Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Life, in couplets

Inside every bus in Chennai - maybe throughout the state itself - is painted one of Tiruvalluvar's couplets. Having said that, it must also be added quickly that there is still some confusion over who this man was. The largely accepted version is that he lived in the 1st century BC, approximately 30 years before the birth of Christ. It is likely that he was born in or near Mylapore, but moved to the city of Madurai because the Pandian kings were great patrons of the fine arts, and a poet could not but be thrilled by the jocund company he was sure to find there. It is possible that his move to Madurai was occasioned by the need to give his magnum opus a much wider audience.

And the Kural (Voice) that he wrote has been the defining work of Tiruvalluvar; over time, the prefix Thiru, denoting sanctity, has been added to the work. It is as close as the predominantly atheist political partymen of Tamilnadu can get to the word of God; indeed, Thirukkural has been variously called 'Poiyyamozhi' (the word that does not lie) and Deiva Nool (God's book). Valluvar wrote about almost every aspect of the human condition, breaking it up into Aram (virtue), Porul (wealth) and Inbam (pleasure). With 10 couplets in each chapter, Tiruvalluvar gives over 38 chapters to Aram, 70 to Porul and 25 to Inbam. With 1330 couplets, it is quite easy to find a kural to describe any situation a person would find himself in, even today. And so the Thirukkural is used extensively; the couplets have been quoted in every opening and budget speech of the Tamilnadu Legislative Assembly and whenever the Union Finance Minister has been from Tamil Nadu, during the Union Budget also. Valluvar's birth year is also considered the start of the current era in the Tamzh calenders.

With so much riding on him, it is not surprising that he has been given a bigger, exclusive memorial space in Chennai, away from the hustle and bustle of the Marina!


Sanna said...

good one! btw there are 2 ways of spelling kural in tamil, the first one meaning 'voice' and the second one meaning 'verse' and I think the usage for thirukural is the latter. just my 2 paise :-)

Shantaram said...

@ Poornima: Are there? I thought it was only spelt with 'chinna ra' and 'chinna la' and that 'kural' became a generic name for verse because of Thiruvalluvar's work...