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Thirukkural In Sanskrit

K. Arvind

Thirukkural in Sanskrit

 தமிழுக்கும் அமுதென்று பேர்
tamizhukkum amudhendru per
“Tamil is known as sweet nectar”
(from a song by Tamil poet Paavendar Bharatidasan)

Thirukkural is a renowned literary work in Tamil composed by the Sage Thiruvalluvar over two millennia ago. Thirukkural has been translated into a multitude of world languages including Hindi, Urdu, Latin, French, German and American English. The German translation of Thirukkural influenced Russian writer Tolstoy’s thinking on non-violence, Tolstoy’s Letter to a Hindu which influenced Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas on non-violence includes references to the Thirukkural. Thirukkural has also been translated into Sanskrit, another classical language of India which is even older than Thirukkural. This article captures some of Thirukkural’s pithy life wisdom, as well as some interesting facts about Thiruvalluvar, Thirukkural, and its Sanskrit translator Sri S.N. Srirama Desikan.


Thirukkural is an ancient treatise on ethics and values that is held in high reverence by Tamils everywhere. It is also called “thamizh marai” (தமிழ் மறை – Tamil Veda) and deiva nool” (தெய்வ நூல் - The Divine Book), among its other reverential names. Even though Thirukkural is said to have traces of influence from Hindu and Jain thought, especially where it exhorts non-violence and vegetarianism, and is held in reverence by Hindus in South India, it is considered mostly non-denominational and secular in the life guidance that it provides.

Thirukkural has admirers spanning time and space. The Tamil bard Avvaiyar from the first century CE equates Thirukkural’s density of wisdom to an atom that was pierced and packed with the seven oceans. Nobel Laureate Albert Schweitzer has praised Thrukkural as unparalleled in aggregating such lofty wisdom into a collection of maxims. Mahatma Gandhi called it “a textbook of indispensable authority on moral life”. C. Rajagopalachari, the last Governor-General of India called this an immortal book for all ages that epitomizes the whole of human aspiration.

Thirukkural is divided into three books known as “Arathu Paal” (அறத்துப் பால் – “Book of Righteousness”), “Porut Paal” (பொருட் பால் – “Book of Wealth”) and “Kaamathup Paal” (காமத்துப் பால் – “Book of Desire”). In fact, the work was referred to by its author as “Muppaal” (முப்பால் - The Three Books). The entire work is divided into 133 chapters called “adhikaras” (அதிகாரம்), with 10 couplets per chapter. The word “Thirukkural” means “sacred couplets” in Tamil. Many interesting facts about Thirukkural are highlighted in this Quora discussion.


Sage Thiruvalluvar is the poet who composed the Thirukkural, but not much is known about him. It is believed that he was a divinely inspired weaver born in Mylapore, Chennai, sometime between the 5th and 1st centuries BCE.  It is interesting to know that Thiruvalluvar was the name attributed to the author of Thirukkural more than a millennium after his time. When the Thirukkural was initially presented in royal court, its author did not reveal his name, nor did he give his work a name. Monsieur Ariel, who translated the Thirukkural into French in 1848, called the Thirukkural “the book without a name by an author without a name”.

Thiruvalluvar is enshrined in a Hindu temple dedicated to him in Mylapore, Chennai, believed to have been built originally in the 16th century. A more recently monument for Thiruvalluvar in Chennai called “Valluvar Kottam” was built in the 1970’s in dravidian style. A massive 133 feet (to mark the 133 chapters of Thirukkural) statue of Thiruvalluvar in the middle of the ocean was inaugurated in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, in the early 2000’s. Thiruvalluvar is also honored with a statue in the University of London.


Sri S.N. Srirama Desikan whom the Hindu newspaper hails as a “genius of a rare kind” is a great scholar in Sanskrit and Tamil who translated the Thirukkural into Sanskrit. Srirama Desikan who is now 97 was personally appointed by the legendary MGR (the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu then) himself, as special officer in the Department of Indian Medicine to translate the voluminous Ayurvedic works called “Ashtanga Sangraham” and “Charaka Susruta” from Sanskrit into Tamil. He was conferred with the title “Ayurveda Bharati” by Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, and the title “Abhinava Sushruta Vishruta” by Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashram. Honored with the Indian President’s award for Sanskrit Proficiency in 1971, and the “Kalaimamani” award from the Government of Tamil Nadu in 1993, Sri S.N. Srirama Desikan also translated many ancient Tamil works into Sanskrit in addition to Thirukkural, including “Naaladiyaar”, “Bharati’s works”, “Pathuppaattu” and “Ettuththogai” of Sangam literature, “Silappathikaram”, “Avvaiyar’s Needi works” and “Tiruppavai.”


A selection of couplets (“kurals”) from Thirukkural was presented both in Tamil and Sanskrit at the 2017 World Sanskrit Day (and coincidentally on the eve of Sri S.N. Srirama Desikan’s birthday) in Boston organized by Samskrita Bharati recently. The presentation based on Sri Desikan’s 1961 translation of the Thirukkural made available at sanskritroots.com, also included an English translation of the couplets drawn from a modern commentary in Tamil by the well-known Tamil author, late Rangarajan also known by his pseudonym “Sujatha”, and from the thirukkural.com site that carries commentaries by various renowned authorities on the Thirukkural including Thiru Mu. Karunanidhi and Thiru Solomon Papiah. The images in the sidebar capture the wisdom of some of these couplets. A complete set of images for all the kurals presented at the event may be found here.


Ideas from a literary work composed a couple of millennia ago by a divinely inspired weaver in Southern India, made its way through the medium of the German language into far away 19th century Russia, and came back to influence Mahatma Gandhi’s thinking on the use of ahimsa for India’s independence struggle, which in turn influenced the Civil Rights movement in America led by Martin Luther King Jr. If such cross-pollination across cultures could happen in days when information flowed slower than molasses, one can only imagine how such processes can impact thinking all over the world in today’s hyper-linked high speed Internet-connected world. We see examples of such processes in Samskrita Bharati’s excellent work in lighting up the Sanskrit torch in America, and the ongoing enthusiastic effort to endow a Tamil Chair in Harvard University to stimulate research in Tamil.

 இடுக்கண் வருங்கால் நகுக அதனை
அடுத்துஊர்வது அஃதொப்பது  இல்.

प्राप्तेऽपि व्यसने खेदं त्यक्तवोत्साहपरो भव |
दुःखापनोदनपटुरुत्साहान्नास्ति कश्चन

There is no better way of overcoming a difficulty than
facing the challenge with delightful confidence .

(Thirukkural – Book of Wealth – 63-621)


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