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Friday, July 17, 2020

Courage to live with nature : Compassion and Love to live with people

(An earlier version had some mistakes. This is the corrected version)

That title is from an essay on the Tamil classic Thirukkural. Before I get into the topic of courage, compassion and love, a word about phonetics.

The alphabet l in the word Tamil is not pronounced the same way as in the word Thirukkural. The alphabet l in the so-pronounced Tamil does not have a corresponding alphabet in English. The closest is the combination zh. Tamizh with a sibilant sound is a little better than Tamil. Even that does not make it.

Here is what the mouth and the tongue must do to pronounce the zh in Tamizh. The tip of the tongue has to bend backwards (called retroflexed), go to the back of the palate (roof of the mouth) and gently move towards the front without touching the palate while outgoing air makes the sound. Here is another way to compare. If you do the same movements with the tongue but with the tip of the tongue touching the palate, you will get the sound “sha”.

Now, in English, the letter l in the word Thirukkural may stand for the sound l as in the word lake or for the sound l as in clay.  The correct way to pronounce this l in the word Thirukkural is as in clay. If we go to the mechanics of making the sound, it is similar to the other two sounds we discussed, namely “sha” and “zha”. The tongue bends backwards and touches the back of the palate but stays there while making the sound. The tongue does not slide forwards. In making the sound l as in lake, the tip of the tongue touches the root of the upper front teeth.

If anyone thinks that I am making too much fuss about nothing, grammarians of both Tamizh (Tholkappiam) and Sanskrit (Panini) did not think so. It is amazing to read the original texts in which these authors tell us in the very beginning how to use the lips, tongue, teeth, palate and the voice box to make specific sounds. According to the classification in Sanskrit, the l of lake belongs to the Dental group of semivowels. And  “sha” belong to the Sibilant group. The l of clay is aspirant lingual in Sanskrit. I do not know where the zh of Tamizh will come in Sanskrit since this sound is not part of Sanskrit. My guess is that it will also be lingual aspirant.

Grammarians of Sanskrit and Tamizh were way ahead of time.

 Thirukkural deals with what in Tamizh is called “aram”, which is equivalent to “dharma” in Sanskrit. The word stands for natural order of things and what is right conduct in life. It stands for custom, law, morality and ethics.

The author of the essay I read refers to poems written in Tamizh before the period when Thirukkural was written. They were written when the people followed Nature’s rhythm and its bounties and the subject matters were family life and regional conflicts. Those poems were called “puram”, which means “outside” conflcits. There was also “aham” literature, on the inner life of man and woman.

 Thirukkural emphasizes yet another aspect, namely “aram” or dharma.

In an earlier version of this post, I made the mistake of confusing “aram” with “aham”. A reader pointed out that error. I went back to the source. The author uses the word “puram” as opposed to “aram” of Thirukkural. He did not call it “aham” literature.

Based on the essence of the subject matters of these kinds of poems, it should become obvious that Courage is needed in dealing with Nature and external forces. Love and compassion are needed for living an ethical and moral life. Although I have been aware of this literature and have read a few of them with meaning, I did not realize the significance until now.

Poets of these ancient classics make it clear. The “puram” poems talk about “veeram” (meaning courage, boldness) and aham emphasizes life of man and woman and their relationship in specific geographic and seasonal settings.  It is more about physical love.

But, Thirukkural is an “aram” poem which emphasize “arul” (this l should be pronounced as in clay, means compassion). One other embellishment to these thoughts is given by another writer. He says that arul is the term for outward action (loving acts of kindness) that indicates the inner state of karunai or compassion. 

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