Weaver’s Wisdom




MANY YEARS AGO WHEN I WAS FIRST IN SRI LANKA—THAT WAS IN 1949—I MADE A VOW TO BRING TOGETHER THE BEST OF THE EAST AND THE BEST OF THE WEST. Living with a traditional Saivite family that informally adopted me in those early days, I was introduced to the Tirukural. I found it to be one of the most important scriptures in all of Asia, so enchanting and so very practical. It contains wondrously no-nonsense insights on life, teaching us how to deal with the various feelings and circumstances that we encounter in our internal life and our interactions with others. In this sense, the Tirukural is the most accessible and relevant sacred text I know, applying to everyday matters and common concerns. §

The Tirukural is a 2,200-year-old South Indian Dravidian classic on ethical living. Not unaware that there are advocates of later dates (from ca 200 BCE down to ca 400 CE) we honor here the prevalent Tamil tradition. Its 1,330 verses were written by a Tamil weaver sage named Tiruvalluvar. I have named his work Weaver’s Wisdom. It is called Tirukural in the Tamil language. Tiru means “holy” or “sacred,” and kural describes a brief verse or literary couplet.§

The poetic masterpiece you are holding in your hands is one of the most revered scriptures in South India, where every child learns to recite its verses by heart. Hindus there regard it with the same reverence that Buddhists regard the Buddha’s Dhammapada and Christians regard Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” In fact, other religions also claim it as their own. The Jains proclaim it theirs, saying it expresses precisely their ideals of nonviolence, of dharma, of asceticism, vegetarianism and other aspects of Jainism. The Christians have argued that the Tirukural is so profound and filled with such compassion that it must have been influenced by the Christian missionaries who, their legends say, came to South India in the first century CE (300 years after native historians assert it was written). Many are surprised to find that the Tirukural is still sworn upon in the courts of law in South India’s state of Tamil Nadu, just as the Christian Bible and Muslim Koran are sworn on elsewhere. Just as the Sikhs worship their holy text, Adi Granth, devout Hindus venerate with a sacred ceremony, called puja, the weaver’s scripture in temples and home shrines. Albert Schweitzer, medical missionary and Christian theologian in Africa, considered it one of the grandest achievements of the human mind, writing, “Like the Buddha and the Bhagavad Gita, the Kural desires inner freedom from the world and a mind free from hatred. You find the quintessence of the best gems of thoughts in the Kural, a living ethic of love and liberation.” Indeed, many claim that the Tirukural is man’s earliest statement of the ostensibly contemporary ecumenical tenets, for it is free of the dogmatic bias that commonly attends religious scriptures. The Father of modern India, Mahatma Gandhi, took to these verses in his own spiritual life, telling his people, “Only a few of us know the name of Tiruvalluvar. The North Indians do not know the name of the great saint. There is none who has given such a treasure of wisdom like him.” §

One of the hallmarks of Saint Tiruvalluvar’s genius was his ability to deftly define and subtly delineate Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Spiritual Path, to all men equally, never limiting his audience to a sectarian view. Even when he speaks directly of God, Whom he addresses as Adi Bhagavan, Iraivan and Kadavul—ancient Tamil words for Supreme God Siva—the weaver’s broad heart praises not the God of this faith or that, but sings his panegyric to “God Primordial,” “the Incomparable One,” “the Gracious One” or “the Compassionate One.” In other words, everyone’s God.§

Having honored the Worshipful One, the weaver then praises rain, for without rain’s gift of life all the human experience would be impossible. The third chapter speaks of renunciation, sannyasa, for to him the renunciate monk is the most noble exemplar of humanity, the highest of souls, the minister of Sanatana Dharma, nowadays called Hinduism in English, Indu Samayam in Tamil, Hindutva in Sanskrit, Hindouisme in French, Hinduismo in Spanish, Religione Hindú in Italian, and Hinduismus in German. He exalts renunciation as a way of life opposed to that of the householder, encouraging ardent souls seeking the realization of their own True Being, to take up their faith with vigor and to live the detached, selfless life of a renunciate—noninvolvement in the joys and sorrows of the world, which he also describes in minute detail in other chapters. Without giving us a hint of what he is up to, the weaver has thus defined in his first three chapters the three fundamental dimensions of Saiva Siddhanta philosophy—God, world and soul, known in Tamil as Pati, pasam and pasu. It is indicative of his subtle literary style that Tiruvalluvar begins the very first verse with the first letter of the Tamil alphabet, “A,” and ends the last line of verse 1,330 with the final letter, “N,” quietly informing us that he has covered all human concerns, from A to Z.§

In Tamil literature, kural names the very difficult and disciplined venpa meter in which the verses were written. Each verse is extremely short, containing only two lines of seven measures. In fact, it is the shortest form of stanza in the Tamil language. In many ways these couplets are similar to the Sanskrit shloka. The scripture consists of 133 chapters with each chapter elucidating a different aspect of human virtue or human fault. There are ten couplets per chapter, making a total of 1,330 couplets.§

Although it has been translated into English by many scholars, the Tirukural has never been widely known in the Western world. There is a similar work, written in modern times by the Syrian-born American mystic Kahlil Gibran (1883–1931), called The Prophet, which has become a beloved classic. Everyone knows and loves this masterful work. The Prophet parallels the Tirukural in many ways. Both books speak in profound yet understandable terms of love and friendship, of health and death, of joy and sorrow. It is our hope that the TirukuralWeaver’s Wisdom—will find its place beside The Prophet and be known by the wider world as the gem that it is, showing how the Tamil Saivites have, to this very day, maintained their heritage, rich culture and religious fervor.§

In the many days to come, the world will acknowledge this great people and their ancient heritage, a way of life nurtured in the womb of Saiva Samayam, Saivite Hinduism, the resilient religion that has stood the test of time, that has survived invasions by alien cultures, faiths and imposed systems of law and government, that has survived efforts from outsiders to infiltrate, dilute and destroy their religion, culture and language, that has survived poverty, over-population and modernization. It is a faith that lives as proudly and profoundly today as it did perhaps ten thousand years ago. What other culture can make such a claim?§

Much of what the weaver writes revolves around the home, which resonates well with today’s calls to return to traditional family values. He speaks of the faithful husband and the devoted wife, of the upright children they raise and the joys they experience, of the value of relationship and how to nurture and sustain it. He speaks of age and its merits, of the importance of honoring the elderly, of caring for and not abandoning them. §

Nor is the weaver a stranger to difficult issues that still perplex us. He speaks of killing and of the king’s duty to execute murderers. He speaks of alcohol addiction, of the debilitating effects of gambling, of adultery and the tragic loss of a life lived in poverty or lazy indifference. He guides us in matters of education, and warns against the life-sapping effect of lack of knowledge. He speaks of a strong military, of spies and of advisors with personal agendas, of fools and their ways and wastes. He knows of the wiles of real enemies and has much to tell modern man about overcoming opposition, about being wise against antagonists’ crafty ways and thus surviving the attacks of foes. He speaks of making money and of how money is squandered and lost. He explores purity, kindness, humility, right thought, right action, friendship and all forms of virtuous living, and he boldly offers stern warning as to the consequence of base, sinful thoughts and actions. With great force, he decries the agonies caused by meat-eating and commends traditional Hindu vegetarianism. All along the way we encounter his humor, which he uses to great effect and which makes us laugh even as it points to our most stubborn flaws and comic foibles.§

Hinduism’s four legitimate goals of human life are dharma, artha, kama and moksha, known in English as virtue, wealth, love and liberation. In the Tirukural, Saint Tiruvalluvar spoke in depth on the first three. Under the heading of virtue, he discusses the ways of the householder and the monk, focusing on good conduct and its opposite. In the chapters on wealth he speaks of business, government, politics and the building of the nation. In the final twenty-five chapters on love (not included in this edition), he discusses the relationships of men and women. Valluvar also discussed the fourth and final goal of life, liberation from rebirth, especially in the chapters on the way of the renunciate. As the four Vedas outline the path to salvation by delineation of the destination, the Tirukural carefully explains how to live while treading the path to that ultimate goal. Along with the Tirumantiram (composed by the great Tamil mystic, Rishi Tirumular, during the same period) which explains the means to Self Realization, spiritual yogas and liberation, these two classics form a complete whole, covering dharma, artha, kama and moksha. §

The Tirukural is Tiruvalluvar’s only known work; and though it is relatively short compared to such sacred texts as the Dhammapada or the Adi Granth, it was sufficient to bring renown to a simple and highly observant weaver, making him a venerated sage and lawgiver of the ancient Tamil Dravidian people. The Kural’s relative brevity is also its strength, as is its immense practicality. Here is no esoteric doctrine, no other-worldly speculation, but adages for practical daily life in every age, for mankind does not change all that much from era to era. It is my hope and aspiration that this masterpiece finds its way into your heart.§

In his work, Tiruvalluvar chose a topic—such as children, friendship or avoidance of anger—and gave us ten different couplets on the one subject. To properly understand his perspective, all ten couplets must be read, for they are like facets of a gem—each reflecting the light of his understanding slightly differently, and the richness of his comprehension. Not infrequently, the subject of one chapter’s last verse will serve as the transition to the next chapter’s first, like one thread tied to another to continue the weaving. In the opening few verses he tends to focus on the subject at hand, while moving in the latter verses into more specific matters and admonishing against failure to apply noble ideals found in the verses above. In other words, he gets tougher as the verses progress down the page.§

It has been explained to us that the saint spent the fullness of his life quietly observing, simply observing, the human condition. Then, toward the end of his life, he was asked to speak out and share the wisdom others in the community knew he possessed. This book, comprising 108 chapters, was his response. I hope you will allow Saint Tiruvalluvar’s insights to spark your own intuition and reveal from within yourself the laws which he, too, discovered within himself. Do not look upon this scripture as something “out there.” Meditation and reflection will reveal that its knowledge lies within, vibrantly alive and dynamically real. It is impossible not to be moved by the broad compassion and the direct discernment of this holy man. Let him enrich your life as you journey along this Eternal Path, the Sanatana Dharma.§

Alas, in Bharat yesterday and in the days of Tiruvalluvar, the art of weaving was a low-caste occupation. Valluvar was a member of a trade group, jati, certainly not accepted into the social circles of the higher castes. Still, the weavers’ cloth was used extensively by the brahmins (the priestly caste), and the kshatriyas (the governing class), to adorn their bodies, and by, the vaishyas (the merchant caste), in bartering with other merchants. Yes, weavers were near the bottom of the social scale in India then, as today. It is interesting to note that this man who lived low in the social structure left a legacy that makes all Tamils proud, that shines among human endeavors, and outshines virtually every high-caste neighbor he had.§

Stories of the Ideal Wife, Vasuki

Saint Tiruvalluvar lived with his wife, Vasuki, in what is today a part of Chennai in South India. Vasuki was the perfect example of simple devotion and traditional intelligent cooperation with her husband, and several stories, handed down in the oral tradition from generation to generation, are told depicting the marvel of the harmony in their marriage. We cannot know for certain that these stories contain only the facts of those days long ago, but they do show us what Tamil village life was like two thousand years ago and what was considered to be the ideal home and the ideal householder.§


Legends say that Vasuki was the daughter of Margasahayam, an affluent farmer of the region who was impressed with Valluvar’s right living and lofty thinking and proposed his young daughter’s hand in marriage. When the proposal was brought to Valluvar, he agreed, provided his betrothed passed a small test. Tests were common in his culture—a man testing his prospective wife, a guru testing a candidate for initiation, a common man testing a friend before opening his heart and home. When they first met, Valluvar made this request to Vasuki: to take a handful of sand and boil it into rice for him. The girl took the sand without the slightest resistance and, in perfect faith that this holy person’s wishes would manifest, proceeded to prepare the requested meal. Miraculously, the sand turned to savory rice, which she served her husband-to-be. Right then, it is said, the poet took Vasuki to be his wife.§

As the marriage grew stronger and deeper, villagers began to admire the relationship. Many would come to Valluvar to ask his opinion about marriage, about household life, about the relationships between men and women. On one occasion a neighbor came to the weaver’s home and asked, “Some say the path of the ascetic monk is the highest. Others say no, it is that of the householder which holds most merit. What do you think?” Without giving a direct answer to the query, Valluvar invited the man to stay a few days in his home as a guest. A few mornings later Vasuki was drawing water at the family well just outside. Such wells, called kineru, are made so that a long wooden pole holds at one end a wooden bucket suspended on a long rope and at the other a counterweight of stones. The empty bucket is let down to the water in the open well and then the counterweight helps lift the water to the top. As the bucket reached above the above-ground level, Vasuki’s husband loudly called for her to come to his side. She came instantly, abandoning the task and rushing to her beloved. The guest was astonished, not only at her responsiveness, but at a small miracle he had witnessed. As the story goes, when Vasuki left the well at once at her husband’s calling, the bucket was in mid air, filled with water. Instead of falling back into the well, it remained suspended in the same position, apparently defying the law of gravity, until she returned to her wifely chore.§

On another morning, Valluvar and his guest were seated together for breakfast, which consisted of plain cold rice from the day before. This was a typical South Indian breakfast, since there was no refrigeration to keep food. Frugality was an important discipline for survival. Suddenly, the weaver said to his wife, “This rice is too hot to eat. It is burning my fingers!” Vasuki swiftly grabbed a fan and began fanning the cold rice, which had been served on a banana leaf. Wonder of wonders, steam rose from the rice as she sought to cool it.§

On yet another day as Valluvar was diligently plying his handloom, he accidentally dropped a shuttle to the floor. Though it was midday and the sun shone brightly, the weaver, apparently deep in thought, called to his wife to bring a lamp so he might look for the lost shuttle. Vasuki quickly lit the oil lamp and brought it to her husband without the slightest consciousness of the unreasonableness of her husband’s request.§

The guest left the home soon thereafter, having witnessed all this. No direct answer was ever given to the original question, but the moral of the story is that the visitor had seen with his own eyes a most marvelous marriage partnership and learned Valluvar’s unspoken message, that a man whose wife is equal to Vasuki would best follow the householder path, though without such a wife the ascetic’s path is preferred: “If a man masters the duties of married life, what further merits could monkhood offer him?”§

Valluvar and Vasuki lived a peaceful, loving life, and apparently had children to delight them and family in great numbers to offer support and affection in their later years. As Vasuki was about to die, her husband asked if there was anything he could do for her. “Yes, dear husband,” came her faint reply. “All our wedded life I have had a question which you could answer. From the first day of our marriage, I have been placing a small cup of fresh water and a needle beside you at every meal. May I know, my Lord, why you bid me to do this?”§

Valluvar replied, “Dearest wife, I wanted the water and needle nearby so that, if you spilled any rice while serving me, I would be able to pick it up with the needle and rinse it with the water. However, as you never dropped a single grain in all those years, there was never an occasion to put these things to use.” Her question answered, Vasuki breathed her last. The story idealizes the wifely attitude of never questioning her husband, and shows how perfectly Vasuki carried out her duties, not once in all their life dropping so much as a single grain of rice!§

Valluvar cremated Vasuki as tradition dictated, then returned home to write a poem to her: “O, my beloved, who is sweeter than my daily food. O my darling, who has never once disobeyed me. O gentle one, who rubbing my feet, would go to bed after me and rise before, are you gone? How can slumber ever come again to my unslumbering eyes?”§

The Tamil understanding of the husband-and-wife relationship is vastly different from modern thinking, which stresses sameness and equality. Yet, those who have seen the deepness of such a family and such a marriage would never call it antiquated. The Tamil wife is pure in thought, devoted to her duties, perfect in hospitality to guests. She is frugal, strong and modest, never bold. She adores her husband and never even looks into the eyes of another man. She is, they say, the authoress of her husband’s renown and glory, the support that lifts him high in the eyes of others. These sentiments are exactly reflected in the Jewish tradition, which recommends that husbands read Proverbs 31 to their wives during domestic religious ceremonies. §

Consider the words of Tiru M. Arunachalam of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, a noted historian and philosopher: “The Hindu dharma enjoins the dutiful wife to worship her husband as God Himself. A woman who observes this code in life earns for herself the name of pati-vrata (which means ‘Godly vow taker’). Our ancient Epics and Puranas abound in the stories of such dutiful wives. Savitri, Anushya, Arundati are a few. Chief among such wives famous among the Tamils and in literary tradition is Vasuki.”§

To this very day Vasuki is the role model of tens of millions of Tamil women who pray to Lord Siva that their lives may be as loving and virtuous as this remarkably unspoiled lady’s. Differing from their northern counterparts, the Tamils have rejected verses and advice in the Mahabharata and Ramayana that are said to diminish womankind. For the Tamils it is not Rama’s wife Sita but Vasuki, the weaver’s wife, who is the incomparable woman, the ideal partner, the noblest lady—as is Parvati to Siva.§

The Weaver’s Place in History

We are now going into the long, long ago, thousands of years back in human history, when the nations of India, then called Bharat, were already quite advanced and well organized and the culture had, in all that really matters, reached a sophistication that even today is hard to equal. The Sanatana Dharma was already a highly sophisticated religion, and the people were well-balanced and abundant spiritually, socially, culturally, educationally and economically.§

India had already enjoyed a long history. Archeology tells us that stone tools and hand axes found in the North show human presence in 500,000 BCE, and in Tamil Nadu, in the South, in 470,000 BCE. According to the earliest dating theories, the great Vedic era in Bharat (the Hindus’ name for India) had begun after the last ice age, fully 12,000 years ago, and by 9,000 years ago the Indus-Sarasvati Valley civilization was growing grains, worshiping the Gods and building elaborate cities with sun-baked mud bricks. As the millennia passed, the Vedas evolved, temples were built, and languages emerged, all long before the Pyramids of Egypt were even started. Historians say that weaving of fabrics was widespread in India 5,000 years ago. Weaving was honored recently in Newsweek magazine as one of the hundred greatest inventions of the human mind, one which allowed the human race to migrate to all parts of the planet. The tradition says that by 1915 BCE the Sangam Period began in Tamil Nadu, when sages and pandits explored the subtle arts and sciences, the philosophies and yogas. Thus, all this would have happened before the time of the Mahabharata, before Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt, before the Trojan War in Greece and before the Roman Empire was inaugurated by Julius Caesar. §

It was in the South of India, among the Tamil-speaking peoples, that a culture surpassed by few others grew through the centuries and finally produced a wonderfully insightful weaver named Tiruvalluvar. During the time the couplets in this book were scribed, two centuries before Christ, the Great Wall of China was being built and Buddhism in India was in the ascendant. King Ashoka’s famed reign had just ended and the great Chola Empire of Tamil Nadu, where the weaver lived, was just beginning its thousand-year rule. As G. Ravindran Nair writes: “Tiruvalluvar lived during a period when the Chera, Chola and Pandya kings were ruling over different parts of Tamil Nadu, with their overseas contacts with countries ranging from Egypt, Greece and Rome in the West; Burma, Malaya, Singapore and China in the East; Ceylon in the South and the Himalayan kingdoms in the North.”§

The remarkable government of the Chola Empire stretched the length and breadth of South India, throughout Sri Lanka into Malaysia and into the rest of Asia, ruled around the year 1000 by Rajaraja Chola, after whom the empire was named. Saint Auvaiyar, the great mystical yogini and Ganesha bhaktar, lived, some say, at the very time of Tiruvalluvar. Historians have even thought they were brother and sister. Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, may also have been a contemporary of the author of this book, along with Maharishi Nandinatha and his disciple, Rishi Tirumular, author of the Tirumantiram. In fact, while North India was still reeling from the failed invasions of Greece’s Alexander the Great, in South India, yoga, art, music and literature were as advanced as anyplace on Earth. Tamil Nadu was then a nation, separate in its language and politics. It had its king and ministers, its navy and army, and it had reached through trade other nations in Southeast Asia. It was a proud time for the Tamil people, among the most civilized cultures anywhere.§

Now that we know where we are in time, shall we now learn where we are in philosophy, religion, proficiency and protocol? It was here in this blessed land that the ancient Dravidians thrived, a Caucasian people of dark skin. It was here that the religion was the worship and realization of Siva, the Supreme One, the immanent and transcendent Lord, neither male nor female but both, timeless, formless, spaceless, yet pervading the universe. Siva’s Holy Feet were worshiped in abandon in temples that stand today as monuments of a living past which is now a living present. Born of no one, beholden to no one, the Supreme Creator of all the 330 million Gods and trillions of devas, as well as embodied souls, is honored and praised today in these golden-domed, fifty-acre-and-more magnificent temples, such as Madurai and Chidambaram, built in an era whose splendor has not yet been surpassed.§

In every yuga, or era, there are instinctive, intellectual and superconscious people in different ratios. These the weaver calls base men, learned men and perfect or knowing men. Instinctive people are those guided by their emotions. Typically, they are the builders and farmers, the craftsmen and servants. They live by the sweat of their brow, and their honest physical labor is the bedrock of society. They react quickly and impulsively and are mainly prompted by fear, chiefly motivated by greed. They worry, have many doubts, and mistrust even those with good intentions. The crudest among them assault with fists and beat the flesh of others, even their own dear children and beloved spouse. §

The intellectuals are dependent upon the opinions of others, right or wrong. They are the treasury of accumulated knowledge, the teachers and analyzers, the businessmen, planners and administrators, the bedrock of science, government and intellectual endeavor. They look to the past for solutions to the problems in the present, and usually don’t see far into the future. The crudest among them are argumentative and have a conceited opinion of themselves hardly equaled by others. They make up their own rules, not worrying overmuch about laws, community or tradition, and readily challenge any and all prevailing beliefs and systems. They lash out with words and emotions, and hurt the minds and sometimes irreparably disturb the emotions of others, even their cherished offspring and wedded spouse.§

The superconscious, or intuitive, men and women depend on their intellect as a tool to record their insights and far-seeing premonitions. They depend on their abilities of reason to check their intuitions, knowing that intuition sees before thinking about what has been seen. They know that intuition is above reason but never conflicts with reason. These are the priests, the rishis, the yogis and gurus, the behind-the-scenes guides of the lawmakers and ratifiers of their plans. They are the heralds of creativity and the defenders of the faith. They hold to the laws, follow divine direction, dharma, and always listen inwardly for proper timing to advise others in the implementation of plans. These mature souls live by the divine law of ahimsa, not hurting others physically, emotionally or mentally. They are the exemplars in each yuga, millennium, century or decade and arise among and from the instinctives and the intellectuals, lifted by their sadhanas, their penance and their purity. Their example gives abundant hope for everyone in a community to rise as they did.§

The story is told in India of the beautiful lotus flower that arises out of the mud. Its roots tangle below, as do instinctive people. Its stem is long and proud, reaching for the sky, as do the intellectuals. Its bud and bloom is admired by all, offered on altars, adored as sacred, as are the ones who have lifted themselves into the air and sun and are spiritually unfolded, open to the Divine Light. Yes, all men and women in every society have a chance to become perfect, for all mature and are nurtured by the muddy soil beneath the flowing waters. These 1,080 verses explain in detail just how this is to be done. §

Many stories are told about the great ones, the rishis, pandits, seers, saints and sages in the religious literature of India who are the stabilizers of the community and the silent voice whispering in the ear of prominent leaders, the secret advisors of kings and their ministers.§


In each yuga, millennium, century and decade, there are different ratios of the combinations of the instinctive person, the instinctive-intellectual, the superconsciously intellectual, and the superconscious, intuitive seers. In this Kali Yuga, instinctive people predominate. In the Sat Yuga, superconscious people lead by virtue of their wisdom, not necessarily by holding any official office. They see, ponder, deliberate and guide the intellectuals and are generally listened to. In each yuga, millennium or century, a nation, state, city or localized community can be dominated by one of these three kinds of groups. It is of these three that our saint speaks.§

It is good for leadership to be careful that the moods and emotions of people don’t drop into the lower, instinctive energies. The weaver explains this fully, for he has understood the nature of being human. Sanroor is the weaver’s Tamil word for the perfect, or superconscious, far-seeing and intuitive man or woman, the one who lives a disciplined and noble life and keeps the instinctive and intellectual natures in line with dharma. In olden days, rishis guided the monarchs, who in turn guided these various strata of people, according each one their right tasks and place in the community. Yes, the weaver assures us we can have a Sat Yuga today, a golden age in our community, by understanding and then putting into action the wisdom contained between the covers of this remarkable book. §

The Tirukural in Modern South India

Happily, this scripture is not just an obsolete relic of India’s past, but is a living light of her present. In fact, there is a great resurgence of interest in the weaver’s work. At the dawning of a new millennium in the West (remembering that the Hindu calendar under which the weaver worked calls the Christian-era year 2000 by another name, the Tamil year Pramathin, 5101), a monument to rival the Statue of Liberty in New York is being raised in South India, a 133-foot-high stone masterpiece of Saint Tiruvalluvar. As this book goes to press, the statue is being installed at Kanya Kumari, the tip of India, where the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea meet. Designed by Tiru V. Ganapati Sthapati, a traditional temple architect and our own architect for the San Marga Iraivan Temple in Hawaii, the sculpture is a testimony to the stone carver’s art, featuring massive stone doors moving on stone hinges, free-swinging stone chains, stone bells that ring resonantly and delicate stone lattices. §

At the Valluvar monument, visitors can walk up stone stairs and out onto the saint’s outstretched arm. The best stone-workers of South India, demonstrating the vitality of their ancient craft, were assembled to carve the statue of the weaver-saint that now rises out of the ocean on a small island next to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, a quarter-mile off-shore. The statue of the weaver-saint at Kanya Kumari is expected to swell the numbers of the 1.5 million pilgrims who come each year to Kanya Kumari to visit the Vivekananda Memorial. Valluvar’s gaze from Minor Rock Island will be able to survey the entire expanse of Mother India, from the Kanya Kumari temple, right up to the Himalayas, blessing the land. While America’s Statue of Liberty is a metal monument to political freedom and social promise, Tiruvalluvar stands as a stone statement of political wisdom, social duty and the spiritual promise of dharma.§


In 1976, Tiru Ganapati Sthapati completed another monument to Tiruvalluvar, the Valluvar Kottam in Chennai. The three-acre park features the 1,330 verses inscribed on giant polished granite slabs, and a giant stone and concrete replica of a temple chariot, pulled by magnificent elephants, which enshrines a large statue of Tiruvalluvar. The Kottam is today a popular pilgrimage and family outing destination.§

On the grounds of Kauai Aadheenam in Hawaii we have installed two large stone statues, made in Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu by the famed Neelameham Sthapati, one of Saint Tiruvalluvar and the other of Rishi Tirumular.§

There is nothing in Western schools, with the possible exception of nursery rhymes, that compares with the universal memorization of the Tirukural in South India. Reflecting the Tamilians’ special affection for the weaver’s couplets, schools in Tamil Nadu, the southernmost state, always include the weaver’s poems (of the first two parts, on dharma and wealth, not the third on love) in school texts from grade one to twelve. Tirukural memorization contests are conducted in schools, with hundreds of thousands of students vying to memorize the most, with public recitations and big awards ceremonies each year. Here the state government has declared a paid holiday the day after Pongal festival, January 14, in memory of their eminent saint, Tiruvalluvar. Even in the marketplace you find the weaver’s wisdom, on posters in store windows, in institutional literature, on the sides of the buses, and there are buses here as nowhere in the world. The media, too, loves the Tirukural. It is read each day on radio stations. Fictional stories are written for television based on a few couplets. Magazine and newspaper articles feature the praises of Tiruvalluvar. College courses and multi-media CDs are available on the subject, and literary seminars abound. In recent years, Tirukural websites are proliferating, some of which include audio readings of the verses. §

Yes! It is only fitting that the Tirukural play a dynamic part in today’s world, for through all our experience we have discovered no other work from any culture, from anytime in history, from any place on Earth that in even the least way holds a candle to the Tirukural. It is one of a kind, a gift from “up-down,” a spiritual, intellectual, emotional guide map for all mankind. There are those who would say that the Tirukural is out of date and has long spent its time, now that communism, secularism and democracy are in vogue, now that turmoil is an accepted way of life, now that villages have become cities. We sincerely feel that this new edition and the guiding introductions between each section give new life, an onward, “into-the-future“ look for all humanity seeking wise direction in a world that has too little of it.§

About this Modern English Translation

This edition of the Tirukural was two decades in the preparation. While in Sri Lanka in 1975, I directed two of my sannyasins to bring into American English the essential meaning of 1,080 of the weaver’s verses. There had never been a translation in modern American English, and I saw a need, even among educated Tamils, for a more accessible edition, one that spoke to them and to their children (who do not know their native language) in today’s language, not in the language of so long ago. At Kauai Aadheenam, our monastery in Hawaii, they worked in the hours before dawn for many years to provide such a translation. They sat together at Siva’s feet, in our Kadavul Nataraja Temple, and slowly brought out the meaning, refining it, then polishing it, then perfecting it.§

I gave them five objectives for their work: 1) to be faithful to the original Tamil in meaning and style; 2) to be clear and understandable; 3) to be brief whenever possible so as to capture the saint’s succinct style; 4) to be subtle and profound; and, finally; 5) to have the verses as graceful and refined in American English as they are in Tamil. This was not an easy sadhana, as you can imagine. It was further complicated by the fact that the text was written twenty centuries ago in a classical form of Tamil that is difficult even for native speakers to understand today. The two sannyasins had to meditate on exactly what the saint meant, for often his verses are obscure, recondite and subtle. They had to capture the same meaning, the same insight, to discover the same area of consciousness the saint held as he wrote down those syllables. And then they had to speak out the perception in the vernacular of our day. Realizing that much meaning would be lost if the attempt was made to forge rhyming verses in the translation, I instructed my sannyasins not to attempt that, but to work in prose instead. Following these directions produced quotable wisdom for lectures, discussions with friends and family, and anywhere where people meet to observe and solve human and social issues. We concluded the final reading and careful editing of Tirukural on the 11th of February, 1999. §


Old-style books: Olai leaf manuscripts archived at the Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. U.V. Swaminatha Iyer Library, Besant Nagar, Chennai§

The art depicting the 108 subjects of this book is all the work of Tiru A. Manivelu of Chennai, a traditionally-trained craftsman who is renowned for having spent his life painting the presiding Deities in all of the sacred temple shrines throughout India. Working with my sannyasins, Tiru Manivelu captured the essence of each chapter in watercolors, a challenge that required many months of diligent effort and interpretation. His style is that of the deep South, and particularly of the Tamil people and culture.§

The Tirukural is composed of extremely terse heptametic verses, with the seven metrical feet split as four in one line (usually the first) and three in the other. Here, for example, is what the very first kural in the book looks and sounds like. §


Tirukural treasure: The Tirukural was preserved through the centuries by being recopied as needed on olai leaf manuscripts such as this one. (Size is 123⁄4 x 11⁄2”—Swaminatha Iyer Library, Chennai.)§

அகர முதல எழுத்தெல்லாம் ஆதி
பகவன் முதற்றே உலகு.

Akara muthala eluth ellam Athi
Bhagavan muthatre ulaku.

“A” is the first and source of all the letters. Even so is God Primordial the first and source of all the world. §

Of course, the verses were not written on paper, but etched on olai leaves with a sharp stylus, then rubbed with lamp black to color the etching. By the structural style of the Kural one is reminded of the Brahma Sutras or the Greek epigrammatic masterpieces. With subjects of predicates often only implied, the reader is left to intuit the meaning, and the result is a wide range of legitimate interpretation. This is not helped by the age of the language itself, differing from modern Tamil as much or more as Chaucer’s Middle English in the Canterbury Tales differs from our language today. One way that translators often chose to indicate to readers what the venerable author actually said and what he implied was to place implied words or phrases in parentheses—a device useful to scholars but cumbersome for the average reader and therefore not used in our translation. §

With the Tirukural’s great popularity, there have arisen many translations through the years. When my swamis began this work, there existed roughly twenty-five English versions; and by the time they finished, another four or five had emerged. The work of other translators sheds an interesting light on ours, giving the reader a sense of the several ways, adept and inept, that the weaver’s words have been wrought into English. Only the best among translations were selected for comparison here. They are, of course, also the most renowned. Three were chosen to exemplify the prose approach, those being Rev. W.H. Drew (1840); Tiru G. Vanmikanathan (1984), a dear friend we knew well in those early days; and Tiru P.S. Sundaram (1989). Another two were selected to represent what is undoubtedly the most difficult approach, that of rhymed poetry, these being the famous work of Rev. G.U. Pope (1886) and the more recent couplets of Tiru K.M. Balasubramuniam (1962). Our gratitude to all translators who have gone before us. Here, now, are verses 15, 53, 90, 92, 105, 229 and 252, as translated in our American English edition (abbreviated W.W. and in bold type), and in the works of Drew (W.D.), Pope (G.P.), Balasubramuniam (K.B), Vanmikanathan (G.V.) and Sundaram (P.S.).§

Verse 15: The Importance of Rain
W.W.It is rain that ruins, and it is rain again that raises up those it has ruined.
W.D. Rain by its absence ruins men; and by its existence restores them to fortune.
G.P. ‘Tis rain works all: it ruin spreads, then timely aid supplies; as, in the happy days before, it bids the ruined rise.
K.B. It is the rain which causeth ruin and it is the rain which, as the prop of ruined ones, doth lift them up again.
G.V. That which ruins the peasants, and, acting as succor to the ruined peasants, revives them—all that is rain.
P.S. It is rain which ruins men; it is also rain which lifts them up.
Verse 53, The Good Wife
W.W. What does a man lack if his wife is worthy? And what does he possess if she is lacking worth?
W.D. If his wife be eminent (in virtue) what does (that man) not possess? If she be without excellence, what does (he) possess?
G.P. There is no lack within the house, where wife in worth excels, there is no luck within the house, where wife dishonored dwells.
K.B. What is the good one lacks with one’s own wife of virtuous birth? What is the good one hath with one’s own wife devoid of worth?
G.V. What is lacking, provided the wife excels in those accomplishments? What is there, if the wife does not do so?
P.S. With a good wife, what is lacking? And when she is lacking, what is good?
Verse 90, Hospitality
W.W. The delicate anicham flower withers when merely smelled. But an unwelcome look is enough to wither the heart of a guest.
W.D. As the anicham flower fades in smelling, so fades the guest when the face is turned away.
G.P. The flower of anicha withers ‘way if you do but its fragrance inhale; if the face of the host cold welcome convey, the guest’s heart within him will fail.
K.B. Whilst soft anichcha flower doth wither away but when ‘tis smelt, a wry-faced look askance will cause one’s guests to wither and melt.
G.V. The anichcham flower will wilt on being smelled; the guest will wilt on being merely looked at with a wry face.
P.S. The aniccam withers when smelt; a cold look withers a guest.
Verse 92, Speaking Pleasant Words
W.W. Better than a gift given with a joyous heart are sweet words spoken with a cheerful smile.
W.D. Sweet speech with a cheerful countenance is better than a gift made with a joyous mind.
G.P. A pleasant word with beaming smile’s preferred, even to gifts with liberal heart conferred.
K.B. Ev’n more than gifting off with gladdened heart it is worthwhile to greet the guests with pleasing words along with welcome smile.
G.V. If one becomes a man of pleasant mien and sweet speech, it is superior to giving with all one’s heart.
P.S. More pleasing than a gracious gift are sweet words heartfelt.
Verse 105, Gratitude
W.W. Help rendered another cannot be measured by the extent of the assistance given. Its true measure is the worth of the recipient.
W.D. The benefit itself is not the measure of the benefit; the worth of those who have received it is its measure.
G.P. The kindly aid’s extent is of its worth no measure true, its worth is as the worth of him to whom the act you do.
K.B. No turn for help received is e’er a measure for each measure. It is dependent on the noble recipient’s pleasure.
G.V. A reciprocal help is not to be limited to the extent of the help received; its extent is governed by the nobility of the character of the recipient of the original help.
P.S. Not according to the aid but its receiver is its recompense determined.
Verse 229, Charity
W.W. More bitter than even a beggar’s bread is the meal of the miser who hoards his wealth and eats alone.
W.D. Solitary and unshared eating for the sake of filling up one’s own riches is certainly much more unpleasant than begging.
G.P. They keep their garners full, for self alone the board they spread; ‘tis greater pain, be sure, than begging daily bread!
K.B. Then e’en the begging far more painful is the act of one who eats one’s hoarded meal by oneself, sharing that with none.
G.V. More repugnant than begging is eating all alone in order to make up the shortfall in the target of one’s savings.
P.S. To eat alone what one has hoarded is worse than begging.
Verse 252, Abstaining from Eating Meat
W.W. Riches cannot be found in the hands of the thriftless, nor can compassion be found in the hearts of those who eat meat.
W.D. As those possess no property who do not take care of it, so those possess no kindness who feed on flesh.
G.P. No use of wealth have they who guard not their estate; no use of grace have they with flesh who hunger sate.
K.B. The blessings of the wealth are not for those who fail to guard. The blessings of compassion for the flesh-eaters are barred.
G.V. Profiting by wealth is not for those who do not cherish it; profiting by charity is not for those who eat flesh.
P.S. The fruits of wealth are not for the wastrel. Nor of grace for a meat-eater.

We have omitted the third part of the Tirukural from this translation for several reasons. Firstly, as monks, the section was too sensual to allow our involvement in the translation. Secondly, the book is designed in large part to engage and interest youth and children, and this section seemed inappropriate for them. Thirdly, it frankly seemed less relevant to modern life and experience, being an ingenuous romantic dialog. Finally, these last twenty-five chapters are so much out of character with the rest of the book that we even wondered whether they might be the work of another author. The structure, language and approach is completely different from all that has preceded it. Even the subtlety of thought is not nearly so great. There is also a logic that says that Tiruvalluvar wrote 108 chapters because of the auspiciousness and meaning of the number 108 in Hindu tradition. The names of God are 108. The number of beads on a mala for the performance of japa, repetition of God’s name, are 108. Note that 108 adds up to nine, so auspicious in Hindu numerology, and 1,080, the total of all the verses in the first two sections of the work, does as well, providing a built-in mystical blessing. That he would have composed 108 chapters is a logical assumption, and that the style changes so radically is, to us, a further negative indication.§

This last section, called Kamatupal in Tamil, deals with passion and love. Chapters 109 to 115 are about a young man and a maiden who fall in love and flee into the forest to live, without benefit of a formal marriage. Chapters 116 to 133 are about their life as man and wife, about the pains of their temporary separations, about the merits of feminine wiles and coyness and the pangs of jealousy. All the verses are the spoken words of one of four characters, the man, his lover and their two intimate friends.§

To give readers a sense of the 25 chapters not included in this book, here is a selection of verses from the translation by our friend, Tiru G. Vanmikanathan.§

1081 “(He to himself on seeing her for the first time) Is she a nymph? Or a rare kind of peacock? Or woman with heavy earrings? Sorely perplexed is my soul.”
1167 “(She to her lady-in-waiting who said that one should swim across the sea of passion with self-restraint as a float) I have swum about in the cruel sea of passion and cannot find the shore. Even at midnight, I am all by myself.”
1261 “(She, out of eager desire to meet him again) My eyes have lost their luster and have become weak watching for his coming; my fingers are worn out going over the markings on the wall keeping tally on the days that have passed since his departure.”
1114-5 “(He to her lady-in-waiting after leaving the bedroom) I told her ‘I love you more than anyone else.’ She immediately went into the sulks, crying, ‘More than whom? More than whom?’ I told her, ‘I will never leave you in this life.’ At once her eyes filled with tears for fear that I may desert her in other lives.”
1171 “(She to her lady-in-waiting, who said: ‘Your eyes have lost their beauty through weeping ; you should control yourself.’) Is it not through these eyes showing my lover to me that I suffer this unremitting illness? Why do they weep now?”
1172 “These collyrium-painted eyes which looked on (my lover that day) without inquiring (into the consequences), why do they now suffer torture without realising (their fault)?”
1173 “These were the eyes that rushed to see (my lover that day); today they themselves weep. This is laughable.”
1174 “After bringing upon me this unbearable interminable malady, these collyrium-painted eyes have so dried up that they can no longer weep.”
1175 “My eyes which caused this love-sickness which the sea cannot match, now suffer torment without closing in sleep.”
1176 “Oh, it is delightful indeed that these eyes which caused these diseases in me have themselves come to this state.”
1177 “Let these eyes which longingly and meltingly looked unceasingly at my lover (that day) suffer and suffer (today) and become bereft of tears in them.”
1179 “(She to L.i.W., who said: ‘You should compose yourself, and your eyes should close in sleep.’) If he does not come, they will not sleep; and, even if he comes, they will not sleep (for fear of his going away): in either case, the eyes undergo unendurable suffering.”
1211 “(She to L.i.W. on dreaming of a messenger to her husband) How shall I entertain the dream which has come bearing a message from my husband?”

Oddly, it is traditional in Hindu architecture to have licentious images in view as one approaches a temple. It was explained to me, as a wondering young man, that to stimulate the sexual nature through thought in turn heightened the quality of worship. This means that once stimulated a little upon entering the temple, that same energy would pass up the spine during worship and quiet the mind. All this was explained to me by Tiru Kandiah Chettiar, who adopted me into his family during my 1949 stay in Sri Lanka. He told me that this was also done in certain books, like the Tirukural. It was, he explained, a literary tradition to add a sensual last chapter to a book, perhaps centuries after the book was written, to capture readers. He said that some scholars and elders postulate that the section on love was added to the Tirukural, with many sensual verses, to bring readers into the weaver’s more serious subjects.§

How to Apply the Verses to Life

As you go through the verses in this holy book, take in the essence of what is being said. Try to refrain from analyzing each word or phrase. Endeavor to catch the spirit of a land, a government, a religion, a people free from toil, free from conflict and free to express themselves, to thrive and grow. Thousands upon thousands have approached these verses as a friendly guide to life’s challenges, in the following way. While holding the book between both hands, keeping an open mind, think “Aum, Aum, Aum,” and on the third recitation of Aum open the book at random. The first verse your eyes fall upon becomes your meditation and insight for the day, answering the questions weighing upon your mind. If this is done for 365 days for several years, the essence of this amazing seer’s wise observation becomes imbedded deep in the subconscious, thus becoming an intrinsic part of your life. §

On days that we are feeling empty, with no hope for the future, the answers of upliftment will be found herein. On days when life is full of abundance and free from sorrow, close direction on how to contain and maintain this treasured estate may be found. To those who are statesmen, corporate heads, professionals in finance and medicine, engineering and the military, presidents, ministers, governors, mayors and executives of every kind, answers are abundant as to how to maintain and advance their vision of service, their personal life and career; for the weaver understood well, even then, how to progress from success to success, and how to fall from favor, how to gain and lose wealth, how to nurture and offend friends. Enjoy Weaver’s Wisdom as your map for a most rewarding future.§

In fact, one of the striking revelations readers may have as they go through this text is how little has changed in two millennia. People basically have the same worries, face the same fears and personal challenges, struggle with the same weaknesses and foibles, cherish the same aspirations for goodness and nobility. And, sadly, they have the same propensity for dishonesty and corruption. How much we are today like the people the weaver writes about is a most stunning fact. Consequently, we may be startled at the aptness of this old Indian craftsman’s words, for they apply fully to us today as mankind enters the third millennium since the work’s creation. There is, indeed, not a single kural that seems outmoded or irrelevant to our modern life. That in itself is an amazing fact! §

We would strongly suggest that you teach these gems to the children. The weaver’s advice and admonition, coming from the world’s most ancient faith and culture, will enrich every child’s understanding of goodness, right conduct and right thought. It is one of the most sagacious scriptures in the world today. It should be memorized, especially by small children, at least one verse carefully chosen by mother and father, from each of the 108 chapters, as a beginning. This will create a positive conscience for their inner decisions, guiding how they will conduct themselves through life. Small children all through Sri Lanka and South India memorize the Holy Kural so as to chant it verse after verse. Many can recite all 1,330 verses by heart. This gives them a code of living that remains with them the rest of their lives. §

We all know that it is crucial that children be given the benefit of strong principles from a very early age. This is especially true in these times when television stories, plots and scenes present the prevalent dissipated code of living. It is essential that the Tirukural’s do’s and don’ts be carried over for the next generation with pride and persistence so that our descendants, the heirs of the future, are benefited by these age-old insights into the universal laws of dharma. §

Read to your children one chapter of the book aloud each day, or have the older ones read. This is best done in the morning after puja, at meal time or just before sleep, to let its wisdom penetrate deeply and enliven their inner knowing, giving the needed tools to make their own decisions in the right way. This responsibility rests with all parents and all who teach children, and who should, therefore, feel free to draw upon this storehouse of ethical living. §

Another way to bring this book to life in your everyday life is to commit its verses to memory and meditate upon them. And in your daily conversations, quote freely from them as your very own. You will sound wise if you remember and share these jewels, not mentioning where you learned them. One of the greatest benefits of this scripture is to guide our actions and our thoughts, to direct our purpose in life and refine our interactions with our fellow man. Problems can be resolved in the light of the saint’s wisdom. If something is going wrong in your life—stress, conflict, disharmony—bring the forces back into harmony by studying the Tirukural and applying its knowledge. That is perhaps its main function—to perfect and protect our lives by preventing mistakes that can cause unhappy karma, by preventing erroneous attitudes that bring unnecessary sorrow into our experience. Yet, there is nothing in the Tirukural that has to be obeyed. Each couplet contains such insight, however, that we are drawn to it and want to obey. But, having said all that, memorize at least one verse from each chapter. Then on special occasions or during Tirukural contests you will come forth shining. §

Use Weaver’s Wisdom as a book of guidance or divination, not unlike other great works, such as the Chinese I-Ching, drawing on your innate intuitive powers, which everyone has. Hold the book between both hands in a prayerful posture. Mentally ask for the answer, the solution, the inspiration needed. Chant Aum (or your own favorite prayer) three times and then open the book. And there, the first verse your eyes fall upon, is your Indian fortune cookie of the day, any day, many all through the day, day after day. They will, we must warn, make you fat with wisdom. The first kural the eyes fall upon has proven time and again to tens of thousands to contain the needed solution, direction, insight and advice. §

Let’s face it, everyone has reached for that fortune cookie after a delicious Chinese meal, wondering before it was opened if it could really, possibly, magically apply to his life at that moment. I know I have. Then, thinking about the few short lines on that little, hard-to-read paper, we wonder just how, or how much, it really connects to our inner question, or if, indeed, it was a part of our karma to pick up that particular cookie. Or were they all the same? Then, if the message seems to not apply, we think it must be random. So, we say, “Let’s all share out loud our fortune cookie’s message.” We do and did so many times, and more often than not, find the messages pertinent to each of us at the table at that moment. §

I encourage all readers to use this scripture to provide guidelines for effective and virtuous action in your life and that of your family. It can be your refuge in times of confusion, a source of inspiration when you feel less than inspired, a central hub around which the endless play of Lord Siva’s maya revolves. It can be studied to comprehend the nature of virtue and the difficulties caused by transgressing virtue’s natural laws. §

In conclusion to the beginning of the book that we have labored on with great love and tenacity, it is important to note that we have modeled our entire international organization on the weaver’s advice, admonitions, the never-ending directives, which has helped us make decisions in uncompromising situations to uncompromise them into solutions. We highly recommend the wisdom of the weaver to be a vital part of your life now as it has been ours. §


Love and blessings to you from this and inner worlds,§

Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami§

162nd Jagadacharya of the Nandinatha §

Sampradaya’s Kailasa Parampara, §

Guru Mahasannidhanam,§

Kauai Aadheenam, Kauai, Hawaii§

Satguru Purnima, July, 27, 1999, Tamil Year 5101, Pramathin§