Background to the Tirukkural
By Swami ShivanandaThe Divine Life Society, RishikeshThere are three holy works by which the Tamil language has been made universal and immortal.These three are the Tirukkural, the Tiruvasagam and the Tirumandiram.The Tirukkural is the life, the Tiruvasagam is the heart, and the Tirumandiram is the soul of Tamilculture.In this article, we focus on Tirukkural, which means "Holy Kural". It is the work of the great saint ofSouth India, named Tiruvalluvar. It is a book for all humanity and for all times. A world that lives by itsteachings shall enjoy eternal peace, harmony, health, wealth, power, grace and bliss.The Tirukkural contains treasures that lead to peace and harmony at home as well as the country.
The Tirukkural, the Gita and Kalidasa’s Shakuntala have been regarded
by wise men all over theworld as the cream of Indian thought and culture.The Tirukkural is a book written in the Tamil language more than two thousand years ago. The greatsaints of the time were very fond of discussing ethical ideals. In the streets, in the taverns and publicplaces, men gathered to apply their concentrated minds on the great question of what ought to beconsidered as good and right, and what as evil and wrong. Many religions flourished in South Indiaduring this time. Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism were the most popular. The caste system had notyet taken root. There was freedom of thought, ideas were readily and easily exchanged, and menwere willing to listen patiently to points of view that differed from their own.It was in this flourishing environment that Tiruvalluvar lived. The Tirukkural, or Kural as it is alsoknown, contains some of the greatest truths known to man, written in a style that has rarely beensurpassed. Tiruvalluvar, or Valluvar as he was popularly known, was clearly familiar with all the greatreligions of his time. He also had knowledge of the philosophy of the Romans and the Greeks. But hisKural was not a patchwork of ideas borrowed from different sources.Valluvar took up the first three of the Purusharthas or the fourfold objects of life, namely Dharma,Artha, Kama and Moksha (virtue, wealth, love and liberation), as given by the Vedic Rishis. Hepresented them in the three sections of the Tirukkural, known respectively as Arathuppaal, Porutpaaland Kaamathuppaal. He left out Moksha or liberation, for the simple reason that when the first threeare set in order, the final state of God-realisation is attained naturally. He also recognised thatMoksha or liberation is to be realised, not just discussed.
The word ‘Kural’ refers to a short verse of only two lines. Ten such verses make up a single chapter
of the book called the Tirukkural. There are 133 chapters, so that there are 1330 couplets or two-lined verses that make up the Tirukkural.Each couplet contains a single complete idea. Although poets generally find it rather difficult to writein a couplet form, Tiruvalluvar handles this medium with remarkable skill and ease. He does notwaste words. The ideas come to us quietly, in a style that is both graceful and beautiful at the sametime.
Each of the 133 chapters is headed by one major idea such as ‘Friendship’, ‘Wisdom’, ‘Justice’, and
so on. The ten verses under each major idea give the poet opportunity to expand on each idea fully.The work is
divided into three sections. The first section, entitled ‘Aram’ (virtue) deals with ingredients
of an ideal family life. It also gives guidelines to spiritual aspirants. The second section, broadly
entitled ‘Porul’ (wealth) deals with various matters perta
ining to government, like royalty, the