After quite a long time, a post about one of the ancient treasures in Tamil Literature is in order. These days, we hear a lot of people talking about environment safety, etiquettes etc, but it is quite amazing to know that our ancestors had this consciousness thousands of years ago. Such a fabulous thought process has been rendered as a treatise that defines the rules of life and etiquette that has to be followed to lead a disciplined and a happy life.

The treatise is “Aasarakkovai” by Peruvayin Mulliyanar which is one of the Pathinen Keezhkanaakku Group of literary works in tamil literature. Written about 1500 to 2000 years ago, by around (100CE-500CE) consists of 100 stanzas, in which the author defines that rules governing food, dress code, decorum with kings and elders, conserving and non-pollution of natural resources, eschewing evil habits and bad company.

It is quite intriguing and amazing to see that Peruvayin Mulliyanar had envisioned about a lot of aspects that are applied even today. The name aacharam itself means discipline, etiquette, decorum etc. Kovai means collection, aggregation. Let’s see a few stanzas. The first one enlists the characteristics of discipline

நன்றி அறிதல் பொறை உடைமை இன்சொல்லோடு
இன்னாத எவ்வுயிர்க்கும் செய்யாமை கல்வியோடு
ஒப்புரவு ஆற்ற அறிதல் அறிவுடைமை
நல்லினதாரோடு நட்டல் இவை எட்டும்
சொல்லிய ஆசார வித்து

Nandri Aridhal Porai Udaimai Innsollodu
Innadha Evvuyirkkum Seyyaamai Kalviyodu
Oppuravu Aatra Aridhal Arivudaimai
Nallinathaarodu Nattal Ivai Ettum
Solliya Aasaara Viththu

meaning The eight traits of good decorum are Gratitude, Patience, Pleasantness in speech, Refraining Non-harming attitude towards other beings, Being Educated and Learned, Concordance with people, Understanding things thoroughly, Being Knowledgeable, Association with good people define aacharam (disciplined way of life).

To maintaining these traits one has to be very disciplined otherwise the traits cannot be achieved, this itself defines the remaining 99 stanzas. However the poet goes into defining who an educated person is, who is a respectable person etc. Let us see a few songs and their meaning to unravel what the poet has actually got for us.

அரசன் உவாதியாயன் தாய் தந்தை தம்முன்
நிகரில் குறவர் இவரை
தேவரை போல தொழுது எழுக என்பதே
யாவரும் கண்ட நெறி

Arasan Uvvathiyaayan Thaai Thandhai thammun
Nigaril Kuravar Ivarai
Devarai pola thozhudhu ezhugha enbadhae
yaavarum kanda neri

meaning The King, the Teacher, the Father, the Mother and Elder Siblings are respectable people in one’s life, so they should be treated and respected like the Gods and that is the etiquette which our ancestors found out

The next stanza is the basic etiquette about serving food or table manners

விருந்தினர் மூத்தோர் பசு சிறை பிள்ளை
இவர்க்கு ஊன் கொடுத்தல்லால் உண்ணாரே என்றும்
ஒழுக்கம் பிழையார்

Virundhinar Moothor Pasu Sirai Pillai
Ivarkku Oon Koduthallal Unnare Endrum
Ozhukkam Pizhaiyar

meaning, The disciplined, while eating, will serve the food for the guests, elderly people, the cow, the birds and the children before they even take their food. This is what is considered as table manners

Even today, many people serve food for the birds before they eat their meal during the day. It is even considered, that the ancestors eat the food in the form of birds. Such an act of providing food to the cattle and the birds is to some extent a conservation of the ecological system.

The next is about keeping the environment clean and pollution-free, which is the buzzword that every person or organisation is talking about these days, but the same thought have been introduced thousands of years back

புல் பைங்கூழ் ஆப்பி சுடலை வழிதீர்த்தம்
தேவகுலம் நிழல் ஆனிலை வெண்பலி என்று
ஈரைந்தின் கண்ணும் உமிழ்வோடு இருபுலனும்
சேரார் உணர்வுடையோர்

Pul Painkoozh Aapi Sudalai Vazhitheertham
Deva Kulam Nizhal Aanilai Vennpali Endru
Eeraindhin Kannum Umizhvodu Irupulanum
Saeraar Unarvudaiyor

meaning, Grasslands, Agricultural lands, Cow dung (the dried form of cow dung is used to burn alongwith wood while cooking and during pujas), Graveyard, Waterbodies like ponds, lakes etc, Temples and places of sanctity, Shades under trees etc where people rest, Stable where cows are tied and Ash that is obtain by burning wood etc – are the 10 places where disciplined people would not pollute by spitting, passing excrements or otherwise

This environmental consciousness is the paramount statement of today’s environmentalists, but this consciousness was widespread with our ancestors even in those days.

The next song is about strict discipline and self control

பிறர்மனை கள் களவு சூது கொலையோடு
அறனரிந்தார் இவ்வைந்தும் நோக்கார் திறனிலர் என்று
எல்லபடுவதும் அன்றி நிரயத்து
செல்வழி உய்திடுதலால்

Pirarmanai Kall Kalavu Soodhu Kolaiyodu

Aranarindhaar Ivvaindhum Nokkaar Thiranilar Endru
Ellapaduvadhum Andri Nirayaththu
Sellvazhi Uithiduthalaal

meaning Uxoriousness over other’s wives, Booze, Larceny, Gambling and Murder are the five things that learned and disciplined people would never dare to commit because it not only brings blame and bad name but also paves the way to hell

The next stanza details about how one should conduct his life

நந்தெறும்பு தூக்கணம் புள் காக்கை என்று இவைபோல்
தம் கருமம் நல்ல கடை பிடித்து தம் கருமம்
அப்பெற்றியாக முயல்பவர்க்கு ஆசாரம்
எப்பற்றியாயினும் படும்

Nandherumbu Thookanam Pull Kaakai Endru Ivaipol
Tham Karumam Nalla Kadai Pidithu Tham Karumam
Appettriyaga Muyalbavarkku Aasaram
Eppatriyaayinum Padum

meaning, The one who is hardworking like an ant, protective like the weaver bird, Active like a bird, Social like the crow and does his duties correctly, then discipline will automatically attribute to him.

It is quite amazing about how the poet can bring about all these nuances of discipline. The problem is that how is could be followed by everyone equally, so considering that, the poet has also given exceptions to people who might not be able to follow the rules of discipline or etiquettes or in other words, it describes the people who are exempted from these rules. The following stanza enlists those poeple

அறியாத தேயத்தான் ஆதுலன் மூத்தான்
இளையான் உயிர் இழந்தான் அஞ்சினான் உண்பான்
அரசர் தொழில் தலைவைத்தான் மணாளன் என்று
ஒன்பதின்மர் கண்டீர் உரைக்குங்கால் மெய்யான
ஆசாரம் வீடு பெற்றார்

Ariyadha Theyatthan Aadhulan Moothaan
Ilayaan Uyir Ilandhan Anjinaan Unbaan
Arasar Tholizh Thalaivaithaan Manaalan Endru
Onbadhinmar Kandeer Uraikkunkaal Meiyaana
Aasaram Veedu Pettrar

meaning, the people who are exempt from following the rules described are Foreigner, Beggar, Aged people, Kids, Dead person, Frightened/Panicked person, Persons on deputation of King’s or Governmental order, Persons about to get married are the nine people enlised to be exempt from maintaining the aasaram.

Though some of the stanzas might not be relevant to this day or cannot be followed as mentioned. Some stanzas might even appear to be discriminating, but if we construe it in the right sense, the point of discrimination disappears. But, we have to appreciate the knowledge and the awareness we had, even before the western world knew that there are such principles to govern discipline for a citizen and for a society as a whole.

Assarakkovai in pdf format can be downloaded here

More to come, until then….

PS: From this post onwards, I am planning to write the tamil script using Google’s Transliterate service, rather than posting them as images. Post your comments if there are any problems viewing the content