Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “May, 2016”

Kurunthokai – 27

Like a fine cow’s sweet milk spilt on ground
neither sating its calf
nor milked in a pot,
my pale pudenda and dusky beauty
neither useful to me
nor satisfying my lord,
are left for love sickness to devour.

கன்றும் உண்ணாது, கலத்தினும் படாது,
நல் ஆன் தீம் பால் நிலத்து உக்காஅங்கு,
எனக்கும் ஆகாது, என்னைக்கும் உதவாது,
பசலை உணீஇயர் வேண்டும்-
திதலை அல்குல் என் மாமைக் கவினே

This is a well known poem in Kurunthokai. Written by Velli Veethiyaar, one of the few women poets in Sangam literature, this talks about a girl pining for her lover. They have separated and he has gone away (some commentators say she is widowed). She cannot forget him and because of that her beauty is losing its sheen. She equates that to a cow’s milk that is not drunk by its calf nor collected in a pot, spilling on the ground and going waste. An arresting simile.

Many translations and commentaries skip the word அல்குல் – pudenda. Based on context it either means pudenda or hip. In this poem it is clear that it is pudenda. I too thought of using an euphemism or skipping it altogether, but finally decided to stick to the original.

Puranaanooru – 94

Like an elephant that reclines at the river front
for town children to wash its white tusk,
O Noble one, you are pleasant to us;
but like a tusker that is uncontrollable when in musth,
O Noble one, you are misery incarnate to your enemies!

ஊர்க்குறு மாக்கள் வெண்கோடு கழாஅலின்
நீர்த்துறை படியும் பெருங்களிறு போல
இனியை பெரும வெமக்கே மற்றதன்
துன்னருங் கடாஅம் போல
இன்னாய் பெருமநின் னொன்னா தோர்க்கே.

Poet Avvayar wrote this poem in praise of Adhiyaman, the chief of Thagadoor (present day Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu). She says that to those who are under his patronage, he is pleasant. But to his opponents, he is a tormentor. She uses the simile of an elephant that is pleasant to kids playing with it, but becomes uncontrollable when it is musth (மதம் பிடித்த யானை).

In the original poem, she uses two words for the elephant – களிறு when pleasant and கடாஅம் when in musth. I have tried to replicate that with the use of ‘elephant’ and ‘tusker’ in the translation. Also musth is not explicity mentioned in the original. துன் அரும் – un approachable. When an elephant is in musth, it is aggressive and no one can go near it. I have made it explicit in the translation.

Naaladiyaar – 280

Earning is a pain; guarding the earned
wealth is even more of a pain;
it’s a pain if it erodes or guards fail;
wealth is a repository of pain.

ஈட்டலுந் துன்பமற் றீட்டிய வொண்பொருளைக்
காத்தலும் ஆங்கே கடுந்துன்பம் – காத்தல்
குறைபடில் துன்பம் கெடில்துன்பம் துன்பக்கு
உறைபதி மற்றைப் பொருள்.

This Naaladiyaar poem is under the chapter “Not donating” (ஈயாமை). The poet asks why go to such hassles to save wealth instead of distributing it. Not surprising since Naaladiyaar is an anthology of poems by Jain monks.

Thirukkural – 1114

If lilies can see, they’ll droop, convinced
‘we’re no match to this bedecked girl’s eyes’

காணின், குவளை கவிழ்ந்து நிலன் நோக்கும்-
‘மாணிழை கண் ஒவ்வேம்!’ என்று.

Purple lily buds (குவளை மொட்டு) has been repeatedly used as a metaphor for eyes in Tamil literature. The picture below is of a trout lily bud.

 

Kambaramayanam – 6427

Objects of the world differ from you,
are to their nature true, differ from each other too,
yet, do they differ from you –
do golden ornaments differ from Gold?

நின்னின் பிறிதாய் நிலையின் திரியா
தன்னின் பிறிது ஆயினதாம் எனினும்
உன்னின் பிறிது ஆயினவோ உலகம்?
பொன்னின் பிறிது ஆகில பொற்கலனே.

In Kambaramayanam, just before the battle between Rama and Ravana starts, Kamban places the story Hiranyan Vadhai Padalam (Slaying of Hiranya).  Hiranyan, whose powers make him believe that he is above all the Gods, wants his son Prahaladan to chant his name instead of God’s. Prahaladan refuses and an enraged Hiranyan orders Prahaladan to be killed.

This poem is Prahaladan praying to Lord Vishnu, as he is tied to a stone and thrown into the ocean. Prahaladan asks Vishnu, though all objects of this world are different from you, aren’t they all manifestations of you? Though  golden ornaments are of different shapes and sizes, aren’t they all still Gold?

This poem is one of the many gems in Kambaramayanam. With stunning brevity, Kamban brings out the drama and the philosophy while still adhering to the rules of poetry metre.

The commentaries call this as the Visishtadvaitha principle of Sarira Sariri bhava (body/in-dweller principle). I don’t know enough to explain this principle.

Thiukkural – 1328

Should I feign a tiff to find again – the sweat on her brow
that appeared when we made love!

ஊடிப் பெறுகுவம்கொல்லோ-நுதல் வெயர்ப்பக்
கூடலின் தோன்றிய உப்பு!

Her brow sweats due to their lovemaking. He thinks should I mock fight with her so her brow sweats again, that is extend their time together

Kurunthokai – 290

Those who advice me to endure the pain of love,
do they even know about it? Are they so strong?
As for me, if I don’t see my lover,
with my heart swelling in grief,
like a spray of foam
dashing on rocks in high tide,
bit by bit I cease to exist.

‘காமம் தாங்குமதி’ என்போர்தாம் அஃது
அறியலர்கொல்லோ? அனை மதுகையர் கொல்?
யாம், எம் காதலர்க் காணேம்ஆயின்,
செறிதுனி பெருகிய நெஞ்சமொடு, பெருநீர்க்
கல் பொரு சிறு நுரை போல,
மெல்லமெல்ல இல்லாகுதுமே.

This Kurunthokai poem is about a girl pining for her lover. He hasn’t come to see her in a long time. Her friend asks her to be strong and bear the pain. In reply she says “those who talk about  enduring the pain know nothing about it. May be they think they are strong. But I am not. If I don’t see him soon, I will pass away  due to my grief”.

The simile used in this poem is remarkable. In high tide, the foaming waves dash on rocks and slowly dissipate and vanish. She says she too will cease to exist like that foam.

பெருநீர் is explained as great floods by U Ve Saminatha Iyer. Others too have followed the same meaning. However I think it makes sense as waves in high tide. This poem is in நெய்தல் திணை(the coastal landscape), where waves make more sense as a simile. பெருநீர் also means ocean. Hence I have taken பெருநீர் as high tide.

 

Kurunthokai – 102

If I think of him, my heart aches;
to not think of him, is beyond me;
my love pains me and grows sky high;
the man I love, is not a honorable guy.

உள்ளின், உள்ளம் வேமே; உள்ளாது
இருப்பின், எம் அளவைத்து அன்றே; வருத்தி
வான் தோய்வற்றே, காமம்;
சான்றோர் அல்லர், யாம் மரீஇயோரே.

Poem written by Avvayar. Her lover hasn’t come to see her in a long time. She is lovelorn. Her friend asks her not to fret. This is her answer to her friend. “I can’t think of him, I can’t not think of him. My love sickness grows by the day. But he hasn’t come as he promised. He isn’t some one who keeps his words.”

In the first sentence வேமே – வேகுமே – is normally translated as ‘burns’. I have used ‘ache’ as it fits better than burns here. வே also means distress according to Chennai University dictionary.

Kalingathup Parani – 22

You who make the strong and sane
lose their balance and go insane,
as your young breasts swell and grow,
Open your locked doors

புடைபட இளமுலை வளர்தொறும்
பொறைஅறி வுடையரும் நிலைதளர்ந்து
இடைபடு வதுபட அருளுவீர்
இடுகதவு உயர்கடை திறமினோ.

In this KalingathuParani poem, the poet asks women to open their doors and let in their warrior husbands who are back from battle. Kalingathu Parani was written in praise of Karunakara Thondaiman, the general of Chola king Kulothungan who decimated the Kalinga army.

Thirukkural – 544

The world fastens itself to the ruler
who rules nurturing his subjects.

குடி தழீஇக் கோல் ஓச்சும் மா நில மன்னன்
அடி தழீஇ நிற்கும், உலகு.

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