Tamil Nadu Governor stokes controversy over Thirukkural again; a step to woo Tamils?

The concept of ‘Aadhi Bhagavan’ is in Rig Veda too. It is at the core of Indian spirituality. It is far from ‘Primal Deity’ as translated by colonial apologists”, he said. 

ByUmar Sharieef

Published Aug 28, 2022 | 4:15 PMUpdatedAug 28, 2022 | 4:15 PM

Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi

Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi’s recent statement that GU Pope — who first translated the Thirukkural into English — wrote a “de-spiritualised version”, caused a lot of ripples among the political leaders and Tamil literary circles in the state.

The Thirukkural is a classic Tamil text consisting of 1,330 couplets on a range of topics — including ethics and wisdom — by Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar, also called Valluvar.

On Thursday, 25 August, Ravi, while unveiling the statue of Thiruvalluvar at the Delhi Tamil Education Association Senior Secondary School in New Delhi, said, “Thirukkural is not just a code of ethics and morality but an epic book holding the wisdom of eternal spirituality.”

He added that Thiruvalluvar was one of the brightest stars in the galaxy of ancient sages.

Referring to one of the kurals — short verses — that Valluvar wrote, the governor said the Aadhi Bhagavan quoted in the first verse of Thirukkural was found in all Indian languages.

“The concept of ‘Aadhi Bhagavan’ is in the Rig Veda too. It is at the core of Indian spirituality. It is far from the ‘primal deity’, as translated by colonial apologists,” he said.

While this is not the first time the governor stoked controversy by relating the Thirukkural with spirituality, it may be relevant to revisit the previous incidents of the Thirukkural being politicised in Tamil Nadu.

Limited due to political compulsion?

On 8 January, Ravi, during the inauguration of the International Thirukkural Conference at a private college in Coimbatore, said the Thirukkural should not be limited to a book of ethics and morality due to political compulsions since the book is rooted in spirituality.

He said it has a deep meaning that can not be understood without spirituality.

Ravi quoted the verse “Agara mudhala”, adding that the couplet explains devotion, but the translation of the work he received has the spiritual quotient missing.

Political leaders and observers, including Tamil scholars, felt the BJP was attempting to gain political mileage in Tamil Nadu.

Most of the political leaders in Tamil Nadu accuse Governor RN Ravi of being an agent of the BJP, who has come to act against the development of the state and advise the state over policies.

Tamil orator and Gandhi Makkal Iyakkam founder Tamilaruvi Manian, who was once a part of the Congress, told South First that there is no need to limit the Thirukkural for political gain or compulsion in Tamil Nadu, and termed Ravi’s comments as an attempt to help the BJP gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu.

Thiruvalluvar in saffron

The BJP first painted Valluvar in saffron attire in November 2019 — with sacred ash smeared on his forehead and Rudraksha mala in his hand. The image was posted on its official Twitter handle. It kicked off an ideological and political debate in Tamil Nadu.

While Chief Minister MK Stalin, who was then just the DMK chief, alleged that the BJP’s attempt of trying to saffronise Valluvar was a betrayal of the Tamil language and also an attempt to pull Valluvar into the saffron clan, BJP supporters claimed Valluvar was a Hindu and the Thirukkural has references to many Hindu Gods.

As soon as the issue created ripples among political leaders and outfits, a statue of Valluvar in Pillayarpatti of Thanjavur district miscreants smeared it with cow dung.

Indu Makkal Katchi chief Arjun Sampath climbed a ladder to drape Valluvar in saffron and was arrested by the police on 6 November, 2019. It added fuel to the fire.

Thirukkural limited to one religion? 

Tamil literary figures and political leaders told South First that Valluvar didn’t belong to any religion, and the attempt to say that his couplets hold the eternal wisdom of spirituality was an attempt to portray him as someone who belonged to one religion.

Tamil litterateur Meenakshi Sundaram told South First: “Even if the Thirukkural holds the eternal wisdom of spirituality, who is the Governor to say that to the people of Tamil Nadu?”

Thirukkural is common to all — irrespective of religion — and nobody has the right to limit Valluvar or the Thirukkural within one religion, said Tamil Selvan, another Tamil litterateur.

“Thirukkural has no relation with spirituality. Valluvar didn’t speak about spirituality in any of his couplets,” Tamilaruvi Manian said.

Referring to the Thirukkural that says “Pirappokkum Ellaa Uyirkkum Sirappovvaa Seydhozhil Vetrumai Yaan” — which means “All human beings agree as regards their birth but differ as follows their characteristics, because of the different qualities of their actions” — he said RN Ravi must read the Thirukkural better before commenting on it.

He also termed the governor’s move an attempt to divide people by religion, and added that it shows the governor lacks knowledge of the subject.