Where was the mango tree,
Where was the Cuckoo Bird!


            The manner in which the Kannada support organizations behaved with regard to the installation of a statue in Bangalore for Thiruvalluvar, a great poet, a philosopher and a saint, does not bode well for our Kannada State. It seems as though there is a ‘hard to understand motive’ when you consider the fact that there was no opposition to the statue installation from any noted Kannada author and the opposition was only from a few radical Kannada Support Organizations. A long time ago, Ha. Ma. Nayak, a noted columnist wrote: “Today, More than ever before, in our country made up of many languages, there is a greater need to develop mutual understanding, knowledge, confidence, and respect for each other. Our states are formed on a linguistic basis. But it does not mean that they need to remain as isolated islands.” Ha. Ma. Na. penned these words in a foreword that he wrote for the Kannada translation of the classic book, ‘Thirukkural’ and his statement, means a lot, is worth thinking about and should be put it into action. Kannada Study Centers outside of Karnataka should operate more like our cultural embassies. Ha. Ma. Na. fervently wished that these Centers should get the notable literary works of other languages translated into Kannada and promote the translation of our great literary works translated to other languages. The reality, though unfortunately, is the fact that these centers fear the loss of their very existence in these places outside of Karnataka. We wish that the traditional annual temper flaring between the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu regarding sharing of the Cauvery waters be resolved by mutual meaningful dialogues between the two states.  We wish that the statues of Thiruvalluvar and Sarvagna that are being installed in the two states be the spring boards for cultural exchanges enabling a free flow of literary eminence between them. Let no dispute between them find either of these statues be the targets for the vehemence of the radicals in these two states!

            The ancient classic, “Thirukkural” written by the great humanitarian Thiruvalluvar, has won awards and admiration from the high ranking intellectuals to the lowly novices alike. It occupies a place next only to the greatest religious tomes, the Bible and the Koran, which have been the most translated tomes into several other languages of the world. It is an excellent work propagating the highest standards of righteous living and human values that transcend the boundaries of caste, group, religion, or region. Its Latin translation by Constanzo Beschi in 1730 AD had a profound influence on the intellectual populace of the European nations. In this tome, there are three sections: ‘Aram’, ‘Porul’, and ‘Inbum’. ‘Aram’ means virtue, ‘Porul’ means wealth, and ‘Inbum’ means desire. These are not different from the first three ‘human aims’ (puruShArtas) – Virtue, Wealth, and Desire, proposed in the Hindu theory of four human aims (chaturvida puruShArta). The fourth human aim, Liberation, though not mentioned here, is nothing but the outcome of the strict adherence to the three values that are mentioned in the book. It is true that Thiruvalluvar has not mentioned the name of any God in his tome though he was not an atheist. He had infinite love for the God. The proof for that could be seen in a statement he makes in the foreword to his book, “piravipperungaDal neenduvar neendaar iraivan aDi shErAdAr” which means “Those who hold on to the God’s feet will cross this big worldly ocean named incarnation while others will not”. The three sections in this book have 38, 70, and 25 chapters respectively for a total of 133 chapters. To reflect this aspect, the Thiruvalluvar statue that is erected at Kanyakumari is 133 feet in height. Each chapter in the book has 10 stanzas. Each stanza is in turn composed of 14 words in two lines and these couplets could be compared to the Sanskrit shlokas. Just as we (in Karnataka) are used to cite the vachanas of Basavanna, keerthanas of Purandara Dasa, and the triplets of Sarvagna referring to our everyday routines, so do the common folk in Tamil Nadu cite the kurals of Thiruvalluvar in their daily routines. One could not miss to notice the popularity of the kurals in Tamil Nadu, as they are posted near the driver’s seat in almost all the transport buses of TamilNadu. This great moralistic tome provides guide lines to every aspect of life.

            Language is a medium through which feelings and thoughts are put forth to connect with others. It started off as a dialogue between individuals which gradually metamorphosed additionally into a written form to accommodate easy transmission to people far removed from them in distance and time as well. Thousands of languages exist in this world. It is hard for even the linguistic experts to pinpoint and say how many different languages are there exactly. The 1911 edition of the Britannica Encyclopedia quoted a total of 1,000 different languages and that number is going up every year. Stephen R. Anderson, the American Linguistic Scholar is of the opinion that it does not mean that new languages are being created, it is just that we are only becoming aware of their existence and are being added on to the compilation. According to one estimate, there are about 6,913 dialects in this world. But some linguistic experts feel that number is gradually diminishing. They are of the opinion that a language is on the way to extinction as the number of children learning that language becomes lesser and lesser. It is similar to the trend seen with the animal species nearing extinction and marked as the ‘Endangered Species”. One estimate puts that number at 3,000 as they are on the borders to extinction within the next 100 years.

The Linguistic experts have identified a total of 250 ‘Language Branches’ by studying the origin of all the languages and classifying them based on the rectified similarities. Further, these language branches belong to one of the two major ‘Language Families’ - one, an Indo-European Language Family and the other, Dravidian Language Family. While Sanskrit finds its place along with Latin, German, French, English and others in the Indo European Family, the Dravidian Family has Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam languages under its wings. For a very long time, before the Linguistic Science came to prominence, it was wrongly understood that Kannada language originated from Sanskrit. It can be said that Kannada language has developed by inculcating the essence of Sanskrit and did not take its roots from Sanskrit. The true relationship between Kannada and Sanskrit is not that of a daughter and a mother, but more like a step-daughter and a step-mother relationship. It is a relationship where in the step daughter feels and adapts to the stepmother like her own birth mother. Unfortunately, that has turned in recent days into a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law kind of relationship. It could be safely said that Tamil and Kannada are sister languages.

In 1985, I was invited by Prof. Filioza to deliver a featured lecture at the College de France in Paris. It was six years since the completion of my studies at the Vienna University. The research mentality had not diminished in me. I had time until evening to kill after my talk was over. Prof. Filioza took me over to visit the National Library in Paris. I had no concrete plan as such. I thought it worthwhile to explore the collection of Palm leaf writings of our country. The curator of the library asked me as to what collection I wanted to explore and handed me a catalog to make my choices. Astonished at the enormity of the collections and not having a definite focus, I just picked one at random like a parrot picks the card for the fortune tellers and requested the curator to get it for me. Within minutes I was handed a bundle of palm leaves. I took it to an empty booth and opened it. It happened to be a palm leaf bundle with Tamil scripts on the leaves. Since I had a rudimentary knowledge of Tamil during my research studies at Kashi, I could make out the letters, ‘koo.Da. la. Sanga..ma.dEvA’ on one of the leaves. I thought I was hallucinating and showed it to Prof. Filioza who confirmed my finding to be true!

            I got an opportunity to revisit Paris for a program within six months of my return to India in October 1985. By then I had perfected my skills in reading and writing in Tamil. I went to the National Library and requested the curator for the same bundle of palm leaves that I had seen before. I couldn’t believe my own eyes when I saw it. Without a doubt, it was the Tamil translation of Basavanna’s vachanas.  Starting with the words: ‘Shivamayam vashavannar vashanam, pinDattalam…’ it went on to, “udakattilE padalamAya vykkappaTTa payakeyaggineepOle yirundudu, shashiyinuL rashattil rushiyOle yirundudu, arumpir parimaLampOl yirundudu, kooDalasangamadEvA kanniyil shinEgampOle yirundudu”, my eyes got misty with emotion as I finished reading these words. My elation was akin to what Archimedes must have felt on discovering the theory of ‘relative density.’ But I took care not to go running on the street, but stay put in the library for one full week copying word for word the entire contents, from dawn to dusk every day, what was written in those palm leaves.

The time period of this palm leaf collection is around 1780 AD. How did it ever get to arrive in Paris? Edouard Simon Ariel, born in 1818 in the city of Nantes in France, arrived in Pondicherry, a French colony in India as a high ranking official of the French Navy. Ariel had learnt Sanskrit from the noted Sanskrit scholar E. Burnouf in Paris. After arriving in Pondicherry he had studied Tamil and had written about Thiruvalluvar and his book Thirukkural in the 1847 editions of Asiatic Journal. It should be noted that he did this even before the famed Christian Missionary G.U. Pope, who had developed an enormous love for the Sanskrit and Tamil literature, translated the Thirukkural into English. Unfortunately, Ariel died prematurely because of some unknown disease and his collection of literature on palm leaves ended up in the National library in Paris. When I got access to this palm leaf collection of Tamil translation of 100 vachanas (Bhakthasthala) of Basavanna in 1985, I was reminded of a Vachana of Allama Prabhu:


“Where was the Mango tree

Where was the Cuckoo bird,

When were they kin?”


I got goose bumps on my skin. The palm leaf writings that I had copied 25 years ago are now ready for publication!


Sri Taralabalu Jagadguru
Dr Shivamurthy Shivacharya Mahaswamiji