Thirukkural, the Tamil classic hailed as the Sacred Verses, written millenniums ago, stands as an exemplar of human life and shines as a beacon to the Tamil-speaking community. There is no archaeological evidence to identify the exact time period when Thirukkural was composed, except through references of Thirukkural in other Tamil works, which point us to its time period as 200 BC. Despite being ancient literature, the values and principles of life espoused in Thirukkural is relevant, applicable, and acceptable in modern contexts as well. Ethics are interwoven with the richness of the Tamil language in Thirukkural to provide a moral code that is universal in nature.
Composed by Saint Thiruvalluvar, the text in a verse form contains 1330 couplets, of the same length of seven words in 1-3/4 lines that are divided into 133 chapters, each containing 10 couplets (or Kurals), covering various topics, which are broadly classified into three major parts. Every aspect of life is covered in the couplets. A major portion of the verses deals with ethics, and the entire work weaves around ethical conduct at various levels and walks of life. Varied concepts such as politics, government, management, good governance, family life, complex human relationships, wealth, and love are strung together to give a direction to human life in general. Thirukkural advocates a conscious and spiritual individual life so that it results in an ethical life that constantly moves towards the individual finding inner peace and living in harmony with the state and world. Thiruvalluvar broadly deals with the three human pursuits – virtue, wealth, and pleasure – that form the basis of human life on earth, and then the fourth aspect, liberation, is implicit in all the three pursuits expound a secular, moral and practical attitude towards life.
The overarching structure of the entire text is based on seven ideals organised as follow,
- 40 couplets on God, rain ascetic, and virtue
- 200 couplets on domestic virtue
- 140 couplets on higher yet fundamental virtue based on grace, benevolence and compassion
- 250 couplets on royalty
- 100 couplets on ministers of state
- 220 couplets on essential requirements of administration
- 130 couplets on morality, both positive and negative
- 250 couplets on human love and passion
Thirukkural transcends time and place as the couplets reflect secular character and universal appeal, standing above all sectarian and social prejudices. A literary work, more than two-thousand years ago, existed in the ancient society, its approaches are acceptable even in the modern world. With far-sighted enthusiasm the saint has consciously visualized to address the needs of future generations in his literature, which serves as a universal guide towards building a humane, equitable, and compassionate global society, aiming to solve the critical issues in the world. Though Thiruvalluvar being an idealist, has expressed solutions understanding the reality. Thirukkural serves as a champion, with protesting voice against inhumanity.
The Thirukkural is praised for its universality across the globe. The ancient Tamil poet Avvaiyar observed, “Thiruvalluvar pierced an atom and injected seven seas into it and compressed it into what we have today as Kural.” Besides the Tamil scholars, many scholars from various parts of the world have praised Thirukkural, admiring its holistic approach to any problem faced in real life . The Russian Philosopher Alexander Piatigorsky praised it ‘’chef d’ oeuvre of both Indian and world literature “due not only to the great artistic merits of the work but also to the lofty human's ideas permeating it which are equally precious to the people all over the world of all periods and countries.” G.U. Pope who translated Thriukkural in English commended Thiruvalluvar “a bard of universal man.” Albert Schweitzer, a philosopher, and Nobel Prize-winner praises, “there hardly exists in the literature of the world a collection of maxims in which we find so much of lofty wisdom.” Leo Tolstoy was inspired by the concept of non-violence found in Thirukkural who was instrumental in Mahatma Gandhi reading Thirukkural while in prison, called it “a textbook of indispensable authority on moral life” and further added, “The maxims of valvular have touched my soul. There is none who has given such a treasure of wisdom like him.” Sri Aurobindo admired , “Thirukkural is gnomic poetry, the greatest in planned conception and force of execution ever written in this kind.” Monsieur Ariel, who translated the third part of the Kural in French in 1848, called it “ a masterpiece of Tamil literature, one of the highest and purest expressions of human thought.” According to Rev. Emmons E.White, “Thirukkural is a synthesis of the best moral teachings of the world.” Zakir Hussain, former president of India, said “Thirukkural is a treasure house of worldly knowledge, ethical guidance, and spiritual wisdom.
One reason for its popularity is its multifaceted and universal approach to multiculturalism and Thirukkural can be rightly characterised as the voice of the multicultural world. Thiruvalluvar can be identified as a multicultural activist and his aim is to bring the world together shredding all kinds of differences and shrinking the world communities to ONENESS.
Thirukkural Translation by G.U.Pope