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 Tiruvalluvar (First Century BCE) was a Tamil poet born in southern India. As with many Indian sages, there is some uncertainty concerning the details of his life. His date of birth may have been as early as 200 BCE or as late as 800 CE. His birth place is usually said to be Madras (now called Chennai) where a temple has been built in his name. However, an argument has been made that he was a king of the region of Kanyakumari at the southern tip of India, renouncing his estate in the same manner as Gotama Buddha. There is also a claim made of Brahmin descent, although this has to be explained by recourse to illegitimacy. The 'Tiru' part of his name is an honorific given to him as a mark of respect. 'Valluvar' is perhaps a respectful form of 'Valluvan', which indicates 'weaver' or 'town crier'. This in turn may refer to his caste or occupation, or may be his name. The uncertainty arises, of course, because the occupation he is most famous for is that of poet. 


Tiruvalluvar wrote in the Dravidian language of southern India, an older tongue than the Aryan languages of the north. He expressed his philosophy in the Kural, a collection of 1330 short, pithy couplets, primarily in the form of maxims. These are divided into three main sections: virtue, wealth, and love, but the subject matter ranges far wider than these titles suggest. Tiruvalluvar covers, for example, such things as gambling, espionage, medicine, folly and  military forts. There is very little abstract philosophizing or reference to the transcendental; he is practical and down to earth. Tiruvalluvar is aware that poverty can be utterly destructive and that virtue without some wealth to sustain it is rarely possible. He also recognizes the essential part played by the farmer in supporting society.  As for learning, while Tiruvalluvar praises it, he emphasizes that it is something that is useless unless passed on to others.


The word “kural” applies in general to something that is short or abridged. More specifically it describes a poetic couplet in which the two lines have fourteen syllables. In the Kural the couplets are arranged in groups of 10 in 133 chapters. Each chapter deals with a particular subject and gives Tiruvalluvar’s views on different aspects of it. By this means he is able to put forward a wide ranging humanitarian guide to life at home and in the local community. In the extracts that follow, the number of the couplet is indicated.




Any actions which a man knows would harm himself
He should not inflict on others. (316)

He who slays the conceit which clamors "I" and "mine"
Will enter a realm above the celestials' world. (346)

Keep the mind free of impurity. That alone is the practice of virtue.
All else is nothing but empty display. (034)

Virtue is living in such a way that one does not fall into these four
Envy, anger, greed and unsavory speech. (035)

The virtuous householder supports the needs
Of renunciates, ancestors and the poor. (042)

A kindly countenance and sweet words
Spoken from the heart are virtue's way. (093)

Help rendered another cannot be measured by the extent
Of assistance imparted. Its real measure is the recipient's worthiness. (105)


If a man is easy of access to all, then the virtue of courtesy
Will be easily accessible to him. (991)

He who understands his duty to society truly lives.
All others shall be counted among the dead. (214)




They say it is to know union with love
That the soul takes union with the body. (073)

Without love in the heart,
Life is like a sapless tree in a barren desert. (078)

What good is a body perfect in outer ways,
If inwardly it is impaired by lack of love? (079)


Unloved by even a single soul:
What could such a man imagine he might leave behind. (1004)





What does a man lack if his wife is worthy?
And what does he possess if she is lacking worth? (053)

Of all a man's blessings we know of none greater than
The begetting of children endowed with intelligence. (061)

Being touched by one's children is a delight to the body,
And listening to them chatter is a joy to the ear. (065)

The poorest penury is having plenty yet shunning guests.
Such senselessness is only found in senseless fools. (089)

In their offspring one may doubtlessly discern
Who are the just and who the unjust. (114)

Gathering wealth without misdeeds and sharing meals without
miserliness, The householder's posterity will never perish.(044)

Behold the man who shields his family from all suffering.
Has not his body become a willing vessel for affliction. (1029)

The whole purpose of maintaining a home
And earning wealth is to provide hospitality to guests. (081)




Four are the attributes of the true gentleman: a smiling face,
A generous hand, a courteous disposition and kindly words. (953)

Will any medicine save the body of the high-born man
When his honor has perished? (968)

Love, modesty, propriety, kindly look, and truthfulness
These are the five pillars on which perfect goodness rests. (983)

The world thrives when that great beauty
Called the kindly look flourishes. (571)

The length of the lotus stalk depends on the water's depth.
Even so, a man's greatness is proportionate to his mind's energy. (595)


Let all thoughts be thoughts of noble progress,
For then even failing cannot be called a failure. (596)

Let him alone be trusted who fully possesses these four:

Kindness, intelligence, assurance and freedom from greed. (513)


Having massacred every breed of goodness, one may yet escape,
But there is no escape for those who let gratitude die. (110)



Guard your self-control as a precious treasure,
For there is no greater wealth in life than this. (122)


Those who cannot live in harmony with the world,
Though they have learned many things, are still ignorant. (140)

Prosperity is not for the envious,
Nor is greatness for men of impure conduct.(135)


No different from the dead are those who
Wickedly desire the wife of a friend. (143)

It is always good to endure injuries done to you,
But to forget them is even better. (152)

It is impoverished poverty to be inhospitable to guests.
It is stalwart strength to be patient with fools. (153)

Worthless are those who injure others vengefully,
While those who stoically endure are like stored gold. (155)

A man's own envy is foe enough to forge his ruin,
Even though he has no other enemies. (165)



They say those who act cruelly by forsaking compassion
Must have forgotten what it means to forsake morality. (246)

What avails a man's subtle and comprehensive learning
If, in a covetous delirium, he still exploits others? (175)

The wound caused by fire heals in its time;
The burn inflicted by an inflamed tongue never heals. (129)

More vile than violating virtue and committing crime
Is slanderously sabotaging a man, then smiling to his face. (182)

The arrow is straight but cruel; the lute is crooked but sweet.
Therefore, judge men by their acts, not their appearance. (279)

Neither shaven head nor long locks are required,
Provided one refrains from conduct condemned by the world. (280)

The mere thought of sin is sin. Therefore,
Avoid even the thought of stealing from another. (282)



If you ask, "What is kindness and what is unkind?"
It is not killing and killing. Thus, eating flesh is never virtuous. (254)


Greater than a thousand ghee offerings consumed in sacrificial fires:
Do not do sacrifice and consume any living creature. (259)

All that lives will press palms together in prayerful adoration
Of those who refuse to slaughter and savor meat. (260)



What is truthfulness? It is the speaking of words
Which are entirely free from harmful effects. (291)

Even falsehood is of the nature of truth,
If it gives good results free from fault. (292)

All knowledge acquired through the five senses is worthless
To those without knowledge of truth. (354)

Purity is but freedom from desire,
And that is achieved by desiring to know Truth. (364)

However subtle the texts studied,
The native knowing destined one prevails. (373)

Why should those who rejoice when Destiny brings good
Moan when that same Destiny decrees misfortune? (379)



To commit no wrong, even against one's enemies,
Is said to be supreme wisdom. (203)

Wisdom speaks well, conveying each meaning clearly,
And listens for the subtlest sense in others' speech. (424)


As water changes according to the soil through which it flows,
So does a man assimilate the character of his associates. (452)

Two are the eyes of those who truly live
One is called numbers and the other letters. (392)

A man's learning is an imperishable and precious wealth.
All other possessions are less golden. (400)

The goodness and beauty of him whose knowledge
Is neither subtle nor penetrating are like those of a painted clay doll. (407)



10  Opportunity


Though it seems a harmless gauge of time, a day,
To those who fathom its form, is a saw steadily cutting the tree of life. (334)

If you are born, be born for glory,
For those born without it would be better off without birth. (236)


When a rare opportunity comes, do not hesitate,
But swiftly accomplish tasks that are otherwise impossible. (489)


Even the weak may powerfully prevail if they choose the right
Field of action, establish good defenses and then fight well. (493)

The wise never undertake an enterprise
Which rashly risks existing capital to reach for potential profits. (463)


Ignorant of their strengths, many plunge zealously
Into projects, only to miscarry midway. (473)


Only seasoned soldiers can confront the desperate adversity
Of decimating attacks with intrepid tenacity. (762)



11  Justice


Weigh a man's merits and weigh his faults
Then judge him according to the greater. (504)

Investigate well, show favor to none, maintain impartiality,
Consult the law, then give judgmentthat is the way of justice. (541)


Four are the characteristics which a king cannot lack:
Fearlessness, generosity, wisdom and industriousness. (382)

The earth bears no greater burden than the unlearned counselors
Whom the cruel sceptered king binds to himself. (570)

A minister is he who can conceive a great enterprise, rightly choose
the ways, the means and the time, then successfully accomplish it. (631)


A minister is he who, in addition to the above five, is well-endowed
With steadfastness, protection of the people, learning and perseverance. (632)

Trouble itself they send away troubled
Who do not trouble themselves at the sight of it. (623)


12  Speech


The content of worthy speech binds friends more closely,
And its eloquence draws even enemies to listen. (643)

Speech uttered without bias is integrity,
Provided no unspoken bias hides in the heart. (119)

Men who cannot communicate their knowledge to others
Resemble a bouquet of unfragrant flowers in full bloom. (650)

Do not disparage men who appear small, for there are those,
Seemingly insignificant, who are like the linchpin of a mighty chariot. (667)

Give whatever is required to gain an advisor
Who, knowing his own mind, can read another's thoughts. (703)

Speaking before men of alien mind
Is like pouring sweet nectar down a drain. (720)


Speaking to a learned gathering without full knowledge,
Is like playing a dice game without the board. (401)

Study the science of logic so that
You may fearlessly reply in any assembly. (725)


Though you may incur the enmity of those who reap a livelihood by their
Bow do not provoke the hatred of those who sow and reap with their words. (872)


Everyone is disgusted by a man
Who offends one and all with meaningless chatter. (191)

13  Friendship


The bonds that good men share, like good bound books,
Reveal new enjoyments at each new encounter. (783)

Friendship is not seen on a friendly face,
But felt deep within a friendly heart. (786)

What is old friendship? It is when neither friend objects
To the liberties taken by the other. (801)

Prostitutes, thieves and those who make friends
To make money are all alike. (813)

14  Folly


What is folly? It is holding on to that which is harmful
And throwing away that which is beneficial. (831)

It is said that hatred is the disease that spreads
The plague of discord among all living creatures. (851)

How can the man who is unloving and who has neither powerful allies
Nor the strength to stand alone overcome his mighty enemies? (862)

Procrastination, forgetfulness, laziness and sleepthese four
form the coveted ship which bears men to their destined ruin. (605)

One should never wish for the accursed thing
Called enmityeven in jest. (871)

Those who live obeying their wife's wishes
Can neither satisfy the needs of friends nor benefit others. (908)


Pursuing a happy life without mixing with kinsmen
Is like pouring water into a barrel which has no staves. (523)

When the vile meets the wicked he will outdo him
In his vices and pride himself on the achievement. (1074)

15  Fortune


Two-faced females, besotting brew and addictive dice
Befriend the men whom fortune has forsaken. (920)

Those enamored of the dice, the gambling hall
And their lucky hand lose everything in their desire to win. (935)

To be devoid of good fortune is no one's disgrace.
But shame belongs to those destitute of knowledge and tenacity. (618)


Diagnose the illness, trace its cause,
Seek the proper remedy and apply it with skill. (948)



16  Wealth


Humility is a precious quality in all people,
But it has a rare richness in the rich. (125)

Compassion, which is the child of Love,
requires for its care the bountiful nurse called Wealth. (757)

Free of famine, endless epidemics and ravaging foes
Now that is a flourishing nation. (734)

Those in the shade of abundant sheaves of grain
Will see many nations overshadowed by their own. (1034)

17  Poverty


How unpleasant a beggar's pleading can become,
Until one sees his face, so sweetly pleased. (224)

That poison called poverty will destroy, obliterate at once,
The honor of ancient descent and the refinement of speech. (1043)

Will wretched poverty which is killing me so (I think)
Come again today as of yesterday? (1048)

Deprived of its beggars, this vast and verdant (I think) earth
Would be reduced to a sphere for the wooden play of puppets. (1058)

The unsturdy ship called begging will break apart
The moment it crashes against the rock of refusal. (1068)

The benevolent expect no return for their dutiful giving.
How can the world ever repay the rain cloud? (211)


Giving to the poor is true charity.
All other giving expects a recompense. (221)



The Holy Kural by Tiruvalluvar, translated under the guidance of Gurudeva, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. Himalayan Academy, 1995. Copyright 1995 Himalayan Academy, All Rights Reserved. The information contained in the Himalayan Academy document may not be published for commercial purposes without the prior written authority of Himalayan Academy. In the extracts given above, the indicated verse number can be used to deduce the chapter number by adding 1 to the first two digits (e.g. 034 is the 4th verse in Chapter 4). The full text to the end of Chapter 108 is published on-line by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia

Other Versions


The Sacred Kural, selected and translated by H. A. Popley, the Heritage of India Series, YMCA Publishing House, 5 Russel Street, Calcutta-16, India, 1958. First printed in 1931. These selections are in a form of non-rhyming metrical couplets that achieve some of the terseness of the original, although the English harks back to the early Twentieth Century. 


Tirukkural, An Ancient Tamil Classic, translated into verse by Kasthuri Sreenivasan. Bharatiya Vidya,  Bombay, India, 1969. This is a full version, translated into rhyming couplets that are not so terse as the Popley version.


Tiruvalluvar, The Kural, translated by P. S. Sundaram. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England, 1991.  This translation into prose couplets achieves a very clear and succinct style, often gaining dramatic effect by carefully shaping the concluding argument in the second couplet. 


                        Introduction and Selection Copyright © 2001 Rex Pay