Read the ancient Tamil poem that Nirmala Sitharaman quoted on tax policy

The Finance Minister quoted a Tamil poem on elephants, rice and tax

nirmala Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman | ANI Twitter

As Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman introduced Part B of her budget speech — dealing with taxation — she lightened the mood by quoting a proverb in Tamil from the Purananuru anthology of Sangam literature. She narrated the poem in Tamil first before explaining its meaning in English.

“Just a few mounds of rice from paddy that is harvested from a small piece of land would be sufficient for the elephant. But what if the elephant itself walks into the field to eat? It would eat much lesser than it would trample with its foot.”

The Purananuru is a collection of 400 poems composed by multiple ancient Tamil poets. The original poem, translated from Tamil, is a piece of advice directed at Paandiyan Arivudaiyanambi, a Pandyan King mentioned in Purananooru 184. The poem dates between the first century BC to the third century AD. The full poem, available in Love Stands Alone: Selections from Tamil Sangam Poetry goes:

If an elephant is fed
with rice
harvested from the fields,
even a small strip of land
will feed him for days.
But when the elephant enters the fields to forage,
more rice is trampled upon
than eaten.
Acres of land lie ravaged.
Likewise, when a wise king
collects his taxes
his coffers will be full
and the country will prosper.
But when a weak king
and his ignorant, ostentatious officers
harass the people for taxes
his kingdom will be like the fields
tramped by the elephant.
He gets nothing
and his country, too, will suffer.

The Finance Minister added that the advice given to Paandiyan Arivudaiyanambi is "valuable advice that this government appreciates. An elephant if it is given mounds of rice, here I refer to taxation, will be quite happy. It doesn't have to enter the field to trample. So we don't intend to trample anybody."

Sitharaman had earlier quoted from Chanakya, Swami Vivekananda and Manzoor Hashmi.