Jun 13, 2008

KURAL - Uttaraveda

Prof. A. Chakravarthy Nainar




The two great works, Kural and Naladiyar, were the works of Jaina teachers who settled down in the Tamil Nadu. The ethical work called "Kural" is a most important work in Tamil Literature judged from its popularity among the Tamil speaking people. It is composed in the form of couplets known as"kural venba" in metre peculiar to the Tamil literature. The book derives its name Kural from the the metre comployed in its composition.

It is a work based on the doctrine of Ahimsa; and throughout, you have the praising of this Ahmisa dharma and the criticism of views opposed to this. The work is considered so important by the Tamils that they use various names to designate this great work such as 'Uttaraveda', 'Tamil Veda', 'Divine scripture', 'the great truth', 'non denominational Veda' and so on. The work is claimed by almost all the religious sects of the Tamil land. The Saivaite claims that it was composed by a saivaite author. The Vaisanavaites claim it as their own. The Reverend Pope who translated this inot Engilish even suggests that it is the work of an author influenced by Christianity. The fact that the different communities are vying with one another in their claim to the authorship of this great work, is itself an indication of its great eminence and importance. In the midst of all such various claimants we have the Jaina who maintains that it is the work of great Jaina Acharya. The Jaina tradition associates this great ethical work with Elachariyar which is the other name for Sri Kunda Kund acharya. The period of Sri Kund kundacharya is covered by the latter half of the first century BC and the former half of the first century AD. We have referred to Sri Kund kundacharya as the Chief of the Dravidian Sanghaat the Southern Pataliputra.

We are not merely to depend upon this tradition to base our conclusions.
We have sufficient internal evidence as well as circumstantial evidence to substantiate our view. To any unbiased student who critically examines the contents of this work it would be quite clear that it is replete with the Ahimsa doctrine and therefore must be a product of Jaina imagination. Unbiased Tamil scholars who are entitled to pronounce an opinion on this point have expressed similar opinions as to the authorship of this work. But the majority of the Tamil shcolars among the non-jains are not willing to accept such a verdict based upon scientific investigation. This opposition is mainly traceable to religious feeling. About the time of the Hindu revival (about the 7th century AD) the clash betwen the Jaina religion and the Vedic sacrificial religion of the Hindu reformers must have been so tremendous that echoes of it are felt even now. In this conflict the Jaina teachers were evidently worsted by the Hindu revialists who had the support of the newly converted Pandyan King on their side. As a result of this it is said that several Jaina teachers were put to death by impaling them.How much of this is history and how much of this is the creation of fertile imagination fed by religious animosity, we are not able to assess clearly. But even to this day we have this story of impaling the Jainas painted on the walls of the Madura temple and annual festivals are conducted celebrating the defeat and destruction of religous rivals. This would give us an insight into the attitude of the Tamil scholars towards the early Jainas. It is no secret, therefore, that they generally resent the very suggestion that this great ethical work must have been written by a Jaina scholar.

According to one tradition the author of this work is said to be one Tiruvalluvar about whom nothing is known except what is concocted by the imagination of a modern writer who is responsible for the fictitious story relating to Tiruvalluvar. That he is born of a chandala (untouchable) woman, that he was a brother and contemporary of almost all great Tamil writers are some of the absurd instances mentioned in this life of Tiruvalluvar. To mention it is enough is discredit it. But the more enthusiastic among the modern Tamil scholars and modern Tamils have elevated him into a Godhead and built temples in his name and conducted annual festivals analogous to the festivals associated with the other Hindu deities. And the author is claimed to be one of the Hindu deities and the work is considered to be the revelation by such a deitey . From such quarters one cannot ordinarily expect application of canons of historical criticism. So much so, whenever any hypothesis is suggested as a result of ciritical examination of the contents, it is rejected with a vehemence characteristic of uninstructed religious zial. Many so called critics who have written something or other about this great work have been careful to maintain that peculiar intellectual attitude which Samuel Johnson had when he had to report the proceedings of the House of Commons. He was particular to see that the Whigs had not the better of it. When such is the general mentality of the Tamil students and when the real spirit of research adopting the scientific and historical method is still in its infancy, it is no wonder that we have nothing worth the name in the research of Tamil literature. Hence we are handicapped in our own attempt in presenting anything like a historical account of Jaina literature.

Turning from this digression to an examination of our work, we have to mention certain facts contained in the book itself. The book contains three great topics, "Aram, Porul, Inbam", ie., Dharma, Artha and Kama. These three topics are so interpreted and expounded as to be in thorough conformity with the basic doctrine of Ahimsa. Hence it need not be emphasised that the terms here mean slightly different from what they imply in the oridinary Hindu religious work. Later Hindu religious systems, in as much they are resting on the Vedic sacrificial ritualism, cannot completely throw overboard the practice of animal sacrifice enjoned in the vedas. The term Dharma could mean, therefore, to them only Varnasrama Dharma based upon Vedas. Only three Indian systems were opposed to this doctrine of Vedic sacrifice: Jaina Darsna, Sankhya Darsana, Bauddha Darsna. Representatives of these three Darsanas were present in the Tamil land in the pre-revivalistic period. In the very beginning of the work, in the chapter on Dharma, the author gives this as his own view that it is far better and more virutuous to abstain from killing and eating any animan than to perform 1000 sacrifices. This one single verse in enough to point out that the author would not have acquiesced in any form of such sacrificial ritualism. The verse is nothing more than the paraphraseof the sanskrit words "Ahimsa paramo Dharmah". I was surprised to see this same verse quoted by a Saivite Tamil scholar to prove that the author had as his religion Vedic sacrificial ritualism.

In another section devoted to vegetarian food, the author distinctly condemns the Bauddha principle of purchasing meat from the butcher. Buddhists who offer lip service to the doctrine of Ahimsa console themselves by saying that they are not to kill with their own hands but may purchase meat from slaughter house. The author of the Kural in unmistakable terms points out that the butcher's trade thrives only because of the demand for meat. Butcher's interest is merely to make money and hence he adopts a particular trade determined by the principle of 'supply and demand'. Therefore the responsibility of killing animals for food is mainly on your head and not upon the butcher's. When there is such an open condemnation of animal sacrifice sanctioned by vedic ritualism and the Buddhistic practice of eating meat by a convenient interpretation of the Ahimsa doctrine, it is clear by a process of elimination that the only religion that conforms to the principles enunciated in the book is the religion of Ahimsa as upheld by the Jains. It is maintained by a well known Tamil scholar that the work is a faithful translation of the Dharmasastra by Bodhayana. Though very many Sanskrit words are found in this work and that from among the traditional doctrines some are also treated therein, still it would not be accurate to maintain that it is merely an echo of what appeared in the Sanskrit literature because many of these doctrines are re-interpreted and re-emphasised in the light of Ahimsa doctrine. It is enough to mention only two points. This Bodhayana Dharma Sastra, since it is based upon the traditional Varnasrama, keeps to the traditional four castes and their duties. According to this conception of Dharma, cultivation of the land is left to the last class of Sudras and would certainly be infra dig for the upper class to have anything to do with agriculture. The author of Kural, on the other hand placed agriculture first among the professions. For he says, "living par excellence is living by tilling the land and every other mode of life is parasitical and hence next to that of the tiller of the soil". It is too much to swallow that such a doctrine is borrowed from Sanskrit Dharma Sastras. Another interesting fact mentioned in Dharma Sastras is the mode of entertaining guests by the householders. Such an entertainment is always associated with killing a fat calf; the chapter on guests in Bodhayana Dharmasastra gives a list of animals that ought to be killed for the purpose of entertaining guests. This is necessary part of Dharma and violation of it will entail curse from the guests in the firm belief of those who accept Vedic ritualism as religion. A cursory glance at the corresponding chapter in the Kural will convince any reader that Dharma here means quite a different thing from what it means in the Dharma Sastras of the Hindus. Hence we have to reject this suggestion that the work represents merely a translation of the Dharma Sastras for the benefit of the Tamil reading people.

Turning to circumstantial evidence, we have to note the following facts. The Jaina commentator of the Tamil work called Neelakesi freely quotes from this Kural, and whenever he quotes, he introduces the quotation with the words "as is mentioned in our scripture". From this it is clear that the commentator considered this work as an important Jaina scripture in Tamil. Secondly the same implication is found in a non-Jaina Tamil work called "Prabodha Chandrodaya". This Tamil work is evidently modelled after the Sanskrit drama Prabodha Chandrodaya. This tamil work is in Viruttam metre, consisiting of four lines. It is also in the form of a drama where the representatives of the various religions are introduced on the stage. Each one is introduced while reciting a characteristic verse containing the essence of his religion. When the Jaina sanyasi appears on the stage, he is made to recite that particular verse from the Kural which praises the Ahimsa doctrine that "not killing a single life for the purpose of eating is far better than performing 1000 yagas". It will not be far wrong to suggest that in the eyes of this dramatist the Kural was characteristically a Jaina work. Otherwise he would not have put this verse in the mouth of 'Niganthavadi' ( a Jaina). This much is enough.

We may end this discussion by saying that this great ethical work is specially composed for the purpose of inculcating the principle of Ahimsa in all its multifarious aspects, probably by a great Jaina scholar of eminence about the first century of Christian era

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