Poverty due to Charity in Kalidasa and Sangam Tamil Literature (Post No.3604)

Written by London swaminathan


Date: 4 FEBRUARY 2017


Time uploaded in London:-  9-03 am

Post No. 3604



Pictures are taken from different sources; thanks.



contact; swami_48@yahoo.com



Charity begins at home is a popular saying. We have an equivalent proverb (Thanakkum minjitnthaan daana darmam) in Tamil . But it can be interpreted in two ways

Dharma / Charity is what you do beyond your means/ capacity

Dharma is what you do after spending for your family


Though the Tamil construction allows both the explanations, the fact of the matter is that those do charity always do it till they become poor. We have supporting evidence in Sanskrit and Tamil literature.  This shows that the culture is same from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.


When Kalidasa listed the special qualities of the Raghu Dynasty, he said that the Kings levied a tax, only to return them to the people, thorugh a beautiful simile in Raghuvamsa.

“That king DilIpa takes only one sixth part of peoples income as tax, that too for the sake of a welfare state, indeed, like the sun taking earthly water-drops only to indemnify her with multiples of raindrops thereof. [1-18]”

King left with earthen Pots!


“Then that celebrated king Raghu who possessed of an inestimable career and of a hospitable nature has kept all the guest-worshipping material like water, sacred grass, flowers etc in an earthen vessel, because all the golden vessels of Raghu have been donated in the Vedic ritual, and then welcomingly gone forward with that earthen pot to receive that enlightened soul in Veda-s, namely the young guest Kausta, (RV5-2).



In another couplet (Raghuvamsa 5-15),

“Oh, king of men, thou who hast given away all thy wealth to the deserving appearest with only thy body left to thee like a stalk of niivaara-wild-rice plant in the buff after foresters have gleaned away its grain… [Rv.5-15]


There is a pathetic picture of the greatest of kings who reduced himself to poverty by unparalleled charity. The poet imagines this state of the King as a Nivara plant, with a single stalk left to it , being shorn of all its corns by the foresters.


Kalidasa says Poor became Philanthropists

“Extremely poor righteous men, who themselves were expectants at one time reached the status of donors by approaching that king for munificence as are the clouds by their coming in contact with the ocean as supplicants of water, in turn become the donors of water. [Rv.17-72]”


Sangam Tamil Poets


We have similar images in Tamil as well. Uraiyur Enicheri Mudamosi is one of the few famous poetesses of Sangam period. She says in Purananuru (127)

“There are few people who don’t provide good food to others. They live for themselves. They are infamous and compassionless kings But you are so great that you gave all the elephants you had. What is left with you now is just the Mangalasutra of your wife. The bards took all of your property as gifts. Oh, generous Ay, let your name and fame spread ahead of others’ fame and name”


In scores of verses Tamil poets emphasize that the Tamil kings donate only to eradicate poverty and not expecting anything in the ‘other world’ (heaven).


Tamil poet Tiru Valluvar also emphasizes the need for charity:

“Wealth is of a transitory nature. Therefore, one should seize the opportunity to do charity when one gets it. (Tirukkural 333)


Before the pangs of death approach and one loses the power of speech and gasps for breath one should hasten to do charity”.  (Tirukkural 335)


source: Raghuvamsa translation from sanskritdocuments.org;thanks




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