6th January – The Kural and Ethics

The Thirukkural by Thiruvalluvar, also known as the Kural is a powerful and compact Tamil text from South India which has survived and thrived over 2,000 years. The Kural deals with three concepts which in Sanskrit relate to dharma, artha and kama.

Ethical connection –

The matters of statecraft, governance and related topics lie embedded in the Kural. What is unique is that in the Kural, there is great emphasis on ethical and moral attributes called aram (virtue), both at the personal and the level of the state. Gandhi’s non-violence is supposed to be drawn from the Kural.

Elaborating the ethical lessons –

  • In the chapter on citizenship, the author advises the individual to put himself at the service of community and to identify his interests with those of the community. This piece of advice is very much relevant than ever as good citizenship and service to the nation is the crying need of today.
  • Tiruvalluvar despised tyrannical rule. Obviously, his materialistic ideas were tempered with moral ideas of Jainism.
  • Valluvar deals mainly with the virtues in terms of good, or even idealised citizenry, and not in terms of caste-based or asrama based svadharma and hence when he discusses subjects in politics, it appears that he does not address the king or Kshatriya, but simply a man.
  • Tiruvalluvar solves the problems of community by sinking the interest of the individual in that of the race …. if his Aram is the duty of the Individual to Society and the Race, his Porul is the duty of Society to the Individual… A complete harmony of individual rights with those of race, is the secret of Tiruvalluvar’s surprising universalism and modernism.

Quotes –

  • Chapter 4, Verse 32 – There can be no greater source of good than (the practice of) virtue; than the forgetfulness of it, there can be no greater source of evil.
  • Chapter 4, Verse 34 – Whatever is done with a spotless mind is virtue; all else is vain show.
  • Chapter 4, Verse 35 – That conduct is virtue which is free from these four things: malice, desire, anger and bitter speech.
  • Chapter 55, Verse 548 – The king who gives not facile audience (to those who approach him), and who does not examine and pass judgment (on their complaints), will perish in disgrace.
  • Chapter 55 Verse 551 – More cruel than the man who lives the life of a murderer is the king who gives himself to oppress and act unjustly (towards his subjects).
  • Chapter 57 Verse 563 – “The cruel king, who acts so as to put his subjects in fear, will certainly and quickly come to ruin.”
  • Chapter 66 Verse 660 – Defines “Purity of Action”, as translated by C Rajagopalachari: “To seek to further the welfare of the State by enriching it through fraud and falsehood is like storing water in an unburnt mud pot and hoping to preserve it.


What Thirukkural is arguing is that it is aram which regulates and need to check both porul and imbam at any or all levels. This is what exactly Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had emphasised in his Hind Swaraj: “artha and kama should be pursued within the framework of dharma. In modern civilization artha and kama, according to Gandhi, assert their autonomy from dharma.”

SourceVIF India

QUESTIONDescribe how traditions elaborated in Thiruvalluvar’s Kural can lay down the foundation of a modern ethical state in India.

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