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Niitthaar Perumai, the Fundamental Role of the Ascetic, Canto 3 of the Thirukkural by Thiruvalluvar

Niithaar Perumai, the Fundamental Role of Ascetics, Canto 26 of the Thirukkural, the Tamil Classical Treatise on Ethics, Translation and Commentary by T. Wignesan 


[Given the scarcity of information (mostly conflicting even then) on the origins and times of the author of this classical Tamil literary masterpiece, I have selected the above decadal canto for treatent in order to ease some of the contention over the author’s weltanschaaung. The decade here also best illustrates some of his literary strengths and weaknesses, for not all his distiques stand up well to impartial scrutiny. His choice of elaborating on a topic through composing ten couplets a piece may perhaps have had other more elusive aims (on which I too have my own verifiable notions), but this canto should serve to illustrate both his ingenuity as well as his forte at spinning out an idea –at moments – simply, it would seem, for the sake of it. The question is why only ten maxims per topic? Why not twelve? Or even twenty?

Is the Judeo-Christian "ten commandments" a possible influence in the form and/or content? Christian Tamils would be the first to rally to this hypothesis, even if Europeans like Pope and Zvelebil would less grudgingly decline such an honour. In some cantos/chapters, one gets the feeling he is merely exercising his talents by approaching a topic from various angles without, in reality, having added fundamentally to the perceptions some few couplets had already convincingly contributed to the élaboration of the case. Only the overall picture is being served here, that is, the author like most of his counterparts in the South Asian continent has had the main religio-philosophic PURUSHA aims of ultimate spiritual development in life in view: aram (virtue), artha (wealth), kama(m) (pre-marital love, sexual and wedded co-habitation) and vidu or moksha (release from re-birth through renunciation), according to the purusha concept of the mainly Hindu aims and phases of development in life. Yet, even if a specifically entitled fourth book devoted to « moksha » is absent from the Thirukkural, there are many couplets which treat of the subject such as this section under discussion.

The poet, himself, has come to be described as an « eclectic » thinker, a label first mooted by G.U.Pope in the nineteenth century and echoed by others like Kamil Zvelebil and a host of others in the twentieth. The Jains claim him as their own, not without reason, but, on the same score, perhaps the Christians ought to delve deep into the Dead Sea Scrolls to see how the Buddha’s teachings seeped into their own.]

Canto 3 : « niithaar perumai » and a few translations to highlight the manner in which the poet Thiruvalluvar ensconced meaning in order to serve both literary and didactic
purposes.
 

K21: olukkatthu niithaar perumai viluppatthu
         veendum panuvar runivu 

The settled rule of every code requires, as highest good,
Their greatness who, renouncing all, true to their rule have stood. (Tr. G.U.Pope)

The end and aim of all treatise is to extol beyond all other excellence, the greatness of those who, while abiding in the rule of conduct peculiar to their state, have abandoned all desire. (Tr. W.H.Drew and J.Lazarus)

The true worth of moral works ought to be judged by whether their teaching directs one to renounce all forms of possession through inner detachment. (Tr. T. Wignesan)


K22: thuratthaar perumai thunaikkoorin vaiyatthu
          thiranthaarai yennikkon darru

As counting those that from the earth have passed away,
‘Tis vain attempt the might of holy men to say. (Tr. G.U.Pope)

To describe the measure of the greatness of those who have forsaken the two-fold desire, is like counting the dead. (Tr. W.H.Drew and J.Lazarus)

If one were to measure the greatness of those who have renounced the world, it would be tantamount to totalling up the number of deaths on earth. (Tr. T. Wignesan)

  
K23: irumai vakaitherinthu iinduaram poondaar
         perumai pirangkirru ulaku

Their greatness earth transcends, who, way of both worlds weighed,
In this world take their stand, in virtue's robe arrayed. (Tr. G.U.Pope)

The greatness of those who have discovered the properties of both states of being, and clothed themselves in virtue, shines forth in this world (beyond all others. (Tr. W.H.Drew & J.Lazarus)

The highest attainment resides (in pondering and) rejecting both birth and re-birth [samsara], the ultimate achievement open to man on earth. (Tr. T. Wignesan)

                                                                     (to be continued)
©  T. Wignesan - Paris, 2017

Copyright © | Year Posted 2017




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