Punjabi man in Chennai on a mission to preserve Thirukkural

Civil engineer Jaswant Singh has written all 1,330 couplets on palm leaves

Kedayil vizhuchelvam kalvi oruvaruku, madalla matrai yavai — Learning is the only imperishable wealth, the others are not true riches. These words resonated with a 58-year-old in Chennai, 10 years ago. And that began his journey into learning the Thirukkural.

Meet Jaswant Singh, a civil engineer by profession and a nature lover by passion. At his house in Mogappair Mr. Singh stoops over a small table with an Ezhuthani (metal stylus), and his hand moves over palm leaves smoothly as he engraves words on it. He started writing the couplets on a palm leaf using the stylus towards the end of 2019, and using the lockdown to his advantage he completed all the 1,330 couplets recently.

A pagdi (turban) wearing Sardarji reading out couplets surprises many. “I am a native of Hoshiyarpur in Punjab, but I grew up in Chennai. During my school days, I studied in a Hindi-medium school and I realised the potency of the Tamil language much later in life. I started learning various forms of literature and 10 years ago, I started reading Thirukkural. It is the only text that is applicable to all religions and races. It is applicable to mankind always and is not restricted to a particular time period,” he says.

Mr. Singh then wanted to preserve the Thirukkural on palm leaves and embarked on the mission. “Though I started in 2019, I used the COVID-19 lockdown to my advantage as I was at home. I got some palm leaves from a tree without the nongu (ice-apple), put them in hot water along with some spices and papaya leaves for softening. After drying them in the shade, I started writing the Kurals on them,” he explains.

To make the engravings clear, he applies a mixture of ash (from burning leaves of a variety of spinach) and lemongrass oil on the leaf. “This can be preserved for hundreds of years. Children should also start writing the names of family members and their ancestors on such palm leaves so that it can be passed on from one generation to another,” he says.

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