Monday, January 31, 2005

Maxim # 18: இடம்பட வீடெடேல் -- Build a house without encroachment.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 18: டம்பட வீடெடேல் (e-dum-pa-duh vEE-de-dAyl)

Translation: Build a house without encroachment.

Rumination: The term "இடம்பட" means "without encroaching on extra space" and "வீடெடேல்" means "never erect a house." Therefore this maxim lays down moderation as a fundamental criterion while erecting houses. At least in India, I have observed the tendency to use every available inch of space that inevitably enroaches upon a neighbor's property. Many disputes have risen thereof, often resulting in vigilante justice or as law suits in the already overburdened courts. Building a house with less floor-space to provide additional room for gardening is not an attractive proposition anymore. Population explosion has made it almost impossible to afford independent housing in India. However, states like Kerala offer hope. Although the population density is pretty high, Keralites tend to appreciate nature and have an innate predilection to grow trees within their compounds. They do not use every inch of floor space to erect their houses. Apart from exhorting moderation, this maxim also implies the indirect physical and mental health benefits arising out of building a simple house without encroaching every available inch of space.

For a man's house is his castle, and each man's home is his safest refuge -- Edward Coke.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Maxim # 17: ஞயம்பட உரை -- Speak words that beget happiness

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 17: யம்பட உரை (gna-yam-pa-da ur-ai)

Translation: Speak words that beget happiness.

Rumination: The term "ஞயம்பட" means "begetting happiness" and "உரை" means "speak." According to Auvaiyar, the ultimate objective of any speech must lie in bringing happiness to those who hear it. In fact, Tiruvalluvar's Kural 100, quoted in my blog accurately captures the concept. There are both good and bad things to talk about. Any time one is overly obsessed with either one of those, his speech becomes not only predictable and monotonous, but also tepid and cloying. And when the subject matter is overly concerned about the negative things, it becomes distressing and tortuous. Therefore cherry-picking a topic for conversation is in itself an art. Moreover, one doesn't need the company of doom's-day sayers. We all need people around us with whom we can have conversations and then feel as though those were the best moments of our lifetime. In other words, the pursuit of any speech or conversation must ultimately lie in begetting happiness in the other person. Even friendly admonishments may acquire a new sense of meaning, if this objective is kept in the radar-scope of any conversation.

Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another. -- Napoleon Hill.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Maxim # 16: சனி நீராடு -- Take a special shower on Saturdays.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 16: னி நீராடு (sa-ni nEE-rAA-du)

Translation: Take a special shower on Saturdays.

Rumination: The term "சனி" means "Saturday" and "நீராடு" means "take bath." Literally, this maxim underscores the importance of taking special bath on Saturdays. For many, special bath may mean an oil-bath or a head-bath. Auvaiyar's penchant for cleanliness is amply evident in this maxim. A good shower not only relieves stress but can also provide ample opportunities for ruminating new ideas. Quality time at the showers is a luxury during weekdays. Hence the maxim's reference to Saturdays. And celebrate the coincidence of today being a Saturday as well.

It is the height of luxury to sit in a hot bath and read about little birds. -- Lord Alfred Tennyson.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Maxim # 15: ஙப்போல் வளை -- Be a gregarious person.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 15: ப்போல் வளை (nGa-pOl va-lai)

Translation: Be amenable as the alphabet 'ங'.

Intended Translation: Be a gregarious person.

Rumination: The term "ஙப்போல்" refers to "like the alphabet ங" and "வளை" to "amenability." Literally, this maxim asserts what John Donne wrote in his wonderful poem, "No man is an island." In the previous maxim, Auvaiyar exhorted one to not twist facts, whereas in this one she exhorts one to twist one's very self. She wants people to be amenable with one another. By "twisting" she alludes to the innate deficiencies of a human mind that needs to be uprooted. Ego is one such malaise. A person with ego cannot befriend others easily and cannot enjoy their camaraderie. This maxim must not be overstretched to religious brothers and sisters who detach themselves of all earthly chores and settle down for an eremitical lifestyle to seek God and Supreme Knowledge. However it must be applied for the hoi polloi who are tossed in between the frenzy of privacy and the stresses of everyday life that have almost made building rock-solid friendship a thing of the past. Understanding this maxim to lead an active lifestyle of bonhomie will help nourish friendship. In Tamil, the alphabet ''ங" never gets the primacy. No word starts with this alphabet, save this maxim as it is used in an ironic sense. However, its raison détre is to vivify the other alphabets. It is only seen in the company of others. Similarly, one must be gregarious to discover his own self in others.

  • The worst solitude is to be destitute of sincere friendship -- Francis Bacon.
  • Two are better than one. If one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up. So also, if two sleep together, they keep each other warm. How can one alone keep warm? -- Holy Bible (RSV), Ecclesiastes 4: 9-11

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Maxim # 14: கண்டொன்று சொல்லேல் -- Never twist facts.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 14: ண்டொன்று சொல்லேல் (kuhn-du-on-Ru sol-lEl)

Translation: Never twist facts.

Intended Translation: Never indulge in calumniation.

Rumination: The term "கண்டொன்று" has to be split into two as "கண்டு" and "ஒன்று," meaning things that "you see" and that "contrary to what you see" respectively. "சொல்லேல்" refers to "never speak." Literally, this maxim exhorts one to refrain from committing calumniation and detraction. Hypothetically there must not be any difficulty in speaking exactly what one has seen. Yet, the malice, bias, and self-deception inherent in any human mind decorates, exaggerates, and caparisons factoids as facts. These are days when nations "sex-up" their Intel reports to rush to war. Individuals too often cross the line of Rubicon from simple gossip to systematic character-assassination. It is all possible because of an inherent capability of human mind to be contended with itself about diametrically opposite notions at any given time. And only my favorite George Orwell can talk about it in such a way that it will forever get etched in your minds. And so, do not forget to read George Orwell's In Front of Your Nose.

The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. -- George Orwell, 1946.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Maxim # 13: அஃகஞ் சுருக்கேல் -- Never skimp on grains to shortchange others.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 13: அஃகஞ் சுருக்கேல் (ak-kam su-ru-kEl)

Translation: Never skimp on grains to shortchange others.

Intended Translation: Honesty is the best policy.

Rumination:The term "அஃகஞ்" refers to "grains" and "சுருக்கேல்" to "refrain from shortchanging." Literally, this maxim exhorts to avoid skimping on grains to shortchange others. In those days, local economy was sustained with practices that included bartering. One need not be a grocer to trade grains. Hence bartering of grains was ubiquitous. Greedy people shortchanged the buyer by reducing the amount of grains exchanged or sold for a return. In other words, Auvaiyar stresses the importance of being honest in all our affairs and transactions. This maxim can also be applied to modern times where most jobs are sedentary. At the comfort of a high-speed T1 connection, workers can wile away their precious time at work to cyber-loafing. Studies do suggest that there is an increased tendency in workers to malinger in order to run personal errands. These activites result in shortchanging one's employers, customers, and clients. It is very important to apply age-old maxims like this for contemporary contexts because it is the spirit behind the maxim that counts; not literal words.

Your honesty is not to be based either on religion or policy. Both your religion and policy must be based on it -- John Ruskin 1819-1900 (Oxford Dictionary of Quotations 6th Ed.)

Note: This concludes the first 13 alphabets of Tamil, i.e., from அ to அஃ. They are known as உயிர் எழுத்துக்கள் (Lifeline alphabets).

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Maxim # 12: ஒளவியம் பேசேல் - Refrain from words of jealousy.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 12: ஒளவியம் பேசேல் (auv-vi-yum pE-sale)

Translation: Refrain from words of jealousy.

Rumination: The term "ஒளவியம்" refers to "words of jealousy" and "பேசேல்" to "refrain from speaking." So, this maxim exhorts one to refrain from speaking words of jealousy. It arises out of a perverted sense of love over things that pertain to self or outside one's self. Any circumstance that may undermine one's own position sets off a rage of jealousy. The ultimate love for one's own longings now gets perverted and makes one look impoverished in front of others ascent towards glory. Words of spite, anger, and jealousy flow out, rather than plaudits. More than the person who becomes the target of one's jealousy, it often ruins the peace of the very person engulfed by it. One can relate to jealousy at workplace merely because some poor soul feels that it could not withstand the pressures of corporate rat-race. Apart from examining ways to reinvigorate one's own career, jealousy sets off to workplace politiking. Refraining from uttering words of jealousy helps a person to maintain serenity.

Though jealousy be produced by love, as ashes are by fire, yet jealousy extinguishes love as ashes smother the flame. -- Marguerite of Angouleme. (Oxford Dictionary of Quotations 6th Ed.)

Monday, January 24, 2005

Maxim # 11: ஓதுவ தொழியேல் -- Never cease to learn.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 11: துவ தொழியேல்(O-dhu-va-thu O-zhi-yAle)

Translation: Never cease to learn.

Rumination: The term "ஓதுவது" refers to "learning" and "ஒழியேல்" to "never cease." So, this maxim exhorts one to keep learning always. Many scholars have translated "ஓதுவது" as reading. However, I interpret that word to connote learning in general of which reading is only a part. President Abraham Lincoln once said, "I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday." By this, even he exhorted the fact that learning must be continuous, not even continual. Learning is not confined to reading and listening alone. The very tragedies, travails, and experiences one undergoes in life, have profound educational value. Every person, thing, language, culture or place we run into is our guru that teaches us something that we never knew before. Socrates' exhortation of "an unexamined life is not worth living," enables us to appreciate the power of learning by asking questions. Many think that they are simpletons, if they were to ask questions. Rather, Socratesian wisdom has proven to us the value of learning by asking questions. If we want to learn, the whole world is there as our laboratory for exploration and experimentation. All we need is that encouragement and inquisitiveness of a toddler.


  • Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. -- Henry Ford.
  • Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, and many opinions. For opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making. -- John Milton.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Maxim # 10: ஒப்புரவு ஒழுகு - Be a cosmopolite.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 10: ப்புரவு ஒழுகு (op-pur-avu ozhu-gu)

Translation: Be a cosmopolite.

Intended Translation: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Rumination: The term "ஒப்புரவு" refers to "worldly practices du jour" and "ஒழுகு" to "follow." So, this maxim exhorts one to adapt and acclimate to the worldly practices that are prevalent in one's own locale for the maintenance of social order. The English idiom of, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," succinctly captures this idea. We are 'programmed' human-beings. We tend to see things in our own ways. When placed in a new situation, culture, or a country, a few of us get antsy by being judgmental and carping about it saying that our status quo ante seemed to be much better. Apart from causing physical and mental anguish, such an embitterment also robs the opportunity to learn and benefit from the new situation, culture, or whatever it may be. Auvaiyar stresses the need for raising up a child as a cosmopolite -- one who is at home in every place. In Socrates' words, "a citizen of the world," to be precise.


  • "I am neither an Athenian nor a Greek; I am a citizen of the world." -- Socrates, circa 469 B.C - 399 B.C.

  • "I am a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew; for, either I am all of these or I am none of these". -- Mahatma Gandhi.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Maxim # 9: ஐயமிட்டு உண் -- Feed the hungry before enjoying your meal.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 9: யமிட்டு உண் (i-yum-mi-tu un)

Translation: Feed the hungry before enjoying your meal.

Intended Translation: Charity to others is paramount.

Rumination: The term "ஐயமிட்டு" refers to "after alms-giving" and "உண்" to "you shall eat." The sequence of actions is pretty interesting. First comes feeding others, then comes feeding the self. Many of us would have witnessed the giving away of rotten and stale foods to wayside beggars. It will be better for us to throw such foods to the bin than to abuse the human dignity in the other person by granting it as alms. We must not give to others what we ourselves cannot eat and none of us can eat fungi, bacteria infested, rotten and stale foods. That brings us to the crux of this maxim. If we want to feed others, let us do it first, before we set to eat. In that way, we are truly sharing our goodness in charity; not discharging our wastes as charity. "The worst form of violence is poverty," said Mahatma Gandhi. Hunger is like childbirth, we all can talk about its pangs, but can only feel it when we ourselves undergo it. As long as there are millionaires in this world with riches beyond their needs, so long will there be paupers with needs way under their means. Hence hunger and poverty is to stay. Ergo, this maxim again does not contradict the previous one, if taken in the proper context. We cannot be indifferent to the hungry at our doorsteps. Allegorically, hunger in this maxim may also mean about the spiritual hunger of love, care, tenderness, bonhomie, camaraderie and attention in a person who is forlorn. We may even have our closest kith and kin suffering from such hungers. We need to tend to their needs first, before reveling in ours.

Quote: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in a final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed—those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending its money alone—it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children." -- President Dwight Eisenhower, at a speech in 1953.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Maxim # 8: ஏற்பது இகழ்ச்சி - Receiving is despicable.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 8: ற்பது இகழ்ச்சி (yEr-pa-thu iga-zh-tchi)

Translation: Receiving is despicable.

Rumination: The term "ஏற்பது " refers to "receiving" and "இகழ்ச்சி" to "despicable." Here is a maxim to test our logic, cognition, and contextual propriety. In Maxims 3 and 4, Auvaiyar stresses the importance of "giving," whereas she shuns "receiving" in the current maxim. If viewed under the proper context, the paradox can be eliminated. Many scholars interpret 'receiving' to mean alms. However, 'receiving' implies much more than receiving alms. Just as in Maxim 3 one must not receive beyond one's wants and needs. Auvaiyar's maxim is an admonishment to slothful idlers, who are always trigger-happy to receive help from others. So it is, to all those grafted unscruples, who abuse their official positions for huge bribes, thereby rendering their societies corrupt. When a person receives favors, he is inclined to return in favor something that he would have refrained from had he not received the initial favor. Thus, one becomes imprisoned by his own act of receiving. Also, when an able person politely refuses to receive a favor, that favor can reach to those people who are more in need. A case in point would be India's polite refusal to take help from other foreign nations in wake of Tsunami devastation, as that paved way to help other ravaged nations. Also, India was spared of any obligation to return curry-favors against its conscience in a bitterly divided and war-stricken world.

Quote: It is more blessed to give, than to receive. -- Holy Bible (Acts 20:35).

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Maxim # 7: எண், எழுத்து இகழேல் - Never despise Math and Language.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 7: ண், எழுத்து இகழேல் (en, ezhu-thu iga-zh-El)

Translation: Never despise Math and Language.

Intended Translation: Strive harder in Sciences and Arts.

Rumination: The terms, "எண் " and "எழுத்து" refer to "numbers" and "alphabets" respectively, whereas "இகழேல்" refers to "never despise." The keen acumen of our ancestors in the field of Mathematics and Fine Arts always amazes me. Just take the case of Mathematical patterns deeply embedded even in works of literature (e.g. Venpaas, Seyyuls, Kurals, etc.). If the Tamils could have had literary conferences during the Sangam Period dating back to several centuries before Christ, it only speaks of the level of sophistry they had in literature during those times. Numerous temples, palaces, dams and other works of legacy bear a fitting testimony to the love and mastery of arts and sciences by the Tamils. Any culture cannot survive, if the older generation does not pass those values to the newer generations. Hence, Auvaiyar's clairvoyant exhortation makes complete sense to this day. If India is an intellectual superpower and if wanderlust Indians can become modern-day globetrotters, it is all owing to their investment in mastering the rudiments of English language, together with their strides in Science and Technology. Anybody, who would have aced through those competitive examinations would vouchsafe for the noetic widom behind Auvaiyar's maxim. Invariably, a candidate's success in those examinations is dependent upon Math and Verbal. And President George Bush has vowed that his primary goal is to enable every American child read and do Math. I, in the state of Georgia, know that the Georgia lawmakers are striving hard to reform education, after Georgia came last, ranking 50th in the SAT's Verbal and Math scores in the year 2000.

Quote: Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty -- a beauty that is cold and austere, like that of a sculpture. -- Bertrand Russell.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Maxim # 6: ஊக்கமது கைவிடேல் - Never lose hope.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 6: க்கமது கைவிடேல் (OO-kam-athu kai-vi-dEl)

Translation: Never lose hope.

The term, "ஊக்கமது," literally refers to "hope" and "கைவிடேல்," to "never lose." So, "never lose hope." It is a pity that there are more suicides than homicides in the United States and am sure it is the case with many other countries. "There is truly one serious philosophical problem and that is suicide," said Albert Camus. Engulfed with hopelessness, a person feels like a fish out of water. But then, even that fish flaps, turns, hopes for a fresh lease of life if it can get back to its waters. Similarly, we all hope for a number of things in our lives. As long as we have hope within us, we tend to be alive. The moment we lose hope, we are already dead -- psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally as well. Situations will test our endurance and hope will keep us afloat. At least that's what stories such as Lance Armstrong's prove to us. Let us then adopt the state motto of South Carolina (my favorite one too) as our own: Dum spiro, spero. (As long as I breathe, so long will I hope.)

Quote: True hope is swift, and flies with shallow's wings. Kings it makes Gods, and meaner creatures kings. -- William Shakespeare.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Maxim # 5: உடையது விளம்பேல் -- Never reveal your possessions.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 5: டையது விளம்பேல் (uda-yathu vilam-bEl)

Translation: Never reveal your possessions.

Intended Translation: Never wash your dirty laundry in public.

The term, "உடையது," literally refers to "your possessions." However, the intended meaning is that it is better to be tightlipped about one's inner personal secrets and issues. Many people derive a false sense of comfort, peace, and closure by imprudently sharing every intimate detail of their life in the open, even when uncalled for. Little do they realize that they have created a Frankenstein out of their own folly. Western societies do have a better notion of privacy and private space and individuals tend to respect that. The term "விளம்பேல்," literally translates to, "be tightlipped." The English idiom of "do not wash your dirty laundry in public," correlates to this Auvaiyar's maxim. Useless talk costs lives, they say. This is the spirit behind this maxim.

Quote: Talk of the Devil and he is bound to appear. -- Old Saying.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Maxim # 4: ஈவது விலக்கேல் -- Never stop giving.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 4: வது விலக்கேல் (EE-vathu vi-lak-kEl)

Translation: Never stop giving.

The term, "ஈவது," refers to acts of charity. Our minds are still afresh with the cataclysmic tsunami devastation. Tragedy unfolded; humanity responded. The farthest epicenter of the tsunami quake evoked a response from the closest epicenter of one's own heart. Numerous aid-agencies thankfully acknowledged the record amounts donated for a single tragedy. Such humble acts of generosity reminds us of our closeness to each other. Many who contributed would have experienced that inner peace of partaking in other peoples' sufferings. The sublime nature of charity enriches both the giver and the taker. However, such charitable acts must never cease. More than tsunamis, innocent lives are being lost, every single day, all over the globe, due to poverty, hunger, disease, terrorism, racism, infant mortality, genocides, etc. Such evils can be eighty-sixed only by our sustained giving. In other words, our charitable donations, however small they may be, must never cease. Auvaiyar, precisely asserts that with the term, "விலக்கேல்," that is to say, "never cease."

Note: One can only cease something that is already in motion. Therefore, one can infer that charity is innate in a human heart and those rivulets of mercy that gush forth must never be stopped.

Quote: Charity is good only when it comes as a true sacrifice. Only then the receiver who receives the material gift receives the spiritual gift too. If it is not a sacrifice, but a mere discharge of superfluous excess, it will only irritate those who receive it. -- Leo Tolstoy.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Maxim # 3: இயல்வது கரவேல் - Never hoard that you can afford to give.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 3: யல்வது கரவேல். (e-yal-vathu kara-vEl)

Translation: Never hoard that you can afford to give.

Intended Translation: Never hoard more than you need.

Here Auvaiyar's reasonability comes to the fore. The term, "இயல்வது," refers to the affordability of the donor and she doesn't get uppity in demanding anything more. Hoarding beyond one's affordability constitutes avarice or greed. Avarice is a real vice for a growing child, who perceives every other kid to be a pillager of its own belongings. Certain parents stash all their children's toys when guests with children visit them. Such actions do corrupt the immaculate minds of children. Auvaiyar's advice is clear. Never stash or hoard (கரவேல்) more than what you actually need. Teach the child the art of giving.

Quote: Virtue and charity start at home. If you got to go somewhere else to display it, then it is not a virtue. -- Leo Tolstoy.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Maxim # 2: ஆறுவது சினம் -- Anger simmers down.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 2: றுவது சினம்.( AA-ru-va-thu si-nam)

Translation: Anger simmers down.

Extended Translation: Anger must always be simmered down.

Rumination: Have you ever seen a person impervious to anger? Sorry, I haven't yet. Even Scriptures and Vedas are replete with Gods being roused to anger. I love Auvaiyar's pragmatism when she talks about "simmering down" (ஆறுவது) anger, by which she implies subtly that you cannot totally get rid of anger in this earthly life. Anger will die only when I die. Even the Bible exhorts one to refrain from escalating a situation of anger when it says, "Irascimini et nollite peccare" (Never sin when provoked to anger). Anger is akin to an earthquake. It releases too much of an energy, within too short a time that can hardly be harnessed for the good of humanity. Unbridled anger provokes 'aftershocks' too. A good thing about anger is that it is evanescent as an earthquake. It never lasts for long. However, it is within that evanescence that we can wreak the greatest havoc with our unbridled emotions and power to inflict damage on others. Anger intoxicates a human mind that often results in an irreversible and permanent damage. Great men and women have carved their niches in the history of immortality by positively channelizing their anger over their oppressed societies and cultures. Uncontrolled anger has only given rise to terrorists, criminals, and leaders rushing to unjust wars. Therefore, anger by itself is not a vice; uncontrolled anger is. Therefore, Auvaiyar stresses the aspect of simmering down or subsiding down one's own anger. A literal translation of her maxim asserts the innate quality of anger -- Anger simmers down. Anger is capable of subsidence. The extended meaning behind that maxim is that anger must always be simmered down, i.e, one must work hard to douse one's anger. Ergo, a child must be taught the art of letting it go.

Quote: In times of stress and adversity, it is always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive. -- Lee Iacocca, American businessman.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Maxim # 1: அறம் செய்ய விரும்பு - Desire to perform acts of virtue.

ஆத்திச்சூடி # 1: றம் செய்ய விரும்பு. (aRum sey-yuh virum-bu)

Translation: Desire to perform acts of virtue.

Rumination: Poetess Auvaiyar must have been a brilliant optimist who understood child psychology well. She deems it fit to approach her first maxim on the topic of virtue in a very positive light. By not exhorting the children to disdain from performing acts of vice, she only exemplifies the need to approach them positively. Many parents and elders do have a pessimism when it comes to dealing with children and they must be keen to imbibe this subtlety from Auvaiyar. Also, it is interesting to note that she didn't explicitly say, "desire to earn virtue." Rather, it is clearly implied. She might have thought that whatever little virtue a kid may already have, it would suffice if it is encouraged to perform it. The more you dig the soil, the closer you are to a spring of water. A kid, when encouraged to perform acts of virtue automatically learns to inculcate more virtues.

Quote: The man of superior virtue is not conscious of his virtue, and in this way he really possesses his virtue. The man of inferior virtue never loses sight of his virtue, and in this way he loses his virtue -- Lao Tzu, circa 604 - circa 531 B.C.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

தினம் ஒரு ஒளவையாரின் ஆத்திச்சூடி -- Aathichudi - A Maxim A Day.

Many of my friends had requested me to blog regularly. Due to hectic schedules at work-front, I had to play truant on this one for a long time now. However, on Sunday, January 9th, 2005, while I was at Publix, shopping for my groceries, I got a call from my dear friend Velraja, who with all his inquisitiveness asked me, "Rex, I was playing a Tamil cassette for kids that comprises the moral maxims of our great old Poetess Auvaiyaar, which are rendered as songs. However, I don't understand all those maxims as they are composed and rendered in scholarly Tamil. For example, I do have a confusion as to what ஏற்பது இகழ்ச்சி ('yEr-padhu igazh-chEE') means. In this, what does ஏற்பது ('yEr-padhu') mean?"

The ethical treatise that my friend was referring to was ஆத்திச்சூடி, which is pronounced as 'AA-thi-chOO-di.' It means, "A garland of 'aththi' flowers," probably alluding to the Saivite God of Creation -- Lord Shiva, who use to be caparisoned with this floral garland. Anyway, while we debated and arrived at a consensus on what it means, my brilliant and intelligent friend countered me as to how that maxim contradicts another one in a different place. All of this made me think. After a long time, I felt so good at the level of an intellectual debate we had on a seemingly fleeting and trivial issue. Scholarly Tamil, especially those works that date back to several centuries, always need some probing to understand. Most of those words are seldom used in the contemporary Tamil dialects. Therefore, I decided to start learning at least one maxim a day to understand and share the same with my friends, thereby critically expounding some of these great puranic works of Classical Tamil. I am a mere Tamil aficionado and do not have any scholarly exposure to Tamil. I may be consulting informally with my parents, books, or friends, if I have problems in deciphering the meanings for these maxims. Therefore, should you observe any errors in either my translations or ruminations, kindly do let me know and I will make suitable modifications. Please do jot down your own thoughts and critiques so that it will truly be a learning experience for me.

ஆத்திச்சூடி (AA-thi-chOO-di) comprises 108 single-line maxims. It was composed by the great old Tamil Poetess Auvaiyaar, who belonged to the last Sangam era. Her devotion to Lord Vinayaka (Elephant God) and Lord Muruga (Tamil God) is well known. Her many other works appear in the great epic of Tamils' bravery, namely புறநானூறு ('puruh-nAAn-OOru'), roughly translated as the "Four Hundred Great Anthologies of Tamils' Bravery." Through ஆத்திச்சூடி (AA-thi-chOO-di) maxims (which were part of her 'Ethical Books' collection) she wanted to captivate and inculcate moral and ethical thoughts in the younger minds. 'Catching them young' was her mantra. These maxims are still being taught for the kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade kids in India. However, my audience for this blog is not kids; rather it is their parents. Therefore, I want to present content in a way that would be more appealing to parents so that they can present it in a way pleasing to their kids. I will present one maxim a day for the next 108 days. I want to make it simple and lucid. Therefore, I will blog each entry with four portions.
  1. Original maxim in Tamil (transliteration in parenthesis).
  2. Translation of the Tamil maxim in my own English.
  3. Rumination or discussion on the maxim itself.
  4. A relevant or random quote for the day.
You need to have Unicode support in your browsers and Operating Systems to view Tamil content. The last time, I did something of this sort was my, "Dhinam Oru Kural" (A couplet a day) e-mail service that I started during my days at University of Florida between 1997-1999, through a simple Unix e-mailing PINE program.

Many of my friends are baby-boomers; a few of them are in the family way. On the eve of Tamils' Thanksgiving Feast Day of Pongal, I wish to dedicate this small effort of mine to all my beloved friends and their cute, lovable kids. As a philologist, I specially commend my friend Velraja for inspiring me to take up this work for my own learning, understanding, and sharing. Very many thanks to my dearest buddy Srikanth in Madras, who satiates my Tamil thirst by gifting me some of the rare Tamil books out there in the market. Certainly this exercise is going to be a valuable, healthy 10-minute diversion for me during the next few days.

Wish you all a Happy Pongal. Pongal O Pongal.

Rex S. Arul
Smyrna, Georgia, USA
January 13, 2005.