Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “July, 2016”

Kambaramayanam – 75

Women’s sharp eyes mock comparisons;
their gait mocks female elephants;
pair of breasts mock lotus buds;
their face mocks the flawless moon.

விதியினை நகுவன அயில் விழி; பிடியின்
கதியினை நகுவன அவர்நடை; கமலப்
பொதியினை நகுவன புணர் முலை; கலை வாழ்
மதியினை நகுவன வனிதையர் வதனம்.

Introducing the country and praising it (நாட்டுப் படலம்) before starting an epic is the regular structure in Indian epics. Here Kamban is describing the bounty of Kosala country before telling us the story of Rama.

The women of Kosala are so well formed that their body parts mock the objects they are compared with. Their sharp eyes mock all objects they are compared to. Their graceful walk mocks the walk of the female elephant, their breasts mock the lotus buds and their face mocks the moon that is perfect in all aspects.

Comparing a woman’s walk to the gait of a female elephant is fairly common in classical Indian literature, though it might sound odd for people from other countries.

Kurunthokai – 136 & 204

He says to his friend:
Love, love, people say;
love’s neither a misery nor a malady;
it doesn’t gradually increase or subside;
like musth appearing on a foliage chewing elephant,
it surfaces suddenly at the sight of my beloved.

His friend says to him:
My lord with broad shoulders!
Love, love, people say;
love’s neither a misery nor a malady;
like the delight of an old cow
licking fresh grass in ancient hilly meadows,
love’s nothing but a feast of one’s fancy.

தலைமகன் பாங்கற்கு உரைத்தது
காமங் காம மென்ப காமம்
அணங்கும் பிணியு மன்றே நுணங்கிக்
கடுத்தலுந் தணிதலு மின்றே யானை
குளகுமென் றாண்மதம் போலப்
பாணியு முடைத்தது காணுநர்ப் பெறினே.

தலைமகற்குப் பாங்கன் உரைத்தது
காமங் காம மென்ப காமம்
அணங்கும் பிணியு மன்றே நினைப்பின்
முதைச்சுவற் கலித்த முற்றா விளம்புல்
மூதா தைவந் தாங்கு
விருந்தே காமம் பெருந்தோ ளோயே.

Kurunthokai is an anthology (தொகை) of short(குறு) love poems, dated between 2nd century BCE and 2nd century CE. These poems are rich in metaphors. These are written by various poets. Above poems are poem no. 136 and 204 written by the same poet Milai Perung-Kandhan. Though they appear apart in the anthology they are like a dialogue between the hero and his friend. The first two lines of the poems are same.

Poem 136 – His friend chides him for losing his reserve over his love for a woman. He responds with “People talk a lot about love. It is not a pain I suffer due to others nor a new disease that has afflicted me. It doesn’t gradually increase or decrease. There is no way for me to control it. It strikes suddenly. An elephant chewing foliage is suddenly driven to musth when it eats a particular type of herb. Similarly, when I see her, I lose my self control and my love for her surfaces.”

Poem 204 – His friend responds to him “People talk a lot about love (You say I am mocking your love). It is neither a pain nor a disease. It is something that surfaces only when we think of it. Like an old cow licking fresh grass. Since it is old, it cannot chew the grass, but remembers the taste from when it was young. So what delights the cow is not the grass itself, but the thought of it. Similarly, this love you talk about is in your thoughts only. If you don’t think of it, it won’t affect you.”  ‘Broad shouldered lord’ and ‘old cow’ imply “You were strong before you saw her. Now you are like an old cow, living in your fancy world with her.”

Kambaramayanam – 1070

As they cause red lips to pale, mouth to drool,
knots on bodice and skirt to unravel,
swaying hair to unbraid, and a smirk to arise –
copulating husband and intoxicating toddy are alike.

இலவு இதழ் துவர் விட. எயிறு தேன் உக.
முலை மிசை. கச்சொடு கலையும் மூட்டு அற.
அலை குழல் சோர்தர. அசதி ஆடலால்.
கலவி செய் கொழுநரும் கள்ளும் ஒத்தவே.

This poem is in Revelry chapter (உண்டாட்டுப் படலம்) in Kamba Ramayanam written in 12th century. These set of poems detail the drunken revelry of women who accompanied Dasaratha as he went to Mithila for the wedding of his son Rama.

Kamban equates copulation and drinking as both make lips go pale, mouth drool, clothes to loosen, plaited hair to come undone and a silly smile to appear.

‘இலவு இதழ்’ – Lips like the petals of Java Cotton / Ceiba tree. In Tamil it is இலவம் பஞ்சு மரம்.

Flordepaineiraabelha

Source: Wikipedia images

‘Intoxicating’ is not explicit in the original. I have added it for better readability.

Thirukkural -1251

Axe of passion will break the door
of restraint latched by modesty.

காமக் கணிச்சி உடைக்கும்-நிறை என்னும்
நாணுத் தாழ் வீழ்த்த கதவு.

Thirukkural, written about 100 BCE, has 1330 couplets (133 chapters of 10 couplets each) on all aspects of life. Using just 7 words (சீர்) – 4 in first line and 3 in second line – the poet conveys what he has to. These couplets are known for their brevity and clarity  Thirukkural is rightly considered one of the gems of Tamil literature.

In this couplet, she is pining for him to come back. She has to maintain her outward  reserve lest the town starts slandering her. But her passion is boundless. She says that the doors of reserve bolted by her modesty stand no chance before the power of passion.

Nattrinai – 210

What her friend said to him:

O’ man from the prosperous town where those
who carry baskets with seeds to be sowed,
in wide mushy fields that are plowed
after harvesting paddy, return with fish loads;
Praise from the King and riding in his army
are not signs of prosperity, but one’s destiny;
wise men define prosperity as dreading
the pain of loved ones and being
compassionate; that’s what prosperity is.

தோழி கூற்று:

அரிகால் மாறிய அங்கண் அகல்வயல்
மறுகால் உழுத ஈரச் செறுவின்
வித்தொடு சென்ற வட்டி பற்பல
மீனொடு பெயரும் யாணர் ஊர
நெடிய மொழிதலுங் கடிய ஊர்தலும்
செல்வம் அன்றுதன் செய்வினைப் பயனே
சான்றோர் செல்வம் என்பது சேர்ந்தோர்
புன்கண் அஞ்சும் பண்பின்
மென்கண் செல்வஞ் செல்வமென் பதுவே.

Sangam poetry – Ten long poems and Eight anthologies – is rich in metaphors. These poems are dated approximately between 200 BCE to 200 CE. This poem is from the anthology Nattrinai.

In Sangam poetry, hero going to courtesan’s house and being chided on returning back is an oft repeated theme. In this poem, he comes back, she chides him and doesn’t let him in. He asks her friend to take up his case. This poem is her friend advising him. The second part of the poem says “Though you may be a favorite of the King and ride with him, that is not prosperity. Real prosperity is caring for your loved ones and being tender towards them”.

The first part of the poem by itself seems unconnected to the second part. It just reads like a description of his town. 19th century commentary writers treated it as a metaphor for him going to the courtesan. வித்தொடு சென்ற வட்டி பற்பல மீனோடு பெயரும் – Baskets that went with seeds return with fish. “Farmers take baskets of seeds to be sowed in freshly plowed fields and come back with various fish found in canals. Similarly the bard introduces the courtesan to him and gets a reward in return.”

You can read this poem without the metaphorical meaning too. In Tamil Nadu Tenth Standard text book this poem is explained as a sagacious advice given by her friend to him. Why she advices him is left out though.

Thirukkural – 293

What a man’s heart knows, let him not lie about;
If he does, his heart itself will singe him.

தன்னெஞ் சறிவது பொய்யற்க பொய்த்தபின்
றன்னெஞ்சே தன்னைச் சுடும்.

Kambaramayanam – 1047

Like an abundance of white colored toddy,
like spreading of a tangible melody,
like spilling over of heart’s hidden carnality,
did cool moonlight suffuse the world in entirety.

வெண்ணிற நற நிறை வெள்ளம் என்னவும்,
பண் நிறம் செறிந்து இடை பரந்தது என்னவும்,
உள் நிறை காமம் மிக்கு ஒழுகிற்று என்னவும்,
தண் நிறை நெடு நிலா தழைத்தது எங்குமே.

This is the first verse in Revelry chapter (உண்டாட்டுப் படலம்) in the first part of Kamba Ramayanam. King Dasaratha and his entourage is on their way to Mithila for Rama’s wedding with Sita. This chapter details the merry making of the entourage during their night stay.

In this verse Kamban uses toddy, melody and lust as similes for moonlight. It is a hint of the merrymaking to follow in the next verses. Moon light is like an abundance of toddy, like melody that has taken physical shape and spread across the world, and over-spilling lust hidden in the hearts of all human beings.

Thirukkural – 181

Though one may not speak or act virtuously,
if he’s known not to slander, he’s praiseworthy.

அறம் கூறான், அல்ல செயினும், ஒருவன்
புறம் கூறான் என்றல் இனிது.

Slandering a person is a worse sin that not being virtuous. Thiruvalluvar said so 2000 years ago.

Naaladiyaar -15

She who was my mother, died and left me here
to go to her own mother; one who was her mother,
too did the same; mother going to mother,
that’s all there to this world.

எனக்குத் தாய் ஆகியாள் என்னை ஈங்கு இட்டு,
தனக்குத் தாய் நாடியே சென்றாள்; தனக்குத் தாய்
ஆகியவளும் அதுஆனால், தாய்த் தாய்க்கொண்டு,
ஏகும் அளித்து, இவ் உலகு.

This Naaladiyaar poem explains the impermanence of youth and life. The young mother who gave birth to me is now dead and has gone where her own mother went. Previously her mother too did the same. Mothers dying and going away to where their mothers went, that’s all there to this world. No one’s youth or life is permanent.

Kurunthokai – 399

My love sickness is like moss that gathers
around the town’s water well –
as long as he’s touching, it keeps away,
as soon as he leaves, it spreads back.

ஊர் உண் கேணி உண்துறைத் தொக்க
பாசி அற்றே பசலை-காதலர்
தொடுவுழித் தொடுவுழி நீங்கி,
விடுவுழி விடுவுழிப் பரத்தலானே.

This is one of the popular poems in Kurunthokai. She pines for him and is wasting away. She tells her friend that the only cure for this sickness is to be with him forever. She likens her sickness to the moss that spreads near the drinking water well. When one touches the surface, the moss moves away. As soon as the hand is removed, the moss comes back. தொடுவுழித் தொடுவுழி – தொட்டுக் கொண்டிருக்கும் தோறும் – as long as he touches. விடுவுழி விடுவுழி – விட்டுப் பிரியும் தோறும் – every time he leaves. Their relationship is secret. So they keep meeting and parting often. As long as he is with her she is fine. The moment he leaves her she falls sick.

Most translators take கேணி  as water tank or pond. However U Ve Saa in his commentary clearly says it is கிணறு – well. In my ancestral village,  we still use the word கேணி  for well. So decided to go with that.

Post Navigation