When I was in high school, the English curriculum for Tamil medium students included William Shakespeare’s “As You like it”. One day, our teacher asked us to memorize the whole poem and that is when I started hating Shakespeare. Some of you may have similar feelings about Thirukkural (Kural) as we were required to memorize many of them during our elementary school years.  When I read the Kural again a few decades later, I noticed that ideas from the Kural are the basis for many management books and motivational books.  Thiruvalluvar seems to have analyzed almost all the aspects of human life and governance. He has offered practical guidelines for a purposeful life that seem to be universally acceptable.

As the Kural verses are terse and cryptic, many commentaries were written over the centuries. A thirteenth-century commentary by Parimelazhagar has exerted the greatest influence on the way Thirukkural is interpreted.  Parimelazhagar’s commentary on Thirukkural itself is considered one of the greatest pieces of Tamil literature. 

Our daily activities fall into the following broad categories:

  1. Dharma seeking activities including rightful duty and righteous living (Aram)
  2. Wealth seeking activities (Porul
  3. Pleasure seeking activities (Inbam)
  4. Spiritual activities or activities seeking Eternal Bliss or Pure Consciousness (Veedu)             

The Kural is divided into three broad sections and expounds on the first three of the above categories. Thiruvalluvar does not treat the fourth objective separately as some of the aspects of this category cannot be described in words or by the intellect.  However, some aspects are covered in three sections.

The first section (Aram) has instructions for Family life and Renunciant life.  Every virtue that goes to make a good spouse, a good parent, a good neighbour and a good person is covered in the first part.  The second part covers virtues practiced by an ascetic.   Here are a few examples :

அழுக்காறு அவாவெகுளி இன்னாச்சொல் நான்கும்
இழுக்கா இயன்றது
அறம். (Kural 35)

Meaning: That conduct is the virtue that is free from envy of others’ fortune, greed, anger, and bitter words.

இன்னாசெய் தாரை ஒறுத்தல் அவர்நாண
நன்னயஞ் செய்து விடல்.    (Kural 314)

Meaning: The best punishment to those who have done evil to you, is to shame them by showing them kindness in return and to forget the evil that was done to you as well as the good deed you did.

The second section (Porul) has the underlying idea that wealth can be acquired and enjoyed in the security of a stable and well-administered government.  So, the rules for the efficient conduct of the State are the focus of this section.  Most of these principles apply to the administration of business as well.  Here are a few examples :

எப்பொருள் யார்யார்வாய்க் கேட்பினும் அப்பொருள்
மெய்ப்பொருள் காண்ப தறிவு. (Kural 423)

Meaning: From whomsoever, one hears anything, it is wise to discern the truth 

வினைக்குரிமை நாடிய பின்றை
அவனை அதற்குரிய னாகச் செயல். (Kural 518)

Meaning: Once it has been decided that a person is right for a task, assign the complete responsibility for that task and make that person own the task.

பிறப்பொக்கும் எல்லா உயிர்க்கும் சிறப்பொவ்வா
செய்தொழில் வேற்றுமை யான். (Kural 972)

Meaning: All human beings are born equal. They only differ based on their actions.

The third section (Inbam) deals with romance, love, and the highest form of pleasure that one experiences by all five senses.  This section contains a delicate analysis of the varying moods of a lover’s heart.  Let me cite a few examples: 

கண்டுகேட்டு உண்டுயிர்த்து உற்றறியும் ஐம்புலனும்
ஒண்தொடி கண்ணே உள.  (Kural 1101)

Meaning: The (simultaneous) enjoyment of the five senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch can only be found with a lover.

பிணிக்கு மருந்து பிறமன் அணியிழை
தன்நோய்க்குத் தானே மருந்து.(Kural 1102)

Meaning: Generally, a cure for a disease is different from the disease itself. But for the pain and suffering caused by this beautiful girl, she herself is the cure.

உள்ளக் களித்தலும் காண மகிழ்தலும்
கள்ளுக்கில் காமத்திற் குண்டு.(Kural 1281)

Meaning: Thinking about my love is a pleasure and rejoicing at the sight of my love is a pleasure. Wine fails on this merit.

The above is a very inadequate introduction to the treasure that is spread out in 1330 couplets of the book.  The Kural covers every virtue in human life. Although Thiruvalluvar lived in the age of agricultural civilization and monarchy, and human society has evolved to the Industrial Age and then to the Information Age, his understanding of human nature and wisdom in the Kural transcends all ages. It is a timeless classic in the true sense of the word.   


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