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Kindness to Animals in Ancient Tamil Nadu

  • C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre
Eco News, Vol. 18, No. 3 October - December 2012
Kindness to Animals in Ancient Tamil Nadu
M. Amirthalingam
During the past couple of decades, the
world has become increasingly aware of
the harmful effects of industrialization and
the consequent destruction of biodiversity.
There has been a growing realization that
we share this planet along with myriad
forms of life and that we have no right to
disturb the balance of nature. In ancient
times, too, this awareness was prevalent.
How can one, who eats the flesh of others
to swell his flesh, show compassion?”
asked Tiruvalluvar in his Tirukkural (251).
All the great religions of the world have
extolled the virtue of non-violence and
kindness towards animals. In our own
country, the emperor Ashoka gave up
eating meat after becoming a Buddhist.
In more recent times, Mahatma Gandhi
was a shining example of non-violence and
the protection of the rights of the animals,
especially the cow. Recent medical
research has also proved that a vegetarian
diet promotes longevity and health. In
this connection, I have cited a few
examples from Tamil literature.
One day, Chibi - a Chola king - sat in the
garden of his palace. Suddenly, a wounded
dove fell on his lap. He handed over the
dove to his servants and ordered them to
give it proper treatment. A few minutes
later, a hunter appeared on the scene
searching for the dove which he had shot.
He realized that the King was in possession
of the dove. He requested the King to
hand over the dove. But the king did not
want to give up the dove. The hunter then
told the King that the meat of the dove
was his only food for that day. However,
the King being compassionate wanted to
save the life of the dove. He was also
desirous of dissuading the hunter from
his policy of hunting animals. Hence, he
cut of a portion of his own flesh which
was equal to the weight of the dove and
gave it to the hunter. The hunter was
abashed by this act of the king and
regretted his violent actions. This story
can be referred to in the Cilappathikaaram.
There is another story about a Chola King
named Manuneethi Cholan. This king was
Eco News, Vol. 18, No. 3 October - December 2012
famous for meting out justice. He had
installed a bell in his palace. Any aggrieved
party who wanted justice could ring this
bell. The King would then hear the case
and deliver justice. One day, it so
happened that the King’s only son, while
riding a chariot, knocked down a calf, and
the calf died. Seeing this, the mother cow
went to the palace and rang the bell of
justice. The King came out of the palace
and was surprised to see an animal ringing
the bell. However, such was the King’s
devotion to justice that he followed the
animal to the spot where the calf had been
killed. Grasping the situation, the King
ordered that his own son should be run
over by a chariot so that proper justice
could be rendered1.
This can be referred in Cillappathikaram
as Aavin kadaimani uhuneer nenjusudath
than Arumperar puthalvanai aaliyin
madithon (20:54-55); Manimegalai (3:22);
the king defends the whole world; and
justice, when administered without defect,
defends the king (Thirukkural -547);
Heaven is the help of the helpless
(Palamoli - 3). This incident is also referred
to in the Puranaanooru (37, 39, 43, 46).
The Thirukkural (72) states that “Those
who are destitute of love appropriate all
they have to themselves; but those who
possess love consider even their bones as
belonging to others”. This story also
appears in the Kamba Ramayanam (65:7
& 7:355); Kalingathupparani (93); Rajaraja
Cholan Ulaa (5-6); Kulothunga Cholan Ulaa
(17); and Vikirama Cholan Ulaa (10-11).
In Puranaanooru (9), it is stated that
whenever the warriors prepare themselves
for battle, they have to make an
announcement. The announcement is as
follows: “Since the war is going to
commence on such and such a day, cows,
priests, animals, couples who have no
issue, ladies, patients, and aged people
are asked to go safe places”.
In another legend, the Tamil Velir King
named Vaiyaavik Kopperum Pekan was
renowned as one of the seven great
patrons and philanthropists. The great
poet Paranar was a contemporary of this
King. The poet has sung about the King
Pekan. His poem speaks of an incident
that occurred when the King was touring
his country. The King saw a peacock
shivering in the rain. Being compassionate,
he immediately removed his gold laced silk
robe and wrapped it around the peacock
(Purananooru, 145 of Paranar). “With your
elephants in rut, with your proud horses,
with your fame that does not fade, Pekan,
you who gave your cloak to the dark
mindless peacock, because it was
shivering in the cold” (The Four hundred
songs of war and wisdom, p. 91).
Such was the rule of law in ancient times
that Tamil poets like Silappadikaram,
Kamban and Manikkavasagan have
written about the time when the tiger
would not attack the deer. Both the tiger
and deer would even drink from the same
lake, such was the harmony between
Over two thousand years ago, the great
Tamil philosopher Thiruvallur said
manuyir ombi arulalvarku illenba
tannuyir anjum vinai
“The wise say that the evils which his soul
would dread will never come upon the man
who exercises kindness and protects the
life of other creatures” (Thirukkural, 244).
Kollan pulalai maruthaanaik kaikoopi
Ella uyirum thozhum
“All creatures will join hands together and
worship him who has never taken away
life nor eaten flesh” (Thirukkural, 260).
Onnaenatan unarndavai tunnamai
Vendum pirangan seyal
Eco News, Vol. 18, No. 3 October - December 2012
“Let not man consent to do those things
to another which he knows will cause
sorrow” (Thirukkural, 316).(Those who
have realised what is suffering Must
refrain from inflicting it on others).
(Thirukkural, 32. 316).
And, as a warning,
Noyellam noyseydar melvam noyseyyar
Noyinmai vendu pavar
“Sorrow will come upon those who cause
pain to others; therefore, those who desire
to be free from sorrow should give no pain
to others” (Thirukkural, 320)
Respecting this sentiment would certainly
improve the lives of domestic animals and
the chances of survival of India’s
endangered wildlife. The Sangam Tamil
poet Uruththirankannan also says that the
parrots in Brahmins’ houses recite the
Vedas. They repeat it because the
Brahmins recite it every day
(Perumpanaatruppadai: lines 300-301).
When three great Tamil kings laid siege
to King Pari’s 300 towns, Kapilar trained
the parrots to bring the grains into Pari’s
territory. The poets Avvaiyar and Nakkirar
were all praise for Kapilar for this help
(Akam -303 and 78).
Narrinai gives the information about
parrots calling a girl in affectionate terms
even after she left home. The poem is
about a girl who has eloped with her lover.
The girl’s mother says that love is beautiful.
However, when she sees her daughter’s
friends playing with their toys, tears come
to her eyes. The parrot also calls for the
girl (Narrinai – 143).
Ainkurunooru (391), Kurunthokai (210) by
Kakaipatiniyar: “Crows are attributed with
the power of predicting arrival of guests.
If the crows caw, it is certain guests will
come to the house. I attribute it to their
strong sense of smell. When women make
special dishes for guests, the good smell
spreads and attracts the crows. They are
intelligent enough to call their friends to
share the food”. Crows are used as
symbols for sharing in Tamil literature.
“Crows do not conceal their prey, but will
call out to other crows to share the food.
Wealth will be with those who show a
similar disposition towards their relatives”
(Thirukkural, 527).
In this article I have tried to highlight the
ethical principle of justice and compassion
towards animals from the background of
Tamil literature and culture. This should
help students of Tamil Nadu to develop
kindness and justice to all animals on the
basis of their culture and tradition.
In ancient days, many followed the
principle: “Pirapokkum Ella Uirkkum” (all
are born equal – encapsulates the Tamil
ethos) and this manifested itself as acts
of kindness and love. The generosity and
kindness of the king is evident from this
The ancient Indians were renowned for
their profound respect for other forms of
creation. Unless we, in this modern age,
restore this ancient virtue and realize our
inherent harmony with nature and the
biological diversity of creation, the animals
will remain sacred in name only.
1. Panchapakesh Ayyar, A.S., 1947,
Kovalan and Kannaki: the story of the
‘Silappadikaram’ Re-told, p.128, The
Alliance Company, Mylapore, Chennai.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Kovalan and Kannaki: the story of the 'Silappadikaram' Re-told
  • A S Panchapakesh Ayyar
Panchapakesh Ayyar, A.S., 1947, Kovalan and Kannaki: the story of the 'Silappadikaram' Re-told, p.128, The Alliance Company, Mylapore, Chennai.