When Valluvar’s wise words reach the world

Thirukkural translations are yet to be done and have been reaching out to the general public, governments, and other independent organisations to take on this project.

CHENNAI: More than a decade ago, Antoni Selvadoss, who has his roots in Thiruvannamalai, took on the task of translating the Thirukkural into a language that is native to the hill people of Meghalaya — Garo. An employee of the state’s education department, he took on the onus of translating the couplets into a language he had learned there.

Across centuries, like Antoni, many have taken the wisdom in the 1,330 kurals to several official as well as unlisted languages. From the first translation in 1595 CE in Malayalam to the recent one in Swahili in 2024, the cryptic couplets by Thiruvalluvar have so far been translated in 58 languages across the world. Presenting comprehensive information on the languages Thirukkural is available in, the work forward, and the end goal of a mission in mind, ValaiTamil Publication has brought out Thirukkural Translations In World Languages. 

Sa Parthasarathy, the brain behind this initiative, began the project in 2019. He put out a Facebook post in 2018 asking his followers if Thirukkural is the most translated work, who all have translated, and what all languages is it present in. “I found that no full-fledged steps had been taken to put up a comprehensive work. Since it involves a lot of countries and you have to go back so many centuries and research, I understood that it wasn’t feasible,” he shares. 

Gathering information

A resident of Washington for the past two decades, Parthasarathy has been the president of Washington Tamil Sangam, as well as the founder of ValaiTamil. He then connected with his contacts in Tamil Sangams of other countries while researching for the news items and other documentation pertaining to Thirukkural on the Internet. This involved talking to Tamil scholars and Tamil schools, along with putting out posts on Facebook regularly. “ValaiTamil is an international organisation, and with its reach, some people would reply to us about a particular translation giving us a clue. With constant correspondence, we could get details about the library that the book is available in in that city. Since these translations could be years old, we would connect with scholars or someone who had settled there in that era,” he shares.

From the get-go, Parthasarathy was clear that this was not an individual project and would require a team of people with different skill sets. Through another Facebook post, he was directed to Dr NVK Ashraf from Delhi, a Malayalee who has been collecting Thirukkural translations since 2001 with the objective of uploading its contents online. In his quest of finding Dr Ashraf, he got in touch with C Rajendiran, a retired IRS officer and founder of Voice of Valluvar Family, who has also authored several books and has been deeply invested in Thirukkural for the past 18 years. “Besides that, in America, I got Elangovan Thangavelu on board to become the in-charge; Senthilselvan Duraisamy, who has memorised all the 1,330 couplets of the Thirukkural, and Ajey Kumar Selvan from Chennai became a part of our group. My success was putting together this group. A team of people with different skill sets made this book happen,” he says.

The process of finding these translations was filled with interesting stories. For example, though they did not get a copy of the Swahili translation, they found a connection to it in Thanjavur. From Fiji to the Czech Republic, though translations have been done in their official languages, getting a copy was a challenge. That’s when government employees stepped in too. “When we learnt that a translation was available in Creole (Mauritian), the education minister of the country, Armoogam Parsuramen, came to give it to us. Since our Prime Minister has been talking about the Thirukkural, the awareness and curiosity to read it has increased. The overseas department officials who understood the importance took it upon themselves to search for a copy,” he says. 

Going forward

The book is the culmination of Phase 1 of the project that involved creating a centralised repository. It includes details on the number of translations available in each language, along with book covers. “For example, in English, there are more than 130 translations. We need information about who wrote them, which year it was published, who published them, etc. In Kannada, there are 12, and 20 in Hindi…but it is not just about the numbers, getting the inside details from the city also mattered,” he adds. 

Now that the data has been collated, phase 2 has begun. The first step in this phase is collaborative translations. The team has identified 158 languages in which

Thirukkural translations are yet to be done and have been reaching out to the general public, governments, and other independent organisations to take on this project. An expert committee has been set up to help clear doubts. The second step is to get their hands on discontinued versions of a translation, and make it available on their website. Besides the online versions, they also wish to set up an offline marketplace for kural translation to reach tourists and also promote it as a souvenir. The ultimate aim is to make Thirukkural the national book of India, and position it as a recognised literary work under UNESCO. “Once we cover all the steps under phase 2, Thirukkural becoming a national book will be inevitable,” says Parthasarathy.

After its launch in Chennai in February 2024, this comprehensive book was launched on April 6 in the International Thirukkural Conference in Chicago, and subsequently in Singapore and Malaysia. 

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The New Indian Express