Tiruvalluvar’s Tirukkural (an excerpt)

January 11, 2022
A photograph of a dewdroplet collected in a dark green leaf
Photo by Sourabh Panari / Unsplash

Today is publication day for a new translation of Tiruvalluvar’s Tirukkural, a Tamil masterwork of poetry and practical philosophy. This new translation, published by Beacon Press, is by author, poet, and performer Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma. Each chapter of the Kural consists of ten kurals on a single theme, such as friendship, hospitality, or rain. The book’s 133 chapters are arranged into sections that cover three of the four aims prescribed by Hindu tradition—virtue, wealth, and love. The two excerpts here are the second and third chapters, “The Glory of Rain” and “The Greatness of Letting Go.”


The Glory of Rain

Because rain gives us the world—fitting to know it
As ambrosia

Making food fit for feeding and itself
Food that feeds—rain

If skies fail to rain hunger racks the wide earth
Surrounded on all sides by seas

The plowmen won’t plow if the wealth
Of storm clouds has withered

That which ruins and raises up
The ruined—rain

If clouds do not let their drops fall—hard to see even
One tip of green grass

If clouds of lightning do not gather and give
Even the great seas will shrink

For beings in heaven no festivals no prayers
If the heavens dry up below

No generosity or austerity can grace this great world
If the skies grant nothing above

No being can be without water—nothing can flow
For anyone without rain


The Greatness of Letting Go

Good books agree—the great let go in that way
Which is theirs

Letting go is how great—great as how many
Have died on earth

Knowing the two and choosing to let go—no
Greater glory in this world

He who leads the five with the prod of solidity—
A seed in the best of all lands

To the power that commands all five Indra himself
Lord of gods bears witness

The great do the impossible—the small do
What everyone can

The world is theirs who fathom all five—
Sight sound touch taste smell

The secret spoken by those of true words
Shows their greatness on earth

From those who have climbed character—hard to stand even
One moment of rage

Those who let go embody grace—they show
Compassion to all

Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma is an author, poet, performer, and teacher. His books include The Safety of Edges and Give, Eat, and Live: Poems of Avvaiyar. Pruiksma teaches writing for Cozy Grammar and has received grants and fellowships from the Valley Community of Writers, the US Fulbright Program, the American Literary Translators Association, and Oberlin Shansi.