close logo

Thirukural: Insightful Glimpses through ‘ValluvarUllam’

The Tamil language, also known as Dramida, stands as one of the ancient Indian languages celebrated for its extensive and rich literary heritage. Like Sanskrit, Tamil boasts of five epic poems that transport readers to otherworldly realms through their profound narratives. This piece casts a spotlight on the Thirukural, a masterpiece that holds a revered place among Tamilians. Crafted in the concise couplet format known as Kural, the Thirukural’s fame has transcended linguistic barriers, leading to translations in nearly all Indian languages and several foreign ones. Herein lies a literary exploration aimed at unveiling the uniqueness of the Thirukural and delving into some of its most exquisite verses, offering a portal into the captivating world of Kural. Interestingly, Kural also signifies ‘short’ in Tamil, hence the appellation of Mahavishnu in his Vamanavatara as Kuralan.

The Thirukkural is a renowned ethical guide penned by Thiruvalluvar, a distinguished poet and philosopher. Little is known about Thiruvalluvar’s background or origins, a common trend among eminent poets of ancient Bharatam who focused more on imparting timeless wisdom than on narrating their personal histories. The Thirukkural comprises a total of 1,330 couplets, which can be learned quite effortlessly.

Amidst the myriad research and speculation surrounding Thiruvalluvar’s religious affiliations, “ValluvarUllam” by the eminent scholar and Supreme Court Advocate from Triplicane, the late Sri Kesava Iyengar, captures my interest. An erudite scholar in Sanskrit, Tamil, Latin, and English, known for translating “Sri Paduka Sahasram” into Tamil, Sri Kesava Iyengar’s “ValluvarUllam” presents a compelling case for Thiruvalluvar as a devout follower of Sanatana Dharma. The author elucidates that Thiruvalluvar’s couplets stand as profound reflections of his commitment to Sanatana Dharma. Sri Kesava Iyengar was also the Asthana Vidwan of Sri AhobilaMatam during his time.

Intriguingly, the ValluvarUllam book posits Thiruvalluvar’s original name might have been Srivallabha, illuminating how ‘Sri,’ a symbol of divinity, is customarily replaced with ‘Thiru’ in Tamil to denote sanctity. This insight not only celebrates Thiruvalluvar’s philosophical stature but also enriches our cultural and spiritual understanding of his legacy. Now, let’s explore a few couplets from the Thirukural and their relation to dharma as interpreted by Sri Kesava Iyengar.

(Figure 1: Cover page of the very old copy of the ValluvarUllam book published sometime in the 1980s.)

Let’s delve into the Thirukural’s inaugural verse:



(“All letters begin with ‘A’, symbolizing how the Almighty is the foremost in the world.”)

Thiruvalluvar commences his opus with the auspicious ‘A’. This tradition, prevalent among ancient Indian poets, involves invoking their chosen deity or beginning with an auspicious letter. MahakaviKalidasa, renowned for his significant contributions to Sanskrit literature, initiates his epic “Kumarasambhava” with the letter ‘A’. The adage “akāroviṣṇuvācakaḥ” signifies the letter ‘A’ as emblematic of Lord Vishnu. Thiruvalluvar’s choice to start with ‘A’ not only adheres to this revered custom but also reflects his devotion, aligning him with the traditions observed by other illustrious authors.

Our second analysis centers on Kural about listening and knowledge:





(“Among all forms of wealth, the pinnacle is the wealth of listening; this surpasses all other wealth.”)

This Kural emphasizes the supreme importance of listening. Knowledge, universally acknowledged as the greatest wealth, is primarily acquired through attentive listening. Our ancestors consistently stressed that the wealth of knowledge, especially gleaned from our preceptors, holds inestimable value.

Furthermore, Sri Kesava Iyengar states, the term செவி (Sevi) echoes the Sanskrit श्रुतिः (Sruti), signifying both ‘ears’ and the ‘Vedas’. This duality suggests an additional interpretation: the Vedas, as the ultimate repository of wisdom, represent the highest form of wealth, unrivaled in their value. Proficiency in the Vedas, coupled with living a life in alignment with their teachings, is heralded as a path to salvation, elevating this sacred knowledge above all worldly treasures.

Our journey brings us to another profound Kural:





(“For those who obliterate all virtues, redemption may yet be within reach; however, for those who negate gratitude, redemption remains elusive.”)

Through this Kural, Thiruvalluvar conveys a potent message: amidst life’s moral complexities, the gravest sin is neglecting to honor the kindness bestowed upon us. While various misdemeanors can be rectified, ingratitude stands as an unpardonable fault.

This sentiment mirrors a poignant caution from the Valmiki Ramayana, specifically in the Kishkinda Kanda:



(goghnecaivasurāpe ca core bhagnavratetathā।


Here, Lakshmana chastises Sugreeva for neglecting to aid Rama in the search for Sita. He asserts that while atonement exists for sins such as cow slaughter, oath-breaking, or intoxication, none is available for overlooking a benefactor’s favor. Sri Kesava Iyengar writes that Tiruvalluvar’s inspiration from this epic passage is clear, showcasing his work’s deep connectivity with ancient Indian scriptures.

Our concluding exploration leads us to the following Kural:





(“Anxiety of the mind cannot be alleviated, except by those who have devoted themselves to the feet of the Incomparable One.”)

Thiruvalluvar elucidates that for those who have embraced the path of Sharanagati Dharma, surrendering at the divine feet, fear and anxiety are alien concepts. This notion aligns with various verses from the Bhagavad Gita, including:

मत्त: परतरंनान्यत्किञ्चिदस्तिधनञ्जय|


(mattaḥparataraṃnānyatkiñcidastidhanañjaya |

mayisarvamidaṃprotaṃsūtremaṇigaṇāiva ||)

(This verse from Lord Krishna to Arjuna declares, “Beyond Me, there is nothing higher, O Arjuna! Everything in this universe is woven through Me, like pearls on a string.”)

Lord Krishna implores Arjuna to seek refuge solely at His divine feet – मामेकंशरणंव्रज! (māmekaṃśaraṇaṃvraja!), promising salvation and reassuring not to worry – अहंत्वासर्वपापेभ्योमोक्षयिष्यामिमाशुचः।(ahaṃtvāsarvapāpebhyomokṣayiṣyāmimāśucaḥ।). When one is under the Lord’s protection, what is there to fret about? This Kural masterfully conveys the assurance and peace that comes with divine surrender.

As we wrap up, I wish to honor the literary brilliance encapsulated in “ValluvarUllam” by Sri Kesava Iyengar. It is a gem, employing a pristine form of Tamil, rarely seen today. The “ValluvarUllam” book links many more Kurals to Azhwar’s prabandhams, the Mahabharata, Vedas, Upanishads, and Puranas, offering a unique lens through which to view the Thirukural and Thiruvalluvar. This book is undoubtedly a crowning gem for any library, promising readers a fresh perspective on these timeless texts.

Feature Image Credit:

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. Indic Today is neither responsible nor liable for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in the article.