Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “January, 2017”

Naanmanik Kadigai – 79

Careless tongue breaks a friendship;
A hard squeeze breaks the weak-minded;
Safety net of tomes breaks desires;
urge to revenge breaks oneself.

நாவன்றோ நட்பறுக்குந் தேற்றமில் பேதை
விடுமன்றோ வீங்கிப் பிணிப்பின் அவாஅப்
படுமன்றோ பன்னூல் வலையிற் கெடுமன்றோ
மாறுள் நிறுக்குந் துணிபு.

It is the careless tongue that breaks a friendship. Weak minded people will be broken if squeezed hard, as their moral fibre is not strong. When a student is caught in the safety net of books of wisdom, his sinful desires are broken. When one carries vengeance on an enemy in one’s heart, it breaks him.

Nanmani k Kadigai is a collection of moral aphorisms authored by poet Vilambi Naganar. It is thought that Vilambi is his village and Nagan was his name. There are 101 poems in Nanmani k Kadigai (Literally means 4 slivers of gems). It is generally dated to 4th Century AD.

Thirukkural – 1089

She’s blessed with doe like tender eyes and modesty,
what’s the use of external jewelry?

பிணை ஏர் மட நோக்கும், நாணும் உடையாட்கு
அணி எவனோ, ஏதில தந்து?

He says, “She is beautiful with doe like eyes and innate modesty. What is the the use of external jewelry, which cannot add to her natural beauty?”

Kambaramayanam – 4

Like a cat trying to lick dry
the glorious milky ocean*,
did I desire to tell this story
of blemish less King Rama.

ஓசை பெற்று உயர் பால் கடல் உற்று ஒரு
பூசை முற்றவும் நக்குபு புக்கு என
ஆசை பற்றி அறையல் உற்றேன்; மற்று இக்
காசு இல் கொற்றத்து அத்து இராமன் கதை அரோ.

*Ocean of milk that was churned by Devas and Asuras together to obtain the nectar of immortality.

Kamban in his foreword to Kambaramayanam says that the task before him is vast. He is trying to write the glorious story of King Rama, which is already a popular myth.

He compares himself to a small cat which on seeing the milky ocean (பாற்கடல், which contains the nectar of immortality) tries to lick it dry. It knows it cannot drink the ocean completely, yet attempts to do so. “The task before me is vast,as it is not possible for a human being to completely extol the virtues of Rama. Yet I have set out to do this because of my love for Rama. So please bear with my mistakes” he says.

Thirumandhiram – 1.11.1

Shallow men say Love and God differ,
none realizes that Love is God;
once they realize Love is God,
they’re at peace with Love as God.

அன்பும் சிவமும் இரண்டென்பர் அறிவிலார்
அன்பே சிவமாவ தாரும் அறிகிலார்
அன்பே சிவமாவ தாரும் அறிந்தபின்
அன்பே சிவமாய் அமர்ந்திருந் தாரே.

This is one of the famous poems of Saivite saint Thirumoolar (5th Century), also considered to be one of the earliest Siddhars (rebel ascetics of Tamil society). It is a straight forward poem, the repetition of words அன்பு & சிவம் (love & God) gives it a cadence in Tamil. I have tried to replicate that in English.

Simpletons say that Love and God are two different entities. They don’t realize that Love itself is God. Once they realize Love is God, they’re at peace with Love as God itself. Love your fellow beings. That is the way to attain oneness with God and be blissful. This is my interpretation based on commentaries I read. There might be nuances I missed too.

Thirukkural – 738.

Good health, wealth, fertility, happiness and security –
these five are said to be adornments of a country.

பிணி இன்மை, செல்வம், விளைவு, இன்பம், ஏமம்-
அணி என்ப, நாட்டிற்கு-இவ் ஐந்து.

Wise men say absence of disease, citizen’s wealth, fertile land, happiness of people and security are jewels of a country. I have translated ‘Absence of disease’ as ‘Good Health’. Republic Day wishes, fellow Indians.

Kurunthokai – 152

Those who chide me, know not a thing –
my passion’s like a hatchling
sustained by the sight of its mother;
if my lover forsakes me, it’ll wither
like an unhatched egg, for what else sustains it?

யாவதும் அறிகிலர், கழறுவோரே-
தாய் இல் முட்டை போல, உட்கிடந்து
சாயின் அல்லது, பிறிது எவன் உடைத்தே?
யாமைப் பார்ப்பின் அன்ன
காமம், காதலர் கையற விடினே.

He hasn’t come back and she is pining for him. Her frien asks her to stop wasting away. This is her reply. “All those who scold me know nothing. My passion is sutained by the sight of him, like how a hatchling of a tortoise sustains itself by seeing its mother. If he forsakes me and doesn’t come home, my passion will die like an egg abandoned by its mother. For what else sustains my passion but being near him?”

The similes are striking.

“தாய் இல் முட்டை போல் உட்கிடந்து செயின் அல்லது” – ”To die inside the shell, like an egg abandoned by its mother” ;
“யாமைப் பார்ப்பின் அன்ன காமம்” – “Passion like a hatchling of a tortoise” . Sustained by the sight of its mother is implied in the original. I have made it explicit in the translation.

Thanippadal – Avvayar . 1

Have a couple of flunkeys sing one’s praise;
wear myriad rings in fingers; don an apparel
of silk or cotton ; then, his art will be acclaimed,
even if toxic or bitter.

விரகர் இருவர் புகழ்ந்திட வேண்டும்
விரல்நிறை மோதிரங்கள் வேண்டும் – அரையதனில்
பஞ்சேனும் பட்டேனும் வேண்டும் அவர்வித்தை
நஞ்சேனும் வேம்பேனும் நன்று.

This poem by Avvayar (12th Century) shows how the world values style over substance. If one has a couple of flunkeys to sing his praise, adorn his fingers with many rings, and dons a rich attire made of silk or cotton then the world will laud him even if his skill is no good.

Thirukkural – 540

To achieve what one has in mind is easy,
if he constantly has it in mind.

உள்ளியது எய்தல் எளிதுமன்-மற்றும் தான்
உள்ளியது உள்ளப்பெறின்.

To achieve one’s aim is easy, if he constantly has his aim in his mind. Similar to Napolean Hill’s “whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve”. 2000 years earlier than Hill though.

Puranaanooru – 259

Oh warrior with shining sword and anklets,
who walks alongside cows that leap and prance
like a tribal woman possessed by spirits,
long live your valor; wait, don’t rush forward;
beware  of skilled archers who stay back
hiding in the leafy forest, as the herd
of bulls and cows they stole move ahead.  

ஏறுடைப் பெரு நிரை பெயர்தர, பெயராது,
இலை புதை பெருங் காட்டுத் தலை கரந்து இருந்த
வல் வில் மறவர் ஒடுக்கம் காணாய்;
செல்லல், செல்லல்; சிறக்க, நின் உள்ளம்,
முருகு மெய்ப் பட்ட புலைத்தி போலத்
தாவுபு தெறிக்கும் ஆன்மேல்
புடை இலங்கு ஒள் வாள் புனை கழலோயே!

Raiding the opponents livestock and recovering such stolen livestock is a common theme in Puranaanooru poems. In this poem, the warrior wants to chase the herd that is being stolen by the enemy clan. The poet advises him to not to rush forward. “Those who stole the cows will be hiding in the foliage in the forest to attack the recovery party. So be watchful, finish off your enemies before going forward. I am not holding you back because I doubt your valor. Long live your valor.”

Don’t rush headlong into battle. Be aware of hidden snipers who will attack you on the way. Clear the ground before moving forward.

I have altered the structure of the poem (transposing the first 3 line with the last 4 lines) for easy readability.

கழல் – Anklets (whic were given as token of honor to warriors of the clan)
புலைத்தி – generally translated as low caste woman, which seems to be a later day meaning. I have taken it as tribal woman, which I understand was the meaning in Sangam era.
உள்ளம் – I have used ‘valor’, though U Ve Saa inteprets it as enthusiasm / zeal.

Thirukkural – 778

Men who rush to battle without fearing for their lives,
won’t lose their zeal even if Ruler chides.

உறின், உயிர் அஞ்சா மறவர், இறைவன்
செறினும், சீர் குன்றல் இலர்.

The brave soldiers who respond to the battle call without worrying about their lives won’t turn back even if their King criticizes them and asks them not to rush.

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