(Part II-Contents: Good Householder; Life Partner; Not coveting another's wife; Offspring (Children); Hospitality; On Friendship; Cherishing Relatives)
THIRUKKURAL, A Great Masterpiece in World Literature
(By S.G.V.Ramanan, Bangalore)
Society and Family Relationship
The selected verses in this Part deal with principles of conduct that should guide all persons in their relationship with their family and the society.
Good Householder (Family Life)
Hindu religion describes four stages of life in every human being:
(1) Brahmacharyashram (Student Life); (2) Grihasthashram (Family Life); (3) Vanaprasthashram (Retired Life) and (4) Sannyasashram (Renounced Life).
Not everyone goes through these four ashrams. Usually, the first two ashrams are common; there are a few who are only bachelors and do not go through even the second stage. Some Sannyasin cross the first one or two stages before they renounce the world and take up to Sannyasa.
In this chapter on
"Good Householder" or
The very first verse talks about the importance of family life in a society.
Ilvaazhvaan enbaan iyalpudaiya moovarkkum
nallaatRin nindRa thunai
Meaning: The householder is the mainstay of all who follow the three other parts of life.
"The unmarried student, he who gives up active life and goes into the jungle, and the Sanyasin, can carry on as such, only because others live as good householders. The householder therefore should not be looked upon as selfishly living for pleasures of life while others are leading lives of abstinence. The householder works for others who renounce work."
In another verse, the poet categorizes of people to whom the householder is the support; he says the pitrs (ancestors), indigent and the recluse. (42)
He then spells out the duties; the five duties are: offering of oblations to the pitrs (ancestors), performance of sacrifices to Gods, showing hospitality, helping relatives and looking after one's own self. (43)
The following verse stresses the importance of love and righteousness in the family life.
Anbum aRanum udiththaayin ilvaazhkkai
Panbum payanum udaithu
Meaning: If love abounds in a home and righteousness or dharma prevails, such a home is perfect and purposeful.
The poet further says that if a man goes through grahasthasrama (householder's life) along the dharmic (righteous) way, there is no need for him to attain anything through other ashramas such as vanaprastha (going to the forest) or becoming a sanyasin. (46)
To emphasize this, he points out that the householder who helps others in the dharmic field and also follows this path himself is greater than an ascetic who fasts and prays. (48)
Vaiyaththu vaazhvaangu vaazhvaan
Meaning: He who leads his life as he should (i.e. following the path of dharma), ranks among the Gods in heaven.
(To be continued in Chapter 18)
Having talked about the Grihasthashram (Family Life), Thiruvalluvar places great importance to the role of woman as a life partner. Each one of his ten verses is a gem; the core of his message is that it is the life partner who makes or mars the family life, by her conduct and commitment and behaviour.
The entire Chapter has to be seen against the background of the Society which existed till a years back in India. Religious Scriptures place a big responsibility on the male member of the family, who, till recently, was its sole breadwinner and “karta” (the head), to earn money, conduct all rituals and take care of the family according to Vedic injunctions and Dharmic principles. The housewife, on the other hand, was given a distinct role of taking care of the children and other family members and of fully cooperating with and supporting the husband in execution of his responsibilities. This did not mean that she was considered inferior to her husband in any way. This has to be viewed as division of labour and not as giving an inferior role to women. In fact, Vedas prohibit rituals being conducted by a man without his wife; both are considered equal and as joint participants in the observance and conduct of Dharmic life.
Today, women’s liberation movement is aimed at giving a better role to them equivalent to that of a man. Women have become breadwinners in many families and have shown extraordinary talents and abilities in the field of politics, administration, finance, management and business, which were the sole prerogative of men hitherto.
Nonetheless, Thiruvalluvar’s emphasis on the role of women in the household is well placed and holds good to a large extent even today. We have to understand here, that the role assigned by him to women in the family life, is not subordinate, but an equal one which is complementary in nature.
Let us see what he has to say on this:
manaiththakka maanbu udaiyaal aakiththaRkondaan
Meaning: She, who proves equal to the tasks of a householder's life, adjusting her life to his resources, is the true life companion.
It is true that where a housewife does not adjust to the husband's resources or support him in his family responsibilities, it will make his life miserable and the family life will be ruined.
manimaatchi illaaLkaN illaayin vaazhkkai
enai maatchiththaayinum il.
Meaning: There is no true family life where the wife does not have the qualities required for helping the husband in the fulfillment of his duties.
In the very next verse, Thiruvalluvar points out that if the wife possesses the qualities, there is nothing found wanting in family life. (53)
His next emphasis is her loyalty to her husband.
peNNin perunthakka yavuLa kaRpu ennum
thiNmai undaakap perin.
Meaning: What is there grander than wife if she has the strength of (kaRpu) chastity.
Rajaji believes that
The concept of “KaRpu” has undergone radical changes in the present era. It will be futile to enter into discussion on this. The meaning of this word as given by the translators and commentators was appropriate for the society and the era in which Thiruvalluvar lived and much longer thereafter. In this context, Rajaji's explanation is more tenable.
If this verse is interpreted to mean “loyalty”, there is no denial of the fact that such loyalty has to be mutual to assure marital harmony and peaceful family life. AND today, therefore, it applies both to the husband and wife, equally.
thaRkaththu thaRkondaan pEnith thakaisaandRa
soRkaaththu sorvilaaL pen.
Meaning: She who guards her virtue and reputation and protects her husband with loving care is a good wife.
Measured in these terms, husbands have also necessarily to prove themselves and protect their wives with love and care.
Having said this, in the following verse, Thiruvalluvar abhors physical restrictions and isolation for women, as were in vogue, (it is not uncommon even today) in his era. He would prefer to leave the woman alone to sense and watch her purity.
siraikaakum kaappu evan seyyum makalir
NiRaikaakkum kaappE thalai
Meaning: Of what avail is close confinement? It is women's own continence that is the best guardian of their virtue.
The following verse also conveys a thought that the present day women may not accept.
Deyvam thozhaal kozuNan thozhuthezhuvaaL
Peyyenap peyyum mazhai.
Meaning: The wife who worships not the Gods but her husband on rising from her bed, can order the clouds to pour rain and they will obey.
"The Vedanta philosophy and Hindu practice recognize forms of worship which enable the devotee to see the Supreme deity in every object of love and adoration. Husband worship is not a neglect of God."
Here again, this has to be viewed in the context of absolute loyalty to the husband. There is no denial of the fact that such loyalty has to be mutual to assure marital harmony and peaceful family life.
mangalam enba manaimaatchi; matRathan
Nankalam Nanmakkat pERu.
Meaning: A good wife is the householder's blessing and a worthy offspring is the crowning glory.
(To be continued in Chapter 19)
Not coveting another's wife:
In the verses under this chapter, the poet condemns the act of entertaining amorous thoughts about another's wife.
piRanmanai NOkkaatha pEraaNmai saanROrkku
aRan ondRO, aandRa ozhukku
Meaning: Those are high-souled souls who do not lust after another's wife; it is not only righteousness but also saintly character.
"Manhood consists in being able to control one's mind and being proof against amorous thoughts towards one that belongs to another. It is good religion as well as social order. Virility does not consist in feebleness of self-control and indulgence in illegitimate desire."
Those who are wedded to righteousness do not commit the folly of desiring another man's wife. (141 & 147)
Among those who stray from the path of virtue and right conduct, there is none so stupid as the man who trespasses into another man's home. (142)
Pakai paavam achcham pazhi ena Naankum
Ikavaavaam il iRappaan kaN.
Meaning: Enmity, sin, fear and disgrace will always chase the man (adulterer) who violates the sacredness of another's wife.
It may seem all too easy to err with another's wife, but the disgrace will be irredeemable for all time. Disgrace will be his lot notwithstanding his importance and greatness. (144 & 145)
Thiruvalluvar emphatically says here:
"Even alive, one is considered dead if he be tempted by the thought of sin towards the wife of a trusting friend." (143)
The saint pleads even with those who transgress and yield to every other sin to abstain from committing adultery; he says that abstention will bring credit to that person.
(To be continued in Chapter 20)
Under this heading, the poet speaks of the importance of good children; while children themselves are a veritable joy, it is their character and conduct that will endow blessings to a family.
The expressions of the poet on the joy one gets from children are marvelous and enviable.
amizhthinum aatRa inithE; tham makkaL
sirukai aLaaviya koozh.
Meaning: "Sweeter verily than (heavenly) ambrosia is the (porridge) gruel soused and spattered by the tender hands of one’s own children " –V.V.S.Iyer
kuzhal inithu yaazh inithu enba tham makkaL
Meaning: Those who have not heard their little children’s prattle or lisping innocence (mazhalai), speak of the sound of flute and the harp as sweet tones.
MakkaL mey theendal udarkkinbam ; matRavar
SoRkEttal inbam sevikku
Meaning: The touch of children is delight for the body and their words for the ear.
the poem of Subrahmanya Bharathi
on his favorite “Kannamma-My Child”. Kannaththil muthamittaal- Ullanthaan kaLveRi kolluthadi! unnaiththazhuvidilO , kannammaa, unmaththam Aakuthadi!! Meaning:
When I kiss your cheeks, my
mind gets intoxicated! And when I hug you, Kannamma, I get into
ecstasy and behave like a lunatic!
Compare here the poem of Subrahmanya Bharathi on his favorite “Kannamma-My Child”.
Kannaththil muthamittaal- Ullanthaan kaLveRi kolluthadi!
unnaiththazhuvidilO , kannammaa, unmaththam Aakuthadi!!
Meaning: When I kiss your cheeks, my mind gets intoxicated! And when I hug you, Kannamma, I get into ecstasy and behave like a lunatic!
Thiruvalluvar then, goes to highlight the importance of having good children.
Of men's acquisitions, none is as worthy as intelligent and enlightened children. (61)
No evil will touch the man for seven incarnations, if his children bear unstained character. (62)
Children, they say, are their parents' wealth; this wealth takes the character and the result of their own past deeds. (63)
Thiruvalluvar then talks eloquently about and defines good children.
eendra pozhithinum perithuvakkum than makanaich
saandROn enakkEtta thaay.
Meaning: Great is the joy of the mother when a child is born to her; but greater is her joy when she hears his unblemished character and merits or as a revered and honoured person.
thammin tham makkaL aRivudaimai maaNilaththu
mannuyirkk kellaam inithu.
Meaning: That their children are far more intelligent and learned than them, pleases all souls in the world.
The following two couplets, which describe the relative duties of the father and son towards each other, are among the most important and oft quoted ones and mark the eloquence and brevity of the poet.
thanthai makRkkaatRum NandRi avaiyaththu
munthi iruppaach cheyal.
Meaning: The duty of the father to his son is to make him worthy to sit in the front rank of an assembly.
"The best inheritance that a father can provide for his son is an education that will fit him to take an honoured place among cultured men. In bringing up sons, fathers should remember that not wealth but education conduces most to their happiness."
makan thanthaikku aatRum uthavi ivan thanthai
enNOtRaan kol enum sol
Meaning: The greatest filial service of a son is to conduct himself and behave in such a manner to make the world wonder, what austerities has the father performed to be blessed with such a son.
(To be continued in Chapter 21)
Hospitality is considered as an integral part of home culture and thus its importance in family life. Thiruvalluvar recognizes this and emphatically says:
irunthOmbi ilvaazhvathu ellaam virunthOmbi
vELaaNmai seyathaR poruttu
Meaning: The only justification for a man to remain in the family life and acquiring and keeping property (instead of taking to Sanyas) is to gladly receive guests, be hospitable to them and give all necessary help. (81)
"Family life is not a right, but a duty arising out of the obligations of the individual to society." -Rajaji
Even if it is nectar (elixir of immortality), it is not desirable to partake it alone, without sharing it with the guests. (82)
No evil will ever befall a man if every day he receives and honours the incoming guests. (83)
Goddess of Prosperity will reside in the house of those who receive the worthy guests with a smiling face. (84)
He, who has taken care of outgoing guests and waits for the incoming ones, is a welcome guest to Gods. (86)
The value of hospitality is measured by the worth of the guests alone. (87)
What will happen to the guests, who are not received with such smiling face? Thiruvalluvar answers:
Meaning: As the anichcha flower fades on holding it near your nose and smelling it, the guests' heart will break if the host even shows a reluctant face while receiving them.
This verse gives utmost importance on the manner of receiving guests and treating them delicately. (Anichcham is a delicate flower that gets affected even by a bad or good odour. Guests are compared to this flower appropriately here.)
Thiruvalluvar compares hospitality to a religious sacrifice and says that those who do not do it will regret in life saying: 'I have none to comfort or lean upon despite toiling and having a great treasure.' (88)
How stupid the misers are who fail to practice hospitality; they are indigents in the midst of plenty. (89)
Must he indeed sow seed in his field, who eats what remains after feeding the guests! (85)
On this subject, Thiruvalluvar has placed lot of importance; he has devoted four chapters. He examines what is good friendship and indicates what is desirable and what is bad.
Defining god friendship, the poet says:
Meaning: Constant meeting and companionship are superfluous; it is the union of hearts that makes the bond of friendship.
Meaning: It is not the smile on the face that proves a friendship, but the internal joy that fills the whole heart.
Meaning: The object of friendship is not merry making; but for timely reproof when one goes astray. (784). A true friend saves you from the wrong path, shows you the right, shares your load of sorrow and stands by your side in times of misfortune. (787).
Meaning: A true friend hastens to succour one from his misfortune as the hand instinctively hurries to hold the slipping dress.
Cultivate with ardour the friendship of the pure; discard the association of unworthy men even at a cost. (800)
Wise men's friendship is like reading classics; one derives more and more pleasure out of them. (783)
The friendship of men of character is like the young moon which grows as the days pass, but friendship with fools, diminish with familiarity like the waning moon. (782)
(To be continued in Chapter 23)
Choosing a friend:
Keeping the qualities of good friendship in mind, the poet gives us a few tips and precautions in choosing a friend. He says:
There is no greater ill than to acquire friendship without testing one, for a friendship once made cannot be severed. (791)
Meaning: Friendship should be contracted only after knowing the man's good points, his birth, his defects and his connections (relatives and friends).
It is worthwhile making or acquiring friendship at any cost of one who is well-born and is sensitive to public opinion about him. (794)
To emphasize this, he further elaborates the qualities of a good friend:
Meaning: Be in search of men who are wise and capable of reproving you when you go astray and make you weep, if necessary and put you in the correct path; make friendship with such men.
Note: Here, the expressions of the poet have to be admired. It is only very close people like one's parents who would do everything to see that one is set on the right path (including actions that will make you weep about wrong decisions). He attributes such qualities to good friends. Whenever the poet is convinced about a particular aspect of life, he chooses to repeat his message in several verses.
There is some benefit even in misfortune, for it s a yardstick to measure the loyalty of friends and relatives. (796)
It is a gain by itself, if one is released from the friendship of fools. (797)
As one should not venture beyond a certain depth, so also he should not make the friendship of men who will abandon him in moments of crisis. The thought of a friend who failed him in his dire need will haunt him till death. (798 & 799)
(To be continued in Chapter 24)
Having given guidelines for choosing good friends and avoiding bad ones, the poet begins to explain, how close and longstanding the relationship should be between good friends, and the grammar of it.
Meaning: Intimate friendship is the one where freedom taken by the friend is not resented; to be free and easy with each other is the heart of true friendship and worthy men will never resent such familiarities. (801 &802)
If an old friend takes liberties, the wise will take it with delight, thereby supporting such liberties. (804)
If what a friend does cause pain, assign it to his love or ignorance. A true friend will not deny friendship even if one has been the cause of ruin or has done wrongs repeatedly. (805, 806 & 807)
Enduring friendship is applauded by the whole world and even enemies will praise unwavering relationship. (809 & 810)
Thiruvalluvar then begins to outline what an unholy and harmful friendship is.
Meaning: It is bad even in dreams to associate with persons whose words and deeds differ.
Meaning: Turn away from men who talk sweetly in private and disparage in the assembly.
The hate of enemies is a hundred million times less harmful than the fools' smiles and flatteries. (817)
A hypocrite's flattery harms much less as it wanes, than as it grows. (811)
Of what use the friendship of time-servers who smile or frown as suits them! (812)
Meaning: Men who calculate how much they gain from a friend are like thieves and prostitutes.
It is far better to be lonely than to have friends who like untamed horses throw you down. (814)
(To be continued in Chapter 25)
“The Tamil Classics lay great stress on the duty of conserving the affection of relatives and dependants. It is deemed a moral obligation to keep them well-fed and clothed out of one’s own wealth, a system that the Indian soil reformers of the nineteenth century thought was responsible for blocking individual enterprise and the progress of the country.”
“Individualism with competition as the socio-economic basis of life was neither rejected nor entirely accepted in Indian culture. The man and all his relatives formed a unit, and all such units formed society.”
“The distribution of the benefits of wealth among relatives and their dependants is not merely laid down as a moral virtue, (in the Indian culture), but is justified as a plan of life with an aim. It secures happiness for society by the intrinsic joy of helpfulness and by mutual support against common dangers.”
These are taken from the preface to the verses under this chapter aptly provided by Rajaji.
There are numerous controversies surrounding the subject of socio-economic aspects of life, which form the basis for different political systems. It is futile to enter into this controversial subject. But, what is necessary here is to understand the Poet’s concept of a true society as was prevailing two thousand years ago; much of it has NOT lost its value even today. Even though in this century, individualism and state supported society is largely promoted, community living is still the basis of village life.
Let us now look at what the Poet conveys:
Meaning: The crow does not conceal its food from its fellows and calls them to willingly share it with them. Only men of like nature prosper.
Meaning: A man’s generous hand and sweet tongue will make kinsmen gather round him.
Meaning: The relatives who desert you and go away will come back to you as soon as you have discovered and removed the cause thereof.
Some of the other verses say:
True kindred (blood relatives) keep the attachment constant even in the midst of adversity. (521)
“To gather and attach one’s kindred to oneself: that is the use and purpose of prosperity.” (524)
When an estranged relation comes back not for affection, but for selfish reason, test and accept him with caution. (530)
Lacking rapport with kinsmen and not commanding their affection are like a lake without bunds; water of such lake flows away, so also the man’s prosperity. (523)
(To be continued in Chapter 26-Part III)