POETIC ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THIRUKKURAL - I
Recently I made one of my periodical visits to my favourite Higginbothams’s book shop on Anna Salai, Chennai. I chanced to lay my hands on an extraordinary book titled ‘THIRUKKURAL Pearls of Inspiration’ by Dr M Rajaram, belonging to the Tamil Nadu cadre.
Front cover page of Dr M Rajaram’s Book
He has translated all the 1330 verses of Thirukkural into English. Published by Rupa and Co in New Delhi, it has a foreword by Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, former President of India. In my view this is an outstanding work of translation of an ancient and difficult literary, ethical, moral, spiritual work like Thirukkural. Dr Abdul Kalam has paid a very well deserved tribute to Dr M Rajaram who is an exceptional IAS officer.
Dr M. Rajaram hails from Pudur near Vilathikulam, in Thoothukudi District, quite near Ettyapuram which is the birth place of Mahakavi Bharathiar. He has taken a Post Graduate Degree in English Literature and Education. Besides he is also a Law Graduate with a BL Degree. In addition he holds a Doctorate Degree. He served in the Education Department with rare distinction for nearly two decades in various important and responsible capacities. He is a great research scholar in the field of education and his research papers have received much acclaim at the National level. His earlier books on education titled ‘Changing Faces of School Inspection, Towards Quality in Educational Administration and Who Will Bell the Cat’ have been greatly appreciated by educationists and educational administrators of National and International fame.
Dr M Rajaram
I know a few important people in the field of education who have interacted closely with Dr M Rajaram. I understand that Dr M Rajaram has the most balanced and appropriate views on true education. I believe his educational philosophy can be summed up in these words: ‘Don’t fall into the vulgar idea that mind is a warehouse, and education but a process of stuffing it full of goods. The aim of education should be to convert the mind into a living fountain and not a reservoir.’ I know that Dr Rajaram studied in St John’s College in Thirunelveli at a time when I was the District Collector and Magistrate of the unbifurcated larger Thirunelveli District in 1976 -78. The beautiful words of Rev. E. H Chapin (1814-1880) are wholly applicable to Dr M Rajaram: “Do not ask if a man has been through college; ask if a college has been through him — if he is a walking University”.
Amidst his never ending and busy official preoccupations, Dr Rajaram has found it possible to produce this beautiful work of English translation of Thirukkural into Tamil. One of the least recognized glories of British Raj in India relates to the fact that many outstanding Civil Servants and ICS Officers of that time, notwithstanding the heavy pressure of work found it possible to engage in literary pursuits or to combine with their official duties scholarly researches into Indian History, Philology, Religions, Ethnology, Numismatics, Archaeology, Ornithology, Economics etc. Some of them specialised on a particular subject, but others had a larger circle of interests, such as Sir William Hunter KCSI, CIE (1840-1900), whose writings were distinguished by their variety and literary grace. This great tradition of scholar-civil servants was given a death blow after our independence by our political parties. Dr Rajaram legitimately belongs to this scholar-civil servant tradition.
Thirukkural (Tamil: )” also known as the Kural) is a classic of couplets or Kurals (1330 rhyming Tamil couplets) or aphorisms celebrated not only by the Tamil people but all mankind. It was authored by the ancient Tamil Saint Thiruvalluvar, and is considered to be one of the first literary works to focus on ethics, in Shramana literature of India. However it begins with salutation to Adi Bhagwan. Thirukkural expounds various aspects of life and is one of the most important works in Tamil. This is reflected in some of the other names by which the text is known: tamilmarai (Tamil Veda); poyyamozhi (speech that does not become false); and teyva nul or dheiva nool (divine text). It is dated anywhere from the second century BC to the eighth century AD. The book is considered to be a posterior to Arthashastra by some historians and to precede Manimekalai and Silapathikaram since both the latter acknowledge the Kural text. Thirukkural is and remains to be the book that has been translated into the most number of languages and hence it is called as “Ulaga Podhu Marai”.
Thirukkural (or the Kural) is a collection of 1330 Tamil couplets organised into 133 chapters. Each chapter has a specific subject ranging from “ploughing a piece of land” to “ruling a country”. The Tamil word Kural means Venpa verse with two lines. Thirukkural comes under one of the four categories of Venpas (Tamil verses) called Kural Venpa. The 1330 couplets are divided into 3 sections and 133 chapters. Each chapter contains 10 couplets. A couplet consists of seven cirs, with four cirs in the first line and three in the second. A cir is a single or a combination of more than one Tamil word. For example, Thirukkural is a cir formed by combining the two words Thiru and Kural, i.e. Thiru + Kural = Thirukkural.Thirukkural has been translated into all the major languages of the world. In ENGLISH Rev. G U Pope’s translation is very widely known. There are many others who translated the Thirukkural completely and some parts of it. Amongst them are Kinderslaey, F.W. Ellis, W.H Drew, C.E Gover, E.G Robinson, Rev. G. Lazarus, T.M Scott and H.A Popley. Thirukkural has been translated into LATIN by Fr. Beschie and Dr Grawl. A. F Gammers and Friedrich Ruckert have translated it into GERMAN. Prominent among the translators in FRENCH are E. Ariel, P.G Dumast and Louis Jacolliot.
Yeoman service has been done in this respect in Tamil Nadu by illustrious people like Sri V.V.S Iyer, Rajaji, K.M Balasubramaniam, K. Srinivasan, Ki.Va Jagannathan and many others. This work of English translation of Thirukkural by Dr Rajaram belongs to this genre. Translations of Thirukkural have also come out in other languages like Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Oriya.600 years ago, commentaries were written on Thirukkural by 10 wise and learned scholars like Dharumar, Manakkudavar, Dhaamathar, Nacchar, Thirumalaiar, Mallar, Paaripperumal, Kalingar, Parithiar and Parimelazhagar. There is no doubt that Parimelazhagar’s commentary surpasses those of the 9 others who preceded him. During the 19th Century, more than a hundred came forward to bring out commentaries and research works on Thirukkural.In his introduction, Dr Rajaram has rightly observed: ‘Thirukkural as a book that deals with the art of living is gaining increasing acceptance. It transcends national boundaries, historical, social limitations and language barriers. It makes great sense and relevance even today and for all times. Among the ethical works in Indian languages, Thirukkural stands supreme. Thirukkural was written 2000 years ago. It was more truly presented in a language that was in vogue at that time.
Thiruvalluvar, who brought out ‘Thirukkural’, the book for all ages, was an eminent and exceptional scholar endowed with divine quality. He was not only a sage with a humane heart but also a psychologist with a deep insight into the complexities of human nature and a philosopher with an urge to reform.’
No wonder Mahakavi Bharitiyar has rightly observed for all time ‘Tamilnadu gave unto the world Valluvar and thereby won great renown’. In my view the following verse is totally applicable to the Thirukkural of Thiruvalluvar:
“One page of Thiruvalluvar can Teach us more of man Than all the sages can”.The Thirukkural is divided into three sections. They are (in this order):
I am presenting below one sample page relating to the GLORY OF GOD from Dr Rajaram’s book under review.
For the benefit of our discerning readers I am also presenting below a magnificent summary in Tamil of Thirukkural by a great Tamil Scholar, Madurai Ki Palaniappan: In my view, this master frame work prepared by Madurai Ki Palaniappan will serve as a permanent guide to all scholars of Tamil literature in the future:
Literature has been defined as good writing which has a truth to tell about people and their world, and tells truth in a way which compels the sensitive reader to re-live the writer’s experience with his own mind and emotions. It grows out of experience and response, and conveys both. It does so through native talent, and acquired skill, working with content, form and style, to create tone. It has no borders or boundaries. Language, religion, country, theme, manner or even time, cannot confine it. It is ageless, timeless, measureless and universal. Literature has form and feature, expression and suggestion, smiles and laughter, tears and lamentations, anger and pleasure, love and hate, hopes as well as disappointments. It may be simple or complex, easy or difficult. It may explain or perplex, hide or reveal. It may spring from innocence, or from experience. It has an endless variety of moods and modes. Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural is a great work of world literature in this sense.
Dr. Rajaram is a distinguished man of letters and literature. This beautiful work of English translation of Thirukkural by Dr Rajaram is marked by a rare literary flavour and poetic sensibility. His translation gives a cubic content to the famous observation of the great American poet Robert Frost who wrote that great poetry is nothing but a beautiful marriage of sound and sense. Dr Rajaram has achieved this sublime effect in his following lines of English translation of some of the verses of Thirukkural:
“Smile, charity, pleasant words and civility
These four are marks of true nobility.
Dig deeper the sand-well, more water flows,
Read deeper, more wisdom grows.”
(To be contd...)