Chennai: As attempts to queer the pitch in reconfiguring the Tamil saint-poet Tiruvalluvar's cultural matrix has stoked a political controversy in Tamil Nadu, it may be relevant to revisit what Rajaji, freedom fighter and Mahatma Gandhi's 'conscience keeper', had said about the poet and his work 'Tirukural'.
In his 'Kural- The Great Book of Tiru-Valluvar', Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, who studied the work in great detail, is unambiguously of the view that Tiruvalluvar was beyond all religions. As someone who served in various high offices later, including as Chief Minister of Madras State, Governor General and Union Home minister, it is hard to even presume Rajaji was playing to any gallery.
Rajaji, who retold the Indian Epics of 'Ramayana' and 'Mahabharata' with remarkable lucidity and clarity without their social import losing gravitas, for a whole new generation of Indians post-Independence, had earlier in 1935 first made selections from the second book of 'Kural' (which deals with public policy in worldly affairs including statecraft as he puts it) and rendered them into English, for a larger non-Tamil audience.
Rajaji then expanded its scope to include chapters from Book one of 'Kural' also (dealing with duties of man as a householder and as an ascetic) to bring out a more enriched edition of explaining the Tamil classical treatise in English in 1947. The 'Bharatia Vidya Bhavan' later published the revised edition first in 1965 which since then has gone into 14 reprints, an indicator of how a good book-, more so "a poetic composition of great antiquity in Tamil literature as K M Munshi then put it- commends itself.
In the preface to the earliest edition, Rajaji writes: "The Tiru-k-kural of Tiruvalluvar is one of the oldest of extant Tamil books. It is generally accepted as belonging to a period anterior to the second century A.D. (now read 2 CE - Christian Era). Some scholars place it in the first century B.C. (now read 1 BCE)."
Rajaji then goes on to write that though "it is claimed by many that Tiruvalluvar was a Jain, I do not accept this theory." "Tiruvalluvar was one of those rare and great men whose catholic spirit rose above all denominations and whose vision was not clouded by dogma or prejudice of any kind. His teachings elude classification on any denominational basis," the late elder statesman wrote.
Rajaji also points out how Tiruvalluvar was not preaching morals from a pulpit. "Tiruvalluvar's approach to moral doctrine is marked by a very thorough knowledge of human psychology and a desire to help imperfect men with practical hints in the struggle against evil. Throughout we can see how the poet brings everything down to the level of practicality without losing hold of the ideal," elaborates Rajaji in some very insightful remarks.
Tiruvalluvar was not just addressing a monarchy either. Rajaji in fact argues that the poet in dealing with matters of statecraft was making available "principles of conduct that should guide all persons engaged in secular affairs." Sufficient to drive home that Tiruvalluvar was both beyond all religions and secular in outlook. It also shows that any approach to limit this great bard and his work to that of a 'Hindu icon' would not be doing justice to the life and times of Tiruvalluvar.