CHENNAI: Even as Tiruvalluvar has become a coveted figure for political parties trying to establish a stronger Tamil connect, in the past few years the literary study of the commentary ofParimelazhagaron Tiruvalluvar’s ‘Thirukkural’ has been creating a buzz.
If a series of events in recent times is any indication, Parimelazhagar’s commentary on the ‘Thirukkural’ has gained much popularity. A three-volume publication of his classic commentary takes up the ambitious task of elucidating its varied nuances and subtleties to the masses.
A 1919 work that sought to explicate the thrust of Parimelazhagar’s commentary — for as time flies commentaries too need explanation — is republished. A series of live classes based on Parimelazhagar’s work conducted in the popular Tamil ‘pattimandram’ (debate) circuit a couple of years ago became a full-house event. In pandemic times, the event continues on YouTube, with thousands of subscribers.
Not that applause and acclaim are new to Parimelazhagar who is said to have hailed from a lineage of Vaishnavite temple priests in Kancheepuram.Coming just a few decades after him, Saivaite scholarUmapathi Sivachariyarlisted Parimelazhagar’s commentary along with the ‘Thirukkural’ as being among the six greatest Tamil works. The great Tamil savant T P Meenakshisundaram went a step further to state that without the boat of Parimelazhagar’s commentary, the import of the ‘Thirukkural’ would not have made it to us past the dark seas of the intervening centuries.
But despite such a reputation and the mastery and finesse of a consummate polymath that Parimelazhagar brought to his exegesis on the Kural’s pithy couplets, there have been detractors as also those who differed from him. Professor E Sundaramurthy, former vice-chancellor ofTamil University, points out that such differences, if they are based on genuine academic grounds, are part of research methodology. According to him, a 17 th century work on Parimelazhagar’s commentary (Kaari Rathina Kavirayar’s ‘Parimelazhagar Urai Nunporalmaalai’), lists divergent interpretations.
In his work ‘Thirukkural Urai Vipareetham’, professor Sami Thiagarajan gives a graphic description of some 20th century ‘Thirukkural’ commentaries which take a distortive approach to it. Though the motivations for such biases are manifold, one of the prime reasons was the Dravidian movement that sought to stigmatise Parimelazhagar’s commentary as espousing ‘varnashrama dharma’ and giving importance to Sanskrit works. This trend began in the 1920s though it was Pulavar Kuzhandhai’s 1949 commentary which was touted as the first ‘rationalist’ version. In the process of injecting rationalistic egalitarianism into interpretations of the Kural, modern-day renditions wrenched it out of its rich cultural, philosophical and spiritual underpinnings. It is this uprooting that present-day seekers of the spirit of the ‘Thirukkural’ try to set right through renewed study of Parimelazhagar’s commentary.
Some like C Rajendran, author of the three-part ‘Paamararkkum Parimelazhagar’, a retired revenue officer who became obsessed with mastering Parimelazhagar’s commentary, are working to make the text accessible to the lay reader. As he relates his interpretational odyssey which involved years of effort, he shows refreshing candour in speaking of the scholarly help he got in achieving his end. He visualises the ‘Thirukkural’ as an awe-inspiring mountain and Parimelazhagar as a kindly guide who offers his hand to seekers to help them scale its peaks.
‘Shivalayam’ J Mohan who has published K Vadivelu Chettiar’s two-volume work elucidating Parimelazhagar’s commentary as well as a series of out-of-print works of traditional scholars on Parimelazhagar’s commentary, is critical of the trajectory on which ‘Thirukkural’ has been read in the past hundred years. He believes his publications on Parimelazhagar’s critique as presented by the great scholars of the late 19th and early 20th century, will help modern-day scholars and knowledge seekers understand the ‘correct’ interpretation of the ‘Thirukkural’. The live wire at the centre of this new resurgence is the charismatic speaker known asIlangai JeyarajinTamil Naduand as ‘Kambavaridhi’ Jeyaraj in Sri Lanka. Hailing from Nallur in Jaffna, the 64-year-old Jeyaraj is based in Colombo, and is known all over the world to Tamils through his ‘pattimandrams’ and talks on literary and religious subjects. Under a trust called ‘Karka Kasadara’ (Learn perfectly), manned by a team of young admirers, he had wanted to start an in-depth class for a small group of teachers under the banner, ‘Uyar Valluvam’. But the huge reception has transformed the event into a cultural phenomenon. Karka Kasadara’s executive trusteeSendhil Kumarfeels that “the meaning of Parimelazhagar’s commentary touches the hearts of listeners’’. His words do seem to reflect what is happening on the ground: The ‘Thirukkural’ couplets read with their most famous commentary are serving as vehicles of ethical elevation and cultural enrichment, which, after all, was their basic purpose. (The writer is a senior journalist and author)