Compassion, Thirukkural and Gandhi

This is one of my favourites from Thirukkural. I had the joy of immersing myself in it while translating it on Facebook (here).

Even after seeing poison being poured, they will consume it
and converse cordially,
they who seek to be captivatingly civilized and compassionate. [580]

[பெயக்கண்டும் நஞ்சுண் டமைவர் நயத்தக்க
நாகரிகம் வேண்டு பவர்.]

This is a fascinating kural, with Thiruvalluvar at his poetic best. It grows variously in the reader’s imagination and can be interpreted in many ways.

I like to interpret it this way :
The compassionate, even when they know that poison is being served (poured, not just dropped!), they understand why it is being done and go two steps ahead by drinking it and then having a friendly conversation. They understand the intention behind a hurtful deed being done to them – whether the intent is good or bad doesn’t make a difference to the way they act. They are still full of compassion. Tough indeed!

As with most other kurals that appeal to me, I am reminded of this incident in Gandhi’s life:

When Gandhi was thrashed by the angry Pathans in South Africa for agreeing for a compromise with General Smuts on registration of Indians, he lived out this kural. He understood their intentions, he was going ahead to register himself though he anticipated an assault, he bore the assault without defending, he refused to lodge a complaint against them and bore no ill-will towards them.
What did he gain by such an extreme act of non-violence and compassion? Respect of the Whites (who anyway prosecuted his assaulters on other counts) and his fellow Indians in SA. While there is no stated connection, it is no surprise that his staunchest supporter when he came back to India was a Pathan (Pashtun) – Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

We can see such incidents of personal valour (not just political leadership) throughout Gandhi’s life – when the Whites attacked him at Natal, during his many prison stints, in Rajkot when he stood firm when surrounded by a violent mob, and in Noakhali, Calcutta, Bihar and Delhi amidst immense religious violence.


7 Responses to Compassion, Thirukkural and Gandhi

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am totally upset with you using Gandhi to explain a Thirukkural. Plz know your gandhi well, watch this video to know what Gandhis own grandson has to say about him & Read Vol 8 & 9 of “Collected works of mahatma Gandhi”, you can read gandhis own writings about those racial hatred for black people

    • Kannan says:

      I know my Gandhi well, thanks. The youtube link that you have given is just trying to prove that Gandhi is not a Mahatma, a title he never accepted, and one that I don’t care much about too. But Gandhi’s grandson doesn’t say anything wrong about him there.

      Everything that they are saying has been in the public domain for many years. We can pass our own judgements on those individual acts but none of them diminish the importance of Gandhi.

      • Anonymous says:

        You can have what ever view you have about gandhi, thats not my problem, but No Pathans ever attacked Gandhi successfully, so dont even use the community name Pathan. The attack episode was manipulated to portray gandhi as a mahatma. Show your source, i have the book “Gandhi: the man, his people, and the empire” written by grandson of Mahatma Gandhi itself,Rajmohan Gandhi. In that book at pg 125 you can see that a Pathan did rush towards gandhi with a big stick but gandhis friends formed a cordon around him and prevented the attack. Rather than trying to keep gandhi alive try to find what happened to Netaji, the real fighter who got India independence.
        Watch “Between Gandhi and Hitler” documentary if you get time. Thank you.

    • Kannan says:

      My friend, please verify your facts. The same book that you refer to says this:
      /Mir Alam accosted Gandhi and asked, ‘Where are you going?’

      While replying Gandhi was hit by a club from behind him. Sighing ‘He Ram’, he fainted. Later he learnt that Mir Alam and his companions had given him more blows and kicks, some of which were warded off by Yusuf Mian and Thambi Naidoo, who were also hit. /

      Mir Alam and his companions were Pathans. The episode is given in more detail in Gandhi’s book, ‘Satyagraha in South Africa’. By his act of forgiveness after getting hit, he won over Mir Alam, who turned into a staunch supporter later.

      I respect Subhash but that doesn’t diminish my respect for Gandhi.

    • Kannan says:

      And here is a first-hand account of someone who met Gandhi, immediately after the attack, and nursed him – his first biographer, Joseph Doke.

      /Another scene recurs to my mind with equal vividness. The Pathans had attacked him, striking him down and beating him with savage brutality. When he recovered consciousness, he was lying in an office nearby to which he had been carried. I saw him a moment later. He was helpless and bleeding, the doctor was cleansing his wounds, the police officers watching and listening beside him, while he was using what little strength he had to insist that no action should be taken to punish his would-be murderers. “They thought they were doing right,” he said, “and I have no desire to prosecute them”. They were punished, but Mr. Gandhi took no part of it./

  2. Anonymous says:

    I never ever wanted to reply you because, when you knew the exact name of the persons (Mir Alam) who attacked Gandhi HOW CAN YOU POINT YOUR FINGERS ON “PATHAN COMMUNITY” when you say “pathans attacked Gandhi” that is the meaning conveyed to the reader. And after this Gandhi never dared to speak against any muslim even if they did anything wrong here are some of his speech to hindus, on not to attack muslims when India was divided, but he didnt talk the vice versa any where.
    ““Hindus should never be angry against the Muslims even if the latter might make up their minds to undo their (Hindus’) existence. If they put all of us to the sword, we should court death bravely. … We are destined to be born and die, then why need we feel gloomy over it?” (recorded speech delivered on April 6, 1947)
    In another occasion when he was talking to a group of refugees, said, “If all the Punjabis were to die to the last man without killing (a single Muslim), Punjab will be immortal. Offer yourselves as nonviolent willing sacrifices.” (Collins and Lapierre, Freedom at Midnight, p-385).
    Just before the partition, both Hindu and Sikh women were being raped by the Muslims in large numbers. Gandhi advised them that if a Muslim expressed his desire to rape a Hindu or a Sikh lady, she should never refuse him but cooperate with him. She should lie down like a dead with her tongue in between her teeth. Thus the rapist Muslim will be satisfied soon and sooner he leave her. (D Lapierre and L Collins, Freedom at Midnight, Vikas, 1997, p-479).”
    Long live the MAHATMA! Shall we recommend him for Nobel Peace prize? If Mir Alam had not attacked Gandhi that day, he would have not talked in support of the muslims during division of india.
    And secondly you talk like Gandhi is a great peace lover, then explain me why the hell did Gandhi help british in the Boer War, the Zulu War, WW1 and WW2 by recruiting, voicing & even leading Indian men to help the british kill its enemy Dutch, Zulu and mainly the germans. Why wasn’t Gandhi against the britishers killing these men & why was Gandhi only against any patriotic Indian killing british in india. Stop reading books that are from Indian authors and publishers read books from outside this country like “Spy and Counterspy” by Voska & W. Irwin in which it is written “Had E. V. Voska not interfered in indian history, today nobody would have heard about Mahatma Gandhi and the father of the Indian nation would have been “Bagha Jatin”

    Finally I have two personal question apart from the above one,
    1. As you know there is a saying in tami l“Kathi eduthavan kathiyala thaan saavan” if that’s true then why did god decide to kill Gandhi with a weapon when he didn’t take any weapon ??
    2. It is said that Gandhi liked Lord Ram and when beaten and even during the time he was shot he shouted the words “Hey Ram”, if so Lord Ram never went to Ravaan begging for his wife and said that he was fighting in non-violent method rather he cut of his head just for taking away his wife away and doesn’t one have to fight for his mother land the same way ??

    I will never forgive Gandhi for not saving Bhagat Singh when he had the power to do so and also for handing over Netaji subhas chandra bose to the britishers. To further know about you Gandhi properly read this blog

  3. Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one!

    It’s on a totally different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Superb choice of colors!

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