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.