Sunday 28 August 2016


2016-35 Naladiyar or Naladi Nanooru [400 Quatrains in Tamil]

The Nāladiyār [Tamilநாலடியார்] is a Tamil poetic work of didactic nature belonging to the Patiṉeṇkīḻkaṇakku anthology of Tamil literature. This belongs to the post Sangam period [100 - 500 CE].  It is a Tamil classic treating of virtue, wealth and love, contains 400 venpakkal or quatrains composed by Jaina ascetics. Every poem deals with morals and ethics, extolling righteous behaviour.

There is an old Tamil saying which goes like this.

ஆலும் வேலும் பல்லுக்குறுதி,
நாலும் இரண்டும் சொல்லுக்குறுதி.

When literally translated, this means, “Banyan and Neem strengthen teeth, Four and Two strengthen words”. The message implied here is that the four-liner “Nāladiyār” and the two-liner “Thirukkural” strengthen one’s conduct and speech, just like how brushing the teeth with sticks of banyan and neem adds to its strength.

Nāladiyār  is unique in the employment of similes, which help to teach the moral codes using simple examples from daily life. For example, one of the poems states that just like a calf placed in front of a vast herd of cows seeks out its mother unerringly and attaches itself, the deeds of the past home in on the doer and exact their price unfailingly.

Rev G.U.Pope writes as follows in his introduction to Naladiyar or Four Hundred Quatrains in Tamil:

Pervading these verses there seems to me to be a strong sense of moral obligation, an earnest aspiration after righteousness, a fervent and unselfish charity, and generally a loftiness of aim that are very impressive.

I have felt sometimes as if there must be a blessing in store for a people that delight so utterly in compositions thus remarkably expressive of a hunger and thirst after righteousness.

They are the foremost among the peoples of India, and the Kurral and Naladi have helped to make them so.

When we examine each quatrain as an artistic whole—a kind of cameo—we find that there are several distinct and clearly marked types. 

1. There are the simply didactic. Here the student must first master the third and fourth lines, in which is enunciated the truth, precept, or principle, of which the former part of the quatrain gives the proof or illustration.

This is seen in the first quatrain, where the aphorism is, 'worldly prosperity is a thing of no account.' This axiom is illustrated by a matter of daily experience.

2. One class of the didactic quatrain depends for its effectiveness chiefly on some apt and ingenious simile, illustration, or analogy.

In 290 the aptness of the figure, the beauty of the expression, the wonderful terseness of the conclusion, together with the perfection of the form and rhythm, leave nothing to be desired.

If I am not deceived there is in many of these verses something far beyond mere technical skill. At times by a few happy touches an idea is expressed in such apt language, and illuminated by such a picturesque use and adaptation of familiar words, each chosen with truest and most accurate discrimination that the quatrain becomes a group of life-like pictures, on which the mind is fain to linger long, and to which it recurs often.

கல்வி கரையில! கற்பவர் நாள்சில;
மெல்ல நினைக்கின் பிணிபல; - தெள்ளிதின்
ஆராய்ந் தமைவுடைய கற்பவே நீரொழியப்
பாலுண் குருகின் தெரிந்து.    

In this matchless verse [135] not a syllable could be spared; while almost every word is common and easy, yet is the very fittest, and is used in its exact meaning. It is somewhat archaic;—has a fascinating air of mystery; pleasantly exercises and amply rewards the student's ingenuity; —seems dark at first, but once lit up, sparkles for ever.

Thus கரை = shore suggests a metaphor: [கல்வி கரையில] 'learning is a shoreless - infinite - ocean.' Then comes the simple antithesis, [கற்பவர் நாள்சில] ' the learners' days are few.' In Tamil the use of the same root twice [in கல்வி and கற்பவர்] and again in the third line [கற்பவே] imparts an added charm. Into these perfectly harmonious lines is compressed a whole chapter:

Swan [Hamsa]
'The subjects of study are infinitely numerous ; but the learners' days are few ; and if it be calmly thought out, men are liable to many diseases. Youthful enthusiasm may lead men to anticipate great and varied triumphs; calm reflection teaches them their natural weakness. So, men should learn with discrimination, [தெள்ளிதின்ஆராய்ந்தமைவுடையexamining closely things befitting them, with intelligence like that of the bird Hamsa, that drinks only the milk and leaves the water, when these mingled are presented to it.' 

Full Text of the Naladiyar with English Commentary by Rev G.U.Pope: [Click Here]

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