First Book of Kural
There is no great wealth one can acquire than Dharma and no
misfortune greater than the forgetting of it.
Forgetting Dharma is failing to perform one’s duties according
[Note: Aram is the Tamil equivalent of the Sanskrit word Dharma,
for which there is no single word- equivalent in English. Duty,
virtue and other such words do not really cover the full import
of either Aram or Dharma.]
Go as far as your strength and resources permit without swerving
from the path of Dharma.
[Note: This is Tiru-Valluvar’s characteristic way of bringing
everything down to the level of practicability without losing
hold of the ideal.]
Keep the mind from evil thoughts. This is the whole of Dharma.
The rest is only of the nature of sound and show.
The key to purity of action is purity of thought. The attainment
of a mind free from evil thoughts is the aim of a religious
life, and this is a silent process. External observances are
sound and show.
[Note: The Tamil word Aakulam is sound and show.]
True religious life consists in the avoidance of four things:
envy, the craving for pleasure, anger and harsh speech.
Do not say to yourself ‘Let me see about it later when I shall
be better fitted.’ Live the true religious life now. It will be
the one unfailing support when all else will disappear and
become of no use.
Only the joy that comes from right conduct is true happiness.
Other pleasures are really sources of pain and causes of shame.
Pleasure will soon become shame and pain, if the act that
procured it was unrighteous. Right conduct is therefore not only
right but also wise.
The Good Householder
The householder so-called helps the other orders in the proper
fulfillment of their duties.
The unmarried student, he gives up active life and goes to the
jungle, and the Sannyasin, can carry on as such, only because
some others live as good householders. The householders
therefore should not be looked upon as selfishly living for
pleasures while the others are leading lives of abstinence. The
householder works for the others who renounce work.
Love and right conduct give to the householder’s life its true
character and purposefulness.
Family life is beautiful and purposeful only if it is marked by
love and Dharma. Love makes it beautiful and Dharma is
fulfillment of its purpose.
If a man goes through the householder’s life along the way of
Dharma, nothing is left for him to attain by becoming a recluse
or going to the forest.
Of all classes of aspirants to Dharma, the householder who lives
up to the standard is the most estimable.
There is more penance in the life of a householder who does what
should be done and avoids any lapse from Dharma, than in the
privations of hermits.
He, who leads his life in this world, as he should, ranks with
the gods in heaven.
The Life Partner
She is a true-life companion who proves equal to the tasks of a
householder’s life, adjusting herself to the breadwinner’s
It is essential for happiness in family life that culturally and
economically the wife should fall into line with the family of
her adoption. The partnership will not work otherwise.
There is no true family life where the wife has not the
qualities required for helping in the fulfillment of the duties
of a good householder. If the mistress of the house has not
these qualities, neither wealth nor other circumstances can be
of any avail.
The husband’s virtues cannot make up for it.
If the mistress of the house possesses the qualities of a
true-life partner, nothing will be wanting. If the mistress of
the house does not have those qualities, naught will avail.
What possession of greater value can one have than a wife, if
she be firm in her loyalty to her partner in life?
[Note: Karppu is not mere physical chastity. It is unqualified
loyalty to husband.]
The true wife thinks not of God when she rises in the morning.
She offers her worship to the husband and that is enough. Even
the clouds will obey and pour the rain at her command.
[Note: The Vedanta philosophy and Hindu practice recognize forms
of worship, which enable the devotee to see the supreme Deity in
every object of love or adoration. Husband-worship is not a
neglect of God.]
Of what use is that purity which is brought about by physical
restrictions and isolation to which women are subjected? Their
own senses of a pure life is the best watch.
Of all things one may be blessed with, we can think of nothing
equal to the joy of having begot children who have grown up to
Far sweeter than heavenly ambrosia is the porridge in which
one’s child has dabbled with its little hand.
They speak of the sweet tones of the flute and of the harp, who
have not had children and heard them lisp their newly learnt
The best inheritance that a father can provide for his son is an
education that will fit him to take an honoured place among
In bringing up sons, fathers should remember that not wealth but
education conduces most to their happiness.
Hearing words of appreciation uttered by people about her son,
the mother feels greater joy than what she felt on the day he
The son’s greatest filial service is so to conduct himself as to
make men say in wonderment ‘Great must have been the father’s
good deeds to be blessed with such a noble son’.
A Loving Disposition
Those who have not the loving disposition, belong wholly to
themselves. The tenderhearted belong to others even in their
The love in their hearts makes them possession of the living
world outside of them.
The enlightened hold that the saving joy of the soul when
burdened with the body is the experience of human affection.
Human affection is possible only if the soul is clothed in flesh
and blood, and it is worthwhile for the sake of the experience
of such affection to suffer the miseries of life on earth. The
soul would like to be born in flesh and blood for the sake of
enjoying this incident of life on earth.
Affection is a training for bhakti (devotion), and out of bhakti
will come unsought, true enlightenment, the goal of all
Strewn with pleasure is the way to heaven, for it can be
attained by well ordered family life.
This is contrasted by implication to the toilsome path of
celibacy and penance.
Men of imperfect understanding think that a tender heart helps
one only in the path of good morality. Love inspires the warlike
deeds of the brave soldiers too.
[Note: It is well known that the bravest warrior is often the
most tender hearted. Parimelazhagar’s interpretation of this
Kural is different. ‘Maram’ in his commentary is the contrary of
‘Aram’ (Dharma) and he explains the verse to mean that love
overcomes wrath and enmity, and helps a man not only himself to
do the right, but also to overcome the wrong done by others.
‘Maram’ in Tamil literature also has another meaning besides the
one Parimelazhagar has explained. ‘Maram’ stands for the virtues
of the soldier (see Kural Ch. 39-4), and I think that is the
sense in which the word is used in this verse.]
Inflexible law withers the soul of him that has no love in his
heart, even as the sun shrivels up the bodies of boneless worms.
As the spine supports the bodies of vertebrates, love supports
the soul. Without it, it shrinks and stops the spirit’s
Where there is no tenderness of heart, life is barren of
purpose. Can a tree that is dried up in the desert sun put forth
Without a tender heart, of what avail are the externals of
family life? Just as the outer ear or eye may be there, but it
is of no avail to the deaf and the blind, so is the soulless
routine of a householder’s life purposeless without tenderness
Without tenderness of heart, the body is but bones covered up
with skin. In love alone is the secret of life.
Life functions really in love and not in the physical activities
of the body.
An Open House
The only justification for a man to remain in family life and
for acquiring and keeping property (without becoming a
Sannyasin) is that he may command the means by which help may be
given to those who seek help.
Family life is not a right but a duty arising out of the
obligations of the individual to society.
To seat for a meal by oneself, keeping out those who come
expecting hospitality, is a thing to be abhorred even if the
food were the elixir of immortality.
The goddess of prosperity will be gladdened in heart and linger
in the house of the man whose smiling face welcomes those who
Must he indeed sow seeds in his field, who eats what remains
after feeding the guests?
The gods will look after the affairs of the man who feeds his
guest before sitting down himself to eat. Hospitality is itself
seed enough for his fields and the crops will rise.
"What have we gained spending all our lives in toil and care?
Nothing avails now. There is nothing to lean upon." Thus on
their last day will lament those who have failed to perform the
sacrifice of hospitality and look after those who come for help.
Hospitality is equivalent to a religious sacrifice.
How stupid those misers are who fail to practise the law of
hospitality! They succeed in being poor in the midst of plenty.
The delicate flower withers away if you take it to the nose to
inhale its fragrance. But the guest who comes for a meal will
shrink even at a distant look that indicates unwillingness to
We should treat poor guests more delicately than the most
The Soft Word
The speech of enlightened men consists of truth soaked in
Gentleness of speech is not pleasant falsehood, but the truth
that is spoken by men who know the whole of the law and are not
misled by dry dogmas, who are full of affection for the person
to whom the truth is addressed, and therefore find the words
that save truth from harshness.
The kindly word and the glad and loving look accompanying a gift
are appreciated even more than the gift itself.
To give is good. But the sweet manner accompanying the gift
touches the heart of the receiver even more than the good gift
The relief of distress consists in the glad face, the welcome
look and speech that is marked by genuine consideration for the
feelings of the man who is in distress.
The gift that is thrown at the distressed without these
accompaniments does not really relieve suffering but hurts.
One need not fear poverty if he has gladdened the hearts of men
by kind words.
The world will not leave such a man to suffer by reason of
Not jewels but courteous deportment and gladness of speech are
the things that adorn.
Truly it is strange that people speak harsh words, when they
have themselves felt and experienced the joy that kindly speech
Every moment we have direct personal experience of the
marvellous effect of kind words from others and yet, when we
speak, we forget it and indulge in harsh speech.
[Note: The Kural technique of carrying conviction can be seen in
When gentle words are available, why do men choose the words
that hurt? Is it not foolish to pick unripe berries when ripe
ones can be had for the plucking?
The good deed that is done not in return, but in the first
instance, is more precious than anything is in this world or
beyond. Nothing can repay that act.
What is done in return for something previously done can never
be as great as the deed born out of sheer generosity, be it ever
so small by itself. There is therefore nothing that can be
considered an adequate repayment. It is above every other kind
By itself the help rendered may be a trifle, but the hour of
need when it was given makes it bigger than the whole world.
It is bad to forget a favour done to you. But if someone does
you a wrong, it is good to forget it that very day.
Painful like death itself may be the evil that you suffer at a
man’s hand. But remind yourself of some good thing that he once
did for you. It will help you to forget the present pain.
[Note: This is another fine instance of Tiru-Valluvar’s
characteristic way of giving helpful practical hints to follow
what may seem to be a mere counsel of perfection, showing what a
great master of psychology Valluvar was.]
The acquisition of a man of rectitude goes down to his children
without diminution and will protect them against adversity.
[Note: This is not a mere superstition invoked for supporting
the moral rule. There is practical wisdom in the statement as to
the stability of well-earned wealth and the instability of
acquisitions got by methods that society condemns. Rectitude of
means employed gives stability to what is acquired, whereas what
is got by swerving from the straight path stands ever in danger
of being lost again or serving as a snare. The most powerful
motive for the householder is the desire to see that his
children are assured of happiness after him. Upright conduct,
says Tiru-Valluvar, ensures this.]
It may seem that no evil attaches to the acquisition that comes
by swerving from the path of rectitude. But do not be tempted.
Give up the thought at once.
Who lived a life of rectitude and who did not can be seen from
how the children they have left behind fare.
[Note: Your life will impress itself on your child’s character,
and if you wish well for your child beware and walk in the path
of rectitude, says the poet.]
The swerving of your mind can be perceived by you before anyone
else sees it. Look upon it as an evil portent and beware.
If the man who walks firmly in the path of rectitude thereby
loses his worldly possessions, his poverty does not lower him in
the estimation of the world. He retains his status in society as
if nothing had happened to him.
Let businessmen know that it is good business to protect the
interests of others exactly as they do their own.
[Note: This is the Kural version of the formula that honesty is
the best policy. Rectitude is not only Dharma but good economic
Note: Self-control is as necessary a virtue for the householder
as for the recluse. ‘Adakkam’ in Tamil may mean either
self-control or humility. Self-control, guarding against
cupidity, pride and anger, is what is dealt with here.]
Self-control takes one to the gods. Want of it will push one
into utter darkness.
There is no possession more precious than self-control. Watch
yourself therefore as you would watch treasure.
It is well for everyone to be meek, but for those who have
wealth meekness is added possession.
[Note: Learning, good birth, and wealth are not reduced but
enhanced by a becoming humility of deportment. The word used
here for humility of deportment is ‘Panidal’ which literally
means ‘bowing to show respect’.]
If a man lives a life of self-control and withdraws the five
senses from tempting pleasures as a tortoise , upon sensing
danger, draws its head and limbs into its shell, he shall have
insured himself against evil in seven births thereafter.
You may neglect everything else, but be ever vigilant in
restraining your tongue. Those who fail to do so meet with great
[Note: Not that in other things one may relax control; but the
danger of careless or angry speech is constantly present, and
requires special attention.]
The injury caused by a burn heals, but the pain caused by the
thoughtless word is never forgotten by the man who is hurt. It
remains forever in his mind like an ugly scar.
If a man knows how to control the rising anger in his mind and
guards himself against losing his temper, all other virtues will
seek him out and wait on his pleasure.
The Regulated Life
Discipline of life is more precious than life itself, for it is
out of that discipline that life derives value.
One may study many philosophies and clear his doubts but it is
the well-regulated life that ultimately avails and nothing else.
Therefore, guard it whatever may be the difficulty involved.
The well-regulated life ennobles every rank of life. Where this
fails, good or noble parentage will not save the man.
The Brahmin can study again what he has forgotten of the
scriptures and make up for lost memory. But if he neglects
regulation of life he forfeits forever the advantage of his
A well-regulated life brings honour. Neglect of it will lead to
The learned really betray ignorance when in spite of their
learning they fail to regulate their lives in accordance with
the principle of social cooperation.
[Note: Learning is worthless if one cannot exercise self-control
in conduct and behaviour. Regulation of life and social
cooperation are more important than scriptural or philosophical
It is stupidity to entertain amorous thoughts about one who
belongs to another. Any one that knows either the way of Dharma
or that of worldly wisdom will avoid this folly.
Among those who stray from the path of right conduct, there is
none so stupid as the man who trespasses into another man’s
It is better for one to be dead than to be tempted by thoughts
of sin where one has been received with trust.
Of no avail will be a man’s importance, however great it may be,
if he is thoughtless and lacks the simple wisdom of not
violating another’s home.
It may seem all too easy to err with another’s wife, but the
disgrace will be irredeemable for all time.
Enmity, Sin, Fear and Disgrace will always dog the path of the
man who violates the sacredness of another’s home.
He is not a true householder who lets his amorous thoughts dwell
on those who belong to others. He may in conduct be a good
husband and a good father and everything else, but the impure
thought is enough to make it all unreal.
Manhood consists in being able to control one’s mind and being
proof against amorous thoughts towards one that belongs to
another. It is good religion as well as social order.
Does not the earth support the man that is engaged in digging
it? It is proper that we too bear with those who wrong us.
If one wrongs you, put up with it. But it is better still to
forget it if you can.
It is not a very great achievement if one inflicts revenge for a
wrong done. It is a golden achievement and will remain in the
public memory as such, if a strong man shows forbearance in the
face of wrongs done to him.
Retaliation gives but a day’s joy. Forbearance brings glory for
Arrogance leads a man to do wrong to you. But your pride should
be to defeat him by your forbearance.
[Note: Your forbearance will prove your greater worth and
disillusion his pride. Forbearance is not a negative thing. It
is an effective blow delivered to the wrong doer’s pride. This
is the defeat referred to. It is not a platitude. The incisive
rationalist approach is a common characteristic of Tiru-Valluvar
and Marcus Aurelius.]
The man who shows forbearance in the face of insult has truly
practised the discipline of the Sannyasin though he is a
Ascetics go without food and do penance, but forbearance in the
face of the foolish attacks of ignorant men is a greater penance
than such fasting.
Do Not Envy
There is no greater wealth than the possession of a mind that is
free from envy.
It is he that cares not for his own spiritual or material well
being that allows his mind to entertain envious thoughts instead
of feeling happy when he sees the well being of others.
Envy makes a man lose happiness without having a single enemy in
the outer world. His own envy is enough to do all the mischief.
The goddess of good luck is impatient with men who cannot bear
the sight of other people’s good fortune. She immediately
entrusts such men to the charge of her elder sister.
[Note: In the folk mythology of India, which in its own way
embodied Vedanta, the elder sister of the goddess of Fortune is
Misfortune. Misfortune is the responsibility of the senior
goddess, while the younger is in charge of good luck and well
being. The two are sisters, and therein we can see the
philosophy of Vedanta, which looks on pain and pleasure with
You may be blessed with every good trait and all good fortune.
But the one serious blemish of envy is enough to cast you into
Envy makes hell for the man who nourishes that feeling in his
present life as well hereafter.
None has grown richer by envying. No one has lost anything by
Do Not Covet
[Note: ‘Azhukkaaru’ is envy, an inability to feel happy at the
sight of another’s well being. ‘Vehhil’, greed, is covetousness,
the desire to obtain by illegitimate means what is another’s.]
If a man’s mind turns to thoughts of abandoning rectitude and
taking by illegitimate means what belongs to others, it will
automatically lead him from error to error and bring disgrace on
him and his family.
Those who desire to be happy in the real sense do not turn to
what is not legitimate, which at the most can give but transient
Those who have acquired true vision by keeping their senses
under control never think of other’s possessions to make up for
Of no avail is keenness of intellect, of no avail is wide
knowledge, if greed seizes a man and leads him to folly.
[Note: Greed is a malady, which affects even men of keen
intellect and wide learning. Hence this warning.]
If indeed you live a householder’s life in order ultimately to
learn to look upon all beings with the eye of universal love and
charity, how ruinous to that plan it is to let greedy thoughts
enter your mind!
Do not covet others’ possessions. When you come to possess the
things, which you laboured illegitimately to obtain, you will
find no true enjoyment therein, such as you had desired. True
enjoyment is possible only if the acquisition is lawful.
Greed is folly. It results only in misery equivalent to death.
On the other hand, it should be your pride not to be tempted to
look with covetous eyes on other people’s possessions. Cultivate
this indifference. It will give you a sense of triumph.
Speak not ill of others
You may sometimes speak the harshest things to a man’s face, but
do not indulge in the folly of attacking any one behind his
If men would see their own faults as they see the faults of
others, verily evil would come to an end in this world.
Avoid Worthless Talk
He who indulges in purposeless talk causing disgust to his
company earns universal contempt.
Indulging in indecent talk in mixed company does great mischief
than even wrongs done to friends.
[Note: The title of the chapter giving this and the following
couplets, is ‘Trepidation at the thought of wrongdoing’.]
The very thought of wrongdoing frightens good men, although bad
men see nothing terrible in wrongdoing.
From evil springs fresh evil, like fire which regenerates
itself. Men should shrink from sin as from a terror even worse
The highest and most precious of all arts consists in not
returning evil for evil.
Even by inadvertence do not think of any act that would hurt
another. If you plan evil for any one, Dharma will decree your
The evil pursues the evildoer as a man finds his shadow pursuing
him wherever his feet may take him. Those who commit evil cannot
Do you love yourself? Then do not do to any one what falls in
the class of wrongdoing, however small it may be.
[Note: The inexorable law will bring injury to one who behaves
wrongly towards others.]
Social Co-operation – Proper Use Of Wealth
What good did the creatures of the earth do to the clouds that
pour the rain? So indeed should you serve society, seeking no
Good men put forth industry and produce wealth, not for
themselves but for the use of society.
[Note: Wealth is not to be earned for the purpose of
self-indulgence or for satisfaction of greed. Wealth should be
treated as the citizen’s instrument for helpfulness combined
with a sense of duty.]
There is no pleasure in this or in the other world equal to the
joy of being helpful to those around you. Do not lose the
opportunity for this rare pleasure.
Man is born as a social being. He alone truly lives who
functions as a social co-operator. He who does not recognize
this duty is to be counted as one dead.
When prosperity comes to a man who has understanding and knows
his duty to his fellowmen, it is like the village water tank
that is filled by the rain.
When the village water tank gets filled by rain it is an
occasion for joy for the whole community. The tank keeps the
water from running to waste or being dried up, and serves to
quench the people’s thirst throughout the year. So should the
government feel when a good man prospers.
When wealth comes to a large hearted man, it is like the village
tree coming to be in fruit.
If wealth comes to one who is blessed with a large heart it
becomes the unfailing drug plant for society’s troubles.
[Note: The village water tank stores the water from running to
waste; so the wise citizen acquires and looks after his
acquisitions in order to serve all. The village tree bears ripe
fruit; so the liberal minded citizen freely gives of his wealth
to help all around. The medicinal tree is the precious alchemist
of nature. Its leaves, bark, fruit and root take out of the
earth those essences, which relieve ailments of all kinds. So
does the wealth of the great citizens serve to relieve suffering
of all kinds. His knowledge and experience make up the alchemy
that is needed to put the wealth to effective use for the
benefit of the community.]
Poverty does not stop the social co-operation of those who have
a clear understanding of the duties of life. They continue their
social service undeterred by adversity.
[Note: It is not necessary to be rich to be helpful. There are
ways in which in any position one can help. The essence of
social service is in the mind. Under each changed circumstance,
a new duty arises and the due fulfillment of it is what should
be attended to. When, therefore, a man loses his material
resources, he does not need to think that his capacity for
social co-operation has ended.]
The worst misery that poverty brings to the large hearted man is
the pain of not having resources enough to serve others in the
manner he had been accustomed to.
If social co-operation appears to ruin you, it is indeed
worthwhile to be ruined. You may sell yourself into slavery if
that would enable you to serve the people around you.
[Note: There is no price too high to pay for being of service to
Helping The Poor
That alone is a gift, which is given to the needy. Gifts to
others are in the nature of business transactions wherein what
is given is expected to be duly returned.
To depend on and receive charity, even when poverty permits it,
invariably hurts. On the other hand, to give to the poor is
good, even if there were no future world wherein merit is duly
[Note: The very act of giving gives joy to the giver and
receiving a favour causes pain to the receiver. This is inherent
in human nature, apart from any consequences as promised in
scriptures. This is a characteristic instance of the
Tiru-Valluvar approach. He always reserves for emphasis some
aspect, which is not bound up with religious beliefs.
You may find it unpleasant to be approached for charity. But
that is only until you see the radiant face of the man whose
distress you have relieved.
The ascetic’s strength of mind enabled him to bear hunger and
out of it arises his power also. But the act of relieving
another’s hunger is greater than suffering hunger oneself.
Fortunate is he who saves men from the devastating curse of
hunger, for he has thereby deposited his possessions in a
Have not these men ever experienced the delight of giving? Else,
why are they so hard-hearted and refuse to give and at the end
of it all disappear from earth, leaving behind what they
withheld from the needy?
Wretched is he whose poverty forces him to beg for alms. But
more wretched indeed is he whose narrow heart makes him close
the door against the hungry so that he may eat by himself.
Death is most painful. But even that becomes pleasant to the
good man when he finds himself unable to help the wretched.
Poverty is wealth if it is brought about for causes that raise a
man in the esteem of the world. Death under certain
circumstances is life everlasting. Such poverty, which is not
poverty, and such death, which is not death but life, comes only
to those who understand true values.
When men have not lived so as to earn the esteem of good men,
why do they not see and grieve over their own fault but blame
the world that refuses to esteem them?
[Note: According to commentators, chapters 25 to 38 of the Kural
from which the following selections have been taken, deal with
matters of special significance to the order of ascetics and
monastic life. When Kural was written, large numbers of people
in South India of the Jain and Buddhist denominations were
solemnly pledged to a monastic life. There was therefore a place
for special chapters dealing with the monastic life in the
comprehensive book that Kural was planned to be. But one cannot
be certain that these chapters had only this specific purpose.
Much of what is said in these chapters is applicable even to men
leading family lives. Tiru-Valluvar, like the Bhagavad Gita,
definitely takes the view that detachment in conduct is the
essence of the principle of renunciation and that monastic life
is not necessary for a man’s salvation if he knows how to do his
duties in ordinary life with detachment and equanimity.]
Diverse are the teachings of the religions of the world, but in
all will be found that compassion is that which gives men
spiritual deliverance. Hold on to it.
[Note; ‘Arul’ is love for all creatures equal to what is
associated with blood relationship.]
Soul-endangering sin flees from him who looks upon all beings
Even as happiness in this world depends on material possessions,
compassion is that on which your happiness in the world beyond
Those who have lost their possessions may flourish once again.
But there is no hope for those who have failed in the duty of
Can one who has no compassion in his heart practise Dharma
through other virtues? It is no more possible than that one who
has no understanding can teach the true meaning of things.
[Note: Men can see easily that clarity of understanding is
essential for acquiring knowledge, but they do not see what is
equally true, viz., that compassion is essential for goodness.]
When a man is inclined to be cruel to those over whom he has
power, let him think of himself trembling before the cruelty of
Eat No Meat
How can a man adopt the way of compassion, gorging on the flesh
of other beings in order to fatten his own flesh?
Meat eating is inconsistent with tenderness to life or
compassion. Nature cannot work a contrary whatever be the
casuistry (clever but false reasoning) about it. If we must eat
meat, let us not talk of compassion.
The butcher with the knife in his hand cannot turn his heart to
compassion. It is just the same with one who has trained his
mind to find pleasure in the eating of the body of another
creature made tasty with condiments.
[Note: He who likes the taste of meat is a butcher, whose
occupation one detests. It is no use distinguishing between meat
eating and the slaughtering of animals oneself.]
Eating the meat that is obtained by killing is gross stupidity.
It is the direct opposite of the doctrine of compassion to kill
the doctrine of non-killing by eating meat and thereby
encouraging others to kill.
[Note: To make other people break the law against killing life
cannot be consistent with compassion. There is no sense,
therefore, in those who would not themselves kill but eating the
meat that is necessarily obtained by killing. This is obviously
a protest against the eating of meat practised by persons
professing to be adherents of the law of non-killing, and an
answer to those who argue that dietary rules should not be mixed
up with compassion of virtues of the mind.]
If men will decide not to kill for the sake of eating no one
will make a trade or profession of slaughtering living
[Note: This is an answer to the argument that people live by
selling meat and that if we buy meat already slaughtered there
can be no sin in it or want of compassion.]
What is meat but a cruel and ugly ulcer or wound in the body of
another creature? How can one who realises this make it an
article of food?
[Note: It is strange, says the poet, that something so
disgusting and so cruel can be regarded as food.]
More meritorious than a thousand burnt offerings is to give up
the practice of killing a living creature and eating its
All the creatures of the world offer worship to the man who
refrains from killing and abstains from meat.
[Note: The poet figures to himself the grateful adoration of
dumb animals as to a god descended on earth to save them from
their relentless enemies.]
Share you food with the hungry and help life in all forms.
Refrain from causing death to any form of life. All the codes
Life is dear, but even to save your life, do not do that which
would deprive another creature of its own dear life.
[Note: When Kural was written, the monastic life was common in
South India. Tiru-Valluvar does not oppose it, but brings out
the essence of the virtue in such life in a rational manner.]
Penance really consists in the fortitude with which the pain
that falls to one’s lot is borne and in the avoidance of causing
pain to sentient beings. This is the substance of penance,
[Note: All notions of supernatural benefits arising out of
self-inflicted pain are quietly discounted here, and a rational
and catholic doctrine of patiently suffering whatever pain falls
to one’s lot is indicated.]
Blessed is he who is qualified for penance. To those who
undertake penance in the form of self-inflicted pain without
being truly qualified, penance is mere profitless travail.
Those who have not renounced the worldly life must have kept out
of the order of ascetics only to be able to look after those who
[Note: there is a delicately expressed warning here that the
householder’s life is not to be deemed inferior.]
The gold in the furnace shines the more it is in the fire. So do
they who suffer in order to chasten their spirit; they shine the
more resplendently for the pain that they willingly bear.
He who has acquired mastery over his self is the object of
[Note: i.e. he who holds his life in full possession and who
does not let himself be held by his senses. Otherwise, instead
of the spirit being master and the body its slave, the soul
becomes slave to the body.]
If one has falsehood in his heart and secretly breaks the law of
celibacy the five elements that watch from inside his body laugh
at the futile fraud.
[Note: Remember that you have within you five witnesses watching
your secret and shameful crime. Not God the All-immanent, but
even the physical elements laugh in scorn, says the poet.]
Of what avail are the trappings of purity or sainthood when
within him his conscience knows its inescapable guilt?
The feeble minded wearing the brave trappings of strength is
like a miserable cow putting on the skin of a tiger to save
itself from being impounded while feeding stealthily on the corn
in a stranger’s field.
If a man hides himself in the externals of a saint and under
that cover commits sin, he descends to the life of the mean bird
catcher who hides in the bush to trap innocent birds.
Making public pretensions to purity of life, if you secretly act
contrary to the law, soon you will be landed in numberless
troubles and you will lament in exceeding measure.
There are some in this world who, like the kunri seed, are
beautifully red all over, but have in their hearts a black spot
like that seed.
[Note: kunri is a very hard and light and beautiful red seed
used as the smallest unit in weighing gold. It has a black spot
on its ‘nose’.]
There are many that pass for holy men who keep foulness in their
hearts and go through the external ablutions of saints in order
to hide their sins.
Is not the cruel arrow smooth and straight, while the curved
lyre makes sweet music? Our judgment must depend not on
appearance but on conduct.
Avoid what the world condemns. If you succeed in this, there is
no need for the shaven head or the growing of long beards.
[Note: Some hermits shave their heads clean and others allow
their hair to grow wild, according to the order to which they
belong. Purity makes the saint, not these and other externals.]
Truthfulness is attained if one’s speech is such that it harms
no being in the world.
If one could speak an untruth, which brought good without the
least blemish of evil, it might be classed with truth.
Of all things confirmed in our experience, the rule of
truthfulness stands out most firmly established. There is
nothing more precious than truth.
If you are truthful in thought and word you are superior to one
who undergoes penances and gives gifts.
Truthfulness earns the esteem of the world besides bringing in
its train the merit of every other virtue without the physical
privations of penance.
Water makes external cleanliness. Truthfulness is the detergent
of the heart.
Lamps do not give the light that holy men desire. It is the
light of truth that illuminates their path.
He truly is without anger who does not give vent to anger when
the wrongdoer is under his power. Where his anger cannot hurt,
that is when he cannot effectively retaliate, what matters is
whether he guards against anger or not.
Everyone knows that it is bad for oneself to lose temper in
dealing with superiors. But where anger is directed against
persons in one’s power it is the worst of all offences.
From anger is born all evil. Let us forget the cause for
provocation given by anyone.
Can there be any greater enemy to mankind than anger, which
kills laughter and joy (which indeed are the greatest of
blessings on earth)?
Let him who would save himself guard against anger. The anger
that is not held back is disastrous to oneself.
He who thinks anger is a profitable or worthy thing and yields
to it is bound to suffer the evil thereof, even like the fool
that hits the ground with his hand.
Great may the wrong done to you; like many tongued fire it may
burn, but it is worthwhile yet to struggle and rein back one’s
anger, if at all possible.
There is nothing lost by not entertaining anger. On the contrary
it will be seen that what is sought to be attained comes quicker
if the mind is kept free from it.
Do Not Cause Harm
The best punishment for those who do evil to you is to shame
them by returning good for evil.
Is there anything in much learning if it does not make a man
feel the pain of others as keenly as the pain in his own body
and avoid causing it?
When a man has experienced pain and knows what it is, how can he
bring himself wantonly to cause pain to others?
The pain that a man causes to another in the forenoon returns to
him that very afternoon.
The Fleeting World
Like the crowd that gathers to see a play comes dazzling wealth.
It disappears like the gathering, which melts away when the play
We imagine the day is something by itself. But to those who can
see the truth, the day is in reality nothing but the relentless
movement of the saw that unremittingly saws through life.
Do that which is good without delay, for you must do it before
the tongue fails and the last hiccup seizes you.
Wondrous indeed is this world where one who was here yesterday
may not be found today.
We cannot be certain of living the next minute. But we are not
content with even a million plans.
The soul’s connection with the body is just like that of the
bird’s connection with the eggshell. The bird leaves it joyfully
to fly in the air.
The soul is indeed a homeless wanderer. It stays for a brief
time in the body, as the homeless wretch who takes shelter under
some roof, only to leave it at the earliest call.
As one by one you detach yourself from the things of the world
you are saved from pain in respect of it.
The absence of something to that extent makes it easier to give
it up wholly, i.e., even the thought of it. Possession tends to
hold the mind in delusion and therefore is a hindrance to true
If one’s heart is set on ending the round of births, there is no
purpose in keeping any attachments alive. Even the body is a
burden to be got rid of soon.
Pain of all kinds holds him in its relentless grip who fondly
holds on to the things of the world.
Those who renounce wholly, i.e., who give up even the thought of
things to be desired, have saved themselves. The rest are
deluded and are still in the net.
Deliverance comes only with the abandonment of attachments. Else
the fleeting world must be one’s home again and again.
[Note: Mere privation enforced on oneself will not help. What is
required is the giving up of attachment and desire.]
Let attachment to the Lord be your one attachment. That
attachment will help you to free yourself from other
Those who have learnt to perceive the Real, will surely take the
path leading to deliverance from rebirth.
Root out the three evils, Desire, Anger and Delusion, and all
grief shall end.
The miseries of life are born of error that deems the worthless
as things of value.
The cause of all our grief is that we base life on false values.
Life based on true values ends in deliverance.
Heaven is nearer than the earth they stand on, to the
enlightened that have freed themselves from the entanglements of
If there is no true understanding all the knowledge that the
five senses give is of no avail.
True understanding is that which uncovers and shows the reality
behind the apparent and diverse exteriors of all things.
Renouncing Of Desire
[Note: The desirelessness recommended in Indian philosophy does
not appeal to the modern mind, which depends upon hope and faith
in human effort. Religious dogma apart, detachment is recognised
as a great and necessary virtue in all human endeavour. The
philosophy of non-desire is intimately associated with
detachment in work.]
Desire is the seed out of which is born the unending cycle of
birth and death.
There is no worthier object to be desired than deliverance from
births, and this worthy desire can be fulfilled if we renounce
There is no possession so great as Non-desire either in this
world or in the worlds beyond.
Purity is attained by freedom from desire. And this freedom from
Desire can be attained if one sincerely desires to attain the
It is only those who along with the thing given up have given up
the desire for it that can be said to have renounced. Those who
have not done this have not truly renounced.
[Note: Mere external giving up is not enough. The emphasis on
the renunciation of desire was very relevant in the days of
Tiru-Valluvar when large numbers took up celibacy and Sannyas.
Compare Gita 2-59. ("The objects of the senses turn away from
the abstinent man leaving the longing behind; but his longing
also turns away on seeing the Supreme" – Gita.]
Desire is the greatest deceiver. Dread and guard against it.
This vigilance is the whole of the moral code.
If the pain of pains called Desire were kept out, one can, even
in this life attain unbroken happiness.
The Law Of Karma
[Note: The doctrine of Karma as enunciated in Hindu scriptures
is accepted in toto and without any modification in the Kural.
‘Oozh’ is the Tamil word for the Law of Karma, by which the sum
of man’s thoughts, desires and actions in one birth becomes his
start in the next birth or re-embodiment of his soul.
Neither Karma nor its Tamil equivalent ‘oozh’ is to be mistaken
for belief in blind luck. The Hindu doctrine of Karma links all
good and bad luck to what was done or thought in previous
births. Men reap the just and natural reward of every act and
build their natures and tendencies as a result thereof. The law
is unfailing in its rigour. The account is not closed by death,
but carried forward from one birth to another. Causes not
traceable to oneself now must be traced to oneself in past
births. That we do not remember the pat is irrelevant.]
The industry that produces wealth and the indolence that brings
about adversity in this life are brought about by how you lived
in the previous life. Past deeds produce the industry and
indolence, which are the apparent causes of the acquisition and
the loss of wealth in this life.
[Note: The doctrine of Karma is made consistent with the
inescapable relation between work and wealth. This is further
clarified in the next couplet.]
Folly seizes even the wise when it is decreed by the law that
they must lose their possessions, and the dull become shrewd
when their past good deeds are ripe for being rewarded by
Men are of two categories. Some are decreed by the law of Karma
to be prosperous and some are decreed to be wise.
[Note: i.e. the wise need not necessarily be prosperous and the
prosperous need not be intellectually very capable.]
Prosperity comes by the decree of the law of previous good and
bad deeds. The best efforts in this life may not produce good
results where it is not so decreed and the least may yield
prosperity when it is so ordained.
The possessions that do not belong to one according to the
unchangeable decree of Karma cannot be retained in spite of the
most vigilant care, and that which belongs to a man by that
decree cannot be lost even if he were most careless about it.
Even those who have no possession to renounce will not give up
the world and earn the fruits of renunciation, because they have
not earned that wisdom by previous good deeds.
[Note: It may be easy for the poor and the homeless to become
hermits, but they do not, and struggle with poverty and continue
wallowing in worldly attachments and misery, because they have
not earned by their past deeds a mind inclined to renunciation.]
When men have good luck as a result of good deeds in past
births, they accept it without raising any question and enjoy
the full benefit of it. But when they get bad luck, they
complain and vex themselves. Truly men are unreasonable!
Tirukkural Book 2
The negligence that is apt to arise out of the intoxication of
achievement is more harmful than even inordinate anger.
Those who are not vigilant cannot attain greatness. This applies
to all the orders of life; and all codes accept this conclusion.
To the languid and negligent, wealth can give no benefit, even
as fortification cannot give security to cowards.
There is nothing so good as vigilance in dealing with everyone
and at all times without any lapse.
Watch beforehand. He who is not vigilant will repent later in
There is nothing that is impossible if one brings to bear on
one’s work the instrument of a vigilant and resourceful mind.
When you are feeling elated by your prosperity, think of those
who in the past were ruined by lapse of vigilance.
Every aspiration may indeed be achieved if one knows to keep his
aim ever before his mind.
Family virtues (i.e., inherited qualities) naturally persist,
but are apt to disappear unless kept up by unflagging industry,
even as a temple light will go out unless the wick is properly
snuffed and looked after.
When men are fated to be destroyed, procrastination,
forgetfulness, languor and sleep are festive boats that wait to
tempt and take them.
He who falls a victim to inaction, and does not labour
strenuously, first meets with censure from friends, but will
finally have to put up with every one’s contempt.
One can make up for many natural defects through industry.
The king who is fired by the spirit of ceaseless effort will
find the whole world under him.
The Strenuous Life
Let not the magnitude of any task unman you. Strenuous effort
ever brings victory.
Guard against inaction in respect of your allotted task. Man is
born to action. He who fails in this is lost to the world.
The pride of being useful to others can be enjoyed only by those
who are blessed with the spirit of ceaseless effort.
The wish to be useful to society entertained by one who is not
prepared for a strenuous life is like the fond desire of a
weakling to wield weapons of war.
He who is in love with work, and spurns pleasure, can remove the
troubles of his friends and relatives and stand as a pillar for
The dark elder Sister dwells with idleness. She of the lotus
dwells in human effort.
[Note: Sri or Lakshmi is the younger of the two sisters; the
elder sister is the goddess of misfortune.]
No one can blame you if nature has not endowed you with superior
intelligence; but to have knowledge and to fail to put forth
your best effort is blameworthy.
Even if through misfortune the object aimed at is not attained,
the effort pays its own wages.
[Note: That is, honest effort is its own reward. This means that
every honest endeavour raises the man a step higher in the
course of his evolution. In the measure of the energy put forth,
there is improvement in strength and character.]
Sustained and courageous effort enables man to see Fate turn its
back and flee from the field.
[Note: These three couplets lay down that the world may justly
blame you for not making the best of your talents and putting
forth your utmost effort, that sustained and courageous effort
will overcome the course of past karma. And even if you fail to
attain your object, the effort raises your character and takes
you forward in the course of soul-evolution.]
[Note: One’s spirit should not be broken down by misfortune,
adversity or defeat. What is dealt with in these verses is not
the serenity of the mind of the ascetic, but the unperturbed
spirit of the man of action.]
Laugh when you meet misfortune. There is nothing like this to
overcome it and pass on to victory.
Misfortune may come like a flood. But it vanishes in the wise
man’s mind by a thought.
[Note: i.e., misfortune operates on the mind; resolute thought
can overcome it and proceed to the next step to be taken.]
Man is born to be the target of misfortune. The wise man knows
this and will be unperturbed by it.
He who does not allow the craving for pleasure to grow in him,
and who understands that it is the lot of man to meet with
trouble, will not feel it difficult to face misfortune.
If when enjoying good fortune, you keep your mind free from
excitement, you will be proof against grief in misfortune.
[Note: The first thing laid down in Kural dealing with learning
is the duty of relating one’s conduct to one’s knowledge.
Knowledge thus translated becomes culture.]
Acquire a sound knowledge of things that should be learnt, and
then act accordingly.
Learning is divided into two simple divisions, ‘mathematics and
literature or numbers and letters’. They are like two eyes to
The uneducated man’s life, whatever his station may be, is no
better than that of a man cursed with blindness.
Only the literate can be said to have eyes. The unlettered have
but two openings in the face, not eyes.
Learning has to be acquired in fear and humility. The seeker of
knowledge must stand before the learned even as a man in want
stands before the rich giver, eager and trembling. He who is
proud and does not care to undergo this must remain ignorant and
is doomed to inferiority in life.
Study brings knowledge in proportion to the industry bestowed,
even as water oozes into the sandpit in the riverbed in the
measure of the digging.
[Note: The peculiar characteristic of learning is that it is a
double source of pleasure, an intrinsic joy to him who has the
knowledge, and a source of happiness to others who benefit by
While really the learned man finds in his learning his own
pleasure, he sees that others look upon him as a benefactor,
conferring pleasure on them. Hence the truly learned are in love
On Being Unlettered
[Note: The Tamil classics lay very great emphasis on education.
It is indeed often considered as important as the moral
Uneducated men are like alkaline soil. Their existence is
worthless and nominal.
Even if unlettered man displays great good sense, it will not be
recognized by the learned.
[Note: This is not a remark against learned men, but is intended
to insist on the importance of education.]
An unlettered man’s conceit will find its end when the occasion
for speech arrives.
The size and personality of a man who is externally grand but
has not an intellect improved by learning is like the grandeur
of large clay images made beautiful with coloured paste.
Wealth in the hands of ignorant men, and poverty that afflict
learned men, cause grief to them as well as to the world at
large. But between the two misfits, the latter is not so great a
misfortune as the former; for, while poverty cannot cause real
harm to the spirit of the learned, wealth in the hands of the
ignorant is a danger to the world.
The unlettered though born in a higher social class are inferior
in status to those who though born low have acquired learning.
True Knowledge (Book 2)
[Note: ‘Arivu’ is nearer to Discrimination and Wisdom than to
True knowledge is an inner fortification that enemies cannot
destroy, and is the ultimate impregnable defence.
True knowledge controls thought and conduct and keeps both away
from evil, and helps one to keep in the right path.
True knowledge enables one to understand the true import of
things from whomsoever one learns them and not to be misled by
the circumstances in which they appear.
It finds easy and convincing expression for one’s own thoughts,
and enables one to grasp the essence of what is said by others,
be it however complicated.
Knowledge befriends the world. It fosters a spirit of equanimity
saving one from both excitement and depression.
The man of True Knowledge understands how the world moves, and
[Note: ‘Ulagam’ occurs often in Tamil didactic poetry. Though it
literally means the world, it is used here to describe the elite
among the people and not the mass of the people.]
Unlike the ignorant man, the man of True Knowledge knows
beforehand what will befall. Thereby he escapes even stunning
He fears what is truly to be feared, and refrains from it. It is
a folly not to fear what should be feared.
A discriminating mind is the greatest of possessions. Without
it, all other possessions will come to nothing.
Knowledge Through Listening
[Note: Knowledge acquired or confirmed by listening to the
teachings and expositions of learned men was a major division of
learning in our ancient system, apart from knowledge acquired
study. This is called Kelvi in Tamil and the phrase Kalvikelvi
expresses the complete accomplishment of a learned man.]
Listening as a means of learning is particularly prescribed for
the illiterate. It will be a staff to lean upon when beset by
[Note: But the teacher should not only be learned but also be
one who leads the right life. Indeed, the latter is more
The oral precepts of a teacher who leads a good life help one as
a staff helps the weak to walk.
[Note: The poet realises the feeling of despair that must
sometimes come over men who seek to learn by merely listening,
and says, as if for consolation:]
Be it but little, listen and assimilate. It will produce great
Study marked by searching enquiry and much listening to learned
men will save one from foolish statements even if labouring
Listening to the expositions of learned men gives one the
humility of speech that appertains to true learning. Mere study
is apt to leave one conceited.
The friendship of men of character is like the young moon, which
grows as the days pass, but friendship with fools diminishes
with familiarity like the moon after her full phase.
With deeper study one sees more and more beauty in a book and
derives enhanced pleasure. Likewise good men’s friendship does
not lose its freshness but gives increased pleasure every day.
True friendship is that which comes swiftly to the rescue in the
hour of trouble, even as the hand goes instinctively to hold the
dress, when it chances to slip down in company.
Identity of feelings makes friendship; it is needless for
friends to meet often or be long together.
The face may wear a smile at the sight of one, but only he is a
friend whose sight brings about an internal joy, which fills the
The triple service of friendship is to take the friend out of
the wrong path, to lead him into the right path, and to share in
There is nothing so harmful as friendship contracted without
discrimination, because the quality of friendship is that
friendship once made cannot be given up.
Let friendship be contracted only after knowing the man’s good
points, his birth, his defects and his connections (relatives
It is worthwhile making sacrifices to acquire the friendship of
one who is well born and is sensitive to public opinion about
Go out in search for those in whom you find the capacity to
censure you and if necessary make you weep without flinching
when you go wrong, and of leading you into the good path. Make
friendship with such men.
Misfortune has its use in that it serves as a yardstick for you
to spread out and measure the constancy of friends and
Do not entertain thoughts, which must lead to the shrinking of
enthusiasm. Do not make friends with those who instead of giving
you strength weaken you in difficult situations.
It is a gain by itself if one gets away from the friendship of
Do not take trouble to keep up the friendship of worthless men.
It is well to allow it to die out, be they ever so honey-like
What does it matter whether we gain or lose the friendship of
selfish men who when it is profitable to them befriend us and
leave us when it is not?
[Note: ‘Oppilaar’ means men whose conduct is not shaped to
further the life of the community, i.e., selfish, the reverse of
The friendship that weighs advantages is of the same class with
the affections and courtesans and partnership among thieves.
It is better not to befriend than to depend on friends who when
you face trouble desert you, as it is better to go on foot than
ride to battle on an unbroken horse.
The opposition of wise and good men does infinitely greater good
than the closest friendship of a fool.
One gets a million times more benefit from enemies than from the
friendship of mere jolly good fellows and jesters and the like.
Allow your friendship silently to die out with men who fail to
help where they could.
It is bad even in dream to associate with those whose words and
There are some who seek to befriend you at home and in private,
but attack your fair name on public occasions. Avoid all
advances on the part of such people.
Learning and culture have no effect on hatred. They do not help
to remove enmity.
[Note: How true! The mind has a capacity in dividing itself into
compartments, so that unreasoned hatred persists along with
learning and philosophy.]
Do not be misled by politeness or courtesy of language on the
part of enemies. The enemy bends his words as he bends his bow,
which is not for your good.
An enemy’s hands clasped in salutation may conceal a weapon. So
also are his tears (of pretended grief or sympathy) not to be
trusted, i.e., be on your guard and do not be deceived by
external signs of friendship.
The biggest folly among follies is to cherish a desire for a
[Note: When your reason or conscience tells you that a thing is
unworthy of you, it is a folly to waste your mental energy
indulging in thoughts about it.]
There is no bigger fool than the man who has acquired much
learning and preaches the same to others, but who does not
A fool getting hold of wealth is like a lunatic taking
intoxicating liquor, i.e., it was bad enough being mad but
liquor is added to make it from bad to worse.
The friendship of fools is perhaps the best, for in this case
separation brings no grief!
[Note: Tiru-Valluvar often uses sarcasm for enforcing an idea.
It is a distinctive style of his.]
A fool’s entry into an assembly of wise men is like unwashed
feet on a clean bed. One fool ruins the character of a whole
The self-inflicted miseries of ignorance are greater than what
can be inflicted by enemies.
There is no folly so great as the folly that makes men proud of
their own wisdom.
Pretending knowledge of things not learnt, one loses credit for
even such faultless knowledge, as one really possesses.
It is a folly to imagine that by wrapping oneself in cloth, one
has covered one’s indecency, when the greater indecency of a bad
character is still exposed.
Guard Against Deceivers
Protection against the heat of the sun is good. So also is water
good. But sometimes even these become harmful and then they are
to be avoided. Relatives, when they become evil-minded, are a
danger to be guarded against.
There can be no real union in a community when there are mutual
hatreds concealed in the mind, just as a lid of a vessel serves
only to cover and does not become one with it.
Ruled By Women
Those who are governed by their wives are unable to act
generously and boldly in respect of large interests of friends
and society in general. Domination by one’s wife leads to
narrowness of outlook and initiative.
Inordinate attachment to one’s wife is not only an impediment to
the attainment of spirituality, but in the world of action even
it is to be avoided.
Again, he who neglects his duties on account of his attachment
to his wife will find himself overwhelmed by public scandal.
On Lust And Wine And Gambling
[Note: Thirty Kural couplets are devoted to warning men against
lust, wine and gambling.]
The false embrace of a woman who sells her body for money is
like trying to find pleasure in the embrace of the dead body of
an unknown person in a dark room.
[The evil of indulgence in the false sense of well-being
obtained from spirituous drinks, is in Kural, a subject matter
for emphatic condemnation.]
To show reason to one who has indulged in liquor is like taking
a light to search for a man who has drowned in deep water.
Will one in his free moments watch someone else who is drunk and
realise what happens to one when under the mischief of the
Those who drink in secret soon become the laughing stock of the
locality, for the effects of the indulgence cannot for long
Gambling, even if you win, is a thing to be avoided. The winning
is like the fish swallowing the hook.
[Note: ‘Pon’ is now used to denote gold was originally a word to
denote metal in general and in this couplet it refers to the
iron hook used in fishing.]
Even when losing, gambling is sweet and holds the victim in its
grip, resembling in this the attachment to life in spite of
excruciating physical agony, which would be relieved by death.
The sick victim avoids death and holds on to life
[Note: the point is more emphatically enforced by the couplet
reversing the comparison:]
Attachment to life is like the grip that the game (gambling)
gets on its victim.
On The Art Of Healing
Make a careful diagnosis, discover the true cause of the
disease, think out the proper remedy and apply it effectively.
In prescribing the treatment, the good physician takes into
consideration the strength of the patient, the progress of the
disease and the season.
Four elements go to make effective treatment: the patient, the
doctor, the remedy and the attendant.
[Note: The co-operation of the patient and the skilled service
of an attendant were considered no less important than the
doctor and the drugs, even as in modern medical treatment.]
[Note: The following verses recognise restraint in eating as the
great secret of good health. Modern science has confirmed the
importance of the advice.]
If we eat only after making sure that what has been already
eaten has been digested, no drugging will be required to keep
the body in good health.
Make sure that the previous meal has been digested, and wait
till you are quite hungry. Then eat what you have found to agree
with your health.
Even then, the food should be taken in right measure. Moderation
in eating is the secret of longevity.
The man, who stops just a little before he feels he has had
enough, retains the joy of eating; on the other hand, the big
eater invites disease.
Much pain is saved if one learns to eat only what has been found
to suit one’s health and to say ‘no’ i.e., exercise
self-restraint in respect of quantity.
The ignorant man, who eats beyond the measure of the fire or
beyond his power of digestion, must be prepared for all sorts of
The three humours postulated by those learned in the science of
the human body cause disease if there is superfluity or
deficiency, i.e., if excess or deficiency in food or work upsets
When you have wealth, cultivate humility. When your means are
strained, then it is that you should hold your head high.
The hair on the head is a thing of beauty. Removed from its
place, it becomes filth. The same is the fate of men who descend
from their own level of honourable conduct and demean
[Note: many verses in the Kural are devoted to describing the
wretchedness of a life of dependence on the wealthy with the
consequent loss of self-respect.]
Death by starvation is preferable to the maintenance of comfort
and show of respectability by dependence on those who look down
upon you and do not take you as one of them but only render help
as to one inferior.
The world will admire and worship the glory of men who give up
life when overtaken by dishonour.
Glory consists in wealth of spirit. To decide to live though
devoid of it is inglorious.
Equal are all in birth. Distinctions are the result of greatness
in action in some and the absence of it in others.
As a virgin guards her own purity, men should guard their
The high-minded man hides the faults of others from view, but
the little ones busy themselves only about the faults of others.
Looking After The Tribe
The crow does not hide it when it finds something to pick and
eat, but calls its fellows and then starts eating. Prosperity
comes only to men who develop this disposition.
Those relatives that go away for some reason will come back as
soon as you have discovered in yourself the cause of their
desertion and the defect is removed.
If any go away but come back not for affection but for a known
selfish object of their own, the king should not on that ground
summarily reject them.
He should do what they want, but before taking them back into
confidence test them.
When wealth is neither enjoyed by oneself nor given to deserving
persons, the possessor becomes a disease to society.
[Note: Disease, because instead of being healthy units, such men
Wealth that is not utilised for helping the distressed is like a
maiden who is possessed in abundant measure of all the qualities
a wife and a mother should have, being barren to remain and die
Repugnance To Evil
[Note: The quick and instinctive shrinking from wrong and
improper actions is one of the essential elements of good
We use the same word ‘naan’ or ‘naanam’ in Tamil to denote the
repugnance to wrongdoing which a good man feels as to describe
the good woman’s shrinking from immodesty.]
Eating, covering oneself against the weather and the rest are
common to all, but the distinction of good men is the
spontaneous repugnance to impropriety.
Even as life finds its abode in the body and separation from it
means death, so is honour inseparably lodged in a sensitive
conscience, without which it cannot but die.
A sensitive conscience is a jewel that sets off the virtue of
good men. Without it pride becomes a disease of the flesh.
Honour’s true home is the conscience of the man who shrinks from
causing dishonour to others even as he does from soiling his own
Men of honour would give up life for honour’s sake, but never
abandon honour even to save life.
If you break the rules of religion, you are lost to your caste,
but if you act against the dictates of honour, you are lost to
The movements of a man who has not a sensitive conscience are
like the simulation of life by marionettes (puppets) moved by
Strange indeed is the complete physical resemblance of the
unscrupulous to the human species. It is the best example of
mimesis we know of.
[Note: ‘Oppaari’, mimesis is close external resemblance of one
animal species to another though of an entirely different nature
amounting almost to mockery.]
Blessed indeed are the unscrupulous, for they do not suffer from
the anxieties and troubles of those who have scruples.
The unscrupulous resemble the gods, for, like gods, they do what
they please and are bound by no restraints of conduct.
[Note: These three couplets illustrate Tiru-Valluvar’s irony.]
Fear of punishment is the only code for unscrupulous men. They
observe restraints only under the pressure of fear. Sometimes a
little good may be got out of them by operating on their greed.
Good men serve at the mere call to serve. But the worthless
serve only when crushed, like the sugarcane.
What is the use of unscrupulous men in this world? When occasion
arises they hasten to sell themselves.
Many other industries may be taken up, but ultimately the world
depends on agriculture. So despite its troubles, it is the
The tillers of the soil are the axle-pin of the revolving world.
On them depends the sustenance of life for those that, unable to
take up the plough, follow other occupations.
They only live by right that till the soil and grow their food.
The rest are parasites.
The state that has fields waving with full-eared corn will see
the sovereignty of many princes resting under the shade of its
If the tillers of the soil withdraw their labour, even the
serenity and concentration of spirit of those who have renounced
the world will cease to be.
If the ploughed soil is left to dry to a fourth of its bulk
there will be a plentiful crop without even a handful of manure
being put in.
[Note: Adequate aeration of the soil is necessary for raising a
good crop. ‘Thodi’ and ‘kahsa’ are measures of weight related as
4 to 1.]
More important than ploughing is manuring. Then, after weeding
the field, more important than even watering is the guarding of
If the good man fails to bestow personal attention on his field,
then like a neglected wife it turns its face away in loving
[Note: ‘Oodal’ is the reaction of anger to any real or supposed
lapse of attention on the part of the lover or husband. The
farmer’s field too, like the wife or sweetheart, will forgive
and forget as soon as affection and attention are shown again.]
The goodwife Earth laughs at the foolishness of men who sit
idle, bemoaning their poverty.
Every morning opens with the blighting thought of the struggle
for existence that must again be faced.
[Note: ‘Nirappu’ is extreme poverty.]
Even truth gets depreciated in value by reason of indigence
(poverty). The exposition of truth coming from the mouth of the
needy man carries no weight and proves ineffective.
A mother’s love is the one thing that can be expected to stand
unaffected by the exigencies of fortune. Even this is likely to
grow lukewarm when the son is a poor man.
[Note: ‘Aramsaaraanalkuravu’ indigence not associated with
religious duty; or indigence which generally renders even the
performance of man’s essential duties impossible.]
If there were no poor people to seek help, this beautiful world
would be only like a temporary stage for a marionette (puppet)
[Note: i.e., life would be mere physical motion without any
stirring of the soul within.)
If a man approached has an open heart and knows his debt to
society, then, indeed, to be in need and to receive help becomes
a beauty and a pleasure.
If the world were so ordered that some of its inhabitants must
live in dependence and on the mercy of others, the Creator would
indeed deserve the curse of becoming a wandering beggar himself.
There is no dish so sweet as that earned by one’s own labour, be
it but the thinnest gruel.
The ‘No’ of the unwilling man is poison and death to the
suppliant. But it is strange that such mortal poison did not
hurt the man through whose mouth it passed and with whom it was
in primary physical contact.
The Prosperous State
A prince will be a lion among princes whose state has an
adequate army, whose people are industrious, whose country has
ample food resources, who has wise and vigilant ministers, who
commands the friendship of foreign princes, and whose forts are
dependable. The prince who commands these six essentials is a
lion among rulers.
They are fit to rule who possess in unfailing measure
fearlessness, liberality, wisdom and enthusiasm in action.
The necessary good characteristics of a good ruler are
diligence, learning and courage.
A good government never swerves from dharma (righteousness), it
puts adharma out of the kingdom, and its military honour is
The duties of the ruler are production of wealth, conservation
of resources, defence of the state and right expenditure. In a
good government these duties are well performed.
If the ruler is accessible and is not harsh in speech, the state
will attain fame.
If the king acts according to the law and protects his people,
he will be regarded as a god.
[Note: the law in ancient India was not made by legislators, but
was to be culled from the scriptures and established custom. The
king was also to obey the law.]
The people will rest happy under the umbrella of a prince who
has the quality of listening to the advice of his ministers even
when it is unpleasant.
In every action there are the three elements of loss,
acquisition and value. The quality and measure of each of these
three elements should be weighed before undertaking any action.
The prince whose undertakings are carefully launched after
deliberation with a body of tried counsellors will find no
impediment in the achievement of his objects.
The wise do not launch an undertaking by which, for a possible
future gain, they will lose what is already got.
Ill-considered aggressive operations serve only to mobilise and
strengthen an enemy.
But it should be remembered that a merely passive attitude is
ruinous if the occasion calls for action.
Plan fully before launching out on action. To think of devising
ways and means in the course of the action is fatal.
The energy that is spent on action without being first
adequately spent on planning it out, will be empty of results,
whatever may be the manpower placed in the field.
The means adopted should be such as would not be condemned by an
enlightened world which never approves of unworthy means.
[Note: ‘The world’ in Indian classics, Sanskrit as well as
Tamil, means enlightened people. It is not the mere majority of
Many are those whose ambition has led them into aggressive
campaigns without properly estimating the strength at their
command, taking them to destruction.
He meets his end speedily who does not behave wisely towards
alien powers and who does not realise the limitations of his own
strength but loses himself in self over-estimation.
Too great a load of even peacock feathers will break the
axle-tree of the cart.
[Note: It may be a surprise to many that the words ‘achchu’,
‘chaakaadu’, ‘pandam’, whose shape suggests a pure Tamil origin
are Sanskrit words Aksha, Shakat and Bhanda respectively.]
The tree climber can negotiate the branches up to a limit. If
his enthusiasm takes him beyond the limit, he falls and meets
It is not a great misfortune for a state if its revenues are
limited, provided the expenditure is kept within bounds.
The seeming splendour of a career carried on without adjustment
to means, will suddenly disappear leaving no vestige behind.
Judging The Time
Is there anything impossible if the right means are adopted and
the right hour is chosen?
[Note: Tamil absorbed some Sanskrit words thousands of years ago
and so thoroughly that one may not even note them as such;
‘Karuvi’, tool is an example of this kind: ‘Kri’ do.]
The kings who desire to conquer wait calmly for the right time
to arrive for striking.
[Note: ‘Kalangaadu’, without losing their heads, without being
tempted into premature action.]
The restraint of the energetic is like the rearward (backward)
steps that the fighting ram always takes before charging.
[Note: Ram fighting was an amusement common among the Tamils of
The anger of the wise does not exhibit its heat immediately on
provocation, but smoulders within until the time arrives for
Do not stint in courtesies, but show obsequious humility before
your humility before your enemy; when the time arrives for
action, you will be able to make him bow his head before you.
[Note: ‘Kizhakkaamtalai’- the head will go down. This may mean,
as the commentator interprets, will roll down, i.e., by death.
But it is perhaps more in keeping with the spirit of
Tiru-Valluvar’s teaching to take it as bowing in subordination.]
Occasion comes but rarely. When it comes, seize it promptly if
you are intent on a great aim.
Imitate the stork in bidding your time; but when the time is
ripe, act with swift and sure aim as the stork does.
Till you find the place suitable for surrounding the opposing
force, do not begin your attack, and do not commit the fatal
mistake of underestimating the enemy’s strength.
Even if your force is numerous and eager, defensive
fortifications are not to be neglected, as that advantage helps
in many ways.
Though you are weaker in your army, if you choose the right
place to give battle and your operations are conducted with
care, you may win as if you had a bigger army.
The enemy’s plans will be upset if you attack choosing an
advantageous place, and if your forces are well protected.
If full (adequate or proper) thought is spent over the plan of
operations and you are able to choose your own place of action,
there is no need for other support; the courage of your men will
With a large army you should not engage in battle in a place fit
only for a smaller force; for then your full force will not have
room for action and is likely to be demoralized.
Even though their fortifications and army may be weaker, it is
not easy to attack and overcome those who have the advantage of
operating in their native country.
[Note: The importance of favourable time is stressed by the
simile of the owl being defeated by the crow if the fight is
during daytime. The difference wrought by a right choice of
place is brought out by the analogies of the crocodile and of
In deep waters, the crocodile triumphs, but out of the water it
The crow defeats the owl in daytime. The kings who intend to
defeat the operations of their strong enemies must choose the
The strong-wheeled chariot cannot be driven on the sea, and the
boat that moves swiftly on the water cannot be used on land.
Choosing The Executive
Before entrusting a man with power, test his loyalty by putting
him through trials in respect of his attachment to life,
religion, wealth and pleasures.
[Note: i.e., see whether his loyalty or efficiency breaks down
under the stress of his attachment to these several objects that
govern men’s actions. ‘Wuyirachcham’ is the fear of losing life,
and the test is to see whether he is loyal to the king even when
under fear if imminent death.]
Birth in a good family, freedom from defects- moral and
intellectual- and sensitiveness to public censure; these are the
necessary qualifications for being chosen for high office.
Even those who have successfully acquired rare learning and are
known to be free from defects may betray some incompetence under
[Note: That is, probation should finally confirm the choice even
if every other test is satisfied.]
[Note: But as perfect men are not available in the world, a very
practical prescription is given.]
Test and find out the good and bad points and see, which
predominate, and decide.
The touchstone for discriminating the qualified from the
unqualified is conduct.
[Note; There are other indications but the conclusive test is a
Do not choose men who have no relatives. Having no social ties,
they do not fear social blame and are therefore not to be
Choosing by affection, without making sure that the necessary
qualifications are possessed, will bring every form of disaster.
Entrust work to men only after testing them. But after they have
been so appointed, accept their service without distrust. It is
wrong to choose men without care and equally wrong to distrust
men whom you have chosen.
[Note: Those who have had to do with the organisation of
unofficial national work, where the bond that holds leaders
together in service is non-coercive and voluntary, will
recognise the comprehensiveness and accuracy of the analysis of
the qualifications mentioned below for the selection of men.]
Loyalty, a discriminating mind, clear-headedness, freedom from
the lure of property, are four essential qualifications.
Again, in spite of every other test being satisfied, there are
some who are not suitable by reason of the nature of the
particular work to be entrusted to them.
Men should be appointed to duties, who have the ability needed
for their performance and the resourcefulness to meet the
situations arising therein. Everything will go wrong if you
nominate one out of mere friendship or admiration.
Transfer full responsibility to the man, once you fix upon him.
We cannot get the full value of a man if we do not trust him
[Note: ‘Wuriyanaagachcheyal’ bring out the complete entrustment
Fortune will desert him who does not love and trust his diligent
and efficient agent.
If the king unceasingly looks after the upright conduct of his
executive, the people will not go wrong.
The king’s ministers are his eyes. So he should choose them with
Who can hurt the prince that commands the loyalty of advisers
who do not hesitate to give unpleasant counsel and to point out
to him when he goes wrong? The prince who has not this priceless
protection of advisers that have the courage to tell him when he
goes wrong will find his ruin even if there be no enemies to
To be born in a good family is a useful qualification.
Consistency in thought, word and deed and a quick reaction
against anything mean or improper are natural to persons well
[Note: A kind of instinctive resistance keeps them from doing
Old families though poor and unable to be munificent (generous)
maintain their standard of right conduct.
They have something to lose though possessed of no wealth, viz.,
the credit of their families, which keeps them from deceit and
Any fault of theirs, however small, is observed by the world and
shows out clearly even like the spots in the moon.
The sprouts indicate the nature of the soil. So does softness of
speech indicate a good family.
Harshness raises doubts as to good birth.
An instinctive aversion to evil is the secret of a happy and
virtuous life. Courteous behaviour is the essential
characteristic of good birth.
[Note: Kulam venndin = if you desire the advantage of good
birth, which means, if you desire not to lose it: ‘Yaarkkum
panivu’ brings out the need of the spirit of true humility,
which is the essence of courteous conduct, towards not only
those placed above, but equals and those below. A proper
humility is the best adornment of aristocracy of any kind.
‘Nalam’ is ‘good’, in both the moral and Shylockian sense of
‘good’. ‘Naanam’ is a sensitive conscience whereby the
repugnance to evil is made part of the physical organism and the
reaction is quick and spontaneous.]
All dharma and all the codes of teachers are ultimately
dependent on the king’s good government.
The world lies at the feet of the king who rules with benevolent
regard for his people.
[Note: ‘Kudithazhiyi’ denotes great living concern for the
people and government in accordance with their just wishes.]
It is not the strength of arms that give success to the king,
but his rule and its uprightness.
The king will fall and destroy himself who is not easy of access
or does not give the fullest consideration to representations
made to him or does not follow established procedure and decide
It is not a matter for blame, but the office and duty of a king,
who should protect his subjects against external foes and look
after their welfare, to be severe with those that are found to
offend against the law.
Capital punishment for grievous offences is like the weeding of
fields, necessary for the protection of the crops.
Oppression And Misrule
The oppressive king who misgoverns is a worse sinner than the
The tyrant’s request for gifts from his people is like the armed
highway robber’s demand couched in the language of politeness.
As the rainless sky dries up the earth, so does a king devoid of
compassion destroy the people living thereon.
Under a ruler who does not follow the law, it is a greater
misery to be possessed of wealth than to be poor.
The king shall impartially enquire and award punishment, which
should be deterrent but not disproportionate to the offence. Let
there be a severe gesture, but let the blow fall lightly. Thus
shall the king maintain the prosperity of the state.
The king who oppresses and rules by frightfulness will find a
speedy and certain end.
His days are over and he will soon meet his destruction, who
lets his people have a cause to say ‘Our king is cruel!’
Though a man possesses great wealth, if he is difficult of
access and when approached puts on a harsh countenance, his
great wealth is only like haunted treasure.
Harsh speech and excessive and cruel punishments steadily reduce
the king’s power of resistance against his enemies, even as a
file files off iron.
A cruel king gathers round him the most ignorant and worthless
men and he becomes a burden to the good earth.
The Good Minister
A minister should be resolute in action, have the welfare of the
people at heart, possess learning and be ever active.
[Note: The Sanskrit word for minister is ‘amaatya’. The minister
of those days were advisers to the king and also responsible for
He should be skilled in the art of dividing enemies, of
conserving alliances made, and of regaining lost friendships.
There is no such thing as a situation too intricate for the
minister to solve, if he possesses both natural intellect and
learning on the subject of statecraft.
Even if well versed in the accepted theories of action, one
should also understand the current ways of the world, and act
There are some who, though they are good in thinking out and
preparing plans, are not adept in practical action.
The king may be one who, though ignorant himself, also refuses
to listen to wisdom from others. But it is the duty of the
minister to speak out what he deems to be true and good.
[Note: ‘He who slays knowledge’ is the phrase used to describe
the man who rejects words of wisdom.]
A minister who remains by the king’s side and harbours
treacherous thoughts, has the potentiality of seventy crores
(seven hundred million) of opposing enemies.
[Note: ‘Ookkam’ is the quality of mind that shows itself in
eagerness for action without weakening or wavering.]
Real wealth is one’s will to action. Without it all possessions
A vigorous mind is a true asset, material possessions are
fleeting and cannot be depended upon.
Think ever of rising higher. Let it be your only thought. Even
if your object were not attained, the thought itself will have
Success finds its own way like a dependent to go in advance and
honour the man of will.
[Note: ‘adarvinaai’ = enquiring the way, i.e., meting halfway in
The lotus plant grows up to the height of the water. So does man
rise just up to the height of his will.
Huge is the elephant and possessed of sharp pointed tusks, but
it trembles before the tiger.
An aspiring mind is the quality of manhood: without it men are
wooden images of men.
[Note: The department of spies was in the old days considered
one of the most important branches of the public service. Spies
were employed not only to bring intelligence about the movements
of enemies but also to assist in internal affairs.]
The spy service and authoritative books on statecraft should be
deemed as the two eyes of the king.
The duty of a king is to learn at once all that happens at all
times to all people.
The intelligence-men should watch closely all the executive
officers of the state and the relatives of the prince as well as
those that were known to be not well disposed towards the
To be admitted into this service, a man should be skilled in
putting on disguises that raise no suspicion. He should not be
disturbed or unnerved by the scrutinizing looks of those he
observes. He should be able, under all circumstances, to guard
secrets and not give himself away.
The garb of sannyasin (monks) and of religious orders were
favourite disguises to obtain admission into places usually
[Note: ‘iranda’ is stepping over boundaries ordinarily
prohibited. The spy exposes himself to severe castigation on
this account. But he should be able to stand all this and
preserve the secret of his business.]
The information brought by a spy should not be accepted
implicitly, but should be tested through another member of the
The spy service should be so managed that the members do not
know one another. Let there be corroboration through three
sources of information.
Do not confer any public marks of appreciation on the members of
the intelligence service because thereby you would be disclosing
what should be kept from the knowledge of people.
The Art Of Persuasion
[Note: Tiru-Valluvar lays down that power of expression is an
essential qualification for a successful councillor. The
emphasis on the art of persuasive speech and what are stated in
the verses about councillors show that decisions were taken
after debate in assemblies.]
One may possess every other qualification; the gift of
persuasive speech is a thing apart.
The councillors should take great care about their speeches as
they may make or mar the prosperity of the whole state.
What is good speaking?
It should be such as would hold fast the convinced and it should
be pleasing even to the unconvinced.
Speak after making sure that what you say cannot be refuted by
any argument on the other side.
Neither right conduct nor any worldly good can result from
talking above the heads of those who are addressed. Speak
suitably to the capacity and attainments of the audience.
Speak pleasingly and welcome the good ideas in what is urged on
the other side. This is the way of good councillors.
What makes a councillor invincible in debate is a convincing
style, a good memory and fearlessness.
The world loses no time to follow the rare councillor who speaks
weighty things with orderly coherence and sweetness of
It is only those that have not learnt to speak briefly and
correctly that indulge in much speaking.
There are flowers that blossom in plenteous clusters but bear no
sweet fragrance. Like to these are those who, though learned,
have not the mastery of expression to convey their knowledge to
[Note: The minister had to deal not only with the king but also
with a council that sat to deliberate on affairs. The importance
of tailoring one’s speech to the mood and disposition of the
assembled councillors is dealt with.]
Those are masters of the art of speaking who take note of the
disposition and mood of the assembly and choose their words and
adopt a style of speech to suit them.
Good and successful speech requires a careful understanding of
the disposition and receptivity of the audience and a clear
understanding of the subjects talked about.
[Note: ‘idai’ is the receptive mood of the audience.]
Be radiant before those who are radiant. But before the ‘white’
assume the colour of slaked lime. If the audience is composed of
simple folk, hold back your learning and be a simple and
In an assembly of seniors (in age and accomplishments) it is a
wise rule to restrain yourself and avoid preceding them with
It is easy to find men ready to face death in battle, but more
difficult to find men free from nervousness when having to face
Of what use is it for a man who has no physical bravery to carry
a sword? So is mere learning of no use to the man who is nervous
before an assembly of men of keen intellect.
The Moral Law
[Note: Kural insists on the moral law being followed in acts of
Avoid at all times action that is not in accordance with the
[Note: ‘pugazh’ ‘nanri’ denote, respectively, commendation by
the good people of the world and conformity with the moral
Those who seek to be great should refrain from everything that
might tarnish their good name.
Do not do that which good men would condemn even if it means
your helplessly looking on without finding food for your
Success achieved without minding the prohibitions of the moral
law brings grief in the wake of achievement.
To seek to further the welfare of the State by enriching it
through fraud and falsehood is like storing water in an unburnt
mud pot and hoping to preserve it.
Do not do that which your better sense tells you that you will
afterwards regret. But if you have done such a thing, it is well
that you at least decide to refrain from such folly again.
The Dangers Of The Palace
[Note: These are precepts for those whose work keeps them near
kings, telling them how to escape the dangers of courts.]
A courtier should not absent himself too often, nor indulge in
too great proximity to the king. Not too far, not too near, like
one who warms himself near a fire, this is the rule of conduct
for those who have to be near princes whose minds are changeful
Avoid casting your desire on things desired by the prince
himself, if you wish to prosper.
Once suspicion enters the prince’s mind, it is hard even for the
cleverest to set himself right with him. So avoid all cause for
it if you desire to be safe.
Avoid, in the presence of your prince, whispering to someone
else or smiling to someone as if you and he understood something
Do not display any inquisitiveness about the prince’s secret
conversations with others, however important the matter may be.
Wait until he says it to you if at all.
Ever avoid talk concerning things that do not matter, even if
the prince shows interest in them; but concerning things that
touch his interest materially, speak to him what you know
without waiting to be asked.
Do not look on your prince as your junior in years or as related
in such and such wise to you; but let your behaviour be as it
should be to him whose divine privilege and duty is the
protection of men.
[Note: i.e., junior in age and ties of blood should disappear
and be of no effect once the sacred office of king devolves on a
prince. ‘Oli’ is splendour, i.e., the authority and duties of a
The wise minister ever acts as if he were still on probation. He
does not take the prince’s confidence for granted.
It would be disastrous to presume on the familiarity born of
long connection and act contrary to etiquette.
[Note: One is strongly reminded of Bacon when reading these and
some other couplets of Kural. But Bacon came many centuries
Great stress is laid on the ability of those serving in the
king’s cabinet to read his mind. This is as it must be in
serving under autocratic princes or in the cabinets of modern
A Prosperous Nation
The requisites for a prosperous State are industrious producers,
good and learned men forming the elite, and high-minded men of
[Note: An industrious labour force, knowledge and wealth are the
elements that make a prosperous State.]
A State should be free from too many groups and divisions and
from anti-social, destructive elements, and from murderous
offences that disturb the king’s peace.
A State may have everything mentioned in this chapter, yet if it
has not the right kind of ruler, they will all come to nothing.
Fortifications are as important for the prince who, confident of
his strength, sets out on an aggressive operation, as to the
cautious who are satisfied with self-defence.
A good fortress should have a moat with water during all
seasons, and an esplanade, with hills and dense forests around.
The fortress wall, it has been laid down, should be high, broad,
strong, and built so as to be difficult of attack by enemy’s
[Note: there is a long list of defence machines to be found in
Silappadikaaram, Adaikkalakkadai chapter.]
The length to be defended must not be too great, but there must
be ample space inside, and the fort must in all respects be such
as to dishearten the enemy.
The fortress must have good natural defences, and plenty of food
resources inside, and afford scope for the garrison to attack
the enemy from inside without exposing themselves.
Though good in every respect, a fort is yet not dependable
unless it has a good garrison that will rise to the occasion and
knows how to fight in its defence.
A fort should be built so as to be difficult of being taken by
siege, or by storm, or through the betrayal of traitors.
[Note: The importance of a good commander is pointed out]
All the excellences of the fort come to nothing if the commander
is not a man of ability.
A Well Filled Exchequer
There is nothing so effective as wealth, which has the quality
of giving worth even to worthless men.
Wealth leads to dharma as well as happiness in this life if it
is acquired with discrimination in the right way and without
Wealth that can be got by discarding compassion (on the part of
the acquirer) and without love (on the part of those who part
with it) is not to be sought, but should be spurned.
[Note: ‘Arul’ and ‘Anbu’ are here used to express respectively,
tenderness of feeling proceeding from and towards the acquirer.
Applied to the king, this verse condemns cruel exactions.]
Besides the fraction, often stated as a sixth, that is levied as
a tax by the king from out of produce or income, the following
belong to the royal coffers: ownerless property such as
treasure-trove and escheat, transit duties on imports and on
internal traffic, and what is gained in war.
The chief advantage of wealth is the security it gives.
A man of wealth may venture on any action, in that splendid
security with which a man looks on an elephants’ battle from the
top of a hill. He enjoys all the pleasures of adventure and of
triumph without anxiety as to possible reverses.
Make wealth, for there is no other munitions of war so
effective. There is no sharper sword with which to cut the pride
and confidence of the enemy.
Efficiency in Action
[Note: We have here couplets dealing with the principles to be
observed by an efficient minister.]
Efficiency essentially consists in a resolute mind; other things
Two principles of action have been authoritatively accepted in
politics. One, do not undertake action that cannot be
successful; the other, if anything goes wrong in the course of
an undertaking, do not be perturbed, but face difficulties
Success in a great undertaking lies in so ordering one’s action
that the disclosure of the plan coincides with its fulfilment,
i.e., before it is disclosed it should have been accomplished.
Premature disclosure leads to the creation of insurmountable
Anyone can formulate plans, but it is only exceptional men that
are able to carry their plans to fulfilment.
Some men there are in whom an imposing appearance is coupled
with great strength of mind and action even like the little
axle-pin that keeps the wheels of the great chariot in place.
Appearances can be deceptive. Do not judge men by the
unimpressiveness of their external form.
Plan with a clear brain, and when once you have decided and
launched on an undertaking, be firm and unmoved by difficulties,
and dilatoriness in action.
Other things are of no avail, if one does not aim at efficiency
in action. He who does not cultivate this cannot make his mark
in the world.
[Note: This chapter of Kural devoted to aggressive action by
princes displays remarkable practical wisdom, and indicates a
long history of operational experience.]
Decisions should be taken after thorough consideration. But once
a decision is taken there should be no hesitation in action.
There are some operations that should be lengthened out in time;
prolong them accordingly. There are some that demand promptness;
do not be dilatory in such.
Aggressive action, wherever it is feasible, is good. Where it is
not likely to be successful, try other means to attain your
To undertake an aggressive operation and to abandon it without
completing the discomfiture of the enemy is most harmful. Both
ineffectual aggression and the incomplete removal of causes of
enmity are unsafe, like fire that is not fully extinguished. You
may expect trouble to grow in course of time.
Before launching an operation, all the five elements that will
make for success or defeat should be thoroughly considered and
not left untackled, i.e., equipment, strength of forces, the
favourableness or the opposite of time and place, and the nature
of the operation.
[Note: ‘irul theera’ denotes that the consideration should be so
thorough as to remove all doubts. Literally the phrase means
until all darkness is dispelled.]
What has to be done to attain the end in view, the difficulties
that may arise in the course of the operation and the measure of
lasting gain that will finally accrue by success in the
operation, should all be considered before undertaking it.
[Note: It is well not to be aggressive if you doubt your
strength to carry it out or to overcome the difficulties likely
to arise; also, if on dispassionate consideration no great
ultimate advantage appears to follow from it. Weigh the ultimate
gain as against the cost of the attempt and the amount of
opposition to be met with before resolving on such operations.]
Even after all these considerations, one should consult those
who have actually gone through such operations themselves and
who therefore possess intimate knowledge of them.
As one elephant is used to capture another, the experience of
one action should be used to achieve success in another.
Be quicker to compose differences with enemies than even in
rendering good offices to allies.
[Note: This is interpreted alternatively thus: make alliances
with your opponent’s enemies even more promptly than securing
confirmation of friendships already gained. The other
interpretation is: whenever you have to declare war, while it is
necessary promptly to strengthen existing alliances, it is well
to give even greater attention to making alliances with your
enemy’s enemies. ‘vottaar’ is here interpreted as the enemy’s
If your forces are weak, you should take the first opportunity
to yield and make peace before letting your men taste defeat and