Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Family has been the basic unit of the human society for the past several centuries. Although during the past few decades, some attempts are being made to redefine marriage and family, traditionally, marriage means the union of a man and woman and the family means a man (husband), his wife and their children living together in the same household. An extended family could include the parents of the husband and the wife and their close relatives.
Throughout the ages, a small number of people have remained unmarried and a few others renounced their families and followed the ascetic way of life to pursue their spiritual goals. However, a vast majority of people have always lived and continue to live within the confines of family units and only very few have been bachelors and ascetics. Traditionally, it has been the primary responsibility of the husband to generate income for the family. It was expected of those who follow the family life to support their relatives and those who are in need. Specifically, Valluvar mentions eleven categories of people whom the householder is expected to support. First, the most natural group of people who need the support of the householder are his parents, wife and children. Next, are those who pursue the ascetic lifestyle. The ascetics do not have any means of supporting themselves. They depend upon the householders. Then, there are those who are in need of support due to their poverty and then there are those who are forsaken by the society for one reason or the other. Finally, there are five more groups of people. They are the ancestors, gods, guests, relatives and self. It was the custom to remember and even worship the ancestors. If they had expressed their desires, the householder is responsible for fulfilling them. Although the gods are supposed to help the people, the temples where gods are installed may need support for the maintenance and on-going operations. During the days of Valluvar, there were no hotels or other places where travelers could stay and have their meals. It was customary for the families to provide lodging and boarding for the travelers. The relatives and those who are helpful to the family need support from the householder. Last but not least, the householder should take care of himself. Only if the householder is healthy, he can continue to support others. In the following three kurals, Valluvar mentions these eleven categories of people (parents, wife, children, ascetics, poor, desolate, ancestors, gods, guests, relatives and self) who need the support from the householder.
A man leading domestic life is he who supports his parents, wife and children.
(kural – 41)
A man leading domestic life is the one who supports the ascetics, the needy and the desolate. (kural – 42)
It is the primary duty of the family man to support his ancestors, god, guests, relatives, and self. (kural – 43)
Supporting himself, his family and others is not easy. But that should not tempt the householder to earn his living by unfair means. Valluvar says that the householder should earn his living by following straightforward and honest means. By way of encouragement to the householder, he says that if he earns his income by honest means and shares his wealth with others he and his descendants will always prosper.
If a man earns his wealth in a blameless manner and shares it with others, he and his descendants will always prosper. (kural – 44)
Comparison of the family life and the ascetic way of life
An ascetic is one who renounces this world and seeks salvation so that he may either go to heaven or may not be born again. However noble and lofty the ascetic’s goal and his pursuit may be, it is still selfish on the part of the ascetic to seek salvation for himself. The ascetic cannot help others to achieve salvation. Further, an ascetic has no resources to help others in need. Asceticism is about negation of life and the world. Whereas, the householder’s concerns are life and world affirmation. Valluvar supports the life and world affirmation. From his standpoint, the family life of the householder is superior to the self-centered life of the ascetics. He expresses strong support for the householder’s lifestyle.
If one leads a virtuous family life, then what else can one gain by following other ways of life? (kural – 46)
He who leads his family life the right way is superior to the ascetics who aspire for a better life in the next world. (kural – 47)
The effort of he who guides others to lead a virtuous life and leading a life that does not deviate from virtue is more of a penance than the penance of the ascetics. (kural – 48)
Insistence on love, virtue and lack of blame in family life
Valluvar insists that love and virtue are the essential elements of a family life. If there is love in family life, then there will be kindness and compassion towards other family members and kith and kin. If virtue is there, then there will be purity in all the words and deeds of the householder. Also, according to Valluvar, virtue will result in several benefits in this birth as well as in the future birth.
Domestic life itself is a virtue, especially If it is beyond the reproach of others. (kural - 49)
If family life has love and virtue, then love will result in courteous behavior and virtue will lead to benefits. (kural – 45)
Valluvar’s emphasis on the importance of life on earth is evident from the following kural where he says that one who leads a family life the way it is supposed to be led, will be considered as one among the gods. There can be no greater compliment than this for a householder!
He who leads an ideal life in this world, will be ranked among the gods in heaven.
(kural – 50)
Good wife is a gift to a husband
Valluvar considers the husband and wife as partners in the family and their children as their asset. In order for the family to be happy, successful and being respected by others it is necessary for each member of the family to be virtuous and follow the societal norms. The Tamil society to which Valluvar belonged, has always considered chastity as an extremely essential virtue to be possessed by every woman. Although the society condoned promiscuous behavior of the male members, Valluvar strictly condemned such behavior by men. He was against prostitution, adultery and extra-marital relationship. In fact, he says, “Like chastity in women, greatness is found in a man only if he guards himself (kural – 974).” According to Valluvar, chastity is something self-imposed. Others cannot protect a woman and maintain her chastity by keeping her under house arrest or by watching her all the time. She must have the courage of conviction in herself and resolve to maintain her chastity. For a woman, chastity means not even thinking of other men besides her lover or husband. Valluvar echoes the ideas of the society when he emphasizes the importance of chastity for a woman.
What greater treasure can there be, than a woman who has the strength of chastity?
(kural – 54)
Of what use is keeping a woman under house arrest? A woman’s will is the best safeguard for her honor. (kural – 57)
Chastity is only one of the essential qualities of a woman. Valluvar mentions other qualities that an ideal wife should possess. In addition to maintaining her chastity, a wife should take care of her husband, ensure that the family’s good reputation is intact and work tirelessly towards the welfare, happiness and success of the family members. She should also manage to live within the means of her husband.
One who never fails to protect herself, while tending her husband, and keeping the good name of the family and remains tireless is the ideal woman. (kural – 56)
A wife who possesses virtues required for the family and spends within the means of her husband is the ideal life partner. (kural – 51)
In the olden days, it was the husband who was the sole bread winner for the family. In reality, it is not only the responsibility of the wife to live within the means, it is also the responsibility of the husband. In another context, Valluvar says, “The life of a spendthrift who does not live within his means, though seeming to thrive, will perish without leaving a trace (kural - 479).” So, living within the means is a common objective for both the partners of the family.
The Bible says, “Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord (Proverbs 19:14).” Indeed, a good wife is an invaluable gift to her husband. If the wife is good, then he has all the blessings in life. If the wife is not good, no matter what other things a man has is of no avail. A man’s well- being, happiness and success depend on his wife. As the old saying goes, “Behind every great/successful man there stands a woman.” A wife is truly the heart of the family. If the heart fails to function, then other parts of the body automatically fail. So also, if the wife does not possess the needed good qualities, then the family cannot be successful. Valluvar’s emphasis on the importance of a good wife can be seen in the following kurals.
If your wife does not possess the virtues needed for married life, whatever else you possess in life is irrelevant. (kural – 52)
If the wife has all the good qualities needed for family life, then what is it that the family does not have? If she lacks those qualities, then what is it that the family has?
(kural - 53)
The success and pride of a man depends on his wife. If the wife does not have good qualities, the family will suffer, and it will not enjoy the respect of others. Valluvar says, “Those men from families which do not have good reputation, cannot walk majestically like a lion in front of his slanderers. (kural – 59).”
A good wife is a blessing to her husband and to the entire family. Having good children is an added blessing to the husband and the wife. Valluvar says, “An excellent wife is a blessing to the family and good children are its precious jewels (kural-60).”
Children are the assets of the family
A family is incomplete without children. The children’s innocence and playfulness add joy to the family. The food that is all messed up with children’s little hands is sweeter than ambrosia to their parents. The parents feel great joy when they feel their children’s tender bodies. When the young children begin to speak in broken sentences, their meaningless babble is a source of great delight to their parents. To the parents, their children’s babble is sweeter than the melodious music from a musical instruement. Although we don’t know whether Valluvar had any children of his own, his description of the activities of the children and the parents’ joy makes us wonder whether they are his own personal experiences. The relevant kurals are as follows:
The food stirred playfully with the tiny hands of one’s children is sweeter than nectar.
(kural – 64)
Touching the children is a joy to the parents. Hearing their words is joy to the parents’ ears. (kural – 65)
Only those who have not heard their children’s prattle will say that the music from the flute and the lute are sweet. (kural – 66)
Parents feel that their children are their real assets. As children grow up, the parents are interested in their education. They are happy and feel blessed if they find out that their children are intelligent. They are truly happy if their children turn out to be smarter than themselves. In this context, it is interesting to note that that the psychologists have observed that the IQ scores of each generation has been higher than those of their parents over the past 100 years. This observation is known as the Flynn Effect. So, it looks like we are smarter than our parents but dumber than our children!
We know of no greater blessing than having intelligent children. (kural – 61)
In this world, everyone feels happy if their children are smarter than themselves.
(kural – 68)
Valluvar has an interesting observation about the roles of a father and his son. He says that it is the responsibility of the father to help his son to be in the front rows of an assembly of scholars. In general, in any assembly, the people with notable accomplishments to their credit will be seated in the front rows or on the stage. In other words, father’s responsibility is to educate his son and encourage him to become an accomplished and talented individual. In return, it is the son’s duty to become successful in his field so that people will admire him for his accomplishments and wonder how fortunate his father is to have him as his son.
The good thing a father can do to his son is to prepare him for a prominent role in the assembly of scholars. (kural – 67)
The way a son can help his father is to make others exclaim, “What penance did this man’s father do to deserve such a son like him?” (kural – 70)
It is not only the father who will be proud of his son’s accomplishments. Mother will also be equally proud of him. When a woman gives birth to a child, she goes through acute pain and agony. But, when the child is born and when she hears his first cry, she forgets her pain and suffering, and she is euphoric. When others say that her son is a scholar and is perfect in many respects, the mother will feel much happier than when she gave birth to him.
A mother feels more ecstatic when she hears her son being praised by others as a scholar and a perfect gentleman than when the son was born. (kural – 69)
Although Valluvar talks only about the son in kural 69, his remarks are equally valid even in the case of a daughter.
Society consists of families and families consists of a husband, a wife and their children. In some cases, the family may also include other relatives. The husband has the responsibility to earn and support his parents, wife, children, ascetics, poor, destitute people, ancestors, gods, guests, relatives and himself. The wife has the responsibilities to manage her household and live within the means of her husband. In spite of the demands imposed by the roles and responsibilities of the husband and the wife, love and virtue should be the guiding principles of the family. A good wife is a true gift to the husband and the intelligent children are a tremendous asset to the husband and the wife. It is pleasure for the parents to see, hear and touch their children. When the children turn out to be more intelligent then them, the parents will be genuinely happy. It is the father’s responsibility to educate his son and it is the son’s responsibility to become accomplished and successful so that others will wonder the good fortune of his father to have him as his son. It is not only the father who will be proud of his son’s accomplishments, his mother will also be equally happy. In fact, when others speak highly of her son, the mother will be happier than when she gave birth to him. These days, whatever Valluvar says about the son is applicable to the daughter also.
Valluvar emphasizes love, virtue, hospitality, helping others, and education as the ideal values to be pursued in a family. It is more than two thousand years since Valluvar wrote the Kural. The fact that his ideas regarding the family are still valid is a testament to his ageless wisdom.
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இல்வாழ்வான் என்பான் இயல்புடைய மூவர்க்கும்
நல்லாற்றின் நின்ற துணை. (குறள் – 41)
தறந்தார்க்கும் துவ்வா தவர்க்கும் இறந்தார்க்கும்
இல்வாழ்வான் என்பான் துணை. (குறள் – 42)
தென்புலத்தார் தெய்வம் விருந்துஒக்கல் தானென்றுஆங்கு
ஐம்புலத்தாறு ஓம்பல் தலை. (குறள் – 43)
பழியஞ்சிப் பாத்தூண் உடைத்தாயின் வாழ்க்கை
வழியெஞ்சல் எஞ்ஞான்றும் இல். (குறள் – 44)
அன்பும் அறனும் உடைத்தாயின் இல்வாழ்க்கை
பண்பும் பயனும் அது. (குறள் – 45)
அறத்தாற்றின் இல்வாழ்க்கை ஆற்றின் புறத்தாற்றிற்
போஒய்ப் பெறுவது எவன்? (குறள் – 46)
இயல்பினான் இல்வாழ்க்கை வாழ்பவன் என்பான்
முயல்வாருள் எல்லாம் தலை. (குறள் – 47)
ஆற்றின் ஒழுக்கி அறன்இழுக்கா இல்வாழ்க்கை
நோற்பாரின் நோன்மை உடைத்து. (குறள் – 48)
அறன்எனப் பட்டதே இல்வாழ்க்கை அஃதும்
பிறன்பழிப்பது இல்லாயின் நன்று. (குறள் – 49)
வையத்துள் வாழ்வாங்கு வாழ்பவன் வான்உறையும்
தெய்வத்துள் வைக்கப் படும். (குறள் – 50)
மனைக்தக்க மாண்புடையள் ஆகித்தற் கொண்டான்
வளத்தக்காள் வாழ்க்கைத் துணை. (குறள் – 51)
மனைமாட்சி இல்லாள்கண் இல்லாயின் வாழ்க்கை
எனைமாட்சித் தாயினும் இல். (குறள் – 52)
இல்லதுஎன் இல்லவள் மாண்பானால் உள்ளதுஎன்
இல்லவள் மாணாக் கடை? (குறள் – 53)
பெண்ணின் பெருந்தக்க யாவுள கற்பென்னும்
திண்மைஉண் டாகப் பெறின். (குறள் – 54)
தற்காத்துத் தற்கொண்டாற் பேணித் தகைசான்ற
சொற்காத்துச் சோர்விலாள் பெண். (குறள் – 56)
சிறைகாக்கும் காப்புஎவன் செய்யும் மகளிர்
நிறைகாக்கும் காப்பே தலை. (குறள் – 57)
புகழ்புரிந்த இல்லிலோர்க்கு இல்லை இகழ்வார்முன்
ஏறுபோல் பீடு நடை. (குறள் – 59)
மங்கலம் என்ப மனைமாட்சி மற்றதன்
நன்கலம் நன்மக்கட் பேறு. (குறள் – 60)
பெறுமவற்றுள் யாமறிவது இல்லை அறிவறிந்த
மக்கட்பேறு அல்ல பிற. (குறள் – 61)
அமிழ்தினும் ஆற்ற இனிதேதம் மக்கள்
சிறுகை அளாவிய கூழ். (குறள் – 64)
மக்கள்மெய் தீண்டல் உடற்கின்பம் மற்றுஅவர்
சொற்கேட்டல் இன்பம் செவிக்கு. (குறள் – 65)
குழல்இனிது யாழ்இனிது என்பதம் மக்கள்
மழலைச்சொல் கேளா தவர். (குறள் – 66))
தந்தை மகற்குஆற்றும் நன்றி அவையத்து
முந்தி இருப்பச் செயல். (குறள்- 67)
தம்மின்தம் மக்கள் அறிவுடைமை மாநிலத்து
மன்னுயிர்க் கெல்லாம் இனிது. (குறள் – 68)
ஈன்ற பொழுதின் பெரிதுவக்கும் தன்மகனைச்
சான்றோன் எனக்கேட்ட தாய். (குறள் – 69)
மகன்தந்தைக்கு ஆற்றும் உதவி இவன்தந்தை
என்நோற்றான் கொல் எனும் சொல். (குறள் – 70)
அளவறிந்து வாழாதான் வாழ்க்கை உளபோல
இல்லாகித் தோன்றாக் கெடும். (குறள் – 479)
ஒருமை மகளிரே போலப் பெருமையும்
தன்னைத்தான் கொண்டொழுகின் உண்டு. (குறள் – 974)