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His economic ideas & their relevance today
Fr. John Felix Raj. S.J.

There was a man in the first century B.C. in Tamil Nadu, in a place named Poompuhar on the banks of the river Cauvery. He earned a living by weaving cloth and selling it. In the same place there was a rich man whose son was a naughty boy. This lad came to the weaver and asked what was the price of the sari he was selling. The man replied, "Three rupees (the price in those days)". The lad tore the sari into half and asked what was the price of the half of the sari. The weaver relied, "A rupee and a half." The lad tore it again into two and asked what was the price of the torn piece. The man replied, "It is worth twelve annas" (The three fourths of a rupee). The weaver did not get angry at the lad’s behavior. He was calm and unruffled. The young lad was astonished. He asked the weaver, "How did you acquire the quality of forbearance (Kshama)?" The man replied, "Forbearance is truth. It is right conduct. It is non-violence. It is a source of great joy. It is heaven itself. It is the summum bonum of this world. There is nothing greater than forbearance in this world." [i]

The weaver was Thiruvalluvar and the numerous poems he composed were Thrukkural: “Thiru” plus “Kural”. The word “Thiru” denotes Kural’s sanctity (sacredness), and “Kural” means the short verses (couplets). Thirukkural, meaning sacred couplets, is considered equivalent to the Vedas of the Hindu Scriptures and “the Bible of the Tamil Land”. It is evident from the Kurals that Valluvar had plenty of opportunities to talk to people from abroad and to know their different cultures and religions. He has taken the best from all cultures and religions and put them together in Kural form. All the 1330 couplets portray the simple human pictures of life. The sacred verses deal very much with political and social affairs of life.

St. Thiruvalluvar, the author of THIRUKKURAL was born about 30 years before Jesus Christ in Mylapore, the village of peacocks (Myl in Tamil means peacock), the present day Chennai, at a time when the Tamil Land was rich in culture, vivid in its life and adventurous in its commerce. Valluvars were the priests of outcaste people at that time. Tamilians take cognizance of the birth of Thiruvalluvar as a basis of Tamil calendar according to which we are now in the year 2032 of Thiruvalluvar Aandu (Year). Thirukkural is regarded as a renowned work, eulogized as a directory of code of conduct and ethics to humanity. The revered poet not only deals with the general administration, but also codified clear-cut directions to the mankind on how they should behave and act in a social, political, religious and family circles.

Thiruvalluvar used to keep by his side, when he sat for meals, a needle and a small cup filled with water. Once, his host asked him as to why he insisted on having these two placed by the side of the plate. He said, "Food should not be wasted, even a grain is precious. Sometimes, stray grains of cooked rice or stray pieces of cooked vegetables fall off the plate or away from it. While I eat, I lift them off the floor, with the help of this needle and stir them in the water to clean them and eat them." What a great lesson this is for those who waste more, than they consume in today’s consumerist society!

As Emmons White has said, Thiruvalluvar was a kindly, liberal-minded man and his poetry is a kind of synthesis of the best moral teachings of his age. In the words of Dr. John Lazarus who has made an English translation of the Kural, “It is refreshing to think of a nation which produced so great a man and so unique a work. The morality he preached could not have grown except on an essentially moral soil.” This classical work in Tamil has been widely translated in over 60 languages of the world. Nearly 300 years ago, the Italian Jesuit missionary, Constantius Beschi (known as Veeramamunnivar in Tamil) who came to Tamil Nadu in 1710, translated the Thirukkural into Latin. Rev. G U Pope who hailed Thiruvalluvar as “the Bard of Universal Man” translated the Kural and printed the it first in English. Many European missionaries have made translations into English between 1820 and 1886. Freedom fighters and statesmen, C Rajagopalachari and VVS Iyer have also translated the Kural into English. Barring perhaps the Bible and the Koran, the Kural is the most translated work.

The well-known Tamil Poet of the Freedom Movement, Mahakavi Subramani Bharatiyar has acknowledged the greatness of Thiruvalluvar in the following words: “Tamil Nadu gave unto the World Valluvar and won thereby great renown.” Kural’s immortality and universality are unquestionable. Its ethics and values are applicable to all religions, all countries and at all times. That is why Mahatma Gandhi said; “Thiruvalluvar gave us the famous Thirukkural, holy maxims described by Tamilians as the Tamil Veda and by M. Ariel as one of the highest and purest expressions of human thought”.

Erudite Tamil Poets as well as the kings of the three Tamil Kingdoms – Chera, Chola and Pandya – acknowledged the literary greatness of Thirukkural. It is said that at the time of its first presentation to the king’s court, the Pandyan king wanted its greatness to be known to his whole kingdom. 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 Madurai Meenakshi temple. The sanctified plank that would recognize only the masterpieces is said to have rejected all other works and retained only the Thirukkural.

People in Tamil Nadu worship Thiruvalluvar as a guru. They have erected a beautiful shrine to him and to his wife in the midst of a garden in Mylapore. It lies not far from the waves of the sea that are often referred to in his verses. Every year in the month of April, people celebrate a grand festival at the shrine. Another important memorial to the immortal saint is Valluvar Kottam in Chennai, which is shaped like a temple chariot. A life size statue of Thiruvalluvar has been installed in the tall chariot. The 133 chapters of his work have been depicted in bas-relief in the front hall corridors of the chariot. The auditorium at Valluvarkottam is said to be the largest in Asia with accommodation capacity for 4000 people. Recently, Tamil Nadu government has erected a magnificent 133-foot height statue of the saint denoting the 133 chapters in Thirukkural for tourists in the midst of sea in Kaniyakumari (Cape Comerin) at the confluence of the three seas. The statue dedicated at the dawn of the new millennium on 1.1.2000, stands out as a beacon light to guide human life forever.

Thirukkural, the precious gem among the classics enshrines in it 1330 couplets under 133 Chapters, and each chapter comprising 10 couplets. The chapters fall under 3 major parts: Virtue, Wealth and Love. The first part known as Arathuppal (on Virtue) describes the greatness of the individual man. The second part, Portutpal (on Wealth) is the largest one with 70 chapters (700 couplets) covering the essentials of life in society – State and its policies: Army (Padai), People (Kudi), Food (Koozh), Ministers (Amaichu), Allies (Nadpu) and Fortress (Aran). The third and last part, Kamathuppal (Inbathuppal) (on Love), portrays the victory of inner self. [ii] They are again divided into subgroups as follows:

PART I (1 – 38) [iii] is on VIRTUE (Aram)

  1. Introduction (1–4): On praise of God and praise of ascetics.

  2. Domestic Virtue (5 – 24): On domestic life; obtaining sons, possession of love, cherishing guests, utterance of pleasant words, dreading evil deeds, and so on.

  3. Ascetic Virtue (25–37): On Ascetic life and virtues, penance, renunciation of flesh, not being angry, not doing evil, not killing. Knowledge of truth, etc.

  4. Chapter 38 is on Fate.

PART II is on WEALTH (Porul)

  1. Royalty (39–63): On the greatness of the King and his qualities: possession of knowledge, seeking the aid of great men, acting after due consideration; avoiding mean association, knowledge of power, knowing the right time, listening to people, knowing the place, confidence, right scepter, absence of terrorism, hopefulness in trouble, etc.

  2. Ministers of state (64–73): On the office of ministers; power in speech, purity of action, power in action, the right method of acting, the envoy, the knowledge of council chamber, not to dread the council etc.

  3. The Essentials of a State (74–95): The land, fortification, ways of accumulating wealth, excellence of the army, military spirit, enmity within, hostility, medicine, gambling, not offending the great, not drinking wine; etc.

  4. Appendix/ Miscellaneous (96–108): On nobility, honor, courtesy, shame, agriculture, poverty, begging, the way of maintaining a family, perfectness, etc.

PART III is on LOVE (Inbam)

  1. Gandharva Marriage (The Pre-marital love) - (109 – 115): On beauty of the princess, praise of beauty, embrace, signs of mutual love, declaration of love, etc.

  2. Wedded Love (The Post-marital love) - (116 – 133): Problems of married life – separation, grief, sad memories, mutual desire, desire for union, reading of the signs, visions of the night, pouting, pleasure of variance, etc.

    Thiruvalluvar has dedicated the first chapter (ten couplets) of his book to God, in praise of Him, followed by three other in praise of rain, asceticism and virtue. The first of the ten couplets of the chapter narrates: As the letter “A” is the first of all letters (Alphabets) and the source of energy to all letters, so the eternal God is the first in the world”. We are able to understand that Valluvar has had a deep experience and knowledge of God. God is the Alpha (the origin) and the Omega (the end) of all existence in the universe. The God of Valluvar’s conception is universal and non-denominational.


Economic idea & their relevance today

The economic as well as political ideas of Thiruvalluvar are found in Part II of Thirukkural, which is on Wealth (Porul). I make an attempt below to understand and appreciate Thiruvalluvar’s socio-economic and political ideas under fifteen topics and discover their relevance and application to our time.

  1. King’s excellence, Qualities and Duties: (39 – 46):
    It was Tamil tradition to consider the king as the life and soul of society. “A king is one who possesses the following six things: an army, a people, wealth, ministers, friends and a fortress; he never fails in the following four qualities: fearlessness, liberty, wisdom and energy; he is a man of modesty and virtues, and refrains from all vices; he is free from pride, anger and lust; he does not praise himself; he should be a man of self control; he acquires wealth, guards it and distributes to people; he is accessible and kind to all; he cares for his people, protects all who come to him; his friends are men of virtues and knowledge; he makes them his own; he considers his ministers as his own eyes; he examines their character and qualification before appointing; he shows respect even to his enemies; and Unkind kings are a burden to the earth.”

    This section is a lesson on good governance. There are three sources of income to the king: unclaimed wealth, taxes which subjects pay, and customs collection from foreigners. In Valuvar’s world, there were three channels of equitable distribution of wealth: Defense; Public works and Social service. These three cover the legitimate public expenditure for distribution. All the kurals are primarily addressed to the king, but many of them will be equally applicable to all people. In modern times, democracies have replaced Kingdoms and political parties and ministers have replaced kings. The qualities Thiruvalluvar attributes to kings are naturally expected to be found in our leaders: Ministers, MPs, MLAs, diplomats, planners, policy makers, public office-holders and so on.

    A few years ago, John Major, ex-British Prime Minister appointed a committee under the leadership of British lawyer, Lord Nolan to draw up a Charter of Governance in public life. This committee drew up seven principles under the Charter:

  1. Selflessness in service;

  2. Integrity in life;

  3. Objectivity;

  4. Accountability;

  5. Honesty; and

  6. Leadership. These are very similar to qualities of kings and ministers (dealt in section 3), which we have just seen in the Kural. In the spirit of Kural, today’s administrators must become popular not by their money power, but by their easy access to the public and the alert performance of their duties.

Corruption in governance is the root cause of many evils today. It brings down the quality of governance. A survey of seven government departments conducted in 2002 in five metros in India rated Delhi’s Customs and Excise Department, scoring 8.6 on a scale of 10, the most corrupt. [iv] Leaders need to be service-minded and people oriented, going beyond caste, religion, region and party, and see only the good of the country and society.

  1. Economic Planning (47 – 50)
    “A king must act with forethought; he must reflect and consult before acting; he must choose suitable methods for actions. He should weigh the pros and cons of any act; he must reflect on the strengths and the resources available before taking a decision; he should know what will be loss and what will be the gain of any action; he should not act only for profit; he must weigh his ability before setting out for a war; As a crow overcomes an owl in daytime, so must a king weigh his time, season, opportunity and place, in order to conquer his enemy; he must “think first before beginning any work; he should find suitable methods for works; The world will not approve of things which are done without reflection”; he will have an end to his life if he climbs further than the end of a branch”; even if his income is small, there will be no loss, if his expenditures are small”; the wise never hastily reveal their anger.”

    This is a lesson to planners and policy makers on economic governance and budget making. According to Valluvar, the energy and effort spent in action without adequate prior planning will not produce the desired result. This is what we call today “ cost-benefit analysis”. Verse 478 is an excellent principle of public finance and financial administration: “ If the revenue of the State are limited, the king should keep the expenditure within bounds”. Our failure in economic development in India reflects our inefficient planning, administration and implementation at different levels. In this connection, I am reminded of what A.H. Hanson [v] observed 40 years ago about Indian planning:

    The men are able, the organization is adequate, and the procedures are intelligently devised. Why, then, have the Plans, since 1956, so persistently run into crisis?”

    Hanson’s answer to his question is also revealing:

    For various reasons, Indian planners have never treated the ‘objective function’ with sufficient respect. Their tendency is to give themselves the fullest benefit of every possible doubt… Too many of their aims are contingent upon the adoption, by various sections of the Indian community, of attitudes they are exceedingly unlikely to adopt….

    Planning needs to be people oriented, and for real growth and development. Then only the forecasts of a well known economist Kirit Parikh that India could have a per capita income of US$ 30,000 by the year 2047, and of an American professor, A. J. Rosensweig that India’s GDP would exceed that of Japan by the year 2025 and that India would be the third largest economy in the world (behind USA and China) could be transformed into reality.

  2. On Employment of Ministers and others (51-52)
    “ Let a minister be chosen after he has been tried by means of i) his virtue (aram), ii) his love for money (porul), iii) his love for sex (inbam) and iv) his fear of losing his life (uyir).” A king should not chose ignorant men through partiality; if he does, it will be the highest folly. Those who are employed should have: pleasing nature to do good; ability to enlarge the resources, increase wealth and prevent calamities. They should possess love, knowledge, clear mind and freedom from covetousness. They must be men of wisdom and endurance; their conduct must be examined daily by the king, because their conduct influences the world “if they act crookedly, the world will also act crookedly.“

    Valluvar speaks of right man for right job. Rajaji interprets that men should be appointed to responsible position only on the basis of their proven ability and resourcefulness. Once appointed to a job, he must be fully trusted so that his performance is optimal. This section also touches upon the issue of relationship between Employer and employee and their mutual responsibility to their work and society. The present situation is often one of mistrust and antagonism. Thiruvalluvar calls for impartial recruitment, effective human resource management, accountability, transparency, mechanism for grievance redressal and clean image.

  3. On Upright Government (55 – 56)
    This section is on just rule. Valluvar emphasized the Rule of Law, a good governance by law – ‘equality before the law’ and equal protection of the law’. If there is a delay in identifying and redressing the people’s grievances in time and failure in rendering justice to them according to the law, the reputation of the government will go down the drain and the government will have its natural end. Government is to examine the crimes which may be committed, to show no favor to any one, and to inflict such punishment as may be wisely resolved on; “When there is rain, the world enjoys prosperity; when the king rules with justice, his subjects prosper”; It is king’s duty to guard his people from harm and punish criminals. Kingdom will fall to ruin, if the government does not examine its works and business daily. “The king defends the world, and justice defends the king”. “Prosperity gives more sorrow than poverty under unjust rule.”

    The world will embrace the feet of the king who rules with love. The scepter of justice will bring rain and plentiful crops. Unjust government will fall to ruin. “As is the world without rain, so is the country with unjust government”. If the king and his rule ensures “just government”, his kingdom will surely be blessed with seasonal rains and rich harvest, which never fail. If the guardian fails to guard or if there is misrule and failure of justice, everything in the country will fail – from the milk yield of the cow to the performance of priests.

    Thiruvalluvar’s precepts on just government should remind us of our rulers and governments, and the scams and scandals attributed to them. 1990s has been a decade of scams – the Bofors, the Bank Securities scam, the Hawala scam, the Animal Husbandry scam, the Sugar scam, Telecom scam, Fertilizer import scam, PSE disinvestment scam etc. Our governments, Centre and States, are full of scandals and corruption charges involving those who occupy top political positions. Corruption manifests itself in many forms: at the highest political level as horse-trading of MLAs and MPs; at the fiscal level in the form of evading taxes; at the corporate level in terms of financing elections by black money and so on.

    As Ruddar Datt puts it, “A strong feeling has grown in Indian political life that corruption has become a way of life. In case, you are caught taking a bribe, you can get rid of the crime by paying a bribe”. [vi] Bribe has become an incentive these days, which increases work efficiency in public offices. It is disturbing to note that corruption has brought India among the lowest in the list of countries of the world in the matter of prevalence of corrupt activities. Today government is being gradually transformed into a company/a business enterprise. Can governance become a business? Our political system needs reforms, and the political process requires purification so that political will is strengthened to take necessary action against forces that generate black money, and sow the seeds of division, casteism, hatred and communal violence. There is a need for transparency at all levels.

  4. On Employing spies and Law (59)
    A spy and the book of law are the two eyes of a good king. It is the duty of a king to know quickly all that happen in the kingdom. A spy is one who has an appearance of no alarm and who does not reveal his purpose. He assumes the appearance of an ascetic and discovers what is hidden and helps the king in his benevolent administration. The spy engaged in collection of secret information should never be honored in public by the king; otherwise it will lead to leakage of secrets.

  5. On Qualities of Ministers (64 - 68): Chapter 64 is a dissertation on ministers – their qualifications, characteristics and activities. This is an important section on Statecraft. “A Minister is one who makes excellent consideration of time, means, place, manner and the difficulties. He excels in firmness, knowledge, perseverance, and protection of subjects. He gives sound advice to kings and people. Minister should possess 1) power of speech (because wealth and evil result from his speech); 2) firm in action; and 3) proper consultation. “ Far better are the seventy crores of enemies for a king, than an unfaithful minister at his side”. Chapter 68 is on management techniques and decision-making process. “A Minister is conversant with the best methods of performance; he should avoid actions that yield no benefit or bring grief to the king. Even though he may see his mother starve, he should not act hastily”. After considerable thought, planning and analysis, one arrives at a decision. Once a decision is taken, any hesitation or delay is suicidal.

  6. On Envoy/Ambassador (69)
    This section is on diplomacy. “Ambassadors should have: love for the king, knowledge of his affairs, pleasing attributes; power of speech (brief & pleasant) and ability to bring glory to his country. The ambassador should fearlessly seek his country’s good even though it might cost him his life.”

  7. On King’s Advisors or Secretaries (Ch. 70): In this section Valluvar writes on those who are chosen to serve the king. Secretaries or advisers to king are like those who “warm themselves at fire, neither too close nor too far” from the king; “they neither whisper not smile in the presence of the king; they should always know king’s disposition and suggest desirable things to king; they should understand the king, just by his disposition; they should neither over hear when the king is in secret council or pry into it; they should be able to read the eyes of foreign kings and visitors, and reveal to their king.” They shall not desire the same thing, which the king himself desires.

    Thiruvalluvar says that the adviser to the ruler should give firm advice to rectify errors. It is gratifying to find an ancient saint giving this advice when the present day advisers (secretaries to Ministers and ministries) are shy of being firm in giving advice to mend their ways.

  8. On Kingdom (74)
    According to Valluvar, for the prosperity of a country, three factors are indispensable: farmers (Land), merchants (Capital) and virtuous people (Labour). Valluvar’s economic thought includes what later economic thinkers like Adam Smith (1776) and Alfred Marshal (1880) proposed as factors of production – Land, Labour, Capital and Organization. In an ideal kingdom there is no starvation, no epidemics, no destructive foes, and no internal enemies. The constituents of a kingdom are: two sources of waters - one from above and the other from below (rain and under-earth water), well situated hills and indestructible fort. A prosperous nation is one in which there is plentiful harvest, industrial productivity with agricultural inputs, and consequent abundance of production and wealth.

    Valluvar also speaks of the vital need of freedom from hunger and disease (“Garibi Hatao”), and from foreign invasions. Tribes and sects within the country, which incessantly fight with each other and infighting factions and anti-social elements, disturb the king’s peace and do not contribute to the nation’s prosperity. Although a country is in possession of all excellences, there is no use of them if there is no harmony. Valluvar’s message of harmony is very relevant to us in the midst of communal disturbances and violence. By tending to be ‘dynamic’ ‘to life’ – ‘to love’ and ‘to live together in harmony, Thirukkural is, to a great extent, a utopia. A utopia is today understood to be “a historical plan for a qualitatively different society and to express the aspirations to establish new social relations among people”. The most important feature in a country, according to Valluvar is the ruler-subject relationship. If there is a well-established and stable relationship, the country can be called a “perfect one”, For, the ruler’s real support is not his military strength, but the strength of his people. Kural speaks of people’s power here. It is people who matter and who should be the center of all programmes and projects in a country.

  9. On Fort/Fortress (75)
    A Fort is one, which has water, plains, mountains, cool forests etc; which cannot be captured, by assaulting or blocking; which has all things needed and excellent heroes to defend. The inmates within the fort must possess excellence of action in defense to overcome the enemy.

  10. On Wealth (76)
    This chapter is a treatise on wealth, which reminds us of Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nation.” According to Valluvar wealth is productive of the joys of this world. “Wealth makes people important. Wealth acquired with proper means will yield virtues and happiness; All despise the poor, but all praise the rich; All honor the poor man when he become rich; Wealth like taxes belong to the government; There is no sharper weapon than wealth to destroy the arrogance of one’s enemies. If wealth is used for noble purpose, it will earn peace and prosperity. The rich man glitters in the brightness of wealth. He enjoys life and visits places he likes in countries far and near.” Valluvar says that acquisition of wealth is important, and not to be despised. In chapter 101, Valluvar speaks about wasted wealth. “He who hoards wealth and does not enjoy it or utilize it to benefit others, is as good as dead, and his wealth is a waste”.

    In Kurals 215, 216 and 217 Thiruvalluvar presents three smiles: First, just as the village lake (pond) is filled with drinking water so also is the great wise man endowed with wealth for the world; the second is, if wealth is in the hands of a man of propriety it is like a fruit-bearing tree ripe at the centre of the village; and finally, wealth in the hands of a great man of dignity is like the medicine from an unfailing tree.

  11. On Good Army and Soldiers (77-78)
    Valluvar has given great emphasis to people whose political and economic support was the prized possession of the kind, and army and its exploits. “Valour, honor, following in the footsteps of its predecessors and trustworthiness constitute the safeguard of an army. The army that conquers without fear is the chief wealth of the king. A good army is one that stands firm and does not desert to the enemy.” It must be capable of united resistance. An army cannot last long without brave generals. What if a host of rats roar like the sea? They will perish at the mere breath of the cobra.

    Valluvar rightly says that it is the affection of the people that keeps the morale and efficiency of the army. If people hate the army, then it will dwindle. The army in garrison has to be used in active service; otherwise they will lose their efficiency. A soldier’s achievement is in his Valour; on the days he has not received wounds in action are days lost to him. Centuries later, Machiavelli in his Prince said: “The chief foundations of all States are good laws and good armies… where there are good armies, there must be good laws….” I am reminded of Late Prime Minster Lal Bahadur Sastri’s popular slogan “ Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” during the Indo-Pak war.

  12. On Agriculture (104)
    Valluvar says that the world depends on agriculture. “Though laborious, agriculture is the best form of craft that sustains all on earth and is the worthiest of crafts. Farmers are the lynchpin of the world; they alone are independent citizens, others are dependent on them; If the farmer’s hands are slackened, even ascetics will fail in their meditation. If a man does not attend to his land personally, it will behave like an angry wife and yield him no pleasure. More than ploughing is manuring, then weeding; more vital than water management is plant protection.” Valluvar has emphasized the importance of agriculture and its primacy over all other occupations. In the same line Daniel Webster stated: “ Farmers are the founders of civilization”. If the ploughmen cease to work, the entire economy will collapse. We also find in the Kurals the elements of “Green Revolution” except high yielding variety of seeds: extent of ploughing, manure and fertilizers, water-management, weeding at the right time, and protection against pests and diseases.

  13. On Poverty (105)
    The evils of poverty are personified in kurals as a sinner and a demon. When the demon takes possession of a person, the latter loses all joy in life. “Poverty is cruel; it afflicts people; “ one may sleep in the midst of fire; but by no means in the midst of poverty”; it destroys the greatness of the kingdom; poverty brings many miseries to a country. The words of the poor are profitless; the destitute that are lazy to work consume their neighbor’s salt and water; a poor man is a stranger to others; prolonged poverty destroys one’s past greatness and the dignity of his speech.”

    We are living in a very challenging environment. Of the 6 billion people living on the planet earth today, 4.8 billion, i.e. 80 percent of the world population, live in the developing countries. These 4.8 billion receive only around $ 6 trillion, i.e. 20 per cent of global GNP. Imagine the demography of the next 25 years: about 2 billion will be added to the planet of which 95 per cent will be in the developing world. Besides the critical global problem of poverty, the demographic disequilibrium is another challenge to be faced now. [vii]

    Global inequalities in income have increased alarmingly in the last hundred years. More than 30,000 children die everyday from preventable diseases. Some 120 million children are excluded from primary education. About 500 million women are illiterate. 1.5 billion people have no safe drinking water. One woman dies for every 260 live births – which is one woman in a minute. More than 20 million have died of AIDS, 34 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and everyday 15,000 are infected. About 790 million people are hungry and 1.2 billion live on less than one dollar a day. [viii] I am reminded what Subramani Bharatiyar wrote: “Even if there is only one individual person without food to eat, I shall destroy the world.”

  14. On Begging and its Evil (106-107)
    While describing begging as an act, the saintly poet says, “Begging may be pleasant if it is done with cheerfulness. As long as there are those who give without refusing, there will be those who stand in front of them to beg. All the evil of begging will disappear at the sight of those who generously give alms.” Writing on the evils of begging, Valluvar condemns it. If Creator of the world has decreed begging as a means of livelihood, may he too go begging and perish. The ancient poet goes to the extent of saying that even God deserves punishment if he allowed begging. “Though poor, if a man is determined not to beg, he becomes the lord of the universe.” The crop that is grown by hands is far sweeter than the gruel collected by begging. “There is nothing more disgraceful than begging; there is no greater folly than to remedy the evils of poverty by begging”. The maiden earth laughs at those who are lazy and idle and live on begging.”



Dr. V. C. Kulandaisamy has said: “Thirukkural is neither Scripture nor an epic, but an extraordinary treatise on the Art of Living, which delves deep into the un-shifting foundations of human life and attempts to provide guidelines for individual persons”. Valluvar has examined all aspects of life and analyzed life in its details and complexities. Though part II on wealth (Porutpal) is meant to be for kings and rulers, Valluvar has aimed to reach out to all. Thirukkural is a contribution of a great genius. It is a good guide to individuals, groups and communities of persons, corporate houses, management institutes, government departments and officials and political leaders. As S M Diaz observes, though similar in some areas, Valluvar’s ideas are different in many respects from his predecessors like Plato Confucius and Kautilya who recorded their pragmatic ideas on State polity, and his successors like Machiavelli. His concepts are based on Dharma of a universal character on time and place. His moral tone is missing in all of them.

Once Rev. P. Percival, a missionary is Jaffna, wrote of the Kural, “Nothing in the whole compass of human language can equal the force and terseness of the couplets in which Valluvar conveys the lessons of wisdom.” Kural reveals that the doctrine of non-violence obviously has had a great influence on him. He teaches deep faith in God, justice, mercy, compassion, friendliness, harmony and hard work. It is one of the few literary works that is being quoted widely by academicians, politicians and administrators as well as common people. While being sworn in as the president of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam said that a country needs to have the characteristics as enshrined in Thirukkural and quoted from the Kural: “Pini inmai Selvam Vilaivinbam Emam, aniyenba Nattirku vainthu”. That is “The important elements that constitute a nation are: being disease free; wealth; high productivity; harmonious living and strong defense.” It makes deep sense in this fast-moving world. If only there is more forbearance and patience, mutual respect and understanding, the world would become a better place for all of us to live.

It is remarkable that the quintessence of some of the modern ideas of planning, management and behavioral sciences are found elegantly and succinctly enshrined in some of the kurals of this part. The State, in Valluvar’s days, was primarily the king, and so, kingship is dealt with in substantial detail – the qualitative aspects of a king’s personality and leadership such as education, training for leadership and personal conduct. While most of his precepts would primarily apply to king’s handling of projects, finance and warfare, many of the instructions on normal life’s requirements will apply equally to educated and virtuous people. Kurals reflect his outlook on social reforms. Take for evidence kurals 33 and 93 on “Kollanmai” – non-violence, and on “Kallunnaamai” – non-drinking (prohibition). He had the courage to point out the defects found in the society of his period, known as the Golden Era of Tamil Sangam and bring about changes. He has been responsible for a great revolution in the Tamil country. And this revolution must continue all over and Thirukkural immortal and universal power must penetrate into every dimension of human life.



[i] Visit www.rediff.com/saivani/thiru

[ii] Diaz S M and N Mahalingam, Thirukkural (Chennai: Varthaman Pathipagam, 2001), p. 415.

[iii] Numbers in bracket denote chapters in Thirukkural. I have used the English translations of W H Drew and John Lazarus, and S M Diaz and N Mahalingam. While quoting from the Kurals, I have emphasized some verses in italics; some in bold, some underlined in order to highlight their relevance for readers.

[iv] Manorama Year Book 2003, p. 547.

[v] Hanson A H, “ The crisis of Indian Planning”, Political Quarterly, Oct.-Dec. 1963, quoted in Bimal Jalan, “ Before and After Ten Years of Reforms”, C D Deshmukh Memorial Lecture, January 2001, Indian International Centre, New Delhi.

[vi] Datt Ruddar, Economic Reforms in India, p. 304.

  1. Pleskovic Boris and Stern Nicholas (ed.), Annual World Bank Conference on Development – 2001/2002, Wolfensohn D. James, “ Opening Address to the Conference, p. 8.

  2. UNDP Human Development Report – 2000.



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  9. Sakthi Karyalayam, Thirukkural: Chennai. - Tamil Version.

  10. Sarangapani R. (1997), Thirukkural Urai Vetrumai Prutpal, (Chennai Annamalai University).

  11. SGV Ramanan, Tamil Literature: geocities.com/Athens/thiru/.

  12. Subramanian N & Rajalakshmi R (1984), The Concordance of Thirukkural, Madurai: Ennes Publication.

  13. Sundaramurthy (1981), Thirukkural Uraiththiran, a commemorative number published with Parimelazhagar Urai. , Thiruppananthal Madam.

  14. Thani Nayagam Xavier (1971), Thirukkural Lectures, Part I, Madras: Madras University.

The author is vice-principal and professor of economics, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata
Saint Thiruvalluvar



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