Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “November, 2016”

Thevaram 6.98.1

We aren’t citizens to anyone; we do not fear Death;
We will not suffer in hell; there’s no falsity in us;
We’re blissful;  we do not wallow in sickness; Will not bow down;
Every day’s a pleasure, there’s no agony.

நாமார்க்கும் குடியல்லோம்; நமனை அஞ்சோம்;
நரகத்தில் இடர்ப்படோம்; நடலை இல்லோம்;
ஏமாப்போம்; பிணி அறியோம், பணிவோம் அல்லோம்;
இன்பமே எந்நாளும், துன்பமில்லை.

This is a famous poem of 7th Century Saivite saint Thirunavukkarasar (Appar). He was at the forefront of Saivite revival movement in Tamilnadu. The Pallava King, who was a Jain at that time, was angry with him and sent soldiers to bring him to the Royal court. This poem was Thirunavukkarasar’s famous retort. I have translated only the first two lines. These two lines are quoted often in Tamilnadu by anyone opposing authoritarianism of the State. Two more lines complete the poem.

We are not citizens bound to any king but Shiva. So we don’t fear the god of death. Even if we go to hell we will not suffer. We speak only the truth, so aren’t afraid. We are blissful. We don’t wallow in sickness. We will not bow down in front of your King. Our life is always a joy, there is no agony in it”

I am not well versed in religious scriptures. I go by the commentaries. If there is any mistake, do point out.

Puranaanooru – 187

Inhabited at some places, deserted at others,
depressed at some places, raised at others;
wherever your men are good,
Blessed land, you are good too.

நாடா கொன்றோ காடா கொன்றோ
அவலா கொன்றோ மிசையா கொன்றோ
எவ்வழி நல்லவ ராடவர்
அவ்வழி நல்லை வாழிய நிலனே.

This poem by Avvayar, written around 2000 years ago, says that a land doesn’t have any innate characteristic of its own. It is as good as its citizens are. She says to the land – You are a settlement (inhabited) at some places, a forest (deserted) at others; depressed at some places, raised at others. You don’t have any defining characteristic. You are as good as the citizens who occupy you are.

I have chosen to use inhabited / deserted instead of the literal meaning country/forest for ease of understanding in English.

Thirukkural – 1101

கண்டு, கேட்டு, உண்டு, உயிர்த்து, உற்று, அறியும் ஐம்புலனும்
ஒண்டொடிகண்ணே உள.

Pleasure of all five senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch-
reside together in this girl with shiny bangles.

The pleasure of all five senses reside together in this girl. She pleases me completely.

Thirukkural – 552

Like a spear wielding robber forcing you to pay –
is a sceptred ruler’s demand to be paid.

வேலொடு நின்றான், ‘இடு’ என்றது போலும்-
கோலொடு நின்றான் இரவு.

Siddhar – Sivavakkiyar – 40

When you say a Paraichi or a Panathi – what does it mean?
Is it marked in their flesh, skin and bone?
Conjugal pleasure of a Paraichi or a Panathi, does it differ?
Paraichi and a Panathi differ in your mind alone.

* Paraichi  – Pariah woman, Panathi – Brahmin woman (Paarpanathi)

பறைச்சியாவது ஏதடா பணத்தியாவது ஏதடா
இறைச்சிதோல் எலும்பினும் இலக்கம்இட் டிருக்குதோ
பறைச்சி போகம் வேறதோ பணத்திபோகம் வேறதோ
பறைச்சியும் பணத்தியும் பகுத்துபாரும் உம்முளே.

Sivavakkiyar is ruthless when tackling the issue of caste. Being an iconoclast, he is particularly scathing on the priests and those who talk about upper and lower caste. In this poem he asks is there any marking in bones and flesh of a woman to show whether she is a Paraiah or a Brahmin? Isn’t the pleasure you derive from them same? So look inside you, the difference between a Pariah and a Brahmin is in your mind.

Thirukkural – 65

To caress one’s child is a parent’s physical pleasure;
hearing their words is a pleasure, to ears.

மக்கள் மெய் தீண்டல் உடற்கு இன்பம்; மற்று அவர்
சொல் கேட்டல் இன்பம், செவிக்கு.

This couplet is in the chapter Begetting children (புதல்வரைப் பெறுதல்). To touch a child gives pleasure to a parent’s body. To hear their child speak gives pleasure to their ears. Parent is not mentioned explicitly in the original. I added it for clarity.

Thirukkural – 555

அல்லற்பட்டு, ஆற்றாது, அழுத கண்ணீர் அன்றே-
செல்வத்தைத் தேய்க்கும் படை.

Tears shed in unbearable distress,
are forces that erode ruler’s riches.

Under the chapter of The Cruel Sceptre (கொடுங்கோன்மை), Thiruvalluvar cautions rulers who cause unbearable agony to their citizens. The tears shed by citizens are stronger than enemies forces and will erode away the prosperity of the ruler.

Thanippaadal – Avvaiyaar

What we’ve learned amounts to a fistful of sand,
what we’ve not learned is vast as the world,
hence the Goddess of Arts too keeps learning –
don’t boast and challenge others, O bard,
an ant too is eight spans wide by its own hand.

கற்றதுகைம் மண்ணளவு கல்லா துலகளவென்(று)
உற்ற கலைமடந்தை ஓதுகிறாள் – மெத்த
வெறும்பந்த யங்கூற வேண்டாம் புலவீர்
எறும்புந்தன் கையாலெண் சாண்.

This is one of the famous poems of Avvaiyar. Scholars estimate that there have been six poets by the name of Avvaiyar in Tamil literature. This poem is attributed to Avvaiyar II, whose time is estimated to be before 10 Century CE.

In this poem, she mocks the poet who challenges her. She says what we have learned is just a fistful of sand, what we are yet to learn is as vast as the world. Knowing this, even the Goddess of education, Saraswati, is still learning. (Saraswati is depicted with a manuscript in her hand). So don’t boast that you know everything and challenge me. Just because an ant measures eight spans when measured by its own hand doesn’t mean it can compete with a human being who too measures eight spans by his hand.

Siddhar – Sivavakkiyar – 521

Worshiping a put up stone as God, showering it with flowers
and intoning mantras under your breath – what’s the use?
Will the put up stone speak when He is within you?
Will a cooking pot know the taste of food?

நட்டகல்லை தெய்வமென்று நாலுபுட்பஞ் சாத்தியே
சுற்றிவந்து மொணமொணென்று சொல்லும் மந்திரமேதடா
நட்டகல்லும் பேசுமோ நாதனுள் இருக்கையில்
சுட்டசட்டி சட்டுவங் கறிச்சுவை அறியுமோ.

Siddhars were the iconoclasts of Tamil society. They were rebels against organised religion. Siva Vakkiyar of 10th Century is a well known Siddhar amongst them all. In this poems he mocks those who worship idols. “God is inside each one of us. What’s the point in worshipping a stone and going round it intoning mantras?” The last line is what stands out in the poem. “Though tasty food is cooked in a cooking pot, it does not know the taste of that food. So are the idols we worship. They are but stones which we have made into God. The God whom you worship is inside us”

Rightly, the Siddhars were considered heretical by the society. However they are an important strand of Tamil society that accommodated differing view points.

Ainkurunooru – 203

May you live long my dear, listen! Sweeter than
milk mixed with honey from our gardens
is the muddled water leftover by deer
in his country’s foliage covered puddles.

அன்னாய், வாழி! வேண்டு, அன்னை! நம் படப்பைத்
தேன் மயங்கு பாலினும் இனிய அவர் நாட்டு
உவலைக் கூவல் கீழ
மான் உண்டு எஞ்சிய கலிழி நீரே.

She has come back after meeting her lover who lives in hill country. Her friend asks “Water quality is bad in his country. How did you manage?” She replies “The muddled water in the foliage covered puddles there was sweeter than milk sweetened with honey”. Her love for him makes her over look these minor hiccups. Love is not only blind, but also numbs the tastebuds :-).

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