Thirukkural in futuristic perspective

Maraimaai ilakuvanar

Guest Lecture delivered at Mahatma Gandhi Institute. Moka, Mauritius On Thiruvalluvar Day (16.01.2011)

The Thirukkural is virtually a universal code of morals, presented by a great humanitarian to the mankind, who has rightly been honored as “the Prince of Moralists” and the “Bard of Universal Man”. Hence said Ariel, who was probably the first to introduce it to the French-speaking people, “that which above all is wonderful in the Thirukkural is the fact that its author addresses himself without regard to castes, people or beliefs, to the whole community of mankind; the fact that he formulates sovereign morality and absolute reason, that he proclaims in their very essence, in their internal abstractedness, virtue and truth; that he presents, as it were, in one group the highest laws of domestic and social life.” Its appeal is, thus, universal, its approach fully cosmopolitan, and its object is purely humanitarian.

Voice of Valluvar is indeed the guiding star that can lead the humanity in the path of virtues – virtues of kindness and hospitality, sweet speech and gratitude, equity and self control, good decorum and forgiveness, charity and compassion, non-violence and non-killing, renunciation and desirelessness, truthfulness and free from jealousy etc. which are bound to elevate the human beings to the level of divine beings. Indeed herein lies the peace and harmony of the society!

In this Scenario it is relevant and significant to recall how inspired by Valluvam or the way of Kural, Mahatma Gandhi practiced the same and proved that Valluvam is not a Utopian ideal but a practical proposition. Gandhiji said “I learnt Tamil only to enable me to study Thiruvalluvar’s Kural through his mother tongue itself. There is none who has given such a treasure of wisdom like him!” It is interesting to note that Gandhiji came to know of Thirukkural, through Leo Tolstoy, the Russian Philosopher and writer. In 1908 Tolstoy wrote a letter which was titled as “A letter to a Hindu”. The letter was later translated and published by Mahatma Gandhiji with an introduction.

“To me, as a humble follower of that great teacher whom I have long looked upon as one of my guides, it is a matter of honor to be connected with the publication of his letter, such especially as the one which is now being given to the world.” Gandhiji describes Tolstoy’s way and approach to life through the following words:

“Tolstoy’s life has been devoted to replacing the method of violence for removing tyranny or securing reform by the method of non-resistance to evil. He would meet hatred expressed in violence by love expressed in self-suffering. He admits of no exception to whittle down this great and divine law of love. He applies it to all the problems that trouble mankind.”

Tolstoy had quoted the couplets of Thirukkural in the chapter on “Not doing evil” ( Innaa ceyyaamai )

“The aim of the sinless One consists in acting without causing sorrow to others, although he could attain to great power by ignoring their feelings. (Kural-311)

The aim of the sinless One lies in not doing evil unto those who have done evil unto him.(Kural-312)

If a man causes suffering even to those who hate him without any reason, he will ultimately have grief not to be overcome.(Kural-313)

The punishment of evil doers consists in making them feel ashamed of themselves by doing them a great kindness.(Kural-314)

Of what use is superior knowledge in the one, if he does not endeavor to relieve his neighbor’s want as much as his own? (Kural-315)

If, in the morning, a man wishes to do evil unto another, in the evening the evil will return to him.” (Kural-319)

Tolstoy in his letter to Gandhiji had described Thirukkural as Hindu Kural. This letter of Tolstoy which quoted Thirukkural drew Gandhiji’s attention to learn Thirukkural. He described Thirukkural as “Tamil Holy book”. Gandhiji’s life was contained in the two words: Non-violence and Truth. Thirukkural enunciates the same two in a single verse in the same order:

“Non-killing (non-violence) is the supreme virtue; If you want a second one follow truth (non-falsehood)”— [Kural-323]

Gandhiji’s respect for Thiruvalluvar and regards for Thirukkural can be seen in a note he published in his journal under the Caption “Tamil Holy Book”. “Thiruvalluvar is a Tamil saint. Tradition says that he is a weaver. He gave us the famous Thirukkural – holy maxims described by the Tamils as the Tamil Veda. (‘Harijan’ dated 6th July 1935)

Inspired strongly by Thirukkural, Mahatma Gandhi inspired all sections of the society to fight for freedom from the foreign yoke through his deliberately chosen path of truth and non-violence. He provided inspiration to many oppressed nations in the world to fight against colonization and become free. He continues to inspire the world even today after sixty-two years of his martyrdom. Thus Thirukkural can be hailed as an eternal light which illuminates the world for over Two thousand years. Mahatma Gandhi got the spark from Thirukkural and from him Martin Luther King jr., Nelson Mandela and many more leaders who fought against oppression and tyranny adhering to a non-violent way preached by Thirukkural and practiced by Gandhiji.

Surely Truth and Non-violence are the only ways to contain terrorism and religious fundamentalism which are spoiling many parts of the world, where mass-murder and sabotage are destroying mankind and destabilizing many nations.

Thirukkural has been broadly divided into three parts, of which the first deals with Aram (VIRTUE) the moral value of Life, the second discusses Porul (WEALTH), socio-economic values of Life, and the third on Kaamam (LOVE), depicts the psychological values of Life. There are 38 chapters in the first part, 70 chapters in the second part and 25 chapters in the third part. In the third part, Thiruvalluvar plays the role of creative artist. But in the first two parts, we find Thiruvalluvar as a moral philosopher and political scientist. Only in the third part, Thiruvalluvar portrays the fascinating aspects of lovers, the Akam tradition which he has inherited from his ancestors.

No significant tribute is needed for the supremacy of its subject matter, than the fact that it has been translated into a number of languages of the World. Perhaps, it can be claimed that there is no other work of non-religious nature, which stand in comparison to Thirukkural. In the range of subject-matter and brevity of the couplets, Thirukkural excels the other didactic literature of the World.

Charles E. Gover in his book. ’Folk songs of Southern India’ had given the following observation, which remains as a befitting tribute to Thirukkural:

“As a great thinker, St. Thiruvalluvar, actually transgressed the frontiers of language and creed. His scripture of Universalism has induced to recognize him as one of the greatest philosophers, to be placed in the midst of Socrates, Kant and Confucius, the illustrious moral philosophers of the mankind.

In the sphere of Political Science and Public administration, Thiruvalluvar seems supreme in his treatment and humanistic approach than Aristotle, Kautilya, Machiavelli and Harold Laski.

When we take into consideration, the third part of Thirukkural, no other poet can be placed by the side of Thiruvalluvar, except the mysterious Roman poet, Ovid 43 BC – 18 AD., who immortalized the agony and anguish and the ecstasy and exhilaration of the loving-hearts in his famous Ars Amorous.”

V.V.S. Iyer, in his book “Maxims of Thiruvalluvar” comments as: “Thiruvalluvar is one of those seers whose message is intended not merely for their own age or country, but for all time for all mankind He has given to the world a work which, in perfection of form, profundity of thought, nobleness of sentiment and earnestness of moral purpose, very few books outside the grand scriptures of humanity can at all be compared.”

Our intention is not to add tributes one by one. Like V.V.S. Iyer, almost all the Tamil scholars describe Thirukkural as ‘a book for all time, for all mankind’ “In a world that undergoes change and evolves continuously, how long any book or concept endure? In case it endures, what is the source of its eternal relevance?” are the thought-provoking questions from the renowned Scientist, Poet and writer Dr. V.C. Kulandaisamy.

It is the futuristic perspective of Thiruvalluvar that had made it as an eternal treasure-trove of superb wisdom. Let me give a short introduction about the futuristic approach.

Studying the Future and Change:

Change is happening at an ever faster rate today–driven partly by technological changes leading to changes in all other areas of our lives, and by the increasing interdependence between countries and peoples today, as well as the decentralization of societies and institutions within countries (also furthered by information technologies today). The end of the Cold War is also changing political and economic borders, systems, and alignments, as everyone seeks to become part of a global economy and society, while still maintaining national, ethnic, and cultural identities and meaning. While the danger of all-out nuclear war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. (now Russia and fourteen other former Republics of the Soviet Union) has greatly receded, with the end of the Cold War, nuclear terrorism remains a danger, and other issues, such as sustainable development and preservation of the environment, have gained greater ascendancy. This has made it necessary for governments, businesses, organizations, and people to better understand change and the future, since we will all be living and working in a future world that promises to be different from today in significant ways. When people better understand change, they also often see more opportunities for their lives and ways to better positively influence the future that is being created.

Brief History of the Future Studies Field

While there have always been futurists, in the sense of people who looked to the future and who tried to understand change, the field of Future Studies itself–which tends to be very interdisciplinary –really arose during World War II and in the postwar period since then.

Range of Futurist Views and Perspectives

Within the Futures field, there have always been a wide range of views and perspectives from people who have come from a very wide range of different disciplines and backgrounds and interests. Futurists run a whole gamut of views between the following two poles and everything in-between:

a) “Doom and Gloom” Futurists: so-called because they tend to focus on current real world problems, without easy solutions (such as the nuclear danger during the Cold War, or the continuing population explosion, world hunger, depletion of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources, and environmental preservation and pollution) and project these trends into the future, showing that “if current trends continue,…then the future will be much worse than the present.” It is important to note that even “Doom and Gloom” Futurists are not totally pessimistic, however. Indeed, no futurist would dedicate their whole life to studying change and the future if they were totally pessimistic. The major reason for pointing out negative trends and scenarios for the future is to alert people to the potential problems ahead, so that we humans can be informed and change our current policies so that a more desirable future can be created.

b) Futurists who create different scenarios of the future–from negative, “doom and gloom” views, to most probable or likely views, to positive, visionary views (an in-between perspective, that acknowledges all these possibilities for the world future, and which points out that our actions and policies NOW will help to determine which of these scenarios actually transpires in the future).

c) Positive, Visionary, and Evolutionary Futurists: They focus more on positively imaging the more desirable futures that we would like to create; articulating the positive values that we would like a future world to be based on; focusing on technological, societal, and human potentials; tracking groups that are actually trying to create such preferable futures in the world today; and generally empowering people to see that we always have choices (in what we think & feel, and in how we behave in the world), and that we DO have the power to create a more desirable future world by committing in the present to change what we are doing NOW.

Thiruvalluvar is a Positive, visionary and evolutionary futurist who depicts the more desirable future articulating the positive values which will surely create a better world than his age. I wish to cite a few examples, even though I am able to give a detailed study, as I am afraid my lecture may become a lengthy one. First of all the conception of Thiruvalluvar about a state deserves our attention.

A kingdom/country should have a perennial natural yield, a band of noblemen endowed with virtues, wealthy persons without negative qualities. (Kural-731)

A kingdom/country is that which continues to be free from excessive starvation, irremediable epidemics and destructive foes (kural-734)

A kingdom/country is that which is without various (irregular) associations, destructive internal enemies, and murderous savages who (sometimes) harass the sovereign.(Kural-735)

[Translation by Rev. Drew. I have substituted the word ‘country’ in the place of ‘Kingdom’)

The conditions laid by Thiruvalluvar are thought-provoking. How can we get a state with a perennial natural yield? How to get a band of noblemen endowed with virtues? What is the way to obtain a host of wealthy persons without negative qualities? This Kural clearly indicates that Thiruvalluvar is a Positive, Visionary, and Evolutionary Futurist. The Kural poems quoted above shows the vision of Thiruvalluvar about an ideal state, who motivates people through his poems to inculcate positive qualities. Agriculturalists should find suitable ways and means to get a perennial natural yield; People should lead a principled life setting themselves as exemplary citizens; Wealthy persons should keep away negative qualities and should be always adopt positive approaches. These are all the pre-requisites, according to Thirukkural, to mould and shape an ideal welfare state.

Even after Two thousand forty one years after Thiruvalluvar, Hunger, Poverty, Epidemics and Terrorism are the real enemies for Mankind. About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. This is one person every three and a half seconds; unfortunately, it is children who die most often. Diarrheal diseases such as cholera and dysentery kill about 1.6 million people each year, almost all of them children. In the entire history of humankind, it is believed that tuberculosis has killed more people than any other disease (in shorter periods of time, the epidemics of the Black Death and AIDS have killed more). Tuberculosis dates back to at least 4000 BC and was present in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and India. Known as consumption, it was responsible for one in five deaths in 17th century London. The so-called childhood diseases of measles, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, and diphtheria are responsible for less than a million deaths per year. Over a million people die from malaria each year and many millions more are seriously weakened by it. Pneumonia and other forms of acute respiratory infection (ARI) kill more than 2 million children alone each year. AIDS is now second only to the Black Death as the largest epidemic in history. AIDS kills over 2 million people a year or about one person every 15 seconds. This death toll surprisingly includes a lot of children, who are often infected with the HIV virus during pregnancy or through breast-feeding. Death due to terrorist attacks and counter-terrorist retorts are also alarming throughout the world. In this context, Thiruvalluvar’s definition for welfare state that,” A country is that which continues to be free from excessive starvation, irremediable epidemics and destructive foes (kural-734) proves him as a positive and visionary futurist.

The following verses of Thiruvalluvar clearly show his far-sighted approach.

“Freedom from epidemics, wealth, produce, happiness and protection (to subjects/citizens); these five the learned say, are the ornaments of a kingdom/country.” (Kural-738)

“Although in possession of all the above mentioned excellences, these are no use to a country, in the absence of harmony between the sovereign and the subjects.”


I do not dare delve deep in advanced research to point out the in-depth analysis of Thiruvalluvar about an ideal state which is highly futuristic and has relevance till date. There are many comparisons of Thiruvalluvar’s approach with that of Aristotle, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Machiavelli, Chanakya and many more theoreticians done by many learned scholars. In this lecture I just wish to give an introduction of Thirukkural’s futuristic approach and I request the students to probe further so as to find and admire the uniqueness of Thirukkural. Thiruvalluvar’s definitions for an ideal state, powerful army, mighty minister, able administrators, and dynamic investigators of the intelligence wing, loyal citizens and other wings of administration are completely relevant even today. To cite a few examples, the chapters of Thirukkural on ‘Detectives’ (chapter.59) and ‘The Envoy (chapter.69) are astonishingly relevant for today’s polity.

According to Thirukkural,

“Spying by spies, the things they tell,

To test by other spies is well.” (Kural.588)

In these days, the spies of a government are bought by its hostile country, providing a huge amount of money and indulging in other modes of gratification. Thiruvalluvar’s idea of spying spies by other spies confidentially is a wonderful strategy which will be very useful for a Head of the state in maintaining defense as well as prohibiting offensive attacks by enemies. Even though the idea is many centuries old, the advancement in modern science and technology is very much useful in implementing this and I think there is no need to elaborate it.

The chapter on ’The Envoy’ is also highly relevant today. Thirukkural defines the qualities an envoy should possess in this chapter. For a diplomat in this modern age, these qualities are necessary. Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states. It usually refers to international diplomacy, the conduct of international relations through the intercession of professional diplomats with regard to issues of peace-making, trade, war, economics, culture, environment and human rights. International treaties are usually negotiated by diplomats prior to endorsement by national politicians. In an informal or social sense, diplomacy is the employment of tact to gain strategic advantage or to find mutually acceptable solutions to a common challenge, one set of tools being the phrasing of statements in a non-confrontational or polite manner.

Almost all the qualities Thirukkural prescribes for an envoy is apt and agreeable for the modern diplomat. The following verses of Kural will prove this.

Love (to his sovereign), knowledge (of his affairs), and a discriminating power of speech (before other sovereigns) are the three sine qua non qualifications of an ambassador. Kural-683

Sense, goodly grace, and knowledge exquisite.

Who hath these three for envoy’s task is fit. Kural-685

In terms concise, avoiding wrathful speech, who utters pleasant word,

An envoy he who gains advantage for his lord. Kural-686

If I venture to show the relevance of Thirukkural to the modern world, the lecture may exceed its limit.

My point is the futuristic perspective of Thirukkural lies in its universal approach and objective manner.

Right from the first and till the end of Thirukkural, Thiruvalluvar has avoided a regional approach and sticks to a view common to the whole mankind. Even in his similes he chooses objects of comparison which can easily be understood by any man in the globe.

Thiruvalluvar belongs to a world two thousand years ago, which was divided into many kingdoms, where there were wars and conflicts specific to the era.

But Thiruvalluvar has dreamt of an ideal world and his suggestions and advices are a boon to our age to guide us to shape a wonderful new world.

He never used the word Tamil or Tamilnadu; he had not mentioned the name of a particular religion.

He has given much importance to women thereby avoiding a male-dominating approach.

An ardent learner of Thirukkural will surely admire the futuristic approach of a poet who has dreamt of a war-less world without any conflict, a happy family and a frictionless society.


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