Posted by: Bal Patil | August 26, 2010

TIRUVALLUVAR: SAVANT OF THE SOUTH

Published in “The Bharat Jyoti” dt. 10.01.1966

TIRUVALLUVAR: SAVANT OF THE SOUTH

By Bal Patil

Recently Dr. Radhakrishnan, the President of India, unveiled a statue of Tiruvalluvar,  the  great  Tamil poet of the first  century  A.D. and the author of the celebrated book  of moral aphorisms “Tirukkural,” in a temple dedicated to his memory in  Mylapore, Madras.

It is almost two thousand years since Tiruvalluvar preached his message of universal love and tolerance. The moral dynamics of the philosophy of the good and virtuous life as propounded by him in “Tirukkural” transcends all barriers, religious and creedal, and therefore, possess an inspiring and elevating message for humanity for all the time to come.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer who expounded the ethic of Reverence for Life regarded the ethic of action as expressed in  “Tirukkural” as the “living ethic of love.” He said: “ There hardly exists in the literature of the world a collection of maxims in which we find so much wisdom.”

Be pure in mind “ exhorted Tiruvalluvar, “ That is just the nature of virtue. All else is empty  sound and quite worthless”. His exhortations go straight to the heart because they go to the heart of the matter simply and vigorously.

Tiruvalluvar could transcend  religion or any particular creed  because  he belonged to no  religion: he was an untouchable. His very name is an indication  of this fact. Tiruvalluvar means a devotee of the Vallava caste. Vallava is one of the untouchable castes of South India.

But the very catholicity of Tiruvalluvar’s teachings was also a reason for various sects and religions to make on attempt to claim the poet  as their  own. Shaivites.  Vaisnavites, Jains and Buddhists have all contended that Tiruvalluvar belonged to their religion.

And some Christians  have  pointed out that Tiruvalluvar’s teachings bear a strong resemblance to Christ’s message. Dr. Pope a translator of  “Tirukkural” into English, asserted  that there was no doubt  that  of all the religious, influences  on Tiruvalluvar that of  Christianity was the strongest.

But  the Jains claim is something  much more  radical. The  Jainas point  out that the  central doctrine of  “Tirukkural” is non violence or  universal love and also that the work was actually composed by Elacharya or Sri Kundakunda, the  great Jaina Saint who lived about  the first century B.C.

According to the Jaina tradition Tiruvalluvar was a lay disciple of Sri Kundakunda. Tirukkural was introduced to the  Madural Academy for its approval by Tiruvalluvar.

That Tiruvalluvar was not a follower either of the Vedic faith or of Buddhism is proved by the fact that  “ Tirukkural” expressly disapproves of the  practice of meat eating and killing for sacrifice.

The principle of Ahimsa as propounded by Buddhism is  limited to the extent that the  Buddhist  Bhiksus and laymen are forbidden to kill animals by  their own hands. But apparently there is no objection to eat  meat if procured from butchers.

But the case of Jainism is quite different. Jainism is quite different. Jainism enjoins upon its followers absolute  Ahimsa because, according to it Ahimsa or non-vioience is the highest religion: Ahimsa paramo dharma. Consequently, strict vegetarianism is a sacred article  of faith in Jainism.

As regards meat-eating and killing the  sayings in “Tirukkural” are quite decisive and trenchant. Verse 252 in  “Tirukkural” says; “How can a person cultivate the habit of universal benevolence, if he, for the  purpose of fattening  his own flesh ( body) eats flesh of other animals.” And Verse 250 says: “Not eating the flesh of a slaughtered animal is far  better than performing thousand Yajnas with rich libations”.

“Tirukkural” exalts non-killing in these words; “What is the virtuous deed? It is not to kill. Killing brings all the other evil deeds” (Verse 321).

Truth-speaking is placed next to non-violence by “Tirukkural”; “ Not to kill is the one good deed par excellence Next to this comes the virtue of speaking the truth.” (Verse 323)

The philosophy of the good  and virtuous life and the way  to attain it as embodied in “Tirukkural” is valuable not  because it driginates from this or that  particular religion, but because it  expresses certain  timeless truths  about  human  life  and its ethos in a homely  and  admonitory manner.

The frantic quest  of several creeds to claim Tiruvalluvar as their  own illustrate the simple  truth that the prophets are not  recognized in their own time:  If they are not stoned actually  they are crucified like Jesus Christ or poisoned like Socrates. The poetic couplet which  says:

“Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead,

Through which the living Homer begged for bread”, is to the point.

But fortunately Tiruvalluvar  did not suffer from any such curse of the prophets. Very little is known about  his  life except for the fact that he made his livelihood as a  weaver at Mylapore  and  that  his domestic life was ideally happy.

There is a very  charming  legend about the happy domestic  life led by Tiruvalluvar. Once a saint went to see Tiruvailuvar  and asked him as to which state was  better; celibacy  or matrimony  In answer Tiruvalluvar invited him to be  their guest for a few days  and observe for himself.

One day both Tiruvalluvar  and his guest were  having  a meal of cold rice. His wife Vasuki was busy drawing  water from the well. Tiruvalluvar cried all of a sudden: “Oh,  how hot  is this rice, one can’t  eat it.” At  once Vasuki ran  to him and began fanning the rice  regardless  of the pot of water left  in a hurry. Immediately  the lumps of over night  cold  rice became steaming hot and the pot remained suspended in  mid air.

Another day while Tiruvalluvar  was weaving in broad day light  he dropped his weaving  instrument and asked his wife  to bring a candle for searching  it. Poor Vasuki  lighted up  a candle and began searching  for  the thing which was lying just there on the ground. She was too obedient to pay any attention to the absurdity of the situation.

Tiruvalluvar’s  guest found the answer to his question. Tiruvatluvar  held that with a  good and obedient wife married life could not be a hindrance in the quest of truth and salvation.  He said; “If a householder lives his life without  swerving from the path of righteousness ordained for him, he will occupy the  foremost place among all those that  strive for spiritual realization.” ( Verse 47)

Expounding the householder’s dharma, Tiruvalluvar  declared; “ The glory of the household is in the hands of the wife. If she  falls in this, all other glory in life  is as if it did not exist.”

At the same time Tiruvalluvar was well aware of the dangers of a slavish submission to women. He  waned; “One who  loses his manly nature by becoming submissive to his  wife  will always have to hang his head in shame in the midst of  good  men.”  (Verse 903)

Perhaps no other saint than  Tiruvalluvar has spoken in  glowing terms of the joys of a  serene domestic life. His comments on children are singularly apt.

He observes: “ While the parents  eat their food, if their children put their little hands in the food and play, the parents will feel their food  sweeter  than divine Ambrosia.”  (Verse 64) And he avers charmingly: “ Only  those who have never heard their  children’s  sweet  lispings will say, sweet is the pipe, sweet is the  pipe, sweet is the lute.” (Verse 66)

Tiruvalluvar set great store by conjugal happiness and family love. The third and final bode of Tirukkural is devoted to the topic as to how a home  comes to be formed as a result  of love between a young man  and a beautiful maiden.

Here Tiruvalluvar describes with  great poetic charm the  course of true love and lays bard all the subtle nuances of a  romantic but  clandestine love  finally culminating in a conjugal set-up . Then follows a  highly  sensitive picture of the  normal joys and sorrows of conjugal life- separation re-union, and occasional tiffs – described in  the  words of the woman.

Tiruvalluvar  shows no less insight into the failing of human  nature  a  Regarding back biting  he  observes; “ Even in the case  of a person who does not speak approvingly of virtue and  whose deeds are always evil, if  considered by the world as free from the defect of back  biting then  that itself is an  evidence  of some good in him.”  (Verse 181) .

And further in Verse 189 Tiruvalluvar declares with undisguised contempt; “A person who waits for his neighbour’s absence in order to spread slanderous tales about him, is one who has the weight of  his body  patiently  borne by the earth, perhaps, out of charity.”

Even though Tiruvalluvar is eloquent when speaking about  the  ephemeral nature of human  life  as when he says, “ Death is similar to sinking into deep  sleep, and birth again is like waking up from sleep,’ (Verse  339 ) which is reminiscent of Wordsworth”s “Our birth is but  a sleep and a forgetting.”  He possesses  a healthy regard for “ renown” in human life.

“If one is to be born at all”  emphasizes Tiruvalluvar,  “One should be born with that disposition as should enable him to  achieve fame. Otherwise it is better not  to be born at all,’ (Verse 236)

It is  significant to note that  Tiruvalluvar did not believe in caste distinctions. “All men are born equal,” he said, “The differences among them are entirely due to their  “Occupation”  (Verse  972) Despising illiterate  persons because they are like “ a barren field with saltish soil’ he says, “ A person born without learning though born  in a higher caste, cannot be considered  equal to a low born person who  is highly learned.” (Verse 409) .

Containing such precious gems of wisdom and spiritual insights  Tiruvalluvar’s  Tirukkural is a great commentary on  human life touching it in all its  conceivable aspects.  “Tirukkural” views life steadily and  views it whole by plumbing to  its very depth. M.Ariel, the French scholar, said of it that it is “ One of the highest and purest  expressions of human thought.”

Hailed as the Tamil Veda  “Tirukkural” proclaims the message of universal love  which  is very relevant to our anxiety’ ridden age.

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  1. […] Tiruvalluvar: Savant of the South (balpatil.wordpress.com) […]


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