Tirukkural (திருக்குறள் in Tamil) is an important work of Tamil literature by Tiruvalluvar written in the form of couplets expounding various aspects of life. It contains 1330 couplets divided into 133 chapters of 10 couplets each. Each couplet consists of seven words, with four words on the first line and three on the second. It is sometimes claimed that Tiruvalluvar wrote more than 1330 couplets, and that the rest of the work has gone missing. However, this is unlikely since several different writers of later years in different areas of India all alluded to the standard 1330 verses, merely choosing to group them in different ways.
Curiously, the word 'Kural' too has a generic meaning. Roughly translated, it means a pithy couplet (compare sutra). 'Tirukkural' is thus a honorific reference to the collection of couplets. Essentially, the 'Kural' is really a vast assortment of interlinking 'kurals.' By most, it is understood that the 1330 couplets conform well to subdivisions of ten kural adhikarams or 'chapters,' each on specific themes ranging anywhere from righteous living to proper governance of a kingdom.
- Arathuppal (or justice division) contains lessons on dharma and morals.
- Porutpal (or material division) contains teachings on man's duties and the right way of leading one's material life.
- Inbathuppal (or the division of love) teaches love.
Though the Tirukkural was written nearly two millennia ago, it is easily comprehended by the modern speakers of this ancient language. This fact underlines the surmise of many scholars that Tamil has undergone very little corruption, over the years and also gives an insight into the long standing heritage of the Tamils. It is mandatory for school children in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu to study Thirukkural right from their inception into the curriculum. This may make Tirukkural seem dogmatic but it is seldom thought of so. Thirukkural has taken the place of a gospel among the educated Tamil intelligensia, but without any intensive religious leanings. Thus, it finds a widespread acceptance as the Gospel of the Tamils, among followers of all religions, creed and castes.
Tirukkural and religion
Tiruvalluvar's faith is disputed. Many Hindus claim that he was an Hindu. There are also acccounts that he was a Jain. In any case, Tamil people consider Tiruvalluvar to be a holy saint; and his work is called poy-ā—mozhi (false-never—speech). Many say that Tiruvalluvar was not concerned whether he followed the Vedas or Mahavira, and that he ignored the artificial boundaries between religions. It is generally believed that his works were neutral towards religions.
The first couplet
அகர முதல எழுத்தெல்லாம் ஆதி
பகவன் முதற்றே உலகு
Agara mudala ezhuthellam adhi
bagavan mudatrae ulagu.
Loosely translated, it means
A leads the letters just as the First Lord
leads and lords the entire world.
- Thirukural :: DR.KALAIGNAR URAI (http://www.thedmk.org/thirukural/) - Thirukural with contemporary explanatory notes by M. Karunanidhi. Available online in Tamil.
- Thirukural on Internet and Translations (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/5180/thkrl.html) - Links to Internet resources on Thirukural
- Palm leaf manuscript (http://www.tamil-heritage.org/photoarc/olai/Thirukkural.html) - A sample photograph of palm leaf manuscript
Online English translations
- Tirukural.com (http://www.tirukural.com) - Easy to navigate web site and well laid out.
- Thirukkural (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Academy/8357/book.html) - Translations by Rev.Dr.G.U. Pope, Rev W H Drew, Rev John Lazarus, and Mr F W Ellis.
- Weaver's Wisdom: Ancient Precepts for a Perfect Life (http://www.himalayanacademy.com/books/weaver/content.htm) - Translation by the Himalayan Academy
- IIT Madras site that can be viewed with any browser (http://acharya.iitm.ac.in/tamil/kural/kural_browse.html)
- Thirukkural (Original in Tamil with English Translation) by W.H. Drew (Translator), John Lazarus (Translator), W. H. Drew - ISBN 8120604008