The Tirukkuraḷ is an ancient didactical work in Tamil, which is extremely popular even today. It perhaps got this name since it is composed in the special metre called ‘kuraḷ-veṇbā’. The prefix ‘tiru’ is the Tamil substitute for the Sanskrit ‘Śrī’, showing respect.
Muppāl (group of three) is the other name by which it is known since it deals with the three puruṣārthas. (See PURUṢĀRTHAS.)
Its famous author is Tiruvaḷḷuvar who might have lived in the 1st century A. D. Actually, Vaḷḷuvar is the name of one of the lowest castes of the pariah group. In the olden days they were employed by the kings and rulers to make royal announcements by beating drums (tom-tom). The author belonged to that caste and his actual name has been buried in the womb of history.
Tiruvaḷḷuvar is said to have lived in Mylapore (now a part of the city of Madras or Chennai). He was a weaver by profession. According to the local legends he was an orphan abandoned by his real parents, but brought up by a couple of the vellāḷa (farmer) caste. His contact with holy men at a tender age of five made him inclined towards a spiritual life, which ultimately resulted in his becoming a saintly person. His wife Vāsuki proved to be an ideal companion for him. She died earlier than him. Later, he embraced monastic life and engaged himself in spreading spiritual knowledge and wisdom. His work, the Tirukkuraḷ, when presented before the Saṅgam (assembly of great scholars) at Madurai (in Tamil Nadu), was thoroughly examined and then acclaimed as a great work.
The work has 133 chapters, each containing 10 verses, the total thus being 1330 verses. They have been divided into three sections dealing with the first three pururṣārthas, as follows:
A brief synopsis of the subjects treated may now be given:
In praise of God; on rain; greatness of renunciation; on dharma; family life; hospitality and kindness as also sweet words; gratitude; right conduct; evils to be avoided like envy and backbiting; on liberality; not eating meat; on penance; on truth; on true knowledge as also fate.
Who a real king is; true marks of a good king; various actions and policies to be followed by a king; righteous rule versus tyranny; on spies; on embassies; on fortresses and acquisition of wealth; on the importance of the army; on friendship with others kings and allies; things to be avoided like ignorance and discord; wine and women; need to cultivate good conduct and modesty.
This section deals with, in detail, various aspects of kāma (erotic love) in a couple, before marriage, in the married life, during pangs of separation and so on. Unlike some Sanskrit works on erotics, this section is much more decent and refined.
Though the Tirukkuraḷ deals with only the first three puruṣārthas, the fourth puruṣārtha (mokṣa or liberation) has been indirectly dealt with in chapters 1, 3, and 4.
There are ten commentaries (all in Tamil) on this work. Out of them, the one by Parimel Azhakar is considered the best.
Recently (in A. D. 2000) a huge statue of Tiruvaḷḷuvar, 40 metres or 133 feet in height, has been installed on the smaller rock in the sea near Kanyākumārī (in Tamil Nadu).