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இந்தப் பக்கத்தை தமிழில் வாசிக்க: அறம்

Aram is a word of Tamil origin. While it is largely an equivalent of the Sanskrit word 'Dharma' or the Prakrit/Pali word 'Dhamma', it has acquired greater meaning in Tamil. The word has evolved over time, acquiring new meaning in different eras. Aram, in general, is used in Tamil as an all-encompassing word, containing connotations such as morality, values, justice, rules for living a good life, generosity and austerity. It is also used to denote the cosmic order that governs all life. 'Aram Paadudhal' was a tradition that existed in ancient times wherein the very idea of 'Aram' was called upon as witness while invoking a curse on a wrongdoer.


S. Vaiyapuri Pillai's Tamil Lexicon, published by Madras University mentions the word 'Aru' (அறு - break off) as the root word for Aram. Words such as 'Arudal' (அறுதல்) (to break or to end) / 'Arudhi' (அறுதி) (ultimate or final) also emerged from the same root word. In Malayalam, the word 'Attram' (അറ്റം / அற்றம்) is used to denote the end. Amongst the Paliya and Kurumba tribes too, 'Attram' is used in the sense of 'final' or in the context of something being said 'as the final word'. Over time, 'Attram' may have shortened to Aram.

Meanings from Nikandus (Ancient Thesauri in Verse)

The Pingala Nikandu, a 10th century CE thesaurus, lists the Sanskrit word 'Dharma' as the meaning for Aram. Dharma is also a word that finds resonance in Buddhism and Jainism. The doctrine that governs this universe is referred to as Dharma. Buddhism worships this in the name of Mahadhamma. The Divakara Nikandu also offers austerity (நோன்பு) as a meaning for the word Aram.

Evolution of Meaning

The meaning of the word Aram developed in three different ways. The Tamil literary texts used the word in all three planes of meaning.

First Meaning

Aram was initially used in the sense of an ultimate system of rules—codified and handed down by a society and its ancestors—that governed living. As can be seen from the words 'Illaram' (இல்லறம் / rules of domestic life) or 'Thuravaram' (துறவறம் / rules of ascetic life), Aram was used to connote a set of rules. In the literary genre of 'Arathodu Nitral' (அறத்தொடு நிற்றல்) too, the word Aram is employed to mean the rules for living laid down by ancestors. In English, this word has been variously interpreted as system, order, rule and so on.

Second Meaning

In later years, the meaning of Aram expanded to include the cosmic order or the order of nature - both of this are forces beyond man. Silappathigaram, the earliest known Tamil epic, talks of Aram as synonymous with 'Fate'. The work carries the line 'Araisiyal Pizhaithorku Aram Kootraavadhoovum' (அரைசியல் பிழைத்தோர்க்கு அறம் கூற்றாவதூஉம்) in its introductory passage. 'For those who contravene the rule of law, Aram will hand out death'. This line suggests that Aram is not just a set of rules but an inviolable order that surpasses rules. In English, this concept is spoken of as Divine Rule or Cosmic Order.

Third Meaning

The tenets advocated by Jainism and Buddhism, which later came to be accepted by the Vedic religion, gave rise to the belief that a human being could end the cycle of rebirths through good deeds and thereby attain salvation. These good deeds came to be referred to as Aram. Soon, Aram became synonymous with qualities such as charity and kindness. 'Aram Seyya Virumbu' (அறம் செய்ய விரும்பு - Practise Charity) a verse from the Aathichoodi, a collection of aphorisms arranged in alphabetical order, uses Aram in the sense of 'charity'. In English, the word is used to denote charity, virtue, ethics and so on. The ancient texts referred to those who abide by these virtues as 'Arathor' (அறத்தோர் - Upholders of Aram). Aram also came to be used to denote religion and creed.

The meanings in the three dimensions listed above existed right from the beginning. In Sangam literature too, Aram has been used in all the three senses enlisted here.

'Arathodu Nitral'

The genre of 'Arathodu Nitral' (அறத்தொடு நிற்றல்) features in Sangam literature. It signifies the endeavor of others to advise a man or a woman who is involved in a pre-marital relationship about married life and encourage them to get married in the proper way. In this context, Aram takes on the meaning of a principle steeped in ancestral traditions.

(See: Arathodu Nitral)

'Aram Paadudhal' / Singing of the Aram

'Aram Paadudhal' (அறம் பாடுதல்) or Singing of the Aram, refers to the invocation of a curse by a wronged person upon an adversary who they feel has meted out great injustice or great disrespect to themselves. The story goes that in order to kill the Pallava king Nandivarman, conqueror of the city of Thellar, his younger brother wrote the Nandi Kalambagam, in the tradition of an Aram verse. Fearing the curse, Nandivarman gave up his life by mounting a funeral pyre.

'Aram Padudhal'

In folk traditions, there exists a belief that even if an inauspicious word inadvertently enters one's speech or the speech of another addressing oneself, the word will be blessed by 'Aram' and cause harm. This is taken into account, especially in situations such as death and the illness of children. It is due to this reason that the phrase 'Kanvalardhal' (napping) is used in place of 'Kanmoodudhal' (shut-eye) while referring to sleeping children, since the latter word is also associated with death. In this way, when a word, blessed by Aram, goes on to create negative consequences, it is called 'Aram Padudhal' (அறம் படுதல்)

References in Literature

  • 'Arandhalaippatta nelliyam pasungai' (அறந்தலைப் பட்ட நெல்லியம் பசுங்காய் - Kurunthogai 209) - This line from the Kurunthogai states that to provide gooseberries along with water to wayfarers counts as Aram.
  • 'Thiruvor seyvinai aravadhu aagum' (திறவோர் செய்வினை அறவது ஆகும் - Natrinai) - According to this line from Natrinai, only the actions laid down by the ancestors and the learned will constitute as Aram.
  • The word Aram used in the line 'Arampuri arumarai navindra naavin' (அறம்புரி அருமறை நவின்ற நாவின்) in Ainkurunooru refers to the Vedic order
  • 'Inbamum porulum aranum endrangu anbodu punarndha aindhinai marungil...' (இன்பமும் பொருளும் அறனும் என்றாங்கு அன்பொடு புணர்ந்த ஐந்திணை மருங்கில்... - Tholkappiyam Kalaviyal) This maxim from the Tholkappiyam employs the word Aram in reference to the trinity of aram, porul, inbam, i.e. virtue, wealth, love.
  • 'Arampuri sutrumodu kizhavanum kizhathiyum sirandhadhu payitral irandhadhan payane' (அறம்புரி சுற்றமொடு கிழவனும் கிழத்தியும் சிறந்தது பயிற்றல் இறந்ததன் பயனே - Tholkappiyam) - Here, Aram is used to denote a clan's virtue.
  • 'Azhukkaru aaveguli innaachhol nangum izhukkaa iyandradhu aram' (அழுக்காறு அவாவெகுளி இன்னாச்சொல் நான்கும் இழுக்கா இயன்றது அறம் - Thirukkural) - In this verse from the Thirukkural, Aram refers to morality.
  • 'Arathaarithu ena vendaa sivigai poruthaanodu oornthanidai' (அறத்தாறிது என வேண்டா சிவிகை பொறுத்தானோடு ஊர்ந்தானிடை - Thirukkural) - In this verse from the Thirukkural, Aram has been portrayed as a holistic order that governs human life, history and nature.
  • 'Aram, paavam, ennum arum kayitraal katti, puram thol porthu, engum puzhu azhukku moodi, malam sorum onbadhu vaayil kudilai' (அறம், பாவம், என்னும் அரும் கயிற்றால் கட்டி, புறம் தோல் போர்த்து, எங்கும் புழு அழுக்கு மூடி, மலம் சோரும் ஒன்பது வாயில் குடிலை - Thiruvachakam) - In this song-verse, Aram is used as an antonym of sin.
  • 'Aram enakku ilaiyo enum aavi naindhu ira aduthadhu en theithengaal! enum. pira uraipadhu en?' (அறம் எனக்கு இலையோ எனும் ஆவி நைந்து இற அடுத்தது என் தெய்தங்காள்! எனும். பிற உரைப்பது என்? - Kamba Ramayanam)- Here, Aram is used to mean justice.
  • 'Arathai seerum kol, arulaiye seerum kol, thirathai seerum kol, munivarai seerum kol’ (அறத்தைச் சீறும் கொல், அருளையே சீறும் கொல் திறத்தைச் சீறும் கொல், முனிவரைச் சீறும் கொல்? - Kamba Ramayanam) - In this verse, the word Aram denotes divinity or the divine rule. Aram is placed on the same pedestal as the grace of divinity and the penance of the sages.


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