Master Valluvan, the long-misunderstood Tamil Mentor - Part One

Written by: T Wignesan

                                               Part One

“The Kurral owes much of its popularity to its exquisite poetic form. A kurral is a couplet containing a complete and striking idea expressed in a refined and intricate metre. No translation can convey an idea of its charming effect. […] The brevity rendered necessary by the form [composed in the Venpa metre] gives an oracular effect to the utterances of the great Tamil ‘Master of the sentences.’ They are the choicest of moral epigrams. […] Tiruvalluvar is generally very simple, and his commentators very profound.”
          Rev. G.U. Pope, Former Fellow of Madras University

[Pardon these futile measly words from your great Potiya height: they can hardly belittle your true worth.]

Under what leaky hutment roof by stamped-mud floors
    trembling clair-oscuro straw-wick kuttuvilakku
on the stark anvil of crisp phrase and sparse syntax
       by the raging nama-nir rhyming brine
at Mayilapur’s S.Thomé sandy doors
      while peacocks danced to your innate pulsating chimes
           have you chipped away at uncut gems

Those the Yavanas brought with the monsoons
    or such as your sea-daring captain friend Elela-Cinkan’s
Even those the Christian missionaries preached
                  in daredevil enticement
after St.Thomas fell to a vel stuck in his bosom
     or of those like you who were stamped underfoot

Caste in cast-iron strictures
    Priest only to the proclaimer paraiyar drum-beaters
The warp and woof of intricately woven venpa verse
elevating your weaving clan to fresh artistic heights

YET
in the humbled ways of your birth
on whose steps have you pitched your ears
whose wisdom have you had to pilfer
                                                        filter
whose ways have you had to ape
whose mere thoughts have you then had to set aright
       ennoble
and remould into inextinguishable lines

Or had you tread the ahimsa path of gentle-foot Jains
Treading gently the earth for fear of loping boot pains

(Continued in Part Two)