Two great savants who spoke the same language

Two great savants who spoke the same language


By S Panneerselvam

Tamil saint-poet Tiruvalluvar’s perennially relevant ‘Tirukkural’, examines human life in all its texture and variety, moving from ‘what is’ to ‘what ought to be’, in an amazingly brilliant epigrammatic style of 1,330 couplets. It is no mere crowning jewel of the myriad didactic works in Tamil literature of the classical ‘Sangam period’, but constitutes a paradigm of cultural critique that is both universal and timeless.

Notwithstanding how you read a text and take it forward through diverse, creative interpretations, particularly in a post-modern context, the text Tirukkural represents, to extend a phrase of the German phenomenologist Shultz, “the Life-World of the Tamils.”
But what is equally striking about this great work, is that it is universal in its scope and applicable to all humans across the planet earth. He uses words like ‘Ulagu’ and ‘Makkal’, to mean the entire human beings. This universal outlook of Tiruvalluvar, shot through his entire work, is proof so clear of his humanism.

No wonder that the Tamil savant, UVe Swaminatha Iyer says that the Tirukkural contains “necessary principles of righteous life, for all religions and nations, and also for all those who have different ideologies.” It is such Catholicism that has made Tirukkural the most renowned and perhaps the best known ‘ethical work’ in Tamil for all time to come.
Three cardinal values of ‘virtue’, ‘wealth’ and ‘love’, essential for man as a social being is discussed in one single text of Tirukkural, something that other celebrated works on ethics and polity like even Kautalya’s ‘Artha Shastra’ do not seem to enjoy. Above all, the word ‘Universal Man’ for Tiruvalluvar has a unique implication.

Universal representation
As the Universal Man is the Common Man, who has no caste or creed, he is the universal representative of the concept of ‘Man.’ It is this Universal Man who is Tiruvalluvar’s protagonist, who looks for the uplift of the entire humanity.

While great thinkers of the past were inclined to give a lower status to manual labour, carried away by the ‘Mind over Matter syndrome,’ Tiruvalluvar gives it a lasting importance. “All other professions follow only the plough,” Tiruvalluar said, giving manual labour an honoured seat in the scheme of things.

The universal application of the Tirukkural, made Albert Schweitzer claim that “there hardly exists in the literature of the world, a collection of maxims in which we find such lofty wisdom.” The uniqueness of Tirukkural is that it was written two millennium ago, but has application and relevance to the present day problems, thus transcending time, mused Schweitzer.

If Tirukkural is ethical and prescriptive in nature, Tiruvalluvar fighting the socio-cultural decadence of his times, courageously thought with farsightedness and visionary zeal that the business of literature was not just to make men happy, convey a feel-good factor, but to lay bare certain universal values for a life that is both spiritual and secular.
When Tiruvalluvar uses the term ‘Saandror’ — meaning the ‘Ideal Man’ — it is to give expression to the five noble qualities of ‘love’, ‘sensitivity’, ‘altruism’, ‘compassion’ and ‘truthfulness’. These for the bard “are the five pillars of human excellence.”
 These five basic pillars had to support a strong and robust view of social and political justice for Tiruvalluvar. For him political justice is “meaningful if the welfare and rights of the people are protected by the King or the government.”

The worth of action
Intuiting the fallout of a range of political institutions in an almost mystical vision, Tiruvalluvar was to warn all polity-makers that the “tears that people shed as a result of oppression will destroy the prosperity of the King.” Rejecting all social stratifications based on caste/community, the gateway to an egalitarian social order was penned by him in a couplet which says, “By birth, all men are equal and it is by the difference in action that their worth is rendered unequal.”

Tiruvalluvar’s political philosophy gets even more fleshed out in his reflections on the polity and the economy. Rule by consensus, and importance of the social contract was seen by him as the sin qua non of a well-developed democratic polity based on the principles of ‘Dharma’ or morality. “All excellence are vain where the ruler and ruled disagree”, says he, echoing what in the modern context would be a social contract theory. Even Nobel laureate Amartya Sen would agree with this today.

Having something to say on every aspect of individual and social life, Tiruvalluvar’s ecological concerns are equally relevant now. “The waters of the surface, waters that flow underground, seasonal rains, well-situated mountains and strong fortifications are indispensable to any country.” “Conserve water, for on it depends the survival of the world and entire mankind”, the bard had extolled! How true his words are even today!
(The writer is professor and dean (endowment), department of philosophy, University of Madras)

The words of wisdom on an idiot, will have the same effect as of the downpour on a rock
— Sarvajna

By birth, all men are equal and it is by the difference in action, that their worth is rendered unequal
— Tiruvalluvar


By Srinivas Sirnoorkar
From a sleepy village Abalur in Hirekerur taluk of Haveri district in Karnataka to Ayanavaram in the Chennai metropolis of Tamil Nadu, the journey of Kannada poet Sarvajna is truly fascinating. It also vindicates the saying that “the poet dies but the real poet does not”.

The linguistic states of post Independent India may have put up strong barricades between the people of different languages, but it is only for a few sacred souls like Sarvajna and Tiruvalluvar to break the barriers and connect the hearts of people with their ever refreshing literary magic.

Kannada literature has been enriched by scores of ‘vachana’ composers but standing distinctively different among them is Sarvajna. What Basaveshwara of the 12th century along with a host of his contemporary vachana composers contributed for the ‘vachana sahitya’, Sarvajna did the same single-handedly in the 16th century.
Sarvajna’s triplets in simple Kannada have a penetratitive appeal and rousing effect and as such have remained integral part of the life of every Kannadiga for the last five centuries and would continue to vibrate for centuries to come.
Vachana — meaning word —is a unique form of Kannada literature. Simplicity and brevity are their hallmarks. Strictly speaking vachana is neither poetry nor prose. It lies somewhere in between. However, the beauty of vachanas lies in their striking appeal.
What pages of powerful prose and endless lines of poetry cannot achieve, the triplets and quartets achieve with ease by leaving the people dumbstruck. Moreover, vachanas have an intrinsic strength of playing on the tongues of millions and remain engrossed in their memories.

A viragi
Sarvajna is apparently not his real name. It is the pen name of the anonymous poet about whom not much is known yet. The omniscient poet derives his poetic strength by watching bemusedly the dubious behaviour of people from a close range. Having renounced the worldly pleasures, Sarvajna, it appears, was always on the move leading a life of a ‘viragi,’ an ascetic.

He was essentially a rebel. For being brutally frank, people of his time must have loved to hate him. Therefore, he always maintained a distance from them. Truth is not only unpalatable but also undigestable. He was not only a poet but a bundle of critic, guide, philosopher, visionary, rebel, revolutionary, preacher, reformer, and above all the conscience-keeper of the society.

Like several authors and poets of yore, Sarvajna too did not leave his biodata for posterity. For research scholars he has still remained a mystery. There was apparently a grave personal tragedy in his life. Though there is no explicit record of his birth, growth, and other personal aspects, Sarvajna himself speaks about them to some extent in his vachanas.

He was an offspring of his father’s extramarital affair. The couple — Akkamallamma and Basavarasa of Masur village — also in Hirekerur taluk did not have issues even years after marriage. Basavarasa goes to Kashi to seek the blessings of Lord Vishvanath. On his return journey on a rainy night he takes shelter in Kumbara Mala’s residence at Abalur. The night saw the union of  Basavarasa and the beautiful Mali wife of Mala. The union paves the way for the birth of Sarvajna.

Later in his life Sarvajna came to know the secret of his birth. He was abandoned by his real father and foster mother. Dejected in life he took to ‘sanyasa’ and travelled extensively to become what he himself says ‘a mountain of knowledge.’

Father of tripadi
Sarvajna, a staunch devout of Shiva, is credited with giving birth to a new metrical form called ‘tripadi’ (triplets). All his vachanas are essentially three liners full of wit and wisdom.

Bemused with the rampant practice of casteism, he asks “to which caste the flame of house of a low caste belong? Man born of flesh and blood, where could he find his caste?”

Having seen the ins and outs of human behaviour dispassionately Sarvajna tries to record everything in just three lines. He is sore over people’s inability to recognise the good and going mad after the bad things. “Not a single fly hovers over a sandal paste, but thousands of them swarm over a piece of excreta’’ Sarvajna laments.
He looks down upon the idiots and pities on those who try to reform them: “Dog never relishes tender coconut and the idiot never listens to the preacher.” In another vachana he says “The words of wisdom on an idiot will have the same effect as of the downpour on a rock.”

Sarvajna’s concern for the food security of the nation is amazing. Among all cultures, says he, agriculture is supreme. Ignore agriculture at the peril of the country, he warns. His vachanas are prophetic indeed.

His vachanas ending with the pen name ‘Sarvajna’ address every circumstance of life and prescribe remedy for every malady. By being on the tip of the tongue of every household in Karnataka, Sarvajna remains with us for ever.

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