This is a guest post from my long time friend. Diraviam Kannan (aka TDK aka tadukki). TDK lives near Salt Lake City, Utah. We became classmates at Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani. TDK writes mellifluously after researching Thiruvalluvar’s writings on Friendship in Thirukural. It’s a fascinating read and longer than my typical couple of paragraphs. Sorry, there is no TL;DR version.

TDK, take it away…

Greetings, Vanakkam!

Living with limited social interactions for awhile now, all of us wonder when this status will change. We look forward with hope, more of a disappointing longing, as to when we can freely meet and mingle with our friends and beloved ones. As social beings, we find this isolated lifestyle painful.

Constrained by this isolation, we have used social media to connect with our friends and extended families. In a way, it has been a blessing in disguise as we are able to have closer and frequent contact with them. It is a great pleasure to be able to connect with our school and college friends. Friendship that is unique and distinct. Friendship that allows us to be ourselves, providing an environment wherein we can share our thoughts freely and safely, without the fear of being judged.

Musing about friendship in this manner led me to wonder what Thamizh literature would hold about friendship. Thamizh is an ancient language but has stayed vibrant and kept up with changing times. A lifetime is not sufficient to know all that’s written about friendship in Thamizh literature. Hence, I decided to look into Thirukkural, revered as ‘Thamizh Vedam’, about Friendship.

The great Thamizh poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar, in his epic work Thirukkural, has expounded about friendship in the ‘Porul’(‘Wealth’) section, in five chapters titled ‘Natpu’  (‘Friendship’), ‘Natparaithal’ (‘Investigation in forming friendship’), ‘Pazhaimai’ (‘Familiarity’), ‘Thee Natpu’ (‘Evil Friendship’), and ‘Kooda Natpu’ (‘Friendship not to be had’). He has written 10 couplets in each topic totaling 50 couplets on friendship and related aspects. Thiruvalluvar considered friendship to be quite important in our lives as he has written a lot about it.

Let’s explore.

செயற்கரிய யாவுள நட்பின் அதுபோல்
வினைக்கரிய யாவுள காப்பு.

What is so hard for men to gain as friendship true?
What is so sure defence ‘gainst all that foe can do?

Is anything dearer than acquiring friendship? Once we have friendship, are there any stronger things to guard us from evils? Thiruvalluvar treats friendship as a precious thing. Realizing true friendship is the ultimate protection for our lives, he says

உடுக்கை இழந்தவன் கைபோல ஆங்கே
இடுக்கண் களைவதாம் நட்பு.

As hand of him whose clothing slips away,
Friendship at once the coming grief will stay.

True friendship hastens to the rescue of the afflicted as readily as the hand of one whose garment is loosened before an assembly.

Most of us are familiar with this couplet. In the midst of others, if our dress slips, our hand rushes to catch it. Likewise when our friends are in distress, we should rush to help them. Akin to the involuntary action of our hands, true friends will help without being asked. Such is true friendship according to Thiruvalluvar. Not only that, he goes on to explain how good a true friendship is and should be.

அழிவி னவைநீக்கி ஆறுய்த்து அழிவின்கண்
அல்லல் உழப்பதாம் நட்பு.

Friendship from ruin saves, in way of virtue keeps;
In troublous time, it weeps with him who weeps.

A true friend turns one aside from evil ways, makes him/her walk in the good way, and, in case of loss, grieves with them.


முகநக நட்பது நட்பன்று நெஞ்சத்து
அகநக நட்பது நட்பு.

Not the face’s smile of welcome shows the friend sincere,
But the heart’s rejoicing gladness when the friend is near.

The love that dwells (merely in the smiles of the face is not friendship; (but) that which dwells deep in the smiles of the heart is true friendship.

Thiruvalluvar appears to relish, as he explains how true friendship feels.

நவில்தொறும் நூல்நயம் போலும் பயில்தொறும்
பண்புடை யாளர் தொடர்பு.

Learned scroll the more you ponder, Sweeter grows the mental food;
So the heart by use grows fonder, Bound in friendship with the good.

The pleasure that we get in our relationship with a true and noble friend is akin to the pleasure that we get every time we read a good book.

How amazing is this thought ! Even 2000 years ago a good book was considered like a good friend. If this were true, as this couplet implies, how Thamizhians must have been well read then!

நட்பிற்கு வீற்றிருக்கை யாதெனின் கொட்பின்றி
ஒல்லும்வாய் ஊன்றும் நிலை.

And where is friendship’s royal seat? In stable mind,
Where friend in every time of need support may find.

Friendship may be said to be on its throne when it possesses the power of supporting one another at all times and under all circumstances.

That’s how Valluvar defines the intrinsic nature of Friendship.

Moving on….

As Friendship is of such paramount importance, the ways to make friends must be treated with even more rigor. Accordingly, Thiruvalluvar stipulates the ways to make friends in the chapter ‘Natparaithal’ (‘Investigation in forming friendship’).

குணமும் குடிமையும் குற்றமும் குன்றா
இனனும் அறிந்தியாக்க நட்பு.

Temper, descent, defects, associations free
From blame: know these, then let the man be friend to thee.

We should know about a person’s character, their lineage, defects, and the nature of their associations prior to extending our friendship to them, As to why, he says below.

நாடாது நட்டலிற் கேடில்லை நட்டபின்
வீடில்லை நட்பாள் பவர்க்கு.

To make an untried man your friend is ruin sure;
For friendship formed unbroken must endure.

There is no way to forsake friendship that we form as a true friend and so there is nothing as harmful as extending friendship without adequate inquiry about the friend.

How true! Thirukkural is thus credited to be the “Code of Social and Personal Life”, one among the many acclaims bestowed on this great literary work. Though it has been written over two thousand years ago it is still relevant and applicable to our way of life.

ஆய்ந்தாய்ந்து கொள்ளாதான் கேண்மை கடைமுறை
தான்சாம் துயரம் தரும்.

Alliance with the man you have not proved and proved again,
In length of days will give you mortal pain.

The friendship contracted by one who has not made a thorough inquiry will in the end grieve one to death, Thus warns Valluvar!

In “Thee Natpu” (‘Evil Friendship’) chapter, Thiruvalluvar proscribes forming friendship with persons such as

உறுவது சீர்தூக்கும் நட்பும் பெறுவது
கொள்வாரும் கள்வரும் நேர்.

These are alike: the friends who ponder friendship’s gain
Those who accept whate’er you give, and all the plundering train.

Those who form friendship based on possible gains are equivalent to women of the streets and thieves.

Not only that, he goes on to caution about…

கனவினும் இன்னாது மன்னோ வினைவேறு
சொல்வேறு பட்டார் தொடர்பு.

E’en in a dream the intercourse is bitterness
With men whose deeds are other than their words profess.

The friendship of those whose actions do not agree with their words will distress (one) even in (one’s) dreams.

Though Thiruvalluvar has praised the greatness of true friendship he also details about unreal friendship in the chapter ‘Kooda Natpu’ (‘Friendship not be had’).

முகத்தின் இனிய நகாஅ அகத்தின்னா
வஞ்சரை அஞ்சப் படும்.

‘Tis fitting you should dread dissemblers’ guile,
Whose hearts are bitter while their faces smile.

One should fear the deceitful who smile sweetly with their face but never love with their heart.

இனம்போன்று இனமல்லார் கேண்மை மகளிர்
மனம்போல வேறு படும்.

Friendship of those who seem our kin, but are not really kind.
Will change from hour to hour like woman’s mind.

The friendship of those who seem to be friends while they are not, is like the mind of woman whose deeds are different from their intent.

This is the same idea that the great Thamizh Saint Thiru Ramalinga Swamigal aka Vallalar purports in his verse

உள்ளொன்று வைத்து புறமொன்று பேசுவார் உறவு கலவாமை வேண்டும்

We desire not to have friendship with those whose speech and deeds are different from their intent.

Thiruvalluvar even goes to the extent of preferring loneliness over friendship when the choice of friendship is with people who would forsake friends at times of critical need.

அமரகத்து ஆற்றறுக்கும் கல்லாமா அன்னார்
தமரின் தனிமை தலை.

A steed untrained will leave you in the tug of war;
Than friends like that to dwell alone is better far.

Solitude is more to be desired than the society of those who resemble the untrained horses which throw down (their riders) in the fields of battle.

Friendship involves minds of two people and it is impossible to conceive that two minds can think the same way, at all times. Hence, friends will land up having difference of opinions and altercations. Valluvar provides guidance on the ways to handle such differences in the chapter ‘Pazhaimai’ (‘Familiarity’).

பேதைமை ஒன்றோ பெருங்கிழமை என்றுணர்க
நோதக்க நட்டார் செயின்.

Not folly merely, but familiar carelessness,
Esteem it, when your friends cause you distress.

If friends should perform what is painful, understand that it is owing not only to ignorance, but also to the strong claims of intimacy.

பழைமை எனப்படுவது யாதெனின் யாதும்
கிழமையைக் கீழ்ந்திடா நட்பு.

Familiarity is friendship’s silent pact,
That puts restraint on no familiar act

Intimate friendship is that which cannot in the least be injured by things done through the right of longstanding intimacy.

Between two true friends if one commits a mistake that can harm the relationship it is important for the other to forgive, if not, the friendship may not survive. There is also a verse from ‘Naaladiyaar’ that reiterates this notion

இறப்பவே தீய செயினும், தன் நட்டார் பொறுத்தல் தகுவது ஒன்று அன்றோ?-நிறக் கோங்கு உருவ வண்டு ஆர்க்கும் உயர் வரை நாட!- ஒருவர் பொறை இருவர் நட்பு.

Even if a friend causes us much grief,

To put up with them is worth it; My Lord!

Bees buzz around bright flowers in your country’s tall peaks;

Patience of one saves friendship of two.

In the collection of poems famed as the ‘Naaladiyaar’, this poem is listed in the chapter ‘Natpirt pizahi poruththal’ (‘Toleration of mistakes committed in Friendship’) and illustrates

In spite of the grief created by the deeds of our true friend it is imperative to tolerate and forgive that O King, just as how the bees go in search of the blossom flowers at the mountain highs in your fair land so it is for one to be patient about ones true friend’s mistakes towards one in order to maintain that true friendship.

This is the same notion spelt out in the familiar proverb “ஒருவர் பொறை இருவர் நட்பு” . The below verse is listed in ‘Pazahamozhi Naanooru’ (‘Proverbs Four hundred’) and conveys the same idea

தீமை இல்லவர், நட்டவர் தீமையையும்,
எம் தீமை’ என்றே உணர்ப, தாம்; அம் தண்
பொரு திரை வந்து உலாம் பொங்கு நீர்ச் சேர்ப்ப!-
ஒருவர் பொறை, இருவர் நட்பு.

True friends would consider sorrows caused by their friend’s mistakes as sorrows of their own ill fate and forgive their friends. Thus, O Chief of the lands that are rich in water and where the waves rolls on the shores, one’s patience with their true friend’s mistakes will ensure survival of their friendship.

This poem beautifully illustrates the notion that tolerance and patience is essential to safeguard friendships.

All that I have shared so far about friendship is akin to grazing just the top surface of lush green meadows. In the vast literary swath of old and modern Thamizh literature there are lot more poems and verses embedded with thoughts and ideas about friendship. Of course, I am keen to know about all of that and will try my best. I will surely then share that with you all when time comes.

Long live friendship! Long live Thamizh! Wish you all a great life! 

Thanks for reading my post.

Note: It is imperative for me to record that the explanations about the various Thirukkural, Naaladiyaar, Pazhamozhi Naanooru poems that I have shared in this post are not mine but are based on the explanations written by various Thamizh scholars like Professor Mu. Varatharasanaar, Professor Solomon Pappaiaah, Thiru Sivayogi Sivakumar available in website, Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural, Pulavar Saina Munivar’s Naaladiyaar, explanations by Thiru Thi, Su, Balasundaram Pillai, Pulavar Thiru Mundrurai Araiyanaar’s Pazhamozhi Naanooru, explanations by Thiru Puliyur Kesikan.