By S. Sivathasan –
“every human being holds in and behind him all the past of his own race, of humanity and of himself; these three things determine his starting points and pursue him through his life’s progress.” – Aurobindo
Thiruvalluvar (Circa 2nd century AD) in his great work Thirukkural, has weighty things to say on Good Governance. Written ostensibly to reform the world and to sustain the scheme of values and of ethics and morals, it continues to benefit humanity through its 1330 couplets. It yet remains the greatest didactic work in Tamil.
To the poet, the excellence of the citizen composing the quality of the state is central to Good Governance. The King at the pinnacle of authority needs to be unimpeachable. The norms reach to all levels of society whatever be the change of designation over time. He has very many things to say on the varied facets of governance. Just a few glimpses are given.
“A King who protects his people according to cannons of propriety and good governance, is exalted to the position of God”.
“A ruler should unfailingly possess learning, mental alertness and courage”
“He who in the station of a king is easy of access and never given to harsh words is esteemed by the people.
“Capacity for the choice of best options, making them realities and presenting a firm and clear decision to the monarch are attributes of a good Minister”.
“Even if a King be not too diligent as to favour good counsel, it is the duty of a Minister to offer sane advice”
“A Minister may plan with perfection, but when he lacks resoluteness in execution, he fails to achieve”.
“There are three indispensables for an Envoy; devotion to the King, wisdom born out of deep learning and great facility of speech”
“Let one possessed of wisdom, a commanding personality and erudition, set out on an Envoy’s mission”.
“It is the task of the Envoy to work for the benefit of the country and his master. Since such a mission takes him to the highest personages in other lands, he needs to be the foremost scholar among them”.
“An envoy while being coherent and concise, needs to eschew what is unpalatable, flavor his talk with humour and bring honour to the King”.
“Being spotless in character, agreeable in one’s ways and being courageous are three essential characteristics in an Envoy”.
“An army organized and well-disciplined that is fearless even amidst danger is primary among a King’s possessions”.
“Valour, sense of honour, decisiveness and chivalry are four of the great attributes for an army”.
“Even if an army has strength in numbers, it counts for nothing when it has no robust commander”.
“Like the beam on a scale that displays weight impersonally, so should a person of rectitude be partial to no side”.
“Good and evil are common in life. It is uprightness that embellishes one’s character”.
Naaladiyaar is an anthology of 400 verses on ethics and morals. This Sangam work says about uprightness;
“Real beauty does not lie in external polish or glamour. Awareness of one’s purity in heart and mind constitutes excellence. It derives from learning, which alone lends charm”.
On Cabinet in Kamba Ramayanam
Ministers in the cabinet of King Dasaratha, discharged their duties with acceptance and propriety. Least did they care about security of their lives when it came to matters of state. Even in the face of the King’s wrath they weathered it with poise and persisted in pressing home what was correct and fair. Having deliberated on multiple issues they arrived at a consensus and conveyed their conclusion to the King in a single voice.
Sekizhar a Tamil poet, scholar and Prime Minister to the King, wrote in poetic form a history of all sixty three Saiva saints, many of whom lived centuries prior to him. His preface is a classic on the norms of good governance. It says:
“The monarch in the process of governance should ensure that the subjects are protected against harm from Himself, His retinue, from the dreadful menace of enemy incursion, robbers and wildlife”.
Ilango Adigal in his immortal epic Silappadikaram set out three reasons for producing his classic. He sought to impart his wisdom through what he saw as perennial truths.
“Righteousness is the terminator of mis-governance.
A lady of chastity is elevated to exalted heights by the learned.
Inevitable fate relentless in its pursuit, unfailingly metes out justice”.
Purananuru – A Sangam Anthology
A poet inquires from another poet about the secret of his perennial youth. The latter answers among others;
“The King commits no evil. That is, Good Governance prevails. In the village I reside, there are very many people of character”.
Who will not concur with Plato “The state is the citizen writ large?” Is it at all tenable to heap all condemnation on representatives with no thought of the infirmities in those they represent? It is the society that throws up those ill-suited for Good Governance.
Auvaiyar the Wisest Tamil Poetess (Circa 2nd century AD)
“The luxuriant tree on the bank of a river and a life of ease with power and glory will crash any moment”.
This truism was seen in all its amplitude in this country very recently. If those with brief authority can be aware of the transitory nature of their position, will they be in pursuit of the ever receding phantasm of power? Having seen it all will a new crop be hankering and squabbling over the same will o’ the wisp?
Learning is the insurance against this frailty inimical to the health of society.