Tirukural, the chief ethical work in the Tamil language sets forth excellent moral principles of universal application, enjoins on all authorities to mete out uniform justice to all irrespective of caste, creed or community.
Tamilian cosmopolitanism, humanism and fraternity is condensed in the opening line of the 192nd stanza of the Purananuru which declares “All human habitations are our native places and all its people are our kith and kin” (Yadum ure yavarum kelir).
The Kural was written at a time when the Brahmanical religions with their caste stratifications were making their way to the south. The Manu Dharma Sastra which the Brahmins carry around as Holy Writ violates the Tamil tradition of equality of birth. All people are born equal and are identified only by their respective occupations. The Vedic tradition classifies man by his birth. When you are born, the stigma of caste sticks to you till your death. You can’t shake it off, you are condemned for life.
The caste is the curse of the country placing the Brahman at the top of the caste ladder giving him a superior status. Second to him is the Sathriya caste of kings and chieftains and the Third is the Vaishya, the traders and money makers and at the bottom of the heap is the Sudra, the lowest of the low.
The Kural rebels against all these and prohibits any extension of caste distinctions and its various ramifications.
This is a cry in the wilderness. Caste has come to stay in our country and is the cause of misery for the majority of people who are classified in India as Dalits, a Marathi language word that means ‘broken people’.
The author of the Kural takes a firm stand against the vices of his time which are prevalent even today.
He condemns drinking in the ten couplets of chapter 93.
Drinking has a long history amongst the Tamil people. The manufacture of wine and its intake was prevalent in the Indus Valley civilization. It is the accepted conclusion of leading anthropologists that the making and drinking if intoxicating beverages began a little later than the beginning of wheat, barley and rice cultivation by ancient people.
The Purananuru contains verses that glorify drinking both by men and women. The poet Avaiyar sings that the King shared his alcoholic drinks with her.
Gambling is another vice condemned by the Kural. No man gains wealth by this pernicious device. What you get by gambling is soon lost in the same way. But today gambling has taken new forms. The Stock Market for instance is a gamble for most unwise investors and those who hope to make a quick buck.
The ritual killing of animals in the name of religion os condemned by the Kural for economic reasons. Huge pits were dug in the ground and a blazing fire was created with logs of wood and plenty of ghee. Chosen animals like bulls and rams were thrown alive into the sacrificial fire and were eaten after the roasting. All these were done under the name of ‘Yakham‘. The Brahmin priests encouraged the Tamil kings to perform Yakham for the sake of victory in war and other reasons.
This was a disaster that was damaging to the economy and the dwindling of the animal species. When prime animals are killed in this manner there will be a shortage of bulls and rams for stud purposes.
Chapter 33 condemns killing for food as well as sacrifice.
The Kural condemns prostitutions which was patronised by the ruling classes as a mark of prestige and pleasure. The list of prohibitions is long and meaningful.
Chapter 32 points out that one should not cause pain to others verbally or physically. A kind word administered at the proper time is a therapy by itself.
Thieving and misappropriation is chastised in Chapter 29 while the vile act of back-biting is given a lashing in Chapter 19.
These are moral precepts that lead to an ethical life as well as the smooth working of society.