‘Service to Strangers’
By Periyava
Translation from Tamil: V. Krishnaraj

பரோபகாரம் : தெய்வத்தின் குரல் (முதல் பகுதி)
Paropakaram = Service to Strangers: Deivathin Kural
Vaidika religion enjoins payment of debt to ancestors, Veda Yagnam as Paramēṣvara’s worship and giving food for all living things. Tiruvalluvar enjoins the same Dharma.
தென்புலத்தார் தெய்வம் விருந்தொக்கல் தானென்றாங்கு
ஐம்புலத்தாறு ஓம்பல் தலை. குறள் 43
Theṉpulaththār theyvam virunthokkal thāneṉṛāngu
Aimpulaththāṛu ōmpal thalai. Verse 43 Tiruvalluvar. Transliteration
43. Five are the duties of the householder, namely, the offering of oblations to the
dead, the performance of sacrifices to the Gods, the doing of hospitality, the
rendering of help unto relations, and the looking after of one’s own self. Interpretation by VVS Aiyar.
The householder should perform his duty to the fivefold Theṉpulaththār: the manes, the Gods, one’s guests, his relatives and himself.
Valluvar composed Kural thinking in his mind of the authority of Vedas. The following verse (259) is an example of it. Some say he was not of Vaidika religion. He was a Jain or a Buddhist. Or he transcended all religions. Some believe, among Vedic Dharmas Valluvar condemned the fire sacrifice that involves violence (to animals). They quote the following verse as evidence.
அவிசொரிந்து ஆயிரம் வேட்டலின் ஒன்றன்
உயிர்செகுத்து உண்ணாமை நன்று Verse 259
Avisorinthu Āyiram vēttalin oṉṛaṉ
Uyirsekuththu uṇṇāmai naṉṛu. Verse 259 Tirukkural
Ahimsa is superior to a thousand Yāgams (sacrifices).
pouring clarified butter on fire in a thousand sacrifices
Better yet not to eat by killing. Verse 259 Krishnaraj
Better than to perform a thousand sacrifices in the sacrificial fire
is to abstain from the killing and eating of living things. 259 Translation by VVS Aiyar
Better than a thousand Yāgams pouring ghee in the consecrated fire is not torturing animals and eating them. It is my opinion that Valluvar had complete confidence in Vaidika Aṉuṣtāṉam (observance). Someone describing the beauty of Kaveri River said that one Kaveri is superior to a thousand Ganges Rivers. It means that Ganges River itself is great. Would someone praising the Kaveri River tell that Kaveri is 1000 times loftier than a thousand sewers? Likewise, Valluvar on praising Ahimsa as superior than a thousand Yagas. Its meaning is that Yagas are great too.
This couplet was not mentioned in Householder’s Duty, but in chapter ‘’The Life of an Ascetic.’ The ascetic has no connection with Yāgam. Vaidik religion imposed only on him complete Ahimsa. Valluvar emphasizes the same.
Valluvar gave the Treatise on Ethics to the whole world. He is not an atheist objecting to Vaidīkam. Valluvar used the word ‘Virunthu’ which is the same as Manuṣya Yagnam meaning offer of free food to a guest, the poor and the like.
When the rice was cooked, a handful of rice was added in the pot for the poor, thinking of God’s grace. People collect rice from households from street to street, cook it in the temple, offer it to God and then distribute it to the poor. With rice, people must contribute a paisa for overhead expenses like firewood, vegetables, rental of utensils… This is philanthropy. This scheme helps feed the poor. They get the Prasadam (sacrament) which fills their stomach and satisfies the mind. This brings people to the temple. Since it is Prasadam, it gives mental purity.
Free food is part of philanthropy. Philanthropy, community service, and social service receive so much notice, publicity and demonstration. In the olden days, this was a routine everyday event that duty-bound people did. This was called Pūrtha Dharmam: Digging wells and ponds, food distribution, temple building for spiritual progress, planting flowering plants in garden…
Pūrtha Dharmam = meritorious work like digging wells.
In conversation, we enquire, “Is he digging?” It is a big Dharma to dig wells, ponds, … to provide drinking water for people, animals and the green fields. All inclusive of the wealthy and the poor should take the implements and engage in physical labor for the public weal. Social unity will grow and thrive. There are such things as clean Buddhi from education, Dhyānam for mental purity, study of Slokas for purity of speech, and physical labor for the purity of the body. Without regard to status like the rich and the poor, joining with others in the collective physical effort like digging the earth for water will erase egotism, self-conceit… More than the water that springs in the well, the love that springs from the heart is important. There is no need for pretension, ostentation and demonstration. Each does something useful without being noticed, recognized or lauded like going around in the immediate vicinity removing glass pieces from the walkways. That is charity, philanthropy… That is mental purity giving loftiness to the soul.
Let us think of everyone as Bhagavat Svarūpam (likeness to God); let us do philanthropy to please Bhagavan with our limbs he gave us in the first place.