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January 29, 2000


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Thiruvalluvar comes to life in Kanyakumari

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Shobha Warrier in Madras

Nothing is impossible to those who act after wise counsel and careful thought - chapter 47 of Thirukkural.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Karunanidhi celebrated the dawn of the new millennium at the confluence of three seas -- the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. No, he was in Kanyakumari not to see the sun set on a century, but in pursuit of a long-cherished dream.

Karunanidhi had been planning for the last 25 years to honour Thiruvalluvar, one of the greatest Tamil poets, by erecting a huge statue of his on the southern tip of south India near the Vivekananda rock.

On January 1, 2000, he pressed the button to illuminate the 133 ft tall statue. Built at a cost of Rs 61.4 million, the statue is made up of 7000 tones of a homogeneous rock and its height symbolises 133 chapters of Thirukkural - Thiruvalluvar's only available work.

It was Karunanidhi's love for Tamil literature and a representation from late Eknath Ranade, former president of the Vivekananda Kendra, that sowed the seeds of the ambitious project in 1975. But every time Karunanidhi began work on it, his term as CM ended abruptly.

It is not known when Thiruvalluvar wrote the kurals. Researchers say it was probably between 2nd century BC and 8th century AD when the couplets were penned.

There are different versions about Thiruvalluvar's birth also. Some say he belonged to the weaver community as the word 'valluvan' means a weaver. Some say he was the king of Valluvanadu, in Kanyakumari district, while others says he was an illegitimate son of a Brahmin father and a Harijan mother.

But while there may be differences about Thiruvalluvar's caste and place of birth, none can question the importance of his writings.

The 1330 couplets of Thirukkural deal with dharma (virtue), artha (wealth) and kama (love). He has left out moksha as he felt if a person followed the first three doctrines diligently in life, he or she would automatically attain moksha.

Thirukkural has been arranged in the form of 133 chapters, each chapter comprising of ten kurals or couplets.

Why does a work which dates back to thousands of years still entice readers? The reason could be that Thirukkural deals with dilemmas that we face every day - over morals, politics, economy, love and domestic life. It addresses ordinary people whose concerns are the mundane problems of everyday life. And Thiruvalluvar also provides practical solutions to these problems.

The first chapter in Thirukkural is in praise of the Almighty. The kurals in this chapter do not refer to any particular religion. Subsequent chapters are devoted to rain, ascetics, virtue, domestic life, a true wife, sons, love, hospitality, affability, gratitude, impartiality, self-control, conduct, faithfulness, forbearance, envy, covetousness, slander, vain speech, doing evil, and so on. No wonder Gandhiji once described Thirukkural as a textbook of indispensable authority on moral life.

As a attempt to revive interest in Thirukkural and Thiruvalluvar, the Tamil Nadu government has now organised an exhibition of 133 paintings -- each depicting one chapter of the text. Some of the state's top artists have done these paintings -- their own interpretations of Thiruvalluvar's work.

As per the wishes of the chief minister, the paintings are now being displayed at Valluvar Kottam in Madras by the Department of Information and Publicity.

A minister revealed that the department spent Rs 4 million to set up the exhibition. Accompanying these paintings are the kurals inscribed on granite stones.

R B Bhaskaran, the principal of Fine Arts College, had the difficult task of co-ordinating the artists and also painting one chapter. "The idea to have an ancient poet's view of the world through the eyes of contemporary artists is great. It really surprised me to see people queuing up in Kanyakumari to see the 133 paintings after the inauguration."

Adhimoolam, one of the most famous Tamil painters, illustrated the first chapter. His work is the most impressive of all. "As a Tamilian, I am familiar with Valluvar and his kurals. Valluvar did not talk about any particular race, religion, caste or creed...he talked only about human beings.''

He believes that the kurals have a broader appeal that transcends barriers of language, culture and community. ''There is a kind of universality in his writings. I had always felt that he belonged to the world and not to the Tamilians alone.''

Adhimoolam said it was quite a challenge to create something that would match Valluvar's work. ''He was such a great poet... it is very difficult to match his ideas with illustrations. His thoughts and words are beyond illustration. Yet, I have put my heart and mind to it. As I was given the first chapter, I was to paint his concept of God. He referred to God as Almighty like the first letter in the alphabet, Aah. As an artist who lives in the 21st century, I feel fortunate to have painted his ideas."

Achuthan Kudaloor, an abstract artist from Kerala, was assigned the second chapter -- Rain. Some time back, Achuthan had thought of illustrating the works of Malayalam poet, Kumaran Asan, but the idea was scoffed at by his fellow artistes. "See how effective these paintings on Thirukkural are. What I liked about Thiruvalluvar was that he stood for humanity and not for any race or religion. I feel happy that I, an abstract painter, could be a part of this venture."

S Dhanapal, although was familiar with Thirukkural, thought about the chapter he had to illustrate for two days. "One must know what each kural actually means because you can interpret each idea at various levels. If you have to go deep into it, you need deep knowledge. I feel images are very good tools to make ordinary people understand the meaning of Thiruvallular's ideas. After doing one painting, I feel like doing more on Thirukkural."

Ravi Shankar, who is trying to explore new vistas in painting with the help of computers, attempted a new experiment. "I did a computer drawing and then used acrylic emulsion in the printer and took a 4ft/3ft print. The only grievance I have is that I was not given adequate time to work. "

Sajitha decided to look at the meaning behind the kurals from a critic's point of view. "I was given the chapter on love. It is amazing that a man who lived thousands of years ago viewed love from such a radical angle. I feel I am fortunate to have got a chance to give expression to his ideas in colour."

Pix: Sanjay Ghosh

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