Monday, April 06, 2009

The middle path

Thiruvalluvar, writing on "prohibited conduct" (கூடா ஒழுக்கம்), said:

280. மழித்தலும் நீட்டலும் வேண்டா உலகம்
பழித்தது ஒழித்து விடின்.

Rev. Dr. G.U. Pope translated that as:
What's the worth of shaven head or tresses long, If you shun what all the world condemns as wrong?

Mr. F.W. Ellis:
There is no need of a shaven crown, nor of tangled hair, if a man abstain from those deeds which the wise have condemned.

The English translations limit the verse to just the head and crown - missing the beard and the more general meaning of "shaving". Thiruvalluvar seems to prescribe the middle path with regard to hair - trimmed to taste according to the fashion of the day!

Buddhist monks and other sects have elaborate tonsuring rules and procedures. On the other extreme, Saivaite saints and others sport long tresses and beards. Both symbolise and make their school of thought apparent to the world, through hair growth. Valluvar strongly censures both practices, and declares that both extremes are unwanted when what the world condemns is given up, abandoned and/or destroyed.

Beyond just hair on the head, the verse prescribes the middle path to wealth earned through moral rectitude.

The University of Madras dictionary at gives the following meaning to "மழித்தல்":

1. மொட்டையடி-த்தல் moṭṭai-y-aṭi- : (page 3374)

மொட்டையடி-த்தல் moṭṭai-y-aṭi-

, v. tr. < id. +. 1. To shave the head entirely; தலை முழுதும் மழித்தல். 2. To strip completely, as a man of his wealth, as a tree of its fruits; முழு துங் கொள்ளைகொள்ளுதல். மரத்தை மொட்டை யடித்துவிட்டார்கள்.

The meaning of "நீட்டல்":

1. நீட்டல் nīṭṭal : (page 2295)

1. Stretching, lengthening; நீட்டுகை. 2. Procrastination; தாமதம். நிலைமை யறிய நீட்ட மின்றி (பெருங். மகத. 23, 51).

நீட்டல் nīṭṭal, n. < id. 1. Lengthening, extending, stretching; நீளச்செய்கை. 2. (Gram.) Poetic licence which consists in the lengthening of a short vowel into a long one; குற்றுயிரை

2. நீட்டல்மானம் nīṭṭal-māṉam : (page 2295)

280). 5. Liberality; பெருங்கொடை. (பிங்.)

The verse prohibits stripping someone of all wealth. It also abjures needless generosity. Both are needless if one maintains rectitude earning wealth. Of course, the verse assumes the reader has freedom to ponder and take correct decisions.

The saint who spoke so clearly censuring extremes, is portrayed with high tresses and a long beard. That does no justice to Thiruvalluvar - he must have sported neatly trimmed hair according to the fashion of his day!

It won't be out of place here to mention that most programmers who have made a huge difference to computing follow the middle path. To read more on them, please visit: