Translations of Kural in different languages
பிற மொழிகளில் திருக்குறள்
“No translation can convey any idea of its charming effect.
It is truly an apple of gold in a network of silver”
(In his introduction to the Kural in German)
The Tamil classic, Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets), has been translated into many major languages of the world. Attributed to Thiruvalluvar, who probably lived between the 3rd and 6th centuries A.D., the Kural (as it is often referred) occupies a leading place amongst the wisdom literatures of the world. The popularity of the Kural amongst all ancient Tamil literatures can be judged from the fact that the next most translated work in Tamil comes no where near the Kural when compared to the number of times and number of languages the Kural has been translated. The Tamils believe that the Kural has been translated into most languages, next only to the Bible and the Qur’an., There are other texts with similar claims of having been translated several times in many languages. The Hindus claim that their most popular scripture the Bhagavad Gita is the second most widely translated book after the Bible. It has been translated into at least 24 languages [*] and probably more. The Chinese claim that their classic Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu is the world’s most translated Book. This is not at all surprising considering the fact that it has been translated into Western languages over 250 times, mostly in English, German and French. The Kural also has seen most of its translations in these same languages, but the number in European languages would be just over 150. By 2002, the number of translations of Tao Te Ching in English alone exceeded 100, a feat achieved by Tirukkural perhaps only by 2009.
Victor Mahir, a translator of Tao Te Ching, had this to say: “Next to the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching is the most translated book in the world”. Ninety one different translations of Tao Te Ching in 15 different languages (35 translations in English alone) are available at a single website on the net [*]. The Confucian Analects (Lun Yu) attributed to Confucius has also been translated to many languages. The Confucian Publishing Co. Ltd has presented this Confucian Classic in 26 languages of the world on the internet [*]. The Qur’an has been translated into 47 languages [*] and the Bible into 303 languages [*] and many translations of these scriptures in different languages are available on the net. Dhammapada, the most popular of all Buddhist sacred texts, must have also seen several translations.
Like the Baghavad Gita, the Kural is a product of India, the home of 22 officially recognized languages. Naturally both these works have been translated into most of these languages. The Kural has seen more than five translations in some of these languages (like Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Sanskrit and Telugu). The Chinese in their country have only two languages to deal with and therefore the claim of Tamils that the Kural has been translated into most number of languages, next only to the Bible and Qur’an, is not a tall one. According to one source of information, the Kural has been so far translated, either in parts or in full, into 80-90 languages. However, the author of this present article has so far managed to confirm the occurrence of the same in only 36 languages. The Tao Te Ching might be the most translated, but not necessarily in a diversity of languages like the Kural and Gita. However many websites mention that Tao Te Ching has been translated into more languages and versions than any other book ever written, excepting the Christian Bible.
The Kural differs from the above sacred texts in two respects: Firstly, it does not have the backing of any religious community to promote its translations into many languages. The Kural has therefore been translated mainly because of its poetical merit and strong ethical content. Secondly, all these sacred texts except the Bible are much smaller in size than the Kural. When compared to the Kural which has 1330 cryptic couplets of two lines each, the Tao Te Ching has only 81 poems of varying sizes, the average coming to 10-12 lines per poem. The Analects has 499 sayings, Dhammapada has 423 verses and the Gita 700 slokas. Translators obviously find translating smaller works like Tao Te Ching, Analects and also the Kural easier when compared to larger works.
A noted Chinese sage once declared that the task of translating a literary work is like “the chewing of rice for another to swallow.” As is the case with any literary masterpiece, the Kural also loses its poetical merit when translated into other languages. Dr. Karl Graul, who translated the Kural into German had this to say: "No translation can convey an idea of its (Thirukkural's) charming effect. It is truly an apple of gold in the network of silver." Therefore, no translation can do justice to the poetical brevity of the Kural and its delightful rhymes and repetitious words. Kamil V. Zvelebil's solution to translate the Kural was to translate it as briefly and tersely as possible, preferably not in rhymed couplets. To illustrate his point, he went on to produce translations of five select couplets as well. To this, we may also add the need to imitate the author's love for employing repetitious words within the same couplet. One may perhaps manage to do so with few couplets. Translator P.S. Sundaram, whose translation is available on the net [*], has attempted to render some of the couplets in Valluvar's own style with reasonable success. Here are two examples:
At least the moral values which are integral to the Kural never get lost when properly translated. Over the last three centuries, numerous scholars have taken the task of translating the Kural into various languages. It has now been translated into all major languages of the world like French, Latin, Polish, Russian, Swedish, German, Japanese, Dutch, Czech, Finnish, Malayan, Burmese, Korean, Chinese, Singhalese, Italian, Urdu, Arabic and at least eight Indian languages. Notable exceptions appear to be Assamese, Thai, Tibetan, Greek, Afrikaans, Turkish, Hebrew, Mangolian, Persian and Irish. If the claim that the Kural has been translated into 80 languages is true, then some of these languages might have also been covered. Considering the fact that Tamil is a classical language of great antiquity, Tirukkural (திருக்குறள் =Sacred Verses) must have been translated into the classical Greek language too. As of now, I have only the following translation of a couplet to offer in Greek. Translations of the same couplet has been presented in other languages also below (Note: Translations in German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese have been done with the help of Google's translation option).
"Πώς μπορεί κάποιος, που τρώει τη σάρκα άλλων για να
φουσκώσει τη δική του σάρκα, να δείξει συμπόνοια;"
Τιρουβαλλουβάρ, Tirukkural: 251
How can one command grace
Who eats the flesh of others to swell his own flesh?
Tiruvalluvar, Sacred Verses: 251
தன்னூன் பெருக்கற்குத் தான்பிறி தூனுண்பா
னெங்ஙன மாளு மருள்?
திருவள்ளுவர், திருக்குறள்: 251
Разве может испытывать чувства сострадания человек,
который поедает плоть других живых существ для увеличения своей плоти?
Тируваллувар, Священные стихи: 251
Pożeraczem żywego nie może być człowiek,
Co wyznaje nakazy pokoju.
Tiruwalluwar, Tirukkural: 251
French (Français):Comment celui qui mange la chair d’un autre être animé,
pour engraisser la sienne, peut-il se laisser gagner par la miséricorde.
Tirouvalluvar, Vers sacrés, 251
Qui ut sua caro pinguoscat, alienas carnes comedit quinam eum
viveutibus lenitatem et clementiam exercere dicetur?
Tiruvalluvar, Tirukkural: 251
Come può esercitarsi nella pietà allineare che mangia la carne
di un animale per ingrassare la sua propria carne?
Tiruvalluvar, Verses Sacred: 251
Como pode praticar o compassion verdadeiro que come a carne
de um animal para fatten sua própria carne?
Tirukkural, Versos Sacred: 251
Cómo puede él practicar la compasión verdadera que come la
carne de un animal para cebar su propia carne?
Tirouvalluvar: Coplas Sagrados, 251
माँस-वृद्धि अपनी समझ, जो खाता पर माँस ।
कैसे दयार्द्रता-सुगुण, रहता उसके पास ॥
तिरुवल्लुवर, तिरुक्कुरल: 251
كيف يكون احد رؤوفا ورحيما إن يأكل الحيوانات
لا زدياد شحمه ودسمه فى جثـتـه وجسمه
تروولوور- الأبْيـَاتُ المـقـدّسَــة -251
Wie kann er zutreffendes Mitleid üben, das das Fleisch eines Tieres ißt,
um sein eigenes Fleisch zu mästen?
Tiruvalluvar, Heilige Verse, 251
그는 어떻게 그 자신의 살을 살찌기 위하여 동물의 살을 먹는
진실한 연민을 실행해서 좋은가?
Tiruvalluvar, 신성한 운문, 251
如何真正实践慈悲谁吃动物肉养肥自己的血肉? 印度教手稿, 神圣诗: 251
The Kural was popular in the neighbouring country Sri Lanka (the Ceylon) even before it was officially translated. S. Maharajan in his book on Tiruvalluvar (Sahitya Academi) mentions about Dr. Xavier S. Thani Nayagam who produced the earliest record of a non-Indian use of Thirukkural. This is found in the Fernao de Queyroz’s “Conquest of Ceylon” in which the Franciscan Missionary Fra Joam de Vila Conde, in a religious debate at the court of Bhuvanaika Bahu of Kotte, Ceylon (1521-1551) cited the Kural in support of the doctrines which he preached: “Read, one of the books you have which you have maliciously hidden, composed by Valuer (evidently Valluvar) a native of Melipur (Mylapore) and the contemporary of St. Thomas. There you will find the union of the Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son, the Redemption of Man, the cause of his fall, the remedy for this faults and miseries and finally the preservation of his state”. The fact that the missionary cited the Kural may be true but none of us would agree with what he said of the Kural for it never mentions about Trinity, Incarnation, Redemption or Fall!
The first translation of the Kural into a European language was that of C.J. Beschi of the Society of Jesus (1700-1742) who translated the Kural into Latin. Interestingly the first translation of Dhammapada to a European language was also in Latin (by Dr. Fausboll), but this happened only in 1855! It is interesting is to compare the Kural's translation history with that of Bhagavad Gita. A Latin translation of Bhagavad Gita appeared only in the year 1823 by Schlegel. The first translation of the Kural into English (as selections) happened in 1794 by Kindersley (Extracts from “Ocean of Wisdom”) only nine years after the first English edition of the Gita (by Charles Wilkins) appeared. Though the Kural was officially translated into German by A.F. Cammera in 1803, the Gita got this distinction with Von Humbolt's work only in 1826. Thanks to E.S. Ariel, the Kural's first translation in French appeared in 1848, just two years after the Gita was translated into French by Lassens. Interestingly, an unknown author had translated the Kural into French in 1767 itself, the manuscript of which had been deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale of France, Paris. Not withstanding this neck-to-neck translation rivalry between Kural and Gita, the distinction of the first ever Indian classic being translated into an European language apparently goes to a selection of 200 slokas of Bhartrihari into Dutch in 1651.
Some of the well known translations in English include those by G.U. Pope, W.H. Drew & John Lazarus, V.V.S. Iyer, K. Srinivasan, C. Rajagopalachari and P.S. Sundaram. Some of these English translations and many others' are now available on the net.
Some important translations of Tirukkural in English on the internet
It spite of its translation into more than 30 languages of the world (perhaps into 60 or 80 languages as mentioned before), hardly any translations – other than in English – are available on the net. The only complete translation of the Kural in a foreign language other than English available on the net is Russian [*]. The idea here is to present the Kural in all the major languages of the world including all the Indian languages. The most difficult part in this exercise is procuring copies of the Kural that were translated during first half of 20th century. Many of them are out of print and subsequent editions have not been produced. In some languages like English, Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali and Kannada new translations continue to be produced every year, while in some like French, Latin and Urdu new editions or reprints of the old translations are published. However for many other languages like Marathi, Chinese and Sinhalese, the only source is the old publications available in libraries. Some languages like Fijian, French, Japanese, Russian and Polish have seen newer translations.
The translations being presented here are not necessarily the best ones available in that respective language. In most cases there is no choice as it is difficult to obtain more than one translation for comparison. Another hindrance is my lack of knowledge in languages other than Tamil, English and to some extent Malayalam. There is no choice in the case of Arabic, Punjabi, Finnish and Konkani as the Kural has been translated into only once in these languages. I have given preference to translations in verse, but the Kural has been translated only in prose in many languages (like Arabic, Konkani, Marathi).
Before we proceed to the different translations, a word of caution about translation of any classic. The Kural contains maxims of mandatory ethics and at least the message does not get lost if properly translated. What about its poetic excellence? Kamil Zvelebil, the renowned Czech Tamil scholar had this to say:
“It is almost impossible to truly appreciate the maxims of the Kural through a translation.
Tirukkural must be read and re-read in Tamil”.
So if you know Tamil, click here to view the original couplets along with interpretation in modern Tamil
Mahapatra, R. 1999. Translations of Tirukkural into English and other Indian languages – some aspects. In: On Translations. International Institute of Tamil Studies. Pp 51
Ramasamy, V. 2001. On translating Tirukkural. International Institute of Tamil Studies, Tharamani, Chennai. Pp 29
Mair, V.H. 1990. Introduction and notes for a translation of the Ma-wang-tui manuscripts of the Lao Tzu (Old Master). Sino-Platonic Papers, 20. (http://spp.pinyin.info/abstracts/spp020_lao_tzu.html )
S. Jayabarathi of Project Madurai. A short introduction to Thirukkural. http://www.tamilnation.org/literature/kural/Jayabarathi.htm
Reviewer Jmh. 1992-1998. Fringe Ware, Inc. for the book Tao Te Ching by Lao Tse, translated by Stephen Mitchell.
Padmanabhan, S. Thiruvalluvar. Released on the occasion of unveiling of the 133 feet high statue of the immortal bard Thiruvalluvar. Kanyakumari Historical and Cultural Research Centre, Nagercoil and Dakshinaa Publishing House, Chennai.60 pages.
Ramasamy, V. 2001. On translating Tirukkural. International Institute of Tamil Studies, Chennai. Pp 30
Dr. Harichanda Kvairatna, 1980. Oriental Institute, Batapola, Sri Lanka. (http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/dhamma/dham-hp.htm)
Source: Bhagavad Gita Trust: www.baghavad-gita.org.
 Sampath Kumar, 2004. Indological similarities in Tirukkural and Telugu literature. In: இக்கால உலகிற்குத் திருக்குறள். Part III. Editor: S. Krishnamoorthy. International Institute of Tamil Studies. 165-172
. Tandon, R. 2005. Preface. Sringarashatakam. Rupa and Co. pp xi-xv
. LaFargue, M. and Pas, J. 1998. On translating the Tao-Te-Ching. p. 277
. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/lao-tzu/works/tao-te-ching/index.htm; http://www.answers.com/topic/tao-te-ching-1; http://www.classicallibrary.org/laotse/tao/index.htm.
. Olin Gallery, September 5, 2002. The Tao Te Ching. Introduction to an Exhibition by Perry-Gordon. (http://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Writings/TaoTeChing-talk.pdf).