Sunday, August 14, 2022

Valluvar's Answers to FAQs

Dear friends,


I would like to introduce my new blog,” Simple Answers to Serious Questions.” for which the link is as follows:

You can think of these as Valluvar’s answers to FAQs. These are answers from Thirukkural to various questions. I have included the appropriate kurals in English and Tamil. Each question addresses a topic related to one of the chapters in Thirukkural. I am hoping this will be useful in introducing Thirukkural to people who have no familiarity with Thirukkural.

At present, there are 119 posts on this blog. They are based on the first sixty-three chapters of Thirukkural. So far, there has been good feedback from the readers worldwide.

If you have not had a chance to look at this blog, please take a look and let me know your comments.

Thank you.




Thursday, January 6, 2022

Valluvar on Leadership

  Valluvar on Leadership



History is full of examples of remarkable achievements by outstanding individuals. The conquerors like Cyrus the Great (580 BC – 529 BC), Alexander the Great (356 BC – 323 BC), Emperor Asoka (304 BC – 232 BC), Attila the Hun (406 AD – 453 AD), Genghis Khan (1162 AD – 1227 AD), Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 AD – 1821 AD) and others like them are remembered for their extraordinary military victories. The entrepreneurs like Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates are examples of men who relentlessly pursued their vision and are admired for their phenomenal success in their business endeavors. The dedicated freedom fighters and civil rights activists like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King are revered for their selfless sacrifice and pursuit of their vision with great determination. The conquerors could not have achieved their victories without the help of the brave warriors who fought for them. The entrepreneurs could not have been successful without the assistance of men and women who worked for them. The freedom fighters could not have achieved their goals without the support of their enthusiastic followers. In addition to the conquerors, entrepreneurs and freedom fighters, others like them have successfully achieved their goals and visions in their various ventures. Despite the differences in their visions and goals, there is one thing common with all these people and others like them. Undoubtedly, they are all considered leaders in their chosen field of activity.


Who is a leader? With the advent of the political parties during the late 1600s and the industrial revolution during the 18th century, human society has undergone significant changes, and consequently, more leadership opportunities have emerged. Today, we have hierarchies of leaders in government, military, politics, labor unions, corporations, non-profit organizations, religious groups, and other organized groups. The role of a leader varies from one group to another. Do all these leaders have anything in common? What exactly is leadership? Warren Bennis, an American scholar, organizational consultant, author, and expert in Leadership Studies, defines leadership as the capacity to translate vision into reality. Peter Drucker, a well-known management consultant, and author defines leadership as the ability to do the right thing. Others define leadership as the ability to organize a group of people to achieve a common goal. Although the definitions vary, it is generally accepted that leaders achieve the right goals by organizing and motivating other people to accomplish those goals.


What are the essential qualities of a leader? Is leadership an inborn quality, or is it something that anyone can learn? These questions have received the attention of researchers only during the past two centuries. However, there is no consensus among the researchers regarding the answers to these questions. For example, John C. Maxwell, an American author who has written many books on leadership, contends that charisma is an essential quality of a leader. Generally, charisma is defined as a special charm or appeal that causes people to feel attracted by others. Peter Drucker claims that charisma is not an essential quality of a leader. He cites the examples of US presidents Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Harry Truman, who, according to him, had no charisma whatsoever. Despite this disagreement between John Maxwell and Peter Drucker on the need for charisma as an essential quality of a leader, there is no disagreement that a leader must have several distinguishing qualities that make him a leader. The controversy is only about the set of qualities that are really essential for a leader. What one researcher considers an essential quality is not regarded as essential by others.


During the days of Valluvar, other than a king, there were no others who could be considered a leader of any significance. Valluvar deals with many topics in the Kural. Of all the topics, the one that gets most of his attention is Kingship. Out of the 133 chapters in the Kural, twenty-five of them deal with the qualities necessary for a king and how he should govern his country. While Valluvar considers some of the qualities essential, he treats a few other qualities as desirable for a king to be recognized as an outstanding king. These ideas of Valluvar are very similar to those of many modern-day researchers regarding the qualities of a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a corporation or leader of an organization.


Valluvar’s ideas on the essential qualities of a king

In the section on Kingship, Valluvar lists several qualities as essential for a king to be an effective ruler. The following three kurals contain a total of ten qualities that Valluvar considers essential for a king:


The kingly character never fails in these four things, namely courage, liberality, wisdom, and energy.                                                                   (kural 382)                                                                            


Alertness, learning, and bravery are the three virtues that should never be absent from the ruler of a country.                                                        (kural 383)                                                                        


A king should not swerve from virtue; he should eschew vice and maintain his honor without sacrificing courage.                                                 (Kural 384)


In addition to the above three kurals, some of Valluvar’s other ideas on the essential qualities of a king can also be found in several chapters in the section on Kingship. In the following paragraphs, related qualities are grouped to present a coherent summary of Valluvar’s ideas. Also, the concepts of modern researchers on leadership are presented so that the reader can appreciate the ageless wisdom of Valluvar and its relevance to the contemporary period.


Courage:  Courage is the ability to face fear, pain, danger, and uncertainty and take action despite them. Nelson Mandela, the South African revolutionary who fought against apartheid and later became the president of his nation, said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”  It was not uncommon in the past for a king to be involved in combats and confrontations with enemies foreign and domestic. Therefore, a king should always be alert and courageous to confront his enemies. Valluvar considers courage an essential quality for a ruler (kural 382). As seen from the following kural, Valluvar favors courage tempered by discretion. For Valluvar, valor without discretion is foolishness.


Not to fear what ought to be feared is foolishness; the truly wise will fear what should be feared.                                                                                                      (kural 428) 

Like a king, a present-day leader could face ideological clashes, differences of opinions, rivalry, and jealousy from within the ranks of his organization or from his competition. The leader should anticipate these situations and carry out his plans despite the unfavorable situations and uncertainties that confront him. There is always a possibility that he may fail in his attempts to face adverse situations. There is always a chance of failure. Those who can overcome their fear of failure and are not afraid to take calculated risks have a better chance of succeeding against adverse situations. Eddie Rickenbacker was a famous fighter pilot during World War I, and he later became the CEO of a major airline (Eastern Airlines). When he was asked about his courage in combat, he admitted that he had been scared. “Courage,” he said, “‘is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.” 

 Modern writers like John C. Maxwell and Peter Drucker insist that leaders see leadership as a responsibility rather than a rank or a privilege. According to Peter Drucker, “Effective leaders are rarely permissive. But when things go wrong – and they always do – they do not blame others.”  They take responsibility for their failures. A leader needs to have the courage to accept his failures and to take responsibility for them. It is interesting to note that the leaders like Nelson Mandela, John Maxwell, and Peter Drucker agree with Valluvar that courage is one of the essential qualities for a leader. 

Bravery: Although sometimes courage and bravery are used interchangeably, they are indeed two different things. Courage involves the presence of fear and acting despite the presence of fear. Courage requires fear, while bravery does not. Courage is a means to achieve an end. On the other hand, bravery is the end as well as the means. When a mother jumps into a burning house to save her child, she is aware of the consequences and afraid of being burnt alive along with her child. Her act is despite her fear. It is an example of a courageous act. In the biblical story, where David fought against Goliath and won despite Goliath’s size advantage, David was merely motivated to fight, and there was no fear involved. That is an example of bravery. Courage entails a cause such as love, passion, compassion, concern, etc. Bravery maintains its essence even without a cause. 

From the point of view of Valluvar, bravery refers to the ability of the leader to carry out and implement his decision fearlessly once it was made after due considerations of the pros and cons of the issues involved.

         Liberality: Valluvar lists liberality (kural 382) as one of the essential characteristics of a king. Liberality is the quality of being generous. According to Valluvar, liberality is a virtue that everyone should practice. In particular, helping the poor without expecting anything in return is the true hallmark of liberality. A king has virtually unlimited resources, and his liberality would be immensely beneficial to the destitute and the people in need. In his book on “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader”, John C. Maxwell says, “Nothing speaks to others loudly or serves them better than generosity from a leader. True generosity isn’t an occasional event. It comes from the heart and permeates every aspect of a leader’s life, touching his time, money, talents, and possessions”. Another well-known author, Steven Covey refers to liberality as “abundance mentality” in his book on “Principle Centered Leadership” and considers liberality one of the three essential qualities of a leader along with integrity and maturity. The habit of being generous reflects a leader’s concern for others and his ability to add value to others. That is why liberality is considered an essential quality for a leader. Here again, we notice the striking similarity between Valluvar and modern writers in their thinking about liberality as an essential quality for a leader.


Learning: Learning is the act of acquiring new information about various things. When we use our intelligence to understand the relationships among the various pieces of information, we gain knowledge. The more we understand the information we have learned, our knowledge increases. Learning can be accomplished through formal education, self-study, experience, observation, or listening to others. Valluvar considers that learning and improving our knowledge is necessary for everyone.  In the following kurals, Valluvar emphasizes the importance of learning.


Water will flow from a well in the sand in proportion to the depth to which it is dug, and so also knowledge grows in a man in proportion to his learning.                  (Kural 396)

Learning is the true imperishable asset of excellence for a man; all other assets are not real assets.                                                                                                       (kural 400)

Learning is necessary, but even those who are not formally learned should learn by listening to the wise, for such learning acquired through listening will serve as a staff of support in times of distress.                                                                            (kural 414)

The wealth (of information) gained through listening is the wealth of all wealth, and it is the greatest of all wealth.                                                                                (kural 411)

When there is no food for the ear, give a little also to the stomach.               (kural 412)

     Wisdom: A king can indeed gain significant knowledge through formal education and learning by listening to others. But is knowledge alone sufficient for a king to make the right decisions? Valluvar believes that a king should also have wisdom in addition to knowledge. What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? As already mentioned, knowledge is the collection of information that someone is aware of. On the other hand, wisdom is thinking and acting using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight. Wisdom is the ability to make correct judgments and decisions. It is needless to say that wisdom has always been considered a sine qua non for a leader of any organization. Therefore, it is not surprising that Valluvar should include wisdom as an essential requirement for a king. He has included a chapter on the Merits of Wisdom (Chapter 43). The following kurals (from Chapter 43) highlight the significance of wisdom for a king:


Wisdom is the ultimate and impregnable defense for protection against destruction; it is an inner fortress that enemies cannot destroy.                                      (kural 421)      


      No terrifying calamity will happen to the wise who foresee and guard against potential evils.                                                                                                (kural 429)

Those who possess wisdom possess everything; those who have no wisdom, whatsoever they may possess, have nothing.                                             (kural 430)


     According to Plato, the Greek philosopher, philosophers are the ones who possess the cardinal virtues like wisdom, courage, temperance (discipline), and justice, and therefore, they are the only ones who should become the rulers. But Valluvar is realistic, and he knows that kingship is either inherited or through sheer might one overthrows the prevailing king of a country and establishes a new dynasty of his own. Therefore, instead of making a philosopher a king, Valluvar prefers the king to gain knowledge and wisdom through education, training, association with wise counselors, and becoming an effective ruler. This is also true in modern-day democracies.


Energy:  Energy is the strength and vitality required for sustained physical and mental activity, and it is the energy that enables one to achieve one’s goals. In addition to mentioning energy as a prerequisite quality for a leader (in kural 382), Valluvar has a chapter (Chapter 60) for energy and its importance for one and all. According to Valluvar, energy is the ideal possession that one could possess, and all other possessions are not real possessions (kural 591). In other words, one with energy can obtain and retain his wealth and other things of value under all circumstances. He adds that success and wealth will seek their way to the one with the inflexible will and unfailing energy (kural 594). In addition to having energy, he also advises that a king (as well as others) should always think lofty thoughts.


Think lofty thoughts always; even if they fail to materialize, it is still as good as having materialized.                                                                           (kural 596)      


In the above kural, Valluvar implies that the combination of energy and lofty thoughts will lead to persistent hard work, resulting in success.


A practical application of Valluvar’s ideas on energy can be seen in the management philosophy of Jack Welch, the legendary Chief Executive Officer of the General Electric Company (GE). He had devised a system of 4E’s and followed it meticulously to achieve phenomenal success at GE. According to Jeffrey A. Krames, the author of “Jack Welch and 4E’s of Leadership”, it all begins with energy. Leaders must have other strengths such as intelligence and decision-making ability, but the energy converts good ideas into measurable performance. Jack Welch’s 4E system consists of the following four basic principles: 1) leader has energy; 2) leader energizes others; 3) leader has the competitive edge and 4) the leader executes. Jack Welch’s successful application of the system of 4E shows the wisdom of Valluvar in espousing energy as an essential quality for a leader.


Alertness: Alertness on the part of a king makes it possible for him to identify opportunities and look for potential threats to his country and his own authority. An effective ruler cannot afford to be idle, slothful, or forgetful. He should be ready to act without much delay. The absence of forgetfulness and laziness helps a ruler to be alert and watchful. Alertness and the lack of forgetfulness and sloth lay the foundation for a ruler’s success. To emphasize the need for alertness, Valluvar has dedicated a chapter on the Evils of Forgetfulness (Chapter 54) and another chapter on the Importance of Avoiding Sloth (Chapter 61). Valluvar’s ideas regarding the need for alertness and avoiding laziness and forgetfulness are always valid and essential qualities for a modern leader. Nowadays, it is customary for CEOs and national leaders to use sophisticated technological tools to monitor the threats and opportunities and get daily or weekly briefings from their subordinates regarding issues requiring immediate attention. Of course, it is up to the leader to take advantage of the information he receives and to remain alert.


Not swerving from virtue: Here, virtue does not refer to the personal behavior of the king.  It refers to the just and the right ways of ruling the country.


Eschewing vice: Here, the term vice does not refer to the evil deeds to be avoided by the king in his personal life. Eschewing vice means preventing evil and vicious activities of the evil people in the country.

Maintaining honor without sacrificing courage: In this context, the king should protect his honor by maintaining high standards of courage, righteousness, and morality in warfare. Any evidence of cowardice or lack of moral values on the part of the king would not help him to maintain his honor.


Valluvar’s ideas on the desirable qualities of a king

In addition to the ten qualities listed above as essential for a king, Valluvar also mentions a few other desirable qualities for a king to have if he were to excel as a ruler. Even without these desirable qualities, one could be a king. But these qualities would help him to become an outstanding ruler. The following eight kurals contain a total of fourteen qualities that Valluvar considers desirable for a king to have a positive impact on his people and to be ranked as an outstanding king:


He is the beacon among kings who has these four qualities: beneficence, benevolence, rectitude, and concern for the citizens.                           (kural 390) 

The whole world will dwell under the umbrella of the king who can bear bitter criticism.                                                                                               (kural 389) 

If the ruler is easily accessible and not harsh in his speech, the world will shower high praise on him.                                                                                (kural 386)


The world will praise and obey the king who speaks kind words and

generous in giving.                                                                              (kural 387)


If a king administers justice and protects his subjects, he will be

regarded as God.                                                                               (kural 388)


Let the king cherish the friendship of wise and accomplished persons (wise counselors) to solve the present problems and prevent future ones.  (kural 442)


If you encounter adversities, laugh at them. There is nothing like that to overcome them.                                                                                                     (Kural 621)

When a task seems impossible, do not be disheartened. Persistent efforts will help you to achieve greatness.                                                                        (kural 611)


Benevolence and Beneficence: Although sometimes benevolent and beneficent are used interchangeably, they mean different things. The word “benevolent” is from the Latin word velle, which means “to wish,” and therefore benevolent refers to the “desire to do good.” On the other hand, the word beneficent is derived from the Latin word facere, which means “to do,” and hence beneficent implies  “the act of doing good”. Obviously, one has to be benevolent to be beneficent.


In the case of a king, benevolence implies helping his citizens, conducting his judiciary as well as administrative duties with compassion. According to Valluvar, “Gracious compassion is the unique great quality, because of which the world exists (Kural 571).”  The fact that Valluvar has included the chapter on Gracious Compassion (Chapter 58) in the section on Kingship implies that Gracious Compassion is really a highly desirable quality for a king.


 In the context of kural 390, beneficence also refers to the ability of a king to recognize people with knowledge and talent and reward them appropriately. The people whom he rewards may be his citizens, staff, scholars, or artists.


The modern-day CEOs are expected to be cognizant of their social responsibilities and provide support and assistance to deserving social causes. The CEOs are also responsible for establishing fair and equitable policies and enforcing them to reward the employees with salary increases and other benefits based on their talent and performance. So, benevolence and beneficence are considered equally important for the modern-day leaders as well the kings during the days of Valluvar.


 Rectitude: In the Kural, Rectitude is considered a highly desirable quality for a king. Rectitude means just rule. During the days of Valluvar, or for that matter, even before and after Valluvar’s days, the kings had judiciary, legislative, and executive powers. In other words, the king had the authority to make laws and enforce them. As a result of this monopoly of power, a king might be tempted to be indiscriminate and partial in judicial matters. Valluvar lays down a very important principle of jurisprudence. He says, “A fair-minded king takes cognizance of all the offenses and does not show favors to anyone while rendering justice. Where necessary, he consults men of law and awards the penalty (kural - 541).”  This principle of fairness applies to all aspects of the king’s administration. Valluvar condemns the practice of excessive taxation or any other imposition of financial hardship on the people as a highly undesirable quality and that it will lead to the king’s ruin. He says, “The sceptered king demanding illegitimate gifts or extorting excessive taxes is like armed robbery. (kural 552).” He also warns, “The tears of the oppressed people who are unable to endure the sufferings are the sharp weapons that destroy the king’s riches (kural 555).”  Of course, history has several examples of dictators who were overthrown because they subjected their people to cruel and unusual punishments and imposed enormous tax burdens upon them.

         In the modern era, the governments stipulate the rules by which the businesses and other enterprises should operate, and if they fail to operate according to the laws of the land, the businesses are liable for punishments. It is the responsibility of the CEO to ensure that his organization is compliant with the laws of the land. Besides being compliant with the laws, it is also the responsibility of the CEO to ensure that fair practices are followed in all aspects of the administration.  

Concern for the Citizens: It is wise for a king to have the utmost concern for his citizens. If the king is indifferent towards his citizens and if the citizens are unhappy, then he will not enjoy the loyalty of his citizens, which may result in a lack of support for him in case of aggression or war against his country by his enemies. In the case of the CEOs, they have no counterpart for the citizens of a king. However, for a CEO to be successful, he must have concern for his employees and the consumers whom his organization serves. 

Although the form of government has changed over the years, Valluvar’s thesis that it is desirable for the rulers and leaders to be impartial in their judgment and being fair in their administration, and having concern for their citizens, staff, and consumers seems to be another example of his ageless wisdom.

         Tolerating bitter criticism: It is unusual for a king to encounter direct criticism. Kings and leaders are usually surrounded by sycophants who shower false praises and rarely offer any criticism. But listening to the sycophants and ignoring those who dare to criticize is detrimental to a king or a leader. Valluvar considers that it is very important for a king to listen to his advisors who are bold enough to offer bitter criticism. In fact, he says, “A king without the courageous counselors who can rebuke him will destroy himself even if there is no enemy to destroy him (kural 448).”  Of course, it is not enough to have counselors who can offer criticism. The king should listen to their criticism, however harsh and bitter it is and analyze the merits of such criticism and follow their advice whenever they deserve consideration. By way of encouraging the king to listen to his advisors’ criticism, Valluvar says, “Who is there strong enough to destroy the king who has counselors who would reprove him when he errs (kural 447)?”

         In the modern era, in the democratic forms of governments, the role of the opposition party is to offer meaningful criticism to the rulers. In the corporate environment, the Board of Directors, and the shareholders, have the right to criticize the CEO. So, Valluvar’s idea regarding listening to bitter criticism has now become a routine practice in the organizations of the present era. Of course, it is an entirely different matter whether such criticisms are being accepted and acted upon by those in power.


Ease of access and not using harsh words: The kings have the privilege to act as they wish, and generally, they are not subjected to any punishments for their obnoxious behavior. The occasional outbursts of anger by a king may not have serious consequences. However, if a king is routinely abusive in his speech and not easily accessible for his citizens and staff, people will avoid meeting him. That will result in his not getting the right information at the right time, and the king might eventually be surrounded by sycophants who are willing to tolerate the king’s behavior in return for some anticipated benefit. In the long run, the king will suffer from isolation from and alienation by his staff and citizens. He would lose their loyalty and support in case of a war, making it easy for his enemy to win over him. The advice regarding ease of access and not using harsh words is equally applicable to the present-day rulers of nations and the leaders of business enterprises also. 

Speaking kind words and being generous in giving: If one does not use harsh words, that does not mean he is using kind words. It is important for the king to be kind towards his subordinates and his citizens to get their cooperation. It also helps the king if he can show genuine empathy towards people who are in need and help them by giving money or other valuables.  In the section on the essential qualities for a king, it was mentioned that liberality is one of the essential qualities.  If so, what is the difference between liberality and being generous?        Although liberality and generosity are considered synonyms, there is a slight difference between the two words. Liberality is an attitude whereas, generosity refers to actually giving willingly with a genuine concern for the need of the recipient.

Administers justice and protects his subjects: A king is expected to administer justice and protect his subjects.  But some kings may not do so. If the king fails to administer justice and protect his subjects, there is not much that his subjects can do about that. If a king does administer justice and protects his subjects, his subjects will be very pleased and be thankful. They may even consider such a king a savior or perhaps even a God. 

Company of wise Counselors: Valluvar considers that it is also desirable for a king to keep the company of wise counselors who are truly interested in his welfare and who can offer him valuable advice. He discusses the merits of the company of wise counselors (Chapter 45) and complements that with a chapter (Chapter 46) on the evils of associating with the mean people. The following kurals from Chapter 45 describe the importance of counselors for a king:

 Let a king ponder well its value and secure the friendship of men of virtue and                   mature knowledge (wise counselors).                                                (kural - 441) 

It is the rarest of all rare privileges for a king to have wise and great men as his counselors.                                                                                           (kural - 443)


        Throughout history, we can find several examples of counselors offering valuable advice to their kings and the kings being immensely benefitted by such advice. Akbar the Great ascended the throne of the Mogul empire of India at the young age of thirteen. It is said that Akbar could not read or write. But he had an extraordinary group of nine distinguished men who served him as his counselors, and with their help, he could rule his empire very successfully. Other examples of great emperors who came to power and depended on their advisors would include Peter the Great of Russia, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Alexander the Great of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon, and so on. So, the contribution of the counselors to the kings and monarchs of the past cannot be underestimated. In modern-day democracies, ministers and various other advisors keep their leaders well informed with up-to-date information and intelligence and offer them timely advice. So, Valluvar is giving due recognition to the vital role of wise counselors by acknowledging its importance.


Being undaunted by adversities: A king is likely to encounter any number of adversities and setbacks. He cannot afford to succumb to the thought of failure. His staff would be looking to him for leadership and guidance to overcome adverse situations. Without being undaunted by adversities, he should consult with his advisors, analyze his options and forge ahead with the courage to combat the adversities. To act with determination and courage, Valluvar suggests that one should laugh at the adversity because that is the best way to overcome it. This is like the comment made by the Scottish philosopher and poet Thomas Carlyle who said, “Wondrous is the spirit of cheerfulness and its power of endurance.”  Of course, this advice by Valluvar is applicable not only to the kings and leaders but to everyone. However, in view of the grave consequences that might result from a king or a leader’s inability to triumph over adversities, this suggestion by Valluvar is undoubtedly more relevant to kings and leaders.

Never give up: According to Valluvar, one should not become disheartened and give up the persistent efforts because the task at hand is daunting. Although this advice is general and applicable to everyone, in view of the importance of the responsibilities of kings and leaders, the quality of “never giving up” or tenacity is more relevant to them.



The political, social, economic, scientific, and technological developments that have occurred during the past two millennia have entirely reshaped the world. For example, monarchies have disappeared in many countries, giving room to democracies; secular governments have replaced theocracies. Societal values have changed considerably. People recognize the need to eliminate discrimination of all kinds based on caste, race, language, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, etc. Such a Utopia may never exist, but people are at least thinking on those lines. In the case of the economy, the modern-day trade, commerce, and worldwide markets are a long way from the rural economy based on a barter system of the past. Science and technology have constantly been evolving and reaching new heights that our forefathers could not have even imagined. Despite these evolutionary and revolutionary changes undergone by the world during the past two thousand years, many ideas of Valluvar are still valid and are valuable even today. Valluvar’s ideas on leadership are examples of his ageless wisdom and its universal and eternal applicability. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Letter to the Readers

 My dear friends,


In my blog, there are now 56 posts. Each post addresses a hypothetical question for which there is an answer from one of the chapters in Thirukkural. I started writing from Chapter 1 and I have now covered up to chapter 38. That is, Part I of Thirukkural (அறத்துப்பால்) is now covered. Unfortunately, the latest post is at the top and the older posts are below the latest post. That is how blogspot works. 

This blog is intended as an introduction to Thirukkural for those who are not familiar with it. This is not intended to be an in-depth exposition of the profound ideas contained in Thirukkural.   

Many of you have been reading these posts and have expressed your positive comments. My sincere thanks to the many readers worldwide who have been following these posts. Please continue to read them and send me your comments. 

I am going to take a break for a few days, and I will continue with the questions for which the answers can be found in Part II of Thirukkural (பொருட்பால்). 

Wishing you all a very happy holiday season and a very happy new year! 

With kind regards,



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. 

Family life
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.                                                              (குறள்41)
தறந்தார்க்கும் துவ்வா தவர்க்கும் இறந்தார்க்கும்
இல்வாழ்வான் என்பான் துணை.                                                     (குறள் – 42)
தென்புலத்தார் தெய்வம் விருந்துஒக்கல் தானென்றுஆங்கு
ஐம்புலத்தாறு ஓம்பல் தலை.                                                             (குறள்43)
பழியஞ்சிப் பாத்தூண் உடைத்தாயின் வாழ்க்கை
வழியெஞ்சல் எஞ்ஞான்றும் இல்.                                                     (குறள்44)
அன்பும் அறனும் உடைத்தாயின் இல்வாழ்க்கை
பண்பும் பயனும் அது.                                                                      (குறள்45)
அறத்தாற்றின் இல்வாழ்க்கை ஆற்றின் புறத்தாற்றிற்
போஒய்ப் பெறுவது எவன்?                                                             (குறள்46)
இயல்பினான் இல்வாழ்க்கை வாழ்பவன் என்பான்
முயல்வாருள் எல்லாம் தலை.                                                           (குறள்47)
ஆற்றின் ஒழுக்கி அறன்இழுக்கா இல்வாழ்க்கை
நோற்பாரின் நோன்மை உடைத்து.                                                   (குறள்48)
அறன்எனப் பட்டதே இல்வாழ்க்கை அஃதும்
பிறன்பழிப்பது இல்லாயின் நன்று.                                                   (குறள்49)
வையத்துள் வாழ்வாங்கு வாழ்பவன் வான்உறையும்
தெய்வத்துள் வைக்கப் படும்.                                                            (குறள்50)

வாழ்க்கைத் துணைநலம்
மனைக்தக்க மாண்புடையள் ஆகித்தற் கொண்டான்
வளத்தக்காள் வாழ்க்கைத் துணை.                                                    (குறள்51)
மனைமாட்சி இல்லாள்கண் இல்லாயின் வாழ்க்கை
எனைமாட்சித் தாயினும் இல்.                                                          (குறள்52)
இல்லதுஎன் இல்லவள் மாண்பானால் உள்ளதுஎன்
இல்லவள் மாணாக் கடை?                                                               (குறள்53)
பெண்ணின் பெருந்தக்க யாவுள கற்பென்னும்
திண்மைஉண் டாகப் பெறின்.                                                          (குறள்54)
தற்காத்துத் தற்கொண்டாற் பேணித் தகைசான்ற
சொற்காத்துச் சோர்விலாள் பெண்.                                                   (குறள்56)
சிறைகாக்கும் காப்புஎவன் செய்யும் மகளிர்
நிறைகாக்கும் காப்பே தலை.                                                            (குறள்57)
புகழ்புரிந்த இல்லிலோர்க்கு இல்லை இகழ்வார்முன்
ஏறுபோல் பீடு நடை.                                                                      (குறள்59)
மங்கலம் என்ப மனைமாட்சி மற்றதன்
நன்கலம் நன்மக்கட் பேறு.                                                               (குறள்60)

புதல்வரைப் பெறுதல்
பெறுமவற்றுள் யாமறிவது இல்லை அறிவறிந்த
மக்கட்பேறு அல்ல பிற.                                                                   (குறள்61)
அமிழ்தினும் ஆற்ற இனிதேதம் மக்கள்
சிறுகை அளாவிய கூழ்.                                                                   (குறள்64)
மக்கள்மெய் தீண்டல் உடற்கின்பம் மற்றுஅவர்
சொற்கேட்டல் இன்பம் செவிக்கு.                                                     (குறள்65)
குழல்இனிது யாழ்இனிது என்பதம் மக்கள்
மழலைச்சொல் கேளா தவர்.                                                             (குறள்66))
தந்தை மகற்குஆற்றும் நன்றி அவையத்து
முந்தி இருப்பச் செயல்.                                                                    (குறள்- 67)
தம்மின்தம் மக்கள் அறிவுடைமை மாநிலத்து
மன்னுயிர்க் கெல்லாம் இனிது.                                                         (குறள்68)
ஈன்ற பொழுதின் பெரிதுவக்கும் தன்மகனைச்
சான்றோன் எனக்கேட்ட தாய்.                                                         (குறள்69)
மகன்தந்தைக்கு ஆற்றும் உதவி இவன்தந்தை
என்நோற்றான் கொல் எனும் சொல்.                                                (குறள்70)

அளவறிந்து வாழாதான் வாழ்க்கை உளபோல
இல்லாகித் தோன்றாக் கெடும்.                                                         (குறள்479)

ஒருமை மகளிரே போலப் பெருமையும்
தன்னைத்தான் கொண்டொழுகின் உண்டு.                                       (குறள்974)