The Saint Who Speaks Across Time  

Thiruvalluvar was a legendary Tamil poet who lived sometime between the fourth and first century BCE. He authored Thirukkural, a book of couplets on secular ethics which are as relevant today as they were over 2000 years ago! The Thirukkural, is often referred to as Pothumarai - The common man’s Veda.

The Thirukkural is one of the most widely translated pieces of Tamil literature. One of the earliest commentaries on the Thirukkural was done by a later Tamil poet, Parimelazhagar, in the 12th century CE.

The first translation of the Thirukkural in a European language was done in Latin by Constanzo Beschi, a Jesuit missionary in 1730. Beschi too, was a renowned Tamil poet who went by the name Vīramāmunivar.

One of the most popular and commonly quoted translations of the Thirukkural was done by GU Pope, an Anglican missionary who took the Thirukkural to the western world in 1886. The Thirukkural has been translated to more than 30 languages till date.

In his book, The Prince Who Became a Monk & Other Stories from Tamil Literature, Sahitya Akademi Award winner, writer and poet ML Thangappa describes Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural as one of the best works on ethics produced in the early post-Sangam era.

The book on ethics, polity and love comprises of 1,330 couplets divided into chapters or kurals of ten couplets each. These pearls of wisdom have inspired movements and leaders across boundaries of time and geography.

Tolstoy was inspired by Thiruvalluvar’s philosophy of non-violence and passed it on to Mahatma Gandhi (Left: MK Gandhi; Right: Leo Tolstoy)
Tolstoy was inspired by Thiruvalluvar’s philosophy of non-violence and passed it on to Mahatma Gandhi (Left: MK Gandhi; Right: Leo Tolstoy)

In fact, few realize that Thirukkural may have had a big influence on how India got her freedom from Britain in 1947. It is believed that the legendary Russian writer Leo Tolstoy was deeply inspired by the concept of non-violence found in the Thirukkural when he read a German translation of the book. This, in turn, was passed on to Mahatma Gandhi through A Letter to a Hindu, when Gandhi, dubbed the ‘Father of India’s struggle for independence’, sought Tolstoy's guidance.

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