The Art of Speaking

Tree of Knowledge

Like a matchstick that can be used both as a tool to lighten up a house or to reduce it to ashes, words are so powerful that they can either be used constructively to heal a person or as a weapon to wound one’s soul

As the Thirukkural (Tamil couplets written by Thiruvalluvar) goes, “To utter harsh words when you have nice words, is like plucking an unripe fruit when there are ripe ones”. Speaking pleasantly without hurting others is an art by itself. There were times when in our growing years, we were taught to speak gently with humility and respect and we weren’t allowed to express whatever we wanted to. Whereas in today’s world of social media we can post whatever we want, share whatever we want to, and troll anyone in the name of freedom of expression. 

Like a matchstick that can be used both as a tool to lighten up a house or to reduce it to ashes, words are so powerful that they can either be used constructively to heal a person or as a weapon to wound one’s soul.

Gary Chapman in his book ‘Love as a Way of Life’ uses the vivid metaphor of words as being either “bullets” or “seeds”. If we use our words as bullets with a feeling of supremacy and denunciation, we are going to tear down a relationship. If we use our words as seeds with a feeling of benevolence and sincere goodwill, we are going to rebuild a relationship with love.

In Ramayana, Rama Himself lauds Hanuman’s vaku chaturyam (oratory skill) to Lakshmana as “Noonam vyaakarnam krisnam anena bahudaashritam ! Bahuvyaakartaanena nakinchit abashabdvitam!!” – which means that Hanuman possesses a unique skill of being precise and grammatically flawless in his speech.

Put ourselves in others’ shoes

When Hanuman returns from Lanka after meeting Sita at Ashoka Vanam, he conveys his message to Rama as ‘Dhrusta Sita’ (seen Sita) rather than ‘Sita Dhrusta’ (Sita seen). Here, Hanuman doesn’t even want his beloved Lord to even pine for a second since Rama was already suffering from separation from his wife, and dejection that other vanara troops that went in search of Sita couldn’t find her. 

If Hanuman would have uttered the word ‘Sita’ first, Rama’s anxiety would have elicited concern about what’s happened to Sita – whether she has been seen or not and whether she is alive or not. As Hanuman began with “seen”, it not just puts an end to all anticipation but also starts the conversation on a happy note.

So it’s very important to convey the message taking into consideration the criticality of the situation and the anxiety of the receiver. 

Words can save a life

The depth of our character is revealed when we are tested in tough situations. When Hanuman sees Sita in the Ashoka Vanam, Sita was about to hang herself from the tree using her hair as a rope. Hanuman had to stop her but was sceptical that if he appears in his monkey form it’s going to frighten her further into taking her life. If Hanuman hides and speaks in the language of monkeys, Sita won’t understand; or if he appears and speaks in Sanskrit it will create ambiguity. What if she suspects Hanuman as Ravana in disguise?

Now Hanuman has to decide wisely and stop Sita on the spur of the moment. Deciding that “Rama namam” is the only medicine to avert Sita’s desperate action, he started to recite “Rama namam” and narrated the whole Ramayana story right from the birth of Rama, Sita suyamvaram, Kaikeyi’s boon, Rama’s exile to the forest, Mareecha’s camouflage as a golden deer, Sita’s abduction, Rama’s and Lakshmana’s search for Sita, Rama befriending Sugriva, Vali’s defeat, and ended the narration of how he met Sita in Ashoka Vanam. Thus, he stopped Sita from hanging herself and saved her life!


When Hanuman was taken to Ravana’s courtroom as a messenger to Rama, he most wisely put forth the valour of Rama by recounting the incident of how mighty Vali was defeated by Rama’s single arrow. Vali had a boon that he would gain half of the opponent’s strength. When Ravana tried to attack Vali from behind, he grapped Ravana in his armpit and took him across the ocean and did his sandhya vadhana. Exhausted, Ravana conceded defeat and befriended him. Here, Hanuman shrewdly recalls this terrific incident to Ravana. One must know what to speak wisely!

The art of speaking is that one must speak the truth, and speak right things that would be convincing for the well-being of living things. As the saying goes, “If you can speak, you can influence, if you can influence, you can change lives.”

Niranjana KarthigaiRajan

* Published in print edition on 19 April 2019

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