The former DGP of Gujarat, RB Sreekumar has urged prime minister Narendra Modi to declare the centuries old Tamil classic,‘Tirukural’ by Tamil Saint Poet Tiruvalluvar as the National Book of India.
Arguing that one book from India’s classical languages should find space as its ‘National Book’, Sreekumar plugs the Tamil classic Tirukural.
The literal meaning of Tirukural is “dignified (Tiru) couplet (kural)”. The book has 133 chapters, each one containing 10 couplets. Tirukural has 3 parts, (1) Dharma (arattuppal) relating to righteousness, (2) Artha (porutpal) on wealth and (3) Kamattuppal on love, all relating to eternal values known as Purusharthas or human pursuits. Each couplet, laced with pragmatic utility, creates an ethical architecture for leading an ideal life individually, i9n relation to society, the State and the world.
The poet Tiruvalluvar, oft fondly called the ‘athetist’ or ‘agnostic’ poet of Tamil has condified values evolved in the thoughts of Vedic Brahminism, Buddhism and Jainism, after filtering out religious, ritualistic, occult, exclusivist and sectarian ideas and so this book remained clinically secularism-based treatise, with sound logic and reason. The book projects a remarkable synthesis of the best of Indian religions at the time.
There have been early, 18th century translations by western Indologists highly impressed by Tirukural, into several European languages. Dr. G. U. Pope, who translated it into English, had ranked it with the best of world literature of all languages. He hailed Tiruvalluvar as ‘Bard of Universal Men’. Dr. Albert Sehweitzer – philosopher, scientist, and writer – in his book ‘Indian Thought and its Development’ observed “There hardly exist in the literature of the world a collection of maxims in which we find such lofty wisdom”. M. Ariel, the great French savant, estimated Tirukural as “a masterpiece of Tamil Literature, one of the highest and purest expressions of human thoughts”.
The Tamil spiritual poetess, Avvayar, a contemporary of Tiruvalluvar, who had closely studied Tiruvalluvar’s artistry, said in a Tamilian song, “Tiruvalluvar bores an atom, pores the seven seas of knowledge into its cavity and cutting the atom, offers its cross-section to us in the shape of the kural”. Amazingly there is no criticism or adverse comments about the literary style, craft, aesthetics and contents of Tirukural from anybody – spiritual or secular critics.
Sreekumar argues that most scholars of the world’s 11 important religions – Vedic Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism (all Indian), Shintoism of Japan, Taoism and Confucianism of China, Zarathustrianism of ancient Persia (Iran), Abrahamite religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and spiritualism confirm that quintessential twin objectives of all spiritual ways are, (1) multi-faceted self empowerment, ennoblement and enlightenment of the individual and (2) empathetic service delivery to others for their multi-dimensional welfare and elevation, both material and spiritual. Tirukural presents therefore a manual for ideal way of life, epitomizing the soul of all religions, making exhortations without any illogical faith-centric and God-ordained theistic stipulations. However, loftiness in its contents will be generally acceptable to believers, rationalists, agnostics and even to those who do not adhere to any philosophical school. He says that the realization of of Tiruvalluvar’s sound counsel by individuals, society, State and its institutions, can usher in an atmosphere envisaged in “the Republic” of Plato, ancient Greek Philosopher, Ramarajya of Mahatma Gandhi and Caliphate of Ummer, both in the private and public lives of the people.
Sreekumar further says that any Indian book to be officially proclaimed as the National Book of India should be in conformity with foundational structure of the basic law of the land – the Constitution of India. In fact, Tirukural is the only treatise in Indian literature fully suited to this criterion. Basic unalterable concepts of the Constitution, the document emanated out of social contract of Indian people are, (1) to secure to all its citizens, (a) justice – social, economic and political, (b) liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. (c) equality of status and of opportunity and (d) fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation. Notwithstanding the philosophical eminence and superior literary flair of all the holy books or scriptures of religions originated in India, none of these can be acceptable as National Book on the grounds of their inconsistency with the concepts of secularism, liberty, equality, fraternity and human dignity. Particularly, many Hindu Scriptures like Bhagvad Gita, do directly or obliquely favor the caste system (Varna Dharma) – a degenerative social order of graded inequality by bestowing respect and reverence in the ascending order to higher castes and imposing insult and slavery in the descending scale to lower castes.
In his long communication over 2,000 words, he also says that Mahatma Gandhi commenced his spiritual life by deeming that ‘God is truth’ and over the years, he reached through self-discovery that ‘Truth is God’. Tiruvalluvar places truth originating from pure human conscience in the supreme position and blocks the prospects of any dogma or socio-political ideology subverting justice delivery and creation of an ambience for eternal values. Besides, Tiruvalluvar permits all to accept, assimilate and absorb new vistas of knowledge and wisdom. Certain couplets in chapter-30 captioned ‘Truth’ are inspirational, Kural No. 295 reads – “Far greater than a benefactor or an ascetic is one whose words come from the depths of truth”. “Practice truth, you may not practice any other virtue” (Kural 297), “Water cleanses the body; truth cleanses the soul (298), “In all the scriptures, we have read, there is no virtue greater than truth” (300). In the current times, many among the elite of India are freely indulging in mobocracy, mafiacracy, plutocracy and cryptocracy for their nefarious benefits at the cost of the Rule of Law.
On practice of Dharma (righteousness), Kural-34 asserts – “Be pure in mind. That is Dharma. All else is but pompous show”. “Kural-40 emphasizes “To do good and to avoid evil must be the law of our being”. Those leaders and government officials accused of misappropriating land and houses meant for widows of Kargil War martyrs (Adarsh Society Scam in Mumbai) should read Kural-80 – “That body where love dwells is the seat of life; all others are but skin-clad bones”, and also Kural 242 – “Be compassionate; for compassion is the pivot of tenets”. Kural 393 speaks about the imperativeness of education thus “The learned alone are said to possess eyes; but they are only sores in the face of the unlettered”. In the judgment of Kural-400 “The precious undecaying wealth of a man is his leaning. All other riches are no wealth at all”.
India has been criticized for its over-emphasis on other worldly ascetic life without contributing substantial material benefits to the welfare of the people – a life of parasitism – after 7th Century CE. But Tirukural stands for value addition to human life by wealth acquisition through rightful means. Kural 754 reads – “the wealth accumulated justly and without sin will confer virtue and happiness”. Kural 755 adds – “Let not the Ruler/King accept the wealth not acquired through mercy and love”.
On duties of the Ruler/King and Code of Conduct to be followed by those administering the land, Tiruvalluvar’s persuasions are on par with Rajdharma expositions in Adharva Veda, Upanishads, Shanti Parva of Mahabharata, Bhagvad Gita, Shukra Niti, Chanakya Niti, Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsha, Kamandakiya Nitisara, Mansusmruti, Apasthambha Dharmasutra, Nitivakyamrita and so on. Chapters in Tirukural on Righteous sceptre (Chapter 55), Unrighteous rule(56), Tyranny (57), Spies (59), Purity in action (66), Embassy (69), Value of the Army (77), Unprofitable wealth (101) etc. reflect and support the thrust of the Fundamental Rights in part-III of Indian Constitution, besides illuminating on nuances in the dynamics of the administration.
It is the ‘enemies of India’ who have have been relentlessly indoctrinating gullible people with obscurantist and negative pseudo-religious fundamentalism, resulting in the rise of unlawful violent radicalism. This is achieved by insisting that all data is in scriptures and that any new truth and scientific knowledge contrary to the concepts in the holy books of Bhagvad Gita, Epics, Puranas, the Holy Quran, Hadith and Shariyat etc. be condemned and denigrated. The Directions in the Article-51(a), sub clause (h) of the Constitution says – “To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform”. Tirukural has echoed this concept in Kural 355 – “To track all things to their subtlest retreats is true knowledge”, and Kural-423 declares “Wisdom seeks the truth of all things which are heard or uttered”.
Further, the philosopher-thinker, Thirukural has never advocated abstention from genuine and legitimate love, unlike some religions preaching anti-biological dogma of Brahmacharya. Kural No. 1102 in the chapter ‘The Ecstasy of Love’s Union’ observes, “The remedy for a disease lies not in the disease but in some healing balm; but not so the loved one who is at once the disease and cure for the pangs of love”. In his book, “The Immortal Kural” (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan-1994), the scholar K. C. Kulandai Swamy — who was also awarded the Padma Bhushan– concludes his appreciation of the book, thus – “The basis for Kural’s immortal and universal appeal is to be seen in its secular character, clarity of thought, depth of understanding, perception of the un-shifting foundations of human life, penetrating insight into the essentials and his capacity to present them in an extremely generalized form avoiding carefully any particularization”. The Gujarati writer Dr. K. M. Mushi’s appraisal of Tirukural is inspiring.
Sreekumar writes – “In its essence, Tirukural is a treatise far excellence on the art of living. Tiruvalluvar, the author, diagnoses the intricacies of human nature with such penetrating insight, perfect mastery and consummate skill absorbing the most subtle concepts of modern psychology, that one is left wondering at his sweep and depth. His prescriptions leavened by godliness, ethics, morality and humaneness are sagacious and practical to the core. They cut across castes, creeds, climes and ages and have a freshness which makes one feel as if they are meant for the present times” – quoted in the above noted book, “The Immortal Kural” by B. C. Kulandai Swamy.
Even today, ‘linguistic chauvinism’ continues to disturb peace in certain parts of India germinates, often, due to faulty perception that government is not giving due recognition and status to certain languages. Recently, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu witnessed violence on this count. It is here that this book could play a role, says Sreekumar.
Tirukural’s intrinsic merit, depth of philosophical perception, rare prognostic relevance, great poetic appeal, enchanting lyrical beauty and alluring rhythmical alliteration, are universally acknowledged by eminent intellectuals and writers. Tirukural is also devoid of uni-dimensional exclusivism and illiberal denigration of diverse understanding of truth and so it is quite well qualified on many grounds for the grade and status of the National Book of Indian Republic. Such a proclamation by the Union Government would be a great leap forward towards National Integration, energisation of patriotic sentiments and appreciation of diversity of India.
Sreekumar has received an acknowledgement of this communication from the prime minister’s office.