Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Thirukkural – 1161

I conceal this malady; but it gushes forth,
like spring water to those who draw it up.

மறைப்பேன்மன் யான், இஃதோ, நோயை-இறைப்பவர்க்கு
ஊற்றுநீர் போல மிகும். 

Her friend tells her that revealing her love sickness is not good for her reputation. She  replies, “I do conceal this ailment of passion. But it gushes up like spring water gushing up to those who draw. Spring water never dries up, how much ever one draws. Similarly I can’t hide my love sickness how much ever I try”

Thirukkural – 942

No medicine a body needs – if one eats
after digestion of previous meal.

மருந்து என வேண்டாவாம், யாக்கைக்கு- அருந்தியது,
அற்றது போற்றி உணின்.

If you eat only after sure signs of digestion of previous meal, then there is no need of medicine to take care of one’s body.

யாக்கை – body
அருந்துதல் – to eat
அறுத்தல் – to digest
போற்றுதல் – consider
உண் – eat

Kurunthokai – 75

Did you see yourself? Or heard from those who saw?
from whom did you hear of my lord’s arrival?
I’d like to know for sure; please tell me!
You’ll receive the golden city of Patali
where elephants with white tusks play in river Son.

நீ கண்டனையோ? கண்டார்க் கேட்டனையோ?-
ஒன்று தெளிய நசையினம்; மொழிமோ!
வெண் கோட்டு யானை சோணை படியும்
பொன் மலி பாடலி பெறீஇயர்!-
யார்வாய்க் கேட்டனை, காதலர் வரவே?

She is desperately waiting for her lover’s arrival. The bard comes to her and says that her lover has come to town. She asks the bard “Did you see yourself o just heard from some one who saw him? If so who? I would like to know for sure, please tell me. If what you say is true, you will receive the wealth of the golden city of Pataliputra where elephants with white tusks play in river Son”

The poem brings out her desperation for good news. It also talks about the wealthy city of Pataliputra built in 3rd century BC as capital of Magadha empire. That might help to date this poem. Of course, Pataliputra was a flourishing city till 9th century AD. Pataliputra was situated at the confluence of three rivers – Ganges, Gandaki and Son.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Son_River

நசை – desire / wish
மொழி – tell
வெண் கோடு – white tusk
சோணை – river Son
மலி – abound

 

Valaiyaapathi – 41

Youth isn’t permanent; pleasure isn’t long lasting;
Wealth too is like that; everyday is a flood of misery;
don’t think these are forever; prepare daily for salvation
like the farmer who produces seeds for next season.

இளமையும் நிலையாவால்; இன்பமும் நின்ற அல்ல;
வளமையும் அஃதேபோல் வைகலும் துன்ப வெள்ளம்
உளஎன நினையாதே செல்கதிக்கு என்றும் என்றும்
விளைநிலம் உழுவார் போல் வித்துநீர் செய்து கொண்மின்.

Youth is not permanent. It will be over in a jiffy. The pleasure you chase in youth isn’t long lasting. So is the wealth you think you have. Life is but a flood of misery. So don’t think these (youth, pleasure and wealth) are forever. Only the good deeds you do in this birth will help you achieve salvation. So be like the farmer who works hard but doesn’t consume everything he produces. He saves seeds for the next season from this year’s harvest.

This poem is from Valaiyapathi, dated to 9th Century AD. Valaiyapathi is a Jain epic and buttresses their religious view about salvation and rebirth. As with most Tamil works, all the words in this poem are still in daily use (except வைகல்).

செல்கதி – dictionary says “salvation”. Po.Ve.Somasundaranar in his commentary interprets it as “next birth”. I decided to stick to the dictionary meaning.

நிலை – permanent
வைகல் – daily
உள – there (foerever)
செல்கதி – salvation
விளைநிலம் – farmland
வித்து – seed

Naachiyar Thirumozhi – 584

O’ dark clouds that appear over Venkata hills during monsoon!
I tumble down like withered crown flower leaves in rainy season,
chanting the name of one who appeared in battlefield victoriously;
Will he not send me a word of hope as time stretches before me!

கார்காலத் தெழுகின்ற கார்முகில்காள் வேங்கடத்துப்
போர்காலத் தெழுந்தருளிப் பொருதவனார் பேர்சொல்லி
நீர்காலத் தெருக்கிலம் பழவிலைபோல் வீழ்வேனை
வார்காலத் தொருநாள்தம் வாசகம்தந் தருளாரே!

This is a poem from Nachiyar Thirumozhi by Andal, dated to around 8th century. She is in love with Lord Vishnu, who resides in the Venkata hills (Tirupati). As monsoon clouds rise up, she complains to them. “I keep chanting his name, who appeared in the battlefield and emerged victorious. Constantly thinking of him, I am becoming weak and brittle. I fall down like the crown flower (எருக்கு) leaves that dry out in summer and at the first touch of rains fall down. Why does he not send me a message one of these days as I wait for him. His message would revive me”

Crown flower plant has a milky stem. During the hot summer, the milky liquid is completely dried out and the leaves fade. As soon as the rain drops fall on the plant, the leaves break and fall down. She says she is like those leaves, her soul is withering as he hasn’t appeared in front of her. At this stage, if rain drops fall on her, she will break down completely. If he sends a message to her, that will sustain her life.

I was reminded of this poem after seeing a video of a leaf falling down in a pond. It is not a crown flower leaf, but the image triggered the memory of this beautiful poem.

Falling gracefully….

A post shared by Itchyfeetindian (@itchyfeetindian) on

கார்காலம் – monsoon
கார்முகில் – dark clouds
பொருதுதல் – fight
நீர்காலம் – rainy season
எருக்கு – crown flower
இலம் – without / poor
பழு – பழுத்த – faded
வார் – lengthen
வாசகம் – message

Naanmanik Kadigai – 92

To not learn while young is a sin;
generosity while in want is a sin;
anger while unaided by kin is a sin;
it’s a sin to dine at the home of unfriendly;

இளமைப் பருவத்துக் கல்லாமை குற்றம்;
வளம் இலாப் போழ்தத்து வள்ளன்மை குற்றம்
கிளைஞர் இல் போழ்தில், சினம் குற்றம்; குற்றம்,
தமர் அல்லார் கையகத்து ஊண்.


It is a sin to not learn when one is young. It is a sin to be generous and philanthropic when one himself is indigent. To be angry and itch for a fight when unaided by one’s relatives is a sin. It is a sin to eat at the home of those who are unfriendly.


கிளைஞர் – relative / kin

தமர் – friend

அகம் – home

ஊண் – food

Thirukkural – 1258

Aren’t appeasing words of that crafty crook
the force that breaks our feminine reserve?

பன்மாயக் கள்வன் பணிமொழி அன்றோநம்
பெண்மை உடைக்கும் படை.

She decides to be strong when he comes back from long absence. But hearing his gentle words, her reserve breaks down. She wonders aren’t his words the force that breaks my feminine reserve. She calls him a “பன்மாயக் கள்வன்” – literally “many tricked crook”. I have settled on crafty crook which is a poor imitation of the original.

One never stops being astonished at the longevity and continuity of Tamil. All the words in the above Kural are still in use 2000 years later.

Thirukkural – 1121

Like milk mixed with honey is the dew
on this soft spoken girl’s white teeth.

பாலொடு தேன்கலந் தற்றே பணிமொழி
வாலெயி றூறிய நீர்.

Water secreted by this softspoken girl’s teeth is so sweet that it tastes like milk mixed with honey. I have used the word ‘dew’ for water, following Rev. Dr. G.U.Pope’s translation.

பணி – humble
வால் – whiteness
எயிறு – tooth
ஊறுதல் – secretion
நீர் – water

Thirukkural – 601

Lustrous lamp of one’s clan will dim and peter out,
if grime of laziness creeps in.

குடி என்னும் குன்றா விளக்கம், மடி என்னும்
மாசு ஊர, மாய்ந்து கெடும்.

Though one might have been born in a fabled clan, if he becomes lazy the brightness of his clan dignity will dim and peter out.

குன்றா விளக்கம் – is taken as long burning lamp without a wick by Parimel Alagar in his commentary. Devaneya Paavaanar interprets it as ‘light provided by rare gems’. His reasoning is that grime creeping on gem will dim and put out the light. I have gone with Devaneya Paavaanar’s interpretation.

குடி – Clan
மடி – Laziness
மாசு – grime / dust
ஊர்தல் – creep in
மாய்ந்து – dim / become lustreless
கெடும் – extinguished / destroyed

Thirukkural – 733

Even when overburdened, bearing it and paying
taxes due to the ruler – that’s a country.

பொறை ஒருங்கு மேல்வருங்கால் தாங்கி, இறைவற்கு
இறை ஒருங்கு நேர்வது-நாடு.

Even when a country is over burdened (like influx of refugees from neighboring countries) it should have the resilience and resources to bear it and still pay taxes due to the ruler. That is the hall mark of a good country.

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