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Tirukkural [Tamil]


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Tiruvalluvar (First Century BCE) was a Tamil poet born in southern India. As with many Indian sages, there is some uncertainty concerning the details of his life. His date of birth may have been as early as 200 BCE or as late as 800 CE. His birth place is usually said to be Madras (now called Chennai) where a temple has been built in his name. However, an argument has been made that he was a king of the region of Kanyakumari at the southern tip of India, renouncing his estate in the same manner as Gotama Buddha. There is also a claim made of Brahmin descent, although this has to be explained by recourse to illegitimacy. The 'Tiru' part of his name is an honorific given to him as a mark of respect. 'Valluvar' is perhaps a respectful form of 'Valluvan', which indicates 'weaver' or 'town crier'. This in turn may refer to his caste or occupation, or may be his name. The uncertainty arises, of course, because the occupation he is most famous for is that of poet. Tiruvalluvar wrote in the Dravidian language of southern India, an older tongue than the Aryan languages of the north. He expressed his philosophy in the Kural, a collection of 1330 short, pithy couplets, primarily in the form of maxims. These are divided into three main sections: virtue, wealth, and love, but the subject matter ranges far wider than these titles suggest. Tiruvalluvar covers, for example, such things as gambling, espionage, medicine, folly and military forts. There is very little abstract philosophizing or reference to the transcendental; he is practical and down to earth. Tiruvalluvar is aware that poverty can be utterly destructive and that virtue without some wealth to sustain it is rarely possible. He also recognizes the essential part played by the farmer in supporting society. As for learning, while Tiruvalluvar praises it, he emphasizes that it is something that is useless unless passed on to others. The word "kural" applies in general to something that is short or abridged. More specifically it describes a poetic couplet in which the two lines have fourteen syllables. In the Kural the couplets are arranged in groups of 10 in 133 chapters. Each chapter deals with a particular subject and gives Tiruvalluvar's views on different aspects of it. By this means he is able to put forward a wide ranging humanitarian guide to life at home and in the local community. In the extracts that follow, the number of the couplet is indicated.

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