Thiruvalluvar’s KURAL – A New Translation by Thomas Pruiksma – Some Excerpts

Thiruvalluvar is India’s especially revered and loved poet and philosopher for his epic collection of verse, the Tirukurral or simply, Kural – an independent couplet in which the first line consists of four words and the second line three. Scholars often date it between the third and fifth centuries CE, at the end of what is known as the Sangam period, a time of literary flourishing in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The name of the book combines the honorific Tamil prefix Tiru – “eminent,” “beautiful,” “holy”—with the name of the specific Tamil verse form that Tiruvalluvar employs, the ‘kural venpā’. The poet is believed to have lived in Mylapore, a neighbourhood in the central part of the State capital, Chennai. The 1,330 stanzas or kurals in the Tirukkural are divided into 133 chapters or themes called ‘Adhikaarams’.

The themes virtually cover every aspect of a human being’s life. They soar above time and space, cultures and religions, quite effortlessly. They affirm one’s belief in the universality of the human soul, its eternal swings between the grand and the wicked, the power of love, the wastefulness and sourness of strife. In its sweep and scope, it can be likened to Kabir, Rumi, Shakespeare, Milton, Homer and other works of great philosophical scope and earthly poise. Indeed, the Kural is dismissive of caste and other hierarchies.

As the translator Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma says: “ The book covers a vast array of human knowledge, experience, and wisdom, offering an intricate interweaving of ethics and poetry, full of wordplay, sharp imagery, and rhythmic sophistication.” Elsewhere, he adds: “Tiruvalluvar uses this form (stanzas) to elucidate what it means to live a good life.” The Kural gracefully combines philosophy, pithy wit, wry ethics and rugged pragmatism.

Pruiksma explains: “Each chapter of the Kural consists of ten kurals on a single theme, such as friendship, hospitality, or rain. These verses are both complete in themselves and part of a larger whole in which all the different verses complement, augment, and amplify each other. 133 chapters, in turn, are arranged into sections that cover three of the four aims prescribed by Hindu tradition—virtue, wealth, and love. Most commentators claim, and I’m inclined to agree, that Tiruvalluvar leaves out the fourth aim—liberation from the cycle of birth and death—because if a person pursues the first three wholeheartedly, the fourth is a natural result.”

It is scarcely surprising that the Kural has been translated into more than 40 world languages, and with over 50 versions in the English language alone. Pruiksma’s translation is a work of love, dedication, erudition and rigour. Explaining the pattern of verse, he says in his introduction: “More than one translator has referred to the kural form as a couplet, but doing so risks a misunderstanding. While a kural does consist of two lines of poetry, they are not matched metrically, as a couplet by Shakespeare might be… In addition, a kural is not end-rhymed but rather follows a sophisticated and nuanced pattern of assonance and consonance that has characterised Tamil poetry from its beginnings.” The translation tries to capture this cadence.  Here are some excerpts from the book which is scheduled for release in January next.


631   Great in means in method in timing and in action— 

That is a minister

632   Greatness in these five—courage learning wisdom protection 

Perseverance—that is a minister

633   Able to divide reunite cherish and keep— 

That is a minister

634   Able to discern to act from discernment and to speak 

Resolutely—that is a minister

635   One that knows right action sees what is possible and speaks 

The fullest words—that is a worthy advisor
638   Though a king without knowledge kills knowledge those 

Beside him must speak true

639   A million million enemies—better than a minister 

Plotting wrong at one’s side

640   Even planning perfectly ministers without mastery 

Complete nothing


1031   Turn as it will the world follows the plow—toil as one might 

Farming is highest

1032   Farmers sustain everyone not farming—they 

Are the pin holding the world together

1033   They live who live by farming—all others 

Follow and honor them for food

1034   They see many shelters beneath their king’s shelter— 

Those whose fields shelter grain

1035   He who eats by his own hand does not beg 

And gives freely to beggars

1036   If farmers fold their arms those saying 

I need nothing cannot be


151   Like earth that bears digging those who bear scorn 

Stand highest

152   To bear transgression is always good—to forget it 

Better than good

153   Want in want—turning away guests—strength in strength— 

Bearing fools

154   If one seeks excellence without end protect 

And practice forbearance

155   Those who hit back—held as nothing—those who forbear— 

Cherished like gold

156   For those who hit back—one day of pleasure—for those who 


A life of renown

157   Better to suffer wrong than to wrong 

Others who wrong you

158   To overpower arrogant insolence practice 

Inborn patience

159   Purer than saints—those who endure 

Vicious mouths

160   Those who endure without eating are great—after those 

Who endure harsh words


221   Giving to those with nothing is giving—all else 

Expects a return

222   Even leading to heaven taking is wrong—even leading to hell 

Giving is good

223   Giving and not crying I have nothing—found 

In those of good family

224   It is bitter to be begged—till the face 

That begged turns sweet

225   Strength of the strong—strength over hunger—after those 

Whose strength relieves hunger

226   Ending the ruinous hunger of the poor—a safe 

That stores a man’s wealth

227   The vicious disease that is hunger cannot touch 

Those who share food

228   The callous who lose all that they keep—do they not know 

The joy of giving

Unworthy Conduct

271   At the hollow conduct of a dishonest heart 

The five senses laugh within

272   Knowing wrong in one’s heart what good 

To tower to the sky

273   A show of command in one without it—a cow in tiger’s skin 

Munching crops

274   One who does wrong behind tavam—hunter 

Behind bushes catching birds

275   The false conduct of him who says he needs nothing 

Will make him cry out what have I done

276   None more cruel than those seeming to renounce 

And living by falsehood

277   Some seeming as regal as a red rosary pea 

Are as black at heart as its tip

278   Plunging into the waters of greatness many hide 

False conduct in their hearts


Thomas Pruiksma is an author, a poet, a performer and a teacher. His books include The Safety of Edges and Give, Eat and Live: Poems of Avvaiyar.

Excerpted from The Kural: Tiruvalluvar’s Tirukkural by Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma (Beacon Press, 2021). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.


  1. Great indeed.
    Thoughtful thoughts.
    Remembering Shrimad Rajchandra ‘s sayings.Shrimad ji remembers him in his writings.


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