Agriculture in History

What Thirukkural, classic Tamil couplets says about Agriculture and Farmers ?

By nurturing the good values of ethics, economy and ecstasy, Thiruvalluvar gained a unique place in the arena of literature and lives of humans. Contraction of great philosophies in two lines is the exponential stamp of Thiruvalluvar and his work Thirukkural. Ancient Tamil poet Avvaiyar quotes,Thiruvalluvar pierced an atom and injected seven seas into it and compressed it into what we call today as Thirukkural”. One of the earliest Thirukkural translator English folklorist Charles E Gover said,Kural is as important and influential on the Tamil mind as Dante’s great work on the language and thought of Italy and he equated it with the Ten Commandments of Jews. Reportedly, Thirukkural has also strongly influenced great thinkers like Leo Tolstoy, Aurobindo ghosh, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Zakir Husain and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. This article concerns on the Thirukkural references of soul elements of Agriculture such as water, land and farmers.     


Thiruvalluvar personifies rain as the nectar of life. If the rain fails, there will be no more ploughing operations in the field.

“If clouds their wealth of waters fail on the earth  to pour,

The ploughers plough with oxens sturdy teams no more”. (Kural- 14)

This statement is however true today as India is developing Cloud Aerosol Interaction and Precipitation Enhancement Experiment (CAIPEEX), a research programme by Ministry of Earth Science on cloud studies. Recently scientists of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune are carrying out three year study of cloud systems to develop a model for artificial rains which started in 2017 in rain shadow region of Solapur.

In absence of ploughshare in the field, the earth will be scorched by the harmful beast of famine. The intensity of such truth is revealed in farmer suicides of last few years. As per National Crime Records Bureau report, 2004 recorded the highest number of farmer suicides 18,241 which is not much larger figure as compared to 12,602 suicides in latest 2015. Thiruvalluvar equates this ploughshare with rain. If both not exist, we cease to have handouts and penitence.

“If heaven its watery treasures cease to dispense,

Through the wide world cease gifts and deeds of penitence”. (Kural- 18)


Land is not less inevitable than water. “The prosperous output of field is determined through the nourishment of nutrients in the land; likewise noble birth is determined through their words”.

“of the soil the plants that spring there out will show the worth;             

the words they speak declare the man of noble birth” (Kural – 959)

Land preparation is much opted operation for ploughing. This scientific operation was illustrated by Thiruvalluvar 2000 years ago:

“Reduce your soil to that dry state, when once is quarter ounce’s weight;

without one handful of Manure, Abundant crops you thus serve” (Kural- 1037)

(Ounce here refers to Tamil measurement Balam  which weights approximately 35 grams )

In the dried land reduce one ounce of the earth to its quarter which promotes the growth of crops without even a handful of manure. Through this operation, soil will be aerated and will enhance the growth of nitrogen fixing bacteria hence more healthy crops would grow. This statement has its application in Modern tillage and today’s research on Bio fertilizers which mainly involves in employment of nitrogen fixing bacteria.  

In contrast to the above statement, Thiruvalluvar describes in the next Kural,

“To cast manure is better than to plough;

weed well, to guard is more than watering now” (Kural- 1038)

When we observe both the kurals keenly we may understand that manure is not needed for dry land and must need for wetlands. For wetlands we need ploughing, manuring, weeding, irrigation and crop production for the best output. Dry lands are very important source for crops which ensure income to farmers with less resources and food security as mentioned by Thiruvalluvar. Hence United Nations declared 2016 as International Year for Pulses and 2018 as National Year for Millets

Land will give hands only to toilers for those who are idlers and persists on poverty, land may laugh at them and act like a pleasureless companion to them. These thoughts were designed out in these Kurals:

“The Earth, that kindly kindly dame, will laugh to see;

man seated idle pleading poverty” (Kural-1040)

“When master from the field aloof hath stood;

then land will sulk, like wife in angry mood” (Kural-1039)

Thus Thiruvalluvar optimized farming with salubrious and chastise way of life.


Economy has its roots in primary sector (Agriculture) from where derives secondary (Industry) and tertiary (service) sector.  Like the laborious foundation of edifices, agriculture acts as the bedrock of the earth and also as foremost profession.

“Howe’er they roam, the world must follow still the plougher’s team;

Though toilsome, culture of the ground as noblest toil esteem.” (Kural-1031)

A monarch will be able to sustain the siege of fort only through the assistance of farmers. ‘Sangam king Paari was able to withstand combined fort siege of Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas only through his agricultural treasure in his boundary’, said sangam tamil  poet Kabilar. This statement was proved again in the downfall of great conquerors Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler through Scorched Earth Policy of Russia.

“O’er many a land they’ll see their monarch reign,

Whose fields are shaded by the waving grain” (Kural- 1034)

Thiruvalluvar mentioned dignified and pioneered lifestyle of farmers through his quote:

“Who ploughing eat their food, they truly live:

The rest to others bend subservient, eating what they give.” (Kural- 1033)

According to Thiruvalluvar, clouds and farmers are the same. If they are not in the world, there will be no room even for hopeless ascetics.

“For those who’ve left what all men love no place is found,

When they wit folded hands remain who till the ground”. (Kural- 1036)

In another stance, he again confirms the equal chair of farmers and clouds in the lines of altruism which means put forth the welfare of others without expectation.

“They nothing asks from others, but to askers give,

Who rise with their own hands the food on which they give”. (Kural-1035.)

Thiruvalluvar’s perspective on agriculture is not merely as a profession but as an ethical way of living.  He says “Agriculture is an axle of the revolving earth, without this earth may collapse” in one stance. When we keenly watch on this statement, we may know that these words are not glowing literary personification but ultimate true future of all living. Through such broad illustration in short lines, it makes us incredible to realise that this man lived two millennium ago.

Mohamed Jayalani, graduate of Sericulture and also a graduate of History by passion. He is interested in Reading Books and Creative Writing.


  1. Thirukkural written by Thiruvalluvar (Tamil version)
  2. English translation and commentary by Rev.Dr. G.U.Pope, Rev.W.H.Drew, Rev.John lazarus and Mr.F.W.Willis