages for attainment of salvation or release from the cycle of deaths and births through the modality of “Dharma”, “Artha” and “Kama” and writes its own code. It is, in fact, a ‘treatise’ on the art of living; a set of wholesome principles or counsels for the various sections of the society for a harmonious collective living.
According to many scholars Thirukkural belongs to the period of Sangam literature. Sangam was ‘a college or assembly of poets’ held under the patronage of a king or an eminent landlord. The literature produced by these assemblies was compiled in the period spanning over 300 A.D. to 600 A.D. “But, parts of this literature look back to at least the second century A.D.” About its age Mr. C. Rajagopalachari, the scholar-statesman who is better known as Rajaji, says, “It is generally accepted as belonging to a period anterior to the second century A.D. Some scholars place it in the first century B.C.”
The Sangam literature can broadly be divided into two groups: narrative and didactic. The narrative texts are works of poetry that glorifies heroes of the time and their exploits in wars and cattle raids which were much too frequent. They refer to the custom of setting up war memorials, a kind of stone structures on death of the heroes and as such, echo the first couplet of chapter 78 of the Kural on Valour which says, “Do not challenge my commander. Many are those who having stood against him stand now in stone.” “The didactic texts cover the early centuries of the Christian Era and prescribe a code of conduct not only for the king and courtiers but also for various social groups and occupations.” Thirukkural belongs to the didactic category.
Mr. Das has selected 290 of the 1330 verses of the Kural for translation. There is at least one verse from each chapter, in the selection. A few chapters of the book were translated into English for the first time by a Madras Civil Servant (Mr. F.W. Ellis) in the early years of the 19th century A.D. Towards the end of the same century, Dr. G.U. Pope rendered it into English verse for the first time. The nineteenth century English used by Dr. Pope is rather involved and at times obscure, for which modern readers find it difficult to read. Mr. K. Sreenivasan, in the introduction to his translation of Thirukkural published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, Bombay, has cited an example of the language used by Dr. Pope in his translation which reads:
“If heaven its watery treasures ceases to dispense,
Through the wide seas gifts and deeds of penitence.”
(Couplet 9 of Chapter 2 on Rain)
Mr. Sreenivasan has, of course, adopted in his translation some of the renderings of Dr. Pope one of which relates to verse 9 of chapter 38 (on Fate) and reads:
“When good things come men view them all again
When evils come why should they then complain.”
Mr. Das’s translation of the same verse is:
“If we accept that man should enjoy
For his good deeds happiness
Why should we deem it wrong for him
To suffer sorrows for his vile ones.”
Mr. Das’s rendering relates happiness to good deeds and Sorrow to evil actions and as such, Seems to conform to the tenor of the chapter better. The language used by Mr. Das is simple and readers will not find it difficult to understand. Moreover, the purport or the meaning has been explained in simple prose below the verse translated for the benefit of those who may find verse more difficult to understand.
Changes do occur in a living language. In course of time old words acquire new meanings or become obsolete and new words appear or are borrowed from other languages through economic, political and cultural contacts to satisfy new needs. The old classics written centuries ago do contain words and expressions which are out of date, but the classics themselves do not date and remain as they are. No one thinks of rewriting them to meet the changing requirements due to historical and sentimental reasons. No such sanctity is, however, attached to their translation which has to be revised or even replaced by new translation to meet the requirement of changing times. Even in the same period, it is not rare to find more than one person translating a classic because of differing sensibilities and varying perceptions. Mr. Das’s translation should be viewed in this light.
Thiru-Valluvar, the author of Thirukkural, was not only a sage with the good of humanity at heart, a psychologist having deep insight into the complexities of human nature and a philosopher with an urge to reform, he was also a poet of no mean order. Although Thirukkural is basically didactic, it has verses that sparkle with poetic elegance with strikingly modern imagery. Almost the whole of Book Three is good romantic poetry. It dwells on “Kama” which is love and not lust. Chapter 132 is pure poetry on jealousy and feigned anger of the beloved. When someone sneezes it is customary in most parts of India to bless him. It is also a common belief that one sneezes if he remembers or is remembered by someone dear to him. Basing on this custom the poet takes us through the changing moods of a jealous heart, her imaginary fears and unfounded thoughts and provocative remarks like sling-shots to the next chapter on charms of jealous love where “in lovers’ quarrels losers always gain.”
Elsewhere in this Book, we come across such lines as these (from K. Sreenivasan’s translation):
“A feigned dislike to love is like the salt
To food, in excess, it’s a fault.” (Ch 131)
“Though I would like to hide this love of mine
It appears like a sneeze without a warning sign.”
“One-sided love is pain. But mutual love,
Like balanced load on both sides, sweet will Prove.”
“From whom did she acquire this wondrous fire?
Withdrawn, it burns; approached, it soothes desire.”
(Ch. 111 on Joys of Embrace)
“She has two looks; one causes pain
That same pain, the other heals again.” (Ch. 110)
In the other two Books too there are verses which are as poetic. For example, in verse 10 of ch.9 on Hospitality the poet says: ‘As the ‘Anicha’ flower fades when it is smelt, a guest’s face falls when the welcome is cold.’ Verse 10 of ch.65 compares the learned men who cannot expound their learning, to a bunch of flowers that have no fragrance. And verse 8 of ch.79 says, “Friendship is like the hand that comes to rescue when one’s garment slips.” Verse 3 of ch.92 conveys the chilling truth when it compares a harlot’s embrace to the touch of a corpse in a dark room. Verse 1 of ch.94 tells of the death-like grip of gambling: ‘Even if you win, the gain is like a baited hook for fish’ or ‘how a gambler clings to his dice whatever the loss just as life clings to the body whatever be the suffering’. ‘This big world looks dark and dreary even during the day to those who have no sense of humour.’ In other words ‘laughter is the light that lightens the world’ (Rajaji) (verse 9 of ch.100 Courtesy).
Thirukkural is rated very high as a classic. Critics however point out certain inconsistencies in the text, one of which relates to ‘non-violence’. The author advocates vegetarian food passionately. ‘The meat eaters do not obtain any grace’ he cries in Chapter 26 (Book 1), and in Chapter 33 he has rated non-killing higher than even truth, as virtue. In verse 7 of this chapter has said that one may lose one’s life but should not kill another Being. These two chapters are contrasted with Chapter 78 in Book Two where war is glorified and valour in battlefields is extolled sky-high. Rajaji explains verse 4 of Chapter 78 as follows: “The hero hurls his javelin at the attacking elephant and looks about for a fresh weapon with which to receive the next elephant. He then realises for the first time that a javelin had pierced him and is sticking in his body without his having known it. Smiling in joy at finding a weapon he plucks it out and arms himself with it.” what a graphic description of a gruesome detail.
The author’s attitude towards women as reflected in Chapter 91 also causes considerable disquiet among intellectuals. The woman has been assigned a subordinate role in the household. Chapter 6 describes the traditional view of male-dominated society which demands of the wife not only physical Chastity but also unqualified loyalty to the husband. Verse 5 of this chapter ordains in fact that a true wife need not think of god when she rises in the morning. “She offers her worship to the husband and that is enough. Even the clouds will obey and pour the rain at her command.” This is bad enough. But worse Chapter 91 which exhibits, according to many critics, a malevolent form of male chauvinism. On this controversy I can do no better than quote the great intellectual and statesman Mr. C. Rajagopalachari: “The wife is generally treated with great consideration in Kural. But this chapter (Ch. 91) sets down wife-rule as a certain cause of weakness and disgrace for rulers and men of action. Feminists should not be upset by things said in so old a book as Kural. Wife-dominated statesmen hardly command respect and confidence even in modern times. What is condemned in this chapter is the domination of the husband’s judgement by the wife and not love and mutual respect between husband and wife.” And further, “This view about the direct or indirect interference of wives in the public affairs managed by their husbands and the weakening of policy by reason of excessive attachment to one’s wife or fear of displeasure at home, is not inconsistent with the dignity and equality of women’s status. Nor has it to do with woman’s capacity for, public life. No man or woman can serve two masters satisfactorily. One who holds a public responsibility cannot permit himself or herself to be guided by another who has not been entrusted with the responsibility....” According to many, love at home makes for peace abroad. But too much of anything, however good, is bad and feminists would do well to ponder over the viewpoints of Rajaji quoted above.
Thirukkural is a unique guide with “helpful practical hints to achieve what may seem to be a mere counsel of perfection.” If followed faithfully it will help make man a better Being and this troubled world of ours a better place to live in. As the poet has averred, if man acknowledges his debt to the society frankly, ‘to need and to receive help’ offered would be a thing of “beauty and pleasure”.
It’s, however, a pity that we know so little about the genius who authored the great work. Even ‘Valluvar’, according to Tamil scholars, is not the name of an individual. It normally refers to a caste. What all we know about him is that he lived in Mylapore which now forms a part of the city of Madras and that he was a married man and a weaver by profession. Due to paucity of factual details about his life, in course of time, this great saint-poet has entered into legends and there are many of them.
Mr. Das should have translated all the three books of Kural into English for the benefit of non-Tamil readers instead of directing his attention to a few of the verses. These verses have, however, been selected with great care and sensitivities and each is indicative of the theme of the chapter in which it occurs. I have, therefore, no doubt in my mind that they would create sufficient interest in the readers and urge them on to eventually read all the books of Kural in original or at least in translation.
In the year 1993 with the close association and assistance of my esteemed friend and colleague the well-known Sanskrit scholar and administrator Shri S. Sundarajan, IAS (Retd.), I was able to translate into Oriya Verse the whole of the scripture “Thirukkural” which is acclaimed as the “Uttar Vedas” or Vedas which came later, and became highly popular with the people of the Southern States in the large tract comprising Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Mysore, etc.
Later the popularity of Thirukkural as a didactic scripture of world renown spread to the Northern States of our country after it was translated into Hindi.
I based my translation on the Hindi Version in verse form of “Thirukkural” into Oriya Verse which was published by “Bidyapuri” of Cuttack in 1994.
The then Governor of Orissa Hon’ble Shri B. Satyanarayan Reddy was pleased to inaugurate it on 7/7/94. His inaugural address which gives a brief exposition of the great scripture is given here for the benefit of the readers.
Even then many persons particularly the educated kept on asking me what “Thirukkural” stood for and the essence of the scripture. I decided then that selected verses of the scripture should be presented in English Verse with commentaries on the message contained in each verse.
And the “Readings” has taken shape for the reading public. I do so with the hope that the readers particularly the educated will get the urge to read the whole of “Thirukkural” in original or in any of its translations with which they are familiar and benefit by the didactic advice given by the saint-poet which holds good even today and will hold good in the future for the benefit of the human society.
Now let us proceed to go through the Kural Verses which follow in the Text.
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