Friday, March 23, 2001

3. Why number se7en for the Kural?

குறளுக்கு ஏன் எண் ஏழு?

"The good remember through all se7en births, the friends who wiped their tears"
(Kural 107)

    There are many reasons, within and outside the Kural, for me to chose number 7 as the common denominator for my investigation on the presence of mathematical combinations or coincidences. Besides many of the mathematical, mythological and scriptural reasons, the most important reason for choosing 7 as the number comes from the Kural itself. Before I begin to say anything on these leads from the Kural, I would like to make a short review of the unique standing of number 7 in the world.

3.1. Number seven in scriptures

    There is no doubt that seven is the universal sacred number. According to E. W. Bullinger (1921), the number seven represents "spiritual perfection" (Number in Scripture). It is a number referred quite often in sacred literatures worldwide, Vedic and Judaic traditions in particular.

Hinduism: The Rig Veda has many references to 7 regions of the earth (I.22.16), 7 rivers (I.32:12), 7 tongues of agni (I.58:7), 7 singers (I.62:4), 7 castles (I.63:7), 7 strong floods (I.72:8), 7 rays (I.105:9) and 7 sisters (I.164:3). The most popular of all Hindu sacred texts the Bhagavad-Gita Gita contains 700 verses. Number seven also permeates in various walks of Hindu mythology as well. There are seven sages--the Sapta Rishis; the Sapta Loka--the seven worlds; the Sapta Pura--the seven holy cities; the Sapta Dvipa--the seven holy islands; the Sapta Samudra--the seven holy seas; the Sapta Parvatta--the seven holy mountains; the Sapta Arania--the seven deserts; the Sapta Vriksha--the seven sacred trees and so on (Blavatsky, 1880). Vedavyas (1998) mentions about the 7 grades of human consciousness (physical, vital, mental, intellectual, super-mental, spiritual and Divine).
Zoroastrianism: In Zoroastrian texts too we see references to number seven. The earth is referred to have seventh regions (Yasna 32:3) or seven quarters (Yasna 57:23).

Christianity and Judaism: Perhaps the Bible has the most frequent references to number 7 than any other scripture. Number 7 is said to occur 424 times from Genesis to Revelation. There are references to 7 days (Gen. 8:12, Lev. 13:33), 7 years (Gen. 11:12), 7 altars, 7 bullocks, 7 rams (Num. 23:1), 7 weeks (Deut. 16:9), 7 priests and 7 trumpets (Jos. 6:6), 7 nations (Act. 13:19), 7 churches (Rev. 1:4) etc. To know more about number se7en in the Bible, click here for a direct entry to Angel Fire.

Islam: The Qur'an refers to 7 seas (31:27), 7 heavens (2:29) and even 7 earths (65:12)! Also 7 days fast (2:196), 7 kings (12:43,46) and 7 gates (15:44). It is for no reason that Muslim pilgrims go round the Ka'ba 7 times. In the history of Islam, prophet Muhammad had permitted seven different readings of the Qur'an (Bukhari, VI No. 514), though only one of these have become popular these days. This is just like Tirukkural of Tamils, which is read these days is the reading contained in the commentary of Parimel Azhagar, as opposed to the slight different readings found in the texts of other commentators like Manakkudavar, Pariperumaal, Parithiar and Kalingar.

Sikhism: The Guru Grant Sahib, the scripture of the Sikhs, frequently refer to 7 seas (p. 840, 1036), grain of 7 kinds (p. 695), 7 musical notes (p. 886), 7 nether words (p. 1039), 7 threads (1196), 7 continents (p. 1392), 7 body elements (p.23), 7 handful of ashes (p. 150), 7 singers (p. 368), 7 pools of ambrosial nectar (p. 436) etc.  

3.2. Number seven in science and mathematics

    We may recollect that the Solar Spectrum is composed of 7 colours: VIBGYOR, which is also the 7 colours in the rainbow. In Physics, the orbits of the electrons, from the simplest Hydrogen to the most complex Uranium, revolve in 7 electronic orbits. In Chemistry, the Periodic Table consists of 105 elements which fall into 7 grades (Periods) based on the atomic structure (Vedavyas, 1998). There are just few examples, but let me quickly go over to the significance of 7 in ancient cosmology and mathematics. There are seven visible planets and luminaries (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn). Each one rules a day of the week (Sun=Sunday, Saturn= Saturday, Moon=Monday, etc.) and that is where the seven day week came from.

    We all know that number 7 is a prime number; so too all odd numbers 3, 5, 9, etc. which cannot be divided by any other number other than 1 and themselves.  Dr. Vedavyas, in his chapter "The Law of Seven", refers number 7 as the `Perfect' number. He says on page 155 of his book (Vedavyas, 1998):
".... even arithmetically "Seven" is the only Number "that can divide "Infinitely" - infinitely, or "Infinite number of times", that too not as a single recurring decimal Number! How? Let "infinity" be represented by "ONE - followed by infinite series of Zeros" and divide it by Seven! Result? See for oneself. 1,000,000,000,000 ..., ..., ..., ..., /7  =  142857,142857,142 ....... The reminder begins another cycle. The number that symbolizes man is built in the image of God"

3.3. Number seven in ancient cosmology

    We have already seen that according to Vedic Cosmology, seven are the Lokas or Psychic worlds. These are: 1. Bhu Loka, 2. Buvar Loka, 3. Suvar Loka, 4. Mahar Loka, 5. Jano Loka, 6. Tapo Loka and 7. Satya  Loka. The Universe according to the Qur'an, is formed of 7 heavens, one above the other (Q 2:29) and the earth is also formed of equal number (Q 65:12). Thirumandiram, one of the principal texts of Saiva Siddhanta, also mentions about seven worlds (Mantram: 221, 448, 1871). The picture on the left is an artist’s illustration of one of the kinds of celestial spheres in ancient cosmology.

3.4. Number seven in Tamil literary history

    The numerical value of the word for 'number' in Tamil eN (எண்) is se7en, naturally because it occupies the seventh place amongst the 12 vowels in Tamil. (What is Numerical Value? See next chapter: “Orientation to the analysis). Like in sacred literatures, number 7 finds a frequent mention in Tamil literature as well.

    Seven musical notes: We have already seen a references to seven musical notes in Guru Grant Sahib. In the ancient text of Sama Veda, the Sapta Swaras are seven. Even the modern Western music has its Octaves of the 7 musical notes. In ancient Tamil literature also there are many references to seven musical notes. Reproduced below are two references from Cilappadikaram (300 AD) and Thirumandiram (600 AD):
குழலினும் யாழினும் குரல் முதல் ஏழும்,வழுவின்றி இசைந்து, வழித்திறம் காட்டும்
The first seven notes of flutes and lutes,
Reveal the music in harmony without fail
(Cilappadikaram 5:35-37)
ஏழினில் சன்மார்க்கம் எங்கள் பரஞ்சோதி
ஏழிசை நாடகத்தே இசைந்தானே

In the seventh state beyond the six adharas, He descended and pervaded,
As one harmony in the seven musical notes.
(Thirumandiram  2783)

Note: The 7 letters are sa, ri, ka, ma, pa, da, ni, (, ரி, , , , , நி)

3.5. Leads from the Kural

    Mythological, mathematical, cosmological and sacred reasons apart, the most important reason for choosing number 7 is the grounds I found within the Kural itself. These include the seven metrical arrangement of all couplets, the frequent references to CRORE which is 107 and the frequent mention to se7en births.
(i) Kural's metrical arrangement: One of the features of the Kural is its brevity. The poet's ability to brevitise vast amount of information in just two short lines of 7 metrical feet. According to Tamil grammar rules, the word veNba (வெண்பா) is a metric. In fact, poetess Auvaiyar says that Valluvar has pierced the atom and has packed into it the seven seas of wisdom (அனுவைத் துளைத்து எழு கடலைப் புகுத்தி). Here also we see a reference to se7en! The measure of Kural veNba has always been seven. We see this being specified in the oldest extant work on Tamil grammar Tholkappiyam (1414):
நெடுவெண் பாட்டே முந்நால் அடித்தே, குறுவெண் பாட்டின் அளவெழு சீரே.
(1407; பொருள்: செய்யுள் இயல்: 151)

The longest of a venba stanza comprises 12 lines at the maximum;
The shortest of a venba stanza comprises seven feet.
(Tolkappiyam: 1407: Semantics and Poetics: Prosody: 151)
Any one who knows Kural and its metrical arrangement will not hesitate to say that number 7 is the appropriate one. Every couplet in Kural is recognized by 7 metrical feet, 4 feet in the first line and 3 in the second. The union number THREE (the symbol of the heavenly triad) and FOUR (the symbol of cosmic & earthly quadrant) and the resulting number seven points out symbolically to the union of the Deity with the universe (Blavatsky, 1880). Every chapter in Kural has 70 metrical feet and the entire Kural 9310 metrical feet. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Kamil Zvelebil (1973) mentions of this phenomenon of number seven in his book "The smile of Murugan". He writes in his footnote on page 160: "Mrs Kokilam makes me aware of the interesting fact that number played obviously some role in the structural build-up of the work. Even venbā (couplet) has seven feet (4+3); the total number of couplets in the book is 1330 (1+3+3+0 = 7). The number of graphemic units in the authors' name is also seven (ti-ru-va-l-lu-va-r)."
(ii) Numbers in Thirukkural: Interestingly, CRORE is the most common numeral or digit used by Valluvar whenever he refers to plenty or abundance. Though its corresponding expression in English usage is million, they are not mathematically equal. While a million is six times to the power of 10, a crore is se7en times to the power of 10 (107)! The crore finds many references in the Kural and even the highest figure mentioned in the Kural is se7enty crore (Kural 806). Subbu Reddiyar (1990) refers to the different words used in Tamil to mean various figures like the one used in English, namely Million, Billion, Trillion and so on. Amazingly, all these figures can be expressed in exponentials of multiples of se7en. He cites a composition from "Nigandu Nool" (நிகண்டு நூல்):
ஏகம் எண்மடங்கு கொண்டது கோடி (107): Eight times Yegam is Kodi (CRORE) கோடி எண்மடங்கு கொண்டது சங்கம் (1014) (Eight times Kodi is Sangam (ACADEMY) சங்கம் எண்மடங்கு கொண்டது விந்தம் (1021) (Eight time Sangam is Vindam (MOUNTAIN) ...... ........ .......                                                                           ...... ........ .......
...... ........ .......
சமுத்திரம் எண்மடங்கு கொண்டது வெள்ளம் (1056) (Eight times Samudram is Vellam (FLOOD)
In ancient times, number "1" followed by seven zeros was always referred as 'எண் மடங்கு' (eight times) and not as "to the power of seven". To illustrate this point further, "ஏகம் எண் மடங்கு கொண்டது கோடி" means "eight times of Yegam (i.e. 1) is a crore".
The word eN (எண்) in Tamil has several meanings, of which `Number' is just one. Valluvar has used this word to mean 3 things in the Kural: "Number", "Think" and "Eight". Very often we could see the phrase "8-times" (எண் மடங்கு) being closely associated with numbers in the Kural.  A good example is numbers 7, 3 and 100,00,000, all occur 8 (எண்) times in the Kural. We will see more on this in chapter 7: "Numbers and the other one Letters".
(iii) Seven stages of transmigration of souls (7 births): All religious traditions that believe in the doctrine of rebirth or transmigration of souls hold the view that the soul will pass through seven stages of purification before it gets released from the body permanently. Writes Blayatsky (1880), "If the Egyptian dogma of the metempsychosis or the transmigration of soul taught that there were seven states of purification and progressive perfection, it is also true that the Buddhists took from the Aryans of India, not from Egypt, their idea of seven stages of progressive development of the disembodied soul, allegorized by the seven stories and umbrellas, gradually diminishing towards the top on their pagodas". Not surprisingly, the Kural also makes frequent references to 7 births! The number 7 has been invariably used by Valluvar in conjunction with rebirth. 
No harm will befall in all seven births
One who begets blameless children.
PS  (Kural 62)

The good remember through all seven births
The friends who wiped their tears.
     PS   (Kural 107)

The learning acquired in one birth
Protects a man in the next
seven. * 
  PS  (Kural 398)
A fool does deeds in a single birth
That will plunge him in hell in the succeeding seven.
                                                             PS (Kural 835)

[1] H. P. Blavatsky, 1880.. The Number Seven. Theosophist, June, 1880. Available online at the following links:,
[2] Bullinger
, E.W. 1921. Number in Scripture: Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 158. The entire book is also available online at and at
[3] Raghavan
Iyer, 1985. Seven Deadly Sins: The Historical Context.  Hermes, November 1985.
[4] Subbu
Reddiyar, N. 1990. Science in Tamil: Then and Now. International Institute of Tamil Studies, Madras. Pp 68-69
[5] Vedavyas
, 1998. The concise text book of Vedic Hinduism. University of Vedic Sciences, Hyderabad, India. 330 pages

No comments:

Post a Comment