(Part I-Contents: Introduction; Soft Words and Speech Control; Truthfulness; Fear of Evil Doing; Self Control or Humility; Forgiveness or Forbearance; No Envy; Non-Coveting; ANBUDAIMAI-Loving Nature or Disposition; Compassion (ARUL); Free of Anger; Dharma or Righteousness and Regulated life; Purity of Conduct; Gratitude; Fair Mindedness (Being Just);Charity; Social cooperation; Fate or the Law of Karma)




THIRUKKURAL, A Great Masterpiece in World Literature

(By S.G.V.Ramanan, Bangalore)




Part I



Of the world's languages, the Tamil language is very ancient, equal to that of Sanskrit and few have placed their origin and antiquity correctly. Tamil literature is vast and varied. Many poems and literary marvels were created 2000 years ago; apart from depicting the life of people living at that age, these have lessons for the future, which are immortal and applicable to all ages.

Among these literary masterpieces is Thirukkural authored by a great and saintly poet and philosopher named Thiruvalluvar, who belonged to the peasant community of South India and eked out his living from a meager income from his weaving profession.

The Thirukkural is "Thiru" plus "Kural". The second portion of its name is given because of the short length of the verses; the word "Thiru" denotes its sanctity. The Kural is considered equivalent to the Vedas of the Hindu scriptures.


The Thirukkural, considered equivalent to the Vedas of the Hindu scriptures, has been widely translated both in Indian and European Languages and is among the oldest literary works of the world. Researchers have traced the age of this work to 300 BC.  Nearly two hundred years ago, the famous Jesuit missionary Constantius Beschi, who lived in Tamil Nadu for 42 years, translated the first two parts of the works into Latin. Rev. G.U. Pope, who hailed Thiruvalluvar as "The Bard of Universal Man" printed this. Dr. Graul used the manuscript of Beschi for his translation of Thirukkural into German as well as Latin. A number of writers, e.g. M/S F.W.Ellis, W.H.Drew, E.J Robinson, J. Lazarus, have made translations In English between 1820 and 1886. M/S M.Ariel and M. de Dumast have made translation of some portions in French. The English translation done in the early twentieth century was by the great freedom fighter and patriot Late Sri V.V.S. Iyer who lived between 1881 and 1925. Selected couplets have been translated in English by the well-known freedom fighter and statesman, late Sri C. Rajagopalachari. In recent years, a full English translation is published by the M.P.Birla Foundation in 1988.


Its immortality and universality are unquestionable. One of the reasons for its wide translation in different languages of the world is the undeniable fact that the ethics and the values it carries are applicable to all religions, all countries and all times. This catholicity and universality is a unique feature for any literary works of ancient or modern times.

Erudite Tamil Poets as well as kings of the three Tamil Kingdoms acknowledged the literary greatness of Thirukkural in South India. It is said that at the time of its first presentation to the King's court, the Pandyan King wanted its greatness to be made known to all poets and the public alike. He put it to test by placing the manuscript along with those of other contemporary works in a golden lotus plank and allowed it to float in the tank at the famous temple of Madurai Meenakshi. The sanctified plank that would recognize only masterpieces is said to have rejected all other works and retained only the Thirukkural. Each one of the 1330 couplets is noted for its brevity and rich meaning. Contemporary poets have compared each couplet to a tiny mustard seed which has seven seas of knowledge inlaid in it.

Tamil Script


Kadukaith thulaiththu Ezh kadalaip puguththi

KuRukath thariththa kuRal


"In its essence, Tirukkural is a treatise par excellence on the art of living. Tiruvalluvar, the author, diagnoses the intricacies of human nature with such a penetrating insight, perfect mastery and consummate skill absorbing the most subtle concepts of modern psychology, that one is left wondering at his sweep and depth. His prescriptions, leavened by godliness, ethics, morality and humanness are sagacious and practical to the core. They cut across castes, creeds, climes and ages and have a freshness which makes one feel as if they are meant for the present times."

Today, it is one of the few literary works that is quoted widely by politicians, administrators as well as pedestrians. One of the best tributes paid to this great literary marvel in recent years is:

"Tiruvalluvar was the Sun and the 1330 poetic flashes that constitute the splendorous phenomenon of Tirukkural as we now have it were but a significant segment of the Sun's radiance . . . At the high spiritual, ethical, and human levels from whose vantage grounds Tiruvalluvar indited his iridescent couplets, all the great religions of his time, -Vedic Dharma, Jainism, Buddhism, perhaps also Judaism and early Christianity-fused into a nectarean essence . . . Tirukkural thus became the crystallisation of ripe wisdom and sage counsel and unfailing good sense. And it was both tuned to the need of the age and being a classic, which is only begging the question! -Quintessentially to all times and all climes as well"

Broad Divisions:

The couplets are divided into three parts. The first part, which deals with dharma (righteousness), guides one on how to conduct himself and live in the world and describes the values to be followed in life. The second part has lessons on governance of a nation and one's conduct in a society. The last portion deals with love and lovers. The three parts are presented further in thirteen sub-parts called "Iyal" and 133 chapters called "Athikaram". Each chapter contains ten couplets, thus totaling 1330 couplets in all.

Glimpses of Verses (Couplets):

It is difficult to single out any one couplet for its importance and its application to this era. An attempt is made in the following paragraphs to highlight some of the couplets which I enjoy and cherish even today and which have immediate relevance to the day to day life of individuals. The couplets chosen for illustration are taken from the first two portions of the Thirukkural. These are random selections and are intended to enthuse the Internet readers to go through this masterpiece in Tamil literature, for its ethical and political values and literary greatness. Those who cannot read Tamil can at least read the translation for their ethical values and political sagacity. The numbers given in brackets are references to the original couplets.


The couplets have been presented both in Tamil and English. Apart from my own, wherever necessary and appropriate, I have given translations and explanations in English of celebrated writers like Rajaji, V.V.S.Iyer, Srinivasa Iyengar etc.

While presenting the chosen couplets, I have grouped them under my own sub-headings for purposes of convenience, which are not in all cases seen in the original. Also, the presentation of chapters does not follow the order found in the original text.





Human Conduct and Behaviour


The couplets I propose to present in this part (Part 1), relate to human behaviour and conduct. The saint poet has rightly given great emphasis on these aspects, as, without them, the human life becomes empty, miserable and unhappy.




Chapter No. 1


Soft Words and Speech Control


I begin with the chapter on Tamil Script (soft word), which is one of the very many couplets that constantly reminds me on how to be polite and nice in expressing our thoughts to others. We can win the world through our sweet words and create a bond of everlasting love and affection.


Tamil Script


inia ulavAha innAtha kooRal

kaniyiruppak kAy kavar nthaRRu.


The English translation of this couplet is:


“Behold the man who useth hard words when sweet ones serve: he prefereth the unripe fruit to the ripe.”[1]


When gentle words are available, why do men choose the words that hurt? Is it not foolish to pick up unripe berries when ripe ones can be had for the plucking?[2]


This couplet does not require any further explanation. What a beautiful way of presenting the thought! Here, there could not have been a better and more appropriate comparison of soft words with readily available ripened fruits.


In another couplet (99), he says that each one has direct personal experience of the marvelous effect of kind words from others and yet when we speak, we forget that we should do the same things to others and not indulge in harsh speech.


He further points out in verses 92 & 93 that even gifts to the distressed should be accompanied by kindly words, gracious and loving looks coming from the bottom of the donor’s heart; otherwise, the very gifts or alms will become counterproductive and will hurt rather than mitigate the suffering.


On the same subject of speech, the saint poet advocates refraining from slander (181 to 190) and avoiding worthless talks (191 to 200).


The following couplet says, even if one speaks harshly face to face, he should not slander behind one’s back.


Tamil Script


KaN  NinRu kan aRach  chollinum  chollaRka

MunninRu  pinnOkkAch  chchol.


Tamil Script


ethilAr  kutrampOl  thamkutram  kAnkiRpin

theethundO  mannum  uyiRkku



Meaning:  “If a man can scan his own faults as he does of his enemies, can ever evil come to him?”[3] (Here the poet sees this as a benefit not only to the man who practices this but also to all the living beings as could be inferred from the words “Tamil Script.)


In ten couplets thereafter, the poet points out the effect and futility of vain-speaking.


Tamil Script


cholluha chollin payanudiaya; chollaRka

chollin payanilAchchol


Meaning:  Speak only such words as are worth saying; refrain from profitless and worthless words.


Some of the other striking couplets are given as under:


He, who indulges in purposeless talks causing disgust to his company, earns universal contempt.  (194)


Indulging in indecent talks in mixed company does greater mischief than even wrongs done to friends. (192)


He that multiplies empty words declares loud his want of worth. (193)


Even the worthy will lose honour and respect if they indulge in vain-speaking. (195)


Those of unclouded mind and clear vision will not speak fruitless words, even by oversight. (199)


(To be continued in Chapter No. 2)



Chapter No.2




In the couplets 291 to 300, the Saint-poet Thiruvalluvar, explains the real meaning of being truthful.  The following two couplets are one of the most important explanations to this subject.

Tamil Script

vaymai  enappaduvathu  yaathenin  yaathondRum

theemai  ilaatha  solal

Tamil Script

poymaiyum  vaaymai  idaththa  purai  theerntha

nanmai  payakkum  enin


Meaning of 291:  The first definition the poet gives to truthfulness is that “it is attained if one’s speech is such that it harms no being in the world.”  Truth is not truth if it is spoken to further some wrong.  The standard test for right conduct including truthfulness is harmlessness.  This does not mean that truth is underrated.  Truth is subjected to a further test, namely that of harmlessness.[4]


Meaning of 292:  In another outstanding explanation, he says even untruth, which brings the least blemish of evil, can be classified as truth.  Such a falsehood has to bring forth unmixed good to the person to whom that falsehood is revealed.  Here, a great distinction is made between falsehood, which generally brings in harm to the people, and to the exceptional circumstances where even such falsehood can be claimed as truth, if it produces good.


I quote here an erudite explanation given by Rajaji (a Great Freedom Fighter and the Governor General of India after Independence):


“This is possible in case like that of a doctor who says something hopeful for the patient which he knows is not accurate but which he believes may possibly do him good and which hurts no one, without any concealed defect or blemish.  Apart from this truth, the poet in these two verses bases the law of truth speaking on the foundation of non-violence.


“To some, the causing of pain to others is the great wrong and everything should be adjudged good or bad on this basic test; to others, truth is an absolute duty and a breach of that duty is by itself wrong and need not be related to the causing of pain to others.  It is perhaps easier to speak the truth than avoid the causing of harm to others.  The latter is a severer test than literal accuracy.  Those who explain the duty of truth on the basis of avoidance of pain to others are however not to be understood to allow laxity.”


Comments:  It pains us to see this couplet being used by unscrupulous persons to justify their unjust deeds and falsehood. The real intention behind the saint’s second couplet is to emphasize that even untruthful utterances directed to achieve a specific objective of bringing in unblemished and unquestioned benefit and not resulting in harming or causing pain to any one can be treated on par with truthfulness. It is clear that, only in such exceptional circumstances, untruthful utterances are justified and can be treated as truthfulness. Basically, it should have the twin characteristics of non-violence and dharma.


In couplet 299, he says the worthy regard not all other lights as light; it is only the light of truth that illuminates their path of life.


His other couplets on Truthfulness are translated below:


If you are truthful in thought and word, you are superior to one who undergoes penance and gives gift (294).


Truthfulness earns the esteem of the world, besides bringing in its train, the merit of every other virtue without the physical privations of penance (295).


Water makes external cleanliness.  Truthfulness is the detergent of the heart (298).


If a man can live without ever uttering a falsehood, all other virtues are superfluous unto him (297).


(To be continued in Chapter No. 3)



Chapter No.3


Fear of Evil Doing and Not Harming or Inflicting Injury


In these two chapters, the saint gives his thoughts on wrongdoing and advocates forbearance and doing good to others, including those who have done immense harm to you. (See couplet 314)


Tamil Script


theeyavai  theeya  payaththalaal   theeyavai

theeyinum  anjappadum


Meaning: Evil brings forth evil; evil therefore, is to be feared even more than fire.


The peculiarity of fire is that out of what it consumes, it makes itself regenerative continuity and causes fresh material to be burnt. Sin has the quality of fire and in a more terrible form.  Therefore, shrink from it from the very start.


Tamil Script


arivinul  ellaam  thalai  enba ,  theeya

seruvaarkkum  seyyaavidal


Meaning: “It is the supreme virtue to fight evil, not with evil but with good.


“Forbearance is recommended as the highest form of all higher knowledge. It stops the chain of evil where you can control it. You cannot prevent another but you can prevent yourself from contributing to the progressive sequence of evil.”[5]


In another couplet, the saint expresses the same thought where he says:


Tamil Script



innaa  seythaarai  oruththal  avar  naana

nannyam  seythuvidal


Meaning: The best punishment to those who do evil to you,  is to make them feel ashamed by returning good for evil.


This is a sagacious and important advice to all of us. Not only does Thiruvalluvar advocates “no harm” to these people in retaliation, but also advises “the extreme path” of doing  good to them. This attitude requires and will lead to a balanced and elevated mind.


“This may appear to be a platitude. Actual experiment will disclose how practical and effective the advice is. The pain felt by the wrong doer in his shame is greater than any that anger could inflict on him.”[6]


The other couplets, which have rich purport and meaning, are referred to briefly below:


The very thought of doing wrong or sinful acts frightens good men; the evil men do not see any thing wrong in such acts.  (201)


Even by inadvertence, do not think of any act that would hurt another. If you plan evil for anyone, dharma will decree your own ruin. (204)


It is possible to escape other enemies, but evil deeds relentlessly pursue like a shadow wherever the feet take him, and destroy the doer. (207 & 208)


“An inexorable law will bring injury to one who behaves wrongly to others.”


Tamil Script


pirarkku  innaa  muRpagal  seyyin  thamakku  innaa

piRpagal  thaamE  varum.


Meaning: All the evil you do in the forenoon bounces back in the evening.


In this couplet the saint warns the evildoer that not only the evil will follow him like a shadow, but it will also bring evil to himself within a short time. He uses the forenoon and afternoon figuratively to highlight how quickly he will reap the consequences of his own evil deeds.


“ The law of cause and effect brings unfailing retribution to the sinner”[7]


He also quickly questions why a man who has experienced pain of hurt and knows what it is, should wantonly cause hurt to others. He further wonders as to the use of wisdom, if it does not make a man feel another’s pain as keenly as the pain in his own body and avoid causing it. (315 & 318)


(To be continued in Chapter 4)





Chapter No.4


Self Control or Humility


This is one of the important chapters in which the saint poet Thiruvalluvar advocates self-control, humility.  Guarding against cupidity, pride and anger are also dealt with in this chapter.


“Self Control is as necessary a virtue for the householder as for the recluse.” [8]


Two couplets, which are most appealing, are:

Tamil Script

Yaakaavar  aayinum  naakaakka  kaavaakkaal

Sokaappar  solliluzhukkuppattu 

Tamil Script

theeyinaal  sutta  pun  ul  aaRum ,  aaRaathE

naavinaal  sutta  vadu

The meaning of these two is:


Whatever be the nature of control you may have on other things, be vigilant and have control over your tongue, failing which, you will meet with misery and great trouble.  (127)


The fire-caused wounds heal soon enough, but not the one caused by a scalding tongue.     (129)


The poet’s emphasis on the need for absolute control over anger becomes stronger,  by his comparing the bodily wound caused by fire and that caused on the mind through unscrupulous and scalding words used out of anger or spite.


In the same breath, the saint praises further the virtue of self-control and humility as follows:


Tamil Script

adakkam  amararul  uykkum  adangkaamai

aarirul  uyththu  vidum

Tamil Script

kaakka  porulaa  adakkaththai  aakkam

athanin  oongku  illai  uyirkku

Meaning: Self control or humility takes one to Heaven and uncontrolled passion will push one into darkness. (121)


There is no possession more precious than self control and guard it as the very treasure of your life.  (122)


In the other couplets, he says:


“It is well for every one to be meek (humble), but for those who have wealth, meekness (humility) is added possession.”


“Learning, good birth and wealth are not reduced but enhanced by becoming humility of deportment.”[9] (125)


Explanation: No doubt, it is necessary for every human being to be humble. Here, the poet emphasizes further that one’s learning, the family background or the wealth he/she acquires should not make him/her proud of such achievements. On the other hand, such persons should all the more be humble despite erudition, good family background and wealth, as their humility will enhance the value of these acquisitions.


In the Society, we have known many learned/wealthy people who are humble and are being respected and revered more than those who show pride and haughtiness. In Purana, Lord Rama and Hanuman are said to have exhibited this throughout; on one occasion, when Ahalya’s curse was to be removed by the celestial touch of His feet, Lord Rama felt shy of touching the stone to which Ahalya was transformed; He touched the stone gently lest it would hurt the women; after this transformation, He never showed any pride in achieving this.


“If a man lives a life of self control and withdraws the five senses from tempting pleasures, as a tortoise when it senses danger draws its head and limbs into its shell, he shall have to insure himself against evil in seven births thereafter.” [10] (126)


The essence of this advice is: Control of one’s five senses not only prevents the dangers arising out of tempting pleasures, but it is such a treasure that it will last and guard one from evil for seven lives (reincarnations).


“Virtue greets him who has mastered anger, and is wise and self controlled”[11] (130)


Taller than the mountain is the stature of the man who rates the things of this world at their value and lives a life with self-control. (124)


Even if one word of a man causes pain to another, all his virtue is lost. (128)


“The man schooled in self-restraint duly earns the laudation of the wise.” (123)


(To be continued in Chapter No. 5)


Chapter No.5


Forgiveness or Forbearance


Another chapter, which attracts me, is on forgiving nature.


To forgive some one is a great virtue in a human being; as in the case of other virtues, it elevates one to a higher plane of mental development. One’s stature in Society rises high. The satisfaction one derives from such forgiving is far greater than and is incomparable to the one derived from punishing an individual for his wicked/evil act. The Poet not only asks you to forgive but also to forget such evil acts. 


Thiruvalluvar beautifully brings these out in the following verses.


I am reminded here about his advice of doing good to even those who harmed you. (see Chapter 3). This very nature (doing good) pre-supposes that the person concerned should first forgive the man who harmed you. The question of ‘doing good or refrain from doing any harm in retaliation’ arises only when you develop an attitude of forgiveness.


Tamil Script

ahalvaaraith  thaangum  nilampolath  thammai

ihalvaar  poruthal  thalai

Tamil Script

oruththaarkku  oru  naalai  inbam;  poruththaarkku

ponRum  thunaiyum  pugazh


Meaning: As the earth supports (suffers) the very man who is engaged in digging it, we should also bear with those who abuse or criticize us.  (151)


Retaliation gives but a day’s joy. Forbearance brings everlasting fame and glory. (156)


In the other couplets, the saint says:


Forbearance of a wrong is always good; better still, is to forget it. (152)


“The man who shows forbearance in the face of insult has truly practiced the discipline of the sanyasin, though he is a householder.” (159) 


“Arrogance leads a man to do wrong to you. But your pride should be to defeat him by your forbearance.”  (158)


Rajaji explains further as follows:


Your forbearance will prove your greater worth and disillusion his pride. Forbearance is not a negative thing. It is an effective blow delivered to the wrong doer’s pride. That is the defeat referred to. It is not a platitude. The incisive rationalist approach is a common characteristic of Thiruvalluvar and Marcus Aurelius.”


The most shameful poverty is to turn back one’s guests; and the greatest strength is to suffer fools.  (153)


(To be continued in Chapter 6)


Chapter No.6


No Envy


This chapter deals with all the attributes of  envy-less state.


Tamil Script


vizhuppERRin  ahthoppathu  illai;  yaar  maatum

azhukkaaRRin  anmai  peRin


Meaning:  There is no greater wealth than the possession of a mind free from envy.


Rajaji explains: “The envy of other’s possession is equivalent to poverty. It makes one, though in possession of wealth, go through misery as poverty causes. The misery cannot be remedied by any acquisition of wealth or other sources of joy, as the cause of pain arises from outside oneself, viz., in another’s wealth. Hence to be endowed with temperament free from envy is the greatest blessing on earth.”


Tamil Script


azhukkaRRu  akandRaarum  illai;  ahthilaar

perukkaththu  theernthaarum  il


Meaning: No one has fallen from heights or riches from not being envious of others. None has gained greatness or fame by being envious.


“A simple truth, but we forget it when we see another’s good fortune! Alas, says the poet, that so many men purposelessly entertain envious thoughts which only cause pain to themselves without achieving anything.”[12]


In the other couplets, this is emphasized further by pointing out the consequences of envy.


“Envy makes a man lose happiness without having a single enemy in the outer world. His own envy is enough to do all the mischief.”[13].  (165)


SGVR’s  comments: I have been feeling that the first victim of envious status is the very person and not those about whose possession the person is envious of.


Echoing this, Rajaji further explains its ill-effects beautifully thus:


“Your own mind can be your worst enemy. Envy makes poverty in spite of possessing wealth, and causes misery out of what really is cause for joy. No thief is required to rob you of your wealth; envy does the work by making the wealth of no avail to you for joy.”


You may be blessed with every good trait and all good fortune. But the one serious blemish of envy is enough to cast you into hell-fire.  (168)


Goddess Lakshmi cannot bear the envious; She will quit them and throw them to Her elder sister. (In the folk mythology, the elder sister of Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity is the Goddess of Poverty and Misfortune.)     (167)


It is he who cares not for his spiritual welfare and material well-being that envies his neighbour’s prosperity instead of rejoicing it.    (163)


(To be continued in Chapter 7)


Chapter No.7




A character similar to non-envying is dealt with in this chapter. Greed or covetousness is the desire to obtain other’s belongings by illegitimate means.


Tamil Script


vEndaRkka  vehki aam  aakkam,  vilaivayin

maandaRku  arithaam  payan


Meaning:  “The gain accruing from covetous acts is no more than bitter fruits”[14]


Do not covet other’s possessions. When you come to possess the things, which you laboured illegitimately to obtain, you will find no true enjoyment therein, such as you had desired. True enjoyment is possible only if the acquisition is lawful.”[15]


Tamil Script


iRal  eenum,  ennaathu  vehkin ;  viral  eenum

vEndaamai  enum  serukku


Meaning: Reckless covetousness brings disaster/destruction; wise contentment triumphs over all.


“Greed is folly. It results in misery equivalent to death. On the other hand, it should be your pride not to be tempted to look with covetous eyes on other people’s possessions. Cultivate this indifference. It will give you a sense of triumph.”[16]



In the other couplets, the saint poet says:


The blameless and self-controlled, although poor, will not covet other’s possessions, for they bring in both gain and shame.  (172 & 174)


Those who desire to be happy in the real sense do not seek illegitimate possessions, as they give at the most only transient (temporary) pleasure.   (173)


(To be continued in Chapter 8)




Chapter No.8 (Most Important)


ANBUDAIMAI-Loving Nature or Disposition ()


I now come to a chapter on the nature of love and its disposition, (Anbudaimai) which has been marvelously handled by Thiruvalluvar. This is one of the most important chapters and I request the readers to give proper thought to the verses quoted here. The important couplets and their meaning are given below:


At the outset, I wonder whether there is a proper word in English which gives the correct meaning of this Tamil word “ANBU”.


The word “love” is deficient to convey its real and full meaning; the English dictionary gives the following definitions: “deep affection, or fondness, sexual passion, sexual relations, a beloved one, affectionate greetings etc”. Often, this word is used to indicate physical and emotional contact between two individuals, a man and a woman.


The word “ANBU” is far from sexual relationship. It denotes kindness, deep affection, and a tender heart which pours immense love and affection towards one and all, including animals. Thus, it has no limitations in its coverage. You can see this in the lives of all evolved souls. (Lord Ram, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa,  Ramana Maharshi etc.,).


 It leads to and encompasses qualities like, “karunya”, “daya”, (compassion), “yajnya” (sacrifice), “priya” (affection), “bhakthi”, “samathvam” (equality), “adakkam” (humility), tenderness of heart, and “elimai” (simplicity). A person full of Anbu in his/her mind, sheds ego completely, treats all fellowmen as equal and is always prepared to sacrifice everything in life for the sake of others and more importantly, without expectations.


In the very first verse of this chapter (71), the poet proclaims that there is no gate valve for ANBU. Anbirkkumundo Adaikkum Thaazh?”. Once it begins to pour, you cannot stop it; it is uncontrollable and does not expect returns.


I feel that without the qualities arising out of “Anbu”, probably, it is difficult for any one to “Forgive and Forget”, as also doing good to those who have harmed the person.


The following paragraphs would show you how effectively the poet has handled this subject.


In the following two couplets, the saint refers to ANBU as the very secret of life without which a person becomes a mere structured body of bones.

Tamil Script

anbin  vazhiyathu  uyirnilai ;  ahthilaarkku                                                                                                                                                               

enbuthOl  pOrththa  udambu.

Tamil Script

anbilaar  ellaam thamakkuriyar;  anbudaiyaar

enbum  uriyar  piRarkku.


Meaning: Without tenderness of heart, the body is only bones covered with skin. The secret of life is through love alone.  (80)


Those who do not have love (ANBU) in their mind live only for themselves.  Those who have love (ANBU) in their hearts will give their very bones for helping others. (72)


In the latter couplet, the saint poet emphasizes that unblemished love takes a man to the height of his personality where he is prepared to sacrifice his entire body to others. An example of this can be seen in the Tamil King Sibi who cut his body and gave it in weight, to save a bird.


Tamil Script


enbu  ilathanai  veyilpOlak  kaayumE

anbu  ilathanai  aRam.


Meaning: “Inflexible law withers the soul of him who has no love in his heart, even as the sun shrivels up the bodies of boneless worms.”


“As the spine supports the bodies of vertebrates, love supports the soul.  Without it, life shrinks and stops the spirit’s evolution.” –Rajaji. 


A similar expression is given to this thought in the next couplet when the poet says:


“Where there is no tenderness of heart, life is barren of purpose.  Can a tree that is dried up in the desert sun, put forth leaves?” (78)


An important couplet that has given rise to different interpretations in this chapter is reproduced below: (for details see Appendix.1)


Tamil Script


aRaththiRkE  anbusaar  enba  aRiyaar

maRaththiRkum  ahthE  thunai


Meaning:  “The naive say that love aids virtue, but love safeguards against vice as well.”[17]


Whatever be the interpretation of this couplet derived from the opinions expressed by scholars as seen in Appendix.1 , it is important to note here that love is the essence of dharmic actions (acts of righteousness) whether in peace or war, which is probably the highlight of the poet’s thoughts on this. 


The gist of the other couplets is given below:


“Without a tender heart, of what avail are the externals of family life? Just as the outer ear or eye may be there, but it is of no avail to the deaf and blind, so is the soulless routine of a householder’s life purposeless without tenderness of heart.” (79)


“When denied love, the soul within is maimed; vain are the fair outer limbs.” –K.R.S.Iyengar.



The enlightened hold that the present union of body and soul is derived from the need for love.  (73)


Here Rajaji explains as follows:  “ Human affection is possible only if the soul is clothed in flesh and blood, and it is worthwhile for the sake of the experience of such affection to suffer the miseries of life on the earth.  The soul would like to be born in flesh and blood, for the sake of enjoying this incident of life on earth.”  


“Affection is a training for Bhakti, and out of Bhakti will come unsought, true enlightenment, the goal of all religious endeavour.” (74)


V.V.S. Iyer gives a translation slightly different as follows: “ Love maketh the heart tender towards all: and tenderness yieldeth that priceless treasure called friendship.”


“The blessing of the blessed, they say, is nothing but a reward of the Gods for a nature that had been full of loving tenderness in the past.”[18] (75)


K.R.S. Iyengar’s translation of this verse is: “Domestic joy here and bliss hereafter depend on a life of love.”





Appendix. 1.


Different interpretations of Kural No. 76 on Anbu


Tamil Script


aRaththiRkE  anbusaar  enba  aRiyaar

maRaththiRkum  ahthE  thunai


Meaning:  “The naive say that love aids virtue, but love safeguards against vice as well.”[19]


Shri V.V.S. Iyer says: “They are fools who say that love is for the righteous alone: for even the evil minded, love is the only ally for the man.”[20]


Parimelazhagar,[21] a commentator, says that if one forgets the evil deeds of another and considers him as a friend and pours love on him, the very evil deed is extinguished. So, love is the basis for righteousness as well as for undoing unrighteous acts.


Rajaji explains this differently as follows:


“Men of imperfect understanding think that a tender heart helps one, only in the path of good morality.  Love inspires the warlike deeds of the brave soldier too.”


He further explains: “It is well known that the bravest warrior is often the most tender-hearted. Parimelazhagar explains the verse to mean that love overcomes the wrath and enmity, and helps a man not only himself to do the right, but also to overcome the wrong done by others.  The word   (MaRam) has in Tamil literature also another meaning besides the one Parimelazhagar[22] has taken up.   (MaRam)  stands for the virtues of the soldier (See Kural ch.39-4) and I think that this is the sense in which the word is used in this verse, and it makes the use of the word Ǿ¦  (Aram) appropriate.”


He gives here the examples of  Karna in Mahabharatha whose valorous acts in war are the result of his deep love towards Duryodhana; this is true of Bheema also who fought great valour and aggressiveness mainly due to his attachment and love towards Droupathi.


Dr. M. Varadarajanaar, another erudite writer/scholar, also supports this view; his translation of the verse in Tamil reads as under:


 “Ignorant say that love supports only righteousness, but if seen closely, it also supports valour.”





(To be continued in Chapter 9)


Chapter No.9


Compassion (ARUL)


A subject closer to love, is compassion. The word óÌ°Ü  (Arul) in Tamil has better connotation than mere compassion. Being merciful with deep concern and love is the nearest meaning. “Arul is  love for all creatures equal to what is associated with blood relationship.”[23]  K.R.S. Iyengar translates it as “The grace of Grace.” 


In this chapter, the poet says:


Tamil Script


arul  illaarkku  ivvulagam  illai; porul  illarkku

ivvulagam  illaaki  yaangu


Meaning: Even as there is no world for people without riches, there is no world beyond for those who have no compassion or mercy.


Tamil Script


nallaatRaan  naadi  arul  aalka;  pallaatRal

thErinum  ahthE  thunai


Meaning: In all the diverse teachings of the world, one common teaching is that compassion (mercy) is the only one that gives men spiritual deliverance or salvation.


Tamil Script


arutchelvam  selvaththut  chelvam;  porutchelvam

pooriyaar  kannum  ula.


Meaning: The wealth of all wealth is a heart that overflows with mercy (compassion). Material wealth is found even with vile men.



In other couplets, the saint says:


Those who lost their possession may flourish once again. But there is no hope for those who have lost compassion; they have lost it forever.  (248)


Soul endangering sin flees from those who show compassion and grace to all life. (244)


Righteousness or dharma cannot be practiced without compassion, as truth cannot be seen by a confused mind.    (249)


When a man is inclined to be cruel to those over whom he has power, let him think of himself trembling before the cruelty of stronger men. (250)


Here, the emphasis of the poet is on compassion to all and in contrast, he wants those who fight a weaker person to place themselves in other’s place and see the futility of cruelty.


(To be continued in Chapter 10)


Chapter No.10


Free of Anger


This chapter is devoted to the consequences of anger and the need to control it.


Just like envy (Jealousy), the poet emphasizes that the first victim of anger is the person who gets angry.


An enquiry into the causes of anger may reveal different circumstances and reasons; but the main causes are the ego in each person, his/her own expectations and ill-will borne out of deep prejudices.


On most occasions, we get angry because of our expectation that the other party's word, thought or deed should be the same or similar to what we want him to be or to do. More often than not, this does not happen. If we begin to evaluate our expectations and reasonableness thereof, the basic premise would be broken and our reaction would become normal; then, we would not get frustrated and would have no cause for anger. In most situations, such evaluation is not possible on account of the ego factor. To expect the world to behave or do things in the manner one wants, is the most illogical thing and defeats the very concept of individuality.


Ill-will is a dangerous one causing deep hatred and anger and brings harm to everyone. In most cases, the basis for ill-will is illogical and irrational and it takes enormous and concerted efforts to root it out.


When one becomes angry, he/she looses all logic and reasoning power and begins to exhibit crude animal behaviour.

My own experience in the last eight decades shows that anger is more a sign of weakness than strength. Nothing is gained by getting angry; on the other hand, the person who gets angry is always the looser.


In the following verse, the saint poet advises us that whatever be the cause for anger, we should abstain from it.


Tamil Script


inar  eri  thOyvu  anna  innaa seyinum

punarin  vekulaamai  nandru


Meaning: Great may be the wrong done to you; like many tongued fire it may burn, but it is worthwhile yet to struggle and abstain from one’s anger.


“The poet here goes mentally through the difficulties that arise in the practice of what he preaches. This is the special characteristic when dealing with any subject.”[24]


In the following verse the poet appeals to us to contain anger to save ourselves.


Tamil Script


thannaiththaan  kaakkin  chinam  kaakka;  kaavaakkaal

thannaiye  kollum sinam.


Meaning:  Let him, who wants to save himself, keep off or guard against anger: for the anger that is not held back will come upon him and destroy him. (The appeal here is to self-interest)


Tamil Script


chellaa  idaththu  chinam  theethu ;  chel  idaththu

il  athanin  theeya  piRa.


Meaning: It is wrong to get angry even when you are helpless to strike: when you have the power, there is nothing that is worse than anger.


“Anger causes pain and a fresh lease of life is given to ill-will. Where it does not hurt the other party, it simply causes pain to oneself….but where it hurts another and therefore contributes to further ill-will, the evil is greater”[25]


Some of the other verses on this subject are briefly as under:


From anger is born all evil.  Let us forget the cause for provocation given by anyone.  (303)


Can there be any great enemy to mankind than anger, which kills laughter and joy (which indeed are the greatest blessings on earth)? (304)


He, who thinks anger is profitable or worthy thing and yields to it, is bound to suffer the evil thereof, even like the fool that hits the ground with his hand.  (307)


He, who hits the ground, hits himself by that act.  Anger hurts the angry man not the other.  The certainty as well as the incidence of the harm is brought out beautifully by this analogy.


“Whosoever is overwhelmed with anger is like the one dead.  But whosoever has forsworn wrathfulness is like the saint.” (310)


(To be continued in Chapter 11)


Chapter No.11


Dharma or Righteousness and Regulated life


Thiruvalluvar attaches great importance to the right code and conduct and regulated life or pure conduct. The tenets of Dharma can be seen in the background in most of the verses in Part I. 


It is interesting to note here that great religious leaders of India have conveyed the similar thoughts on Dharma (Righteousness).


In the two chapters presented here, we will see what Thiruvalluvar  says on “Dharma” and how he defines it. The word he uses in Tamil is “ARan”. The purport of this word is more limited to individuals than to the Society and is slightly different from the word “Dharma” used in religion. However, the core meaning is the same or similar to what religions purport to convey.


In ten stanzas under the heading “Tamil Script,”, the poet emphasizes the importance of Dharma.


Tamil Script


aRaththaan  varuvathE  inbam;  maRRa  ellaam

puRaththa   pugazhum  ila


Meaning:  True happiness is derived from the joy that right conduct gives: other pleasures end in sorrow and disgrace or shame.


Tamil Script


aRaththinoongu  aakkamum  illai;  athanai

maraththalin  oongillai  kEdu.


Meaning: There is no greater wealth or good than that comes out of Dharma; no misfortune is greater than that of forgetting (or not following) the path of Dharma.




In the following verses, the poet explains the true nature of Dharma.


Tamil Script


manaththukkan  maasilan  aathal  anaiththu  aRan

aakula  neera  piRa.


Meaning: Purity of heart or keeping the mind free from evil thoughts is the core status of Dharma; the rest is all in the nature of vain display.


Rajaji explains: “The key to purity of action is purity of thought. The attainment of a mind free from evil thoughts is the aim of religious life, and this is a silent process. External observances are sound and show.”


Tamil Script


azhukkaaRu  avaa  veguli  innaachchol  naangum 

izhukkaa  iyandRathu  aRam


Meaning: Avoidance of four things, namely, envy, craving for pleasure, anger and harsh speech, is the true dharma.


The other verses convey the following:


Righteousness is the unfailing support till your death (and thereafter). Do not say, you will be righteous by and by. Begin to be righteous right now. (36)


Be unremitting in following the path of dharma; use all your resources, strength and means to do it.  (33)


Purity of Conduct


In another ten verses under the heading “Tamil Script” (131 to 140), Thiruvalluvar attaches importance to purity of conduct and regulated life and says:


Tamil Script


ozhukkam  vizhuppam  tharalaan, ozhukkam

uyirunam  Ombappadum


Meaning:  Discipline or purity of conduct is more precious than life, as it gives value to life.


Tamil Script


ulakaththOdu  otta  ozhugal  pala  katRum

kallaar  aRivilaathaar


Meaning: “The learned betray ignorance when inspite of their learning, they fail to regulate their lives in accordance with the principles of social co-operation.”[26]


In this verse the poet makes it clear that the mere learning does not confer any great benefits; it is regulation of life and social co-operation, which are far more important.


Here the emphasis is on Society and how one should conform to its norms, which form the basis for regulated life and Dharmic principles. In fact, establishment of these norms are based on the needs of the Society,Here the emphasis is on Society and how one should conform to its norms,

which forms the basis for regulated life and Dharmic principles. In fact, 

establishment of  these norms are done according to the needs of the Society.


He further emphasizes this by saying that a Brahmin can study again what he has forgotten of the scriptures and make up for the lost memory. But if he neglects regulation of life and virtuous conduct, he forfeits forever the advantage of his birth.  (134)


The other important verses are:


Righteous living marks true nobility; but low conduct places a man amongst the ignoble.   (133)


A well regulated life brings honour; neglect of it will lead to utter disgrace. (137)


(To be continued in Chapter 12)



Chapter No.12




This chapter on “Gratitude”, is another important one, whose teachings should be ingrained in the minds of people right from childhood. Ungrateful nature is the cause of so many evils in the society and human relationship.


Talking about the subject, the entire world should be ever grateful to the Saint Poet Thiruvalluvar for having given us, through this master piece in world literature, immortal and universal messages and advices.  How else do we remember and repay him for all that he has done to us, except by following his advice sincerely and scrupulously?


Let us now see what the saint poet says:


Both to the giver and taker, the saint poet gives his message clearly:


To the recipient of the help, in his inimitable style, poet Thiruvalluvar gives importance to the time element in the help rendered to people and not so much to the magnitude of help.


Tamil Script


Kaalaththinaal  seytha  nandRi  siritheninum

Njaalaththin  maaNapperithu.


Meaning: By itself the help rendered to one may be a trifle; but the timeliness of the help made in the hour of need makes it bigger than the whole world.


To the person who renders help, in the following verse, he stresses the importance of rendering help without expecting rewards or returns:


Tamil Script

Seyyaamal  seytha  uthavikku  vaiyakamum

Vaanamum  aatRal   aRithu.


Tamil Script

Payan  thookkaar  seythaa uthavi  nayan   thookkin

Nanmai  kadalin  perithu.


In these verses, he says that even the whole world and heaven cannot be as precious as the help done without expectations and even ocean will look smaller compared to such help.


“What is done in return for something previously done can never be as great as the deed borne out of sheer generosity, be it ever so small by itself. There is, therefore, nothing that can be considered as adequate repayment. It is above every other kind of goodness.”[27]


The other verses stress further the importance of help, and talk about how to view them.


Tamil Script


eNnanRi  konRaarkkum  uyvundaam;  uyvillai

seynanRi  kondRa  makaRkku


Meaning: There is redemption for men who are guilty of every other crime, but not for the men who forgot help rendered to them.


SGVR: This kural rightly emphasizes that one should never forget the help rendered to him and it is unpardonable.


It is bad to forget the help done to you. But if some one does wrong to you, it is good for you to forget it the very day.  (108)


An evil you may suffer at the hand of someone may be a painful-like death; but forget the present pain by reminding yourself of some good thing that once he did for you. (109)



Here, the saint wants one to recall even a single kindness or good thing from the man who injured him, which alone will make one to forget even the latter’s murderous hurt. This is another instance of Thiruvalluvar’s characteristic way of giving helpful hints.


The lofty thought that flows from this advice reminds one of his earlier chapters where he advocates doing good even to those who harmed you.


(To be continued in Chapter 13)

Chapter No.13


Fair Mindedness (Being Just)


In these days of so much unfairness in business, personal and official dealings, this chapter gains lot of importance.  Corruption is the root cause of the country’s curse, misery and tardy progress. If only the people in power and authority and the business community show fair play and justice in their dealings, the country’s prosperity would be unparalleled.


In this chapter, under the heading, “Tamil Script(Fair mindedness), the poet talks about being upright and being a man of rectitude.


The meaning of some of the important verses is given below:


“The Alpha and Omega of righteous life is propriety; and propriety requireth that thou must give each man his due, whether he be a stranger, or a friend, or an enemy.”[28]  (111)


Irrespective of the person whom you are dealing with, the Poet advises fair and equal treatment to one and all.


Tamil Script


Meaning: The prosperity of a just man goes down to his children without diminution and will protect them against adversity.


Rajaji explains:

“There is practical wisdom in the statement as to the stability and the instability of acquisitions got by the methods that the society condemns. Rectitude of means employed gives stability to what is acquired, whereas what is got by swerving from the right path stands ever in danger of being lost again or serving as a snare. The most powerful motive for the householder is the desire that his children are assured of happiness after him. Upright conduct, says Tiru-Valluvar, ensures this.”[29]


Tamil Script 


Meaning: The worthy of just causes or unworthy can be seen from how their children fare. (114)


There is a different interpretation to this Kural, which says that good men will be blessed with progeny and bad men will be denied of that joy. (see Parimelazhagar’s commentary.)

Tamil Script

Tamil Script

Meaning: One may feel that no evil attaches to the wealth that is acquired by unjust means; touch not that wealth. Let businessmen know that it is good business to protect the interest of others exactly as his own; this will expand his own business. (113 & 120)


Today, when business rivalries lead to cut throat competition and adoption of unjust means to grab money and power, this Kural advocating “ honesty as the best policy even in business” is a laudable objective.


If one swerves from the path of justice (from the right path and turn into evil), he should know that misfortune or destruction awaits him soon. (116).


Even if a man with firm uprightness or virtuosity loses his worldly possessions, his poverty does not lower him from the estimation of the world. (117)


(To be continued in Chapter 14)


Chapter No.14


Charity or Helping the Poor


In this chapter Thiruvalluvar, glorifies charity and defines it as the one that helps only the poor and needy, and not gifts to all and sundry.


Tamil Script


Meaning: Giving to the poor alone is charity; gifts to others are in the nature of loan or business transactions wherein what is given is expected to be returned.


Tamil Script


Meaning: Death is most painful and bitter. But even death is sweet when one has not the wherewithal to help the wretched and the needy.


Tamil Script


Meaning: Though it leads unto heaven, receiving charity is bad, even when poverty permits it. On the other hand, even though heaven is denied, to give to the poor is the highest virtue.


Rajaji explains: “The very act of giving gives joy to the giver and receiving a favour causes pain to the receiver. This is inherent in human nature, apart from any consequences in Scripture. This is a characteristic instance of the Thiru-Valluvar approach.”


The other couplets further emphasise charity aspect.


You may find it unpleasant to be approached for charity. But that is only until you see the radiant face of the man whose distress you have relieved. (224)


A person who sees such radiant face will feel that it was indeed good fortune that he had the chance and the power to create so much joy.


The ascetic’s power and strength helps him to conquer hunger. Greater than this is the act of relieving another’s hunger itself.   (225)


It is always said in scriptures that “Tamil Culture” or giving food to the hungry is the greatest of all virtue and earns the best rewards in life and thereafter. It is said that even penance does not get equivalent rewards. (See also verses below).


The high-born man, even when he is poor, gives still without ever saying “I am destitute”.     (223)


He who saves men from the devastating curse of hunger, thereby stores his wealth in a well-guarded vault for his evil day.   (226)


The evil disease called hunger does not touch the man who has shared his bread with others.  (227)


To hoard wealth and feed alone is worse misery than begging. (229)


(To be continued in Chapter 15)


Chapter No.15


Social cooperation


In this chapter, the poet brings out the importance of help to the people around you and the society as a whole.


Tamil Script

puththEL  ulakaththum  eendum  peRal  arithE

oppuravin  nalla  piRa


Meaning: There is no pleasure in this or the Gods’ world equal to the joy of being helpful to those around you.


ooruNi  neerniRainthaRRE, ulagu avaam

pEr  aRivaaLan  thiru


Meaning: The riches of the wise man, who has known his duty to his fellowmen, are like a village tank filled with rain. 



Payanmaram  uLLoorp  pazhuththRRaal  selvam

Nayanudai  yaNkaN  padin


Marunthaakith  thappaa  maraththaRRAl,  selvam

Nayanudai  yaankaN  padin


Meaning: Equally, when such people get wealth, such wealth becomes the unfailing drug plant for society’s troubles and is like the village tree coming to be in fruit.  (216 & 217)


In these two verses, the poet characteristically brings out the importance of social cooperation and unselfish help to the society and the people with whom he lives in.


The simile to a village tank is very striking as it denotes an unselfish character and storage of what is otherwise a wasted matter. As the village tank stores water and makes it available to the people in times of need, so also wise men acquire wealth and make it available to the needy without expectation of reward or gratitude.


The second example of the medicinal tree is also like-wise a symbol of unselfish service to the society at large. The medicinal tree becomes useful in all its part including bark and roots; so also the wealth of the great citizen serves for the benefit of human kind.


The gracious do not seek any return for their help and services. The poet asks how the world can repay the rain clouds.  (211)


In another verse the poet says that it is not necessary to be rich to be helpful to the society. All those who have a clear understanding of their duties of life continue their social service undeterred by adversity. (218)


He emphasizes this further by saying:


“The worst misery that poverty brings to the large hearted man is the pain of not having resources enough to serve others in the manner he had been accustomed to.” (219)


(To be continued in Chapter 16)



Chapter No.16


Fate or the Law of Karma


This chapter is of great importance for understanding life as a whole. The core of Sanatana Dharma lies in the theory of karma, reincarnation and the immortality of soul. The law of karma is the only tenable explanation to all that a man enjoys or suffers throughout his life. Fate is nothing extraneous to him; it is only the sum total of the results of his past actions. God is only the dispenser of the fruits of actions; fate, representing those fruits, is not His creation but only the man’s.

In his lectures on Hinduism and Advaita philosophy of Adi Sanakaracharya, the Maha Periaval of Kanchi Mutt  explained the Law of Karma as follows:


I quote here excerpts from a Lecture on Hindu Dharma by the Great Maha Periaval of Kanchi Mutt on this subject.


In his lectures on Hinduism and Advaita philosophy of Adi Sanakaracharya, the Maha Periaval of Kanchi Mutt  explained the Law of Karma as follows:


"What is the karma doctrine? For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is an ineluctable law of physics governing cause and effect, action and reaction. This law pertaining to physical phenomena our forefathers applied to human life. The cosmos includes not only sentient beings endowed with consciousness but also countless insentient objects. Together they constitute worldly life. The laws, the dharma, proper to the first order must apply to the second also. According to the karma theory, every action of a man has an effect corresponding to it. Based on this belief our religion declares that, if a man commits a sin, he shall pay the penalty for it. Also if his act is a virtuous one, he shall reap the benefits thereof."


The foreword given by Rajaji to this chapter on Thirukkural further brings out the nature of this Law.

I quote:


"Neither the Karma nor its Tamil equivalent  "oozh" is to be mistaken for belief in blind luck. The Hindu doctrine of Karma links all good and bad luck to what was done or thought in previous births. Men reap the natural and just reward of every act and build their natures and tendencies as a result thereof. The Law is unfailing in its rigour. The account is not closed by death, but carried forward from one birth to another. Causes not traceable to oneself now must be traced to oneself in past births. That we do not remember the past is irrelevant."

In his lectures on Hinduism and Advaita philosophy of Adi Sanakaracharya, the Maha Periaval of Kanchi Mutt  explained the Law of Karma as follows:


"What is the karma doctrine? For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is an ineluctable law of physics governing cause and effect, action and reaction. This law pertaining to physical phenomena our forefathers applied to human life. The cosmos includes not only sentient beings endowed with consciousness but also countless insentient objects. Together they constitute worldly life. The laws, the dharma, proper to the first order must apply to the second also. According to the karma theory, every action of a man has an effect corresponding to it. Based on this belief our religion declares that, if a man commits a sin, he shall pay the penalty for it. Also if his act is a virtuous one, he shall reap the benefits thereof."


The foreword given by Rajaji to this chapter on Thirukkural further brings out the nature of this Law.

I quote:


"Neither the Karma nor its Tamil equivalent  "oozh" is to be mistaken for belief in blind luck. The Hindu doctrine of Karma links all good and bad luck to what was done or thought in previous births. Men reap the natural and just reward of every act and build their natures and tendencies as a result thereof. The Law is unfailing in its rigour. The account is not closed by death, but carried forward from one birth to another. Causes not traceable to oneself now must be traced to oneself in past births. That we do not remember the past is irrelevant."

In his lectures on Hinduism and Advaita philosophy of Adi Sanakaracharya, the Maha Periaval of Kanchi Mutt  explained the Law of Karma as follows:


"What is the karma doctrine? For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is an ineluctable law of physics governing cause and effect, action and reaction. This law pertaining to physical phenomena our forefathers applied to human life. The cosmos includes not only sentient beings endowed with consciousness but also countless insentient objects. Together they constitute worldly life. The laws, the dharma, proper to the first order must apply to the second also. According to the karma theory, every action of a man has an effect corresponding to it. Based on this belief our religion declares that, if a man commits a sin, he shall pay the penalty for it. Also if his act is a virtuous one, he shall reap the benefits thereof."

"Our religion has a number of unique or distinctive features. One of them is what is called the theory of karma, though this theory is common to religions like Buddhism which are offshoots of Hinduism…………………….


"What is the karma doctrine? For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is an ineluctable law of physics governing cause and effect, action and reaction. This law pertaining to physical phenomena our forefathers applied to human life. The cosmos includes not only sentient beings endowed with consciousness but also countless insentient objects. Together they constitute worldly life. The laws, the dharma, proper to the first order must apply to the second also. According to the karma theory, every action of a man has an effect corresponding to it. Based on this belief our religion declares that, if a man commits a sin, he shall pay the penalty for it. Also if his act is a virtuous one, he shall reap the benefits thereof."


(For detailed explanation of the Law of Karma, please read Appendix 2)


Thiruvalluvar agrees fully with the Karma Doctrine and brings out the effect of past karma beautifully in this chapter.


Tamil Script


OOzhin  peruvali  yaavuLa?  matRondRu

Soozhinum  thaan  munthurum


Meaning:  Is there anything mightier than fate?  Even as its victim plans to overcome it, it forestalls the thought itself.


Tamil Script


Nallavai ellaam  theeyavaam;  theeyavum

Nallavaam  selvam  seyaRkku.


Meaning: When the tide is against you, even good things turn into evil; and even evil things turn good when fate is favourable.


Rajaji explains:


“Prosperity comes by the decree of the law of previous good and bad deeds. The best efforts in this life may not produce good results where it is not so decreed and the least may yield prosperity when it is so ordained.”


It is on this premise, that Thiruvalluvar classifies men into two categories: some are decreed by the law of karma to be prosperous and some are decreed to be wise. The wise need not necessarily be prosperous and the prosperous need be intellectually very capable.  (374)


Tamil Script


Pariyinum  aakaavaam  paalalla; uyththuch

Choriyinum  pOhaa  thama.


Meaning: If the possessions do not belong to one due to past Karma, he cannot retain it even with diligence and utmost care; one cannot throw away wealth willfully, if he is destined not to lose it.


Folly seizes even the wise and they lose possessions if it is so decreed and even the dull becomes shrewd when he is destined to become prosperous.   (372) 


Even renunciation of the world is not possible for the have-nots, if they are destined to go through the miseries of poverty. (378)


Finally, the saint wonders how men accept and enjoy good things in life, but when bad luck strikes them, they fret and complain.  (379)






Appendix 2

Law of Karma

The following paragraphs explain the concept of Karma:

The first one, which follows, is extracted from the book on Hindu Dharma, containing Lectures of Maha Periaval of Kanchi Mutt, published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

1.    Distinctive Features of Sanatana Dharma-Karma

"Our religion has a number of unique or distinctive features. One of them is what is called the theory of karma, though this theory is common to religions like Buddhism which are offshoots of Hinduism"

"What is the karma doctrine? For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is an ineluctable law of physics governing cause and effect, action and reaction. This law pertaining to physical phenomena our forefathers applied to human life. The cosmos includes not only sentient beings endowed with consciousness but also countless insentient objects. Together they constitute worldly life. The laws, the dharma, proper to the first order must apply to the second also. According to the karma theory, every action of a man has an effect corresponding to it. Based on this belief our religion declares that, if a man commits a sin, he shall pay the penalty for it. Also if his act is a virtuous one, he shall reap the benefits thereof."

"Our religion further asserts that one is born again and again so as to experience the consequences of one's good and bad actions. 'Do good.' 'Do not do evil,' such are the exhortations of all religions. But Hinduism (and its offshoots) alone lay stress on the cause-and-effect connection. No religion originating in countries outside India subscribes to the cause-and-effect connection, nor to the reincarnation theory as one of its articles of faith.. . ."

"Isvra (GOD) who decides our faith after death on the basis of our karma is infinitely merciful . . . He gives us another birth, another opportunity to reap the fruits of our good and bad actions. The joys of heaven and the torments of hell truly belong to this world itself. The sorrow and happiness that are our lot in our present birth are in proportion to the virtuous and evil deeds of our past birth... ."

“In his mercy the Lord gives us every time a fresh opportunity to wash away our sins. The guru, the sastras, and the temples are all his gifts to wipe away our inner impurities. The Isvara, in his compassion, places his trust even in a sinner confident that he will raise himself through his own efforts and gives him a fresh opportunity in the form of another birth to advance himself inwardly-is not such a belief better than that he should dismiss a sinner as good-for-nothing and yet reward him with heaven? . . . So long as we believe in such a thing as human endeavour we should think that Isvara's supreme compassion lies in trusting a man to go forward spiritually through his own efforts. It is in this way that the Lord's true grace is manifested . . ."


The following explanation is extracted from the web site of Vedanta Society of Southern California.


2.    Karma

“Human suffering is one of religion's most compelling mysteries: Why do the innocent suffer? Why does God permit evil? Is God helpless to act or does he choose not to? And if He chooses not to act, does that mean he is cruel? Or merely indifferent?

“Vedanta takes the problem out of God's court and places it firmly in our own. We can blame neither God nor a devil. Nothing happens to us by the whim of some outside agency: we ourselves are responsible for what life brings us; all of us are reaping the results of our own previous actions in this life or in previous lives. To understand this better we first need to understand the law of karma.

“The word "karma" comes from the Sanskrit verb kri, to do. Although karma means action, it also means the result of action. Whatever acts we have performed and whatever thoughts we have thought have created an impression, both in our minds and in the universe around us. The universe gives back to us what we have given to it: "As ye sow, so shall ye reap" as Christ said. Good actions and thoughts create good effects, bad ones create bad effects.

”Whenever we perform any action and whenever we think any thought, an imprint—a kind of subtle groove—is made upon the mind. These imprints or grooves are known as samskaras. Sometimes we are conscious of the imprinting process; just as often we are not. When actions and thoughts are repeated, the grooves become deeper. The combination of "grooves"— samskaras—creates our individual characters and also strongly influences our subsequent thoughts and actions. If we anger easily, for example, we create an angry mind that is predisposed to react with anger rather than with patience or understanding. As water when directed into a narrow canal gains force, so the grooves in the mind create canals of behavior patterns which become extraordinarily difficult to resist or reverse. Changing an ingrained mental habit literally becomes an uphill battle.

“If our thoughts are predominantly those of kindness, love, and compassion, our character reflects it, and these very thoughts will be returned to us sooner or later. If we send out thoughts of hatred, anger, or pettiness, those thoughts will also be returned to us.”

Our thoughts and actions aren't so much arrows as boomerangs—eventually they find their way back home. The effects of karma may come instantly, later in life, or in another life altogether; what is absolutely certain, however, is that they will appear at some time or other. Until liberation is achieved, we live and we die within the confines of the law of karma, the chain of cause and effect.”

(Excerpt from the web site of Vedanta Society of Southern California -http://www.vedanta.org/wiv/philosophy/karma.html )



With these selections, I conclude this part. In the next part, I shall draw some selected verses from Thirukkural dealing with a man’s family and society responsibilities, which entail inter-personal relationship.—Ramanan.


(To be continued in Chapter 17 & Part II)




[1] V.V.S.Iyer.

[2] Rajaji.

[3] V.V.S.Iyer.


[4] Rajaji

[5] Rajaji

[6] Rajaji

[7] Rajaji

[8] Rajaji

[9] Rajaji

[10] Rajaji

[11] K.R..S.  Iyengar

[12] Rajaji

[13] Rajaji

[14] K.R.S.Iyengar

[15] Rajaji

[16] Rajaji

[17] K.R.S. Iyengar

[18] V.V.S.Iyer

[19] K.R.S. Iyengar

[20] V.V.S. Iyer

[21] Parimelalzhgar is a great and one of the earliest commentators and interpreters of Thirukkural

[22] Parimelalzhgar is a great and one of the earliest commentators of Thirukkural

[23] Rajaji

[24] Rajaji


[26] Rajaji

[27] Rajaji

[28] V.V. S. .Iyer

[29] Rajaji.