Do you cry for his body or for his soul?
If you cry for his body, who was it (but you)
that consigned your son’s body to cemetery?
If you cry for his soul, where it is headed
is hard to know as that’s decided by destiny.
If that soul is dear to you, my lady,
you should grieve for all souls.
உடற்குஅழு தனையோ உயிர்க்குஅழு தனையோ
உடற்குஅழு தனையேல் உன்மகன் தன்னை
எடுத்துப் புறங்காட்டு இட்டனர் யாரே
உயிர்க்குஅழு தனையேல் உயிர்புகும் புக்கில்
செயப்பாட்டு வினையால் தெரிந்துஉணர்வு அரியது
அவ்வுயிர்க்கு அன்பினை ஆயின் ஆய்தொடி
எவ்வுயிர்க்கு ஆயினும் இரங்கல் வேண்டும்
Manimekalai is one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. It is a Buddhist epic. The protagonist Manimekalai is the daughter of Madhavi, one of the central characters of the epic Silappathikaaram. Hence Silappathikaaram and Manimekalai are considered as twin epics. Manimekalai is dated between 300-600 CE.
The Chola King Udhayakumaran falls madly in love with Manimekalai. But she wants to be a Buddhist nun. To escape his clutches she transforms herself into another woman , Kaayasandikai. When the King realises that it is Manimekalai in another form, the pursues her again. The real Kaayasandikai’s husband Kanchanan mistakes this and kills the King. The King’s mother wants to take revenge on Manimekalai for her son’s death. She tries to torture Manimekalai, but all her efforts fail. She realises that she has failed and falls at Manimekalai’s feet.
This poem is Manimekalai assuaging the pain of King’s mother. She says, “Do you cry for your son’s body or soul. If you cry for his body, it was you who consigned his dead body to the graveyard, not me. If you cry for his soul, it is hard to know what form his soul will take in next birth as it is decided only by his deeds in previous birth (karma/fate). So my dear lady, if you love your son’s soul, you should grieve and empathise with all souls in this universe”
The last two lines make this poem universal.
அவ்வுயிர்க்கு அன்பினை ஆயின் …எவ்வுயிர்க்கு ஆயினும் இரங்கல் வேண்டும் – If that soul is dear to you, you should grieve for all souls.
This poem also explains the Buddhist philosophy of rebirth. You can read the wiki here