Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “April, 2017”

Kambaramayanam – 44

Pink legged swans roam around like fish eyed women,
leaving their swanlings on blessed lotus flowers in the fields;
mud legged buffaloes think of their calves and secrete milk,
feeding swanlings which then sleep to the lullaby of green toads.

சேல் உண்ட ஒண் கணாரில் திரிகின்ற செங்கால் அன்னம்
மால் உண்ட நளினப் பள்ளி வளர்த்திய மழலைப் பிள்ளை
கால் உண்ட சேற்று மேதி கன்று உள்ளிக், கனைப்பச் சோர்ந்த
பால் உண்டு துயிலப் பச்சைத் தேரை தாலாட்டும் பண்ணை.

In this poem Kamban describes the bounty and beauty of farm lands of Kosala country. Pink legged swans place their young ones on lotus flowers and roam around like fish eyed women imitating their walk. The buffalos in the fields think of the calves they left behind in the cow shed and start secreting milk spontaneously. This overflowing milk feeds the young swanlings which then sleep to the lullaby of toads. The fields of the country are so fertile and their cattle so well fed, that they spontaneously secrete milk.

  1. Lotus flowers are blessed because Goddess Lakshmi resides in them.
  2. In Indian tradition fish shaped eyes mean beautiful long eyes. The western equivalent is ‘almond eyes’

Naachiyar Thirumozhi – 508

Like the sacred offerings
made by priests to the deities
being trampled and smelled
by a fox roaming in the wild,
if any talk arises that my breasts
which rise in pleasure for the noble One
are to be possessed by a human,
I will cease to live, God of love.

வானிடை வாழுமவ் வானவர்க்கு
மறையவர் வேள்வியில் வகுத்தஅவி
கானிடைத் திரிவதோர் நரிபுகுந்து
கடப்பதும் மோப்பதும் செய்வதொப்ப
ஊனிடை யாழிசங் குத்தமர்க்கென்று
உன்னித் தெழுந்தவென் தடமுலைகள்
மானிட வர்க்கென்று பேச்சுப்படில்
வாழகில் லேன்கண்டாய் மன்மதனே.

Andal, who had decided to become one with Lord Vishnu dedicated her life to be with him. However she learned of her father trying to get her married. This poem is Andal throwing the gauntlet. “My body and life are meant for the Lord. If I ever hear you talk about getting me married to a mortal, that my body which is meant for the Lord is to be handled by a human being, I will give up my life. It will be like a wild fox smelling and trampling the sacred offering made to deities.”

The raw passion of this poem is a beauty to behold. She equates herself to the sacred offering made to God.

Kurunthokai – 73

Her friend says (to make him suffer by not showing up at the nightly rendezvous):

You crave for your lover’s chest;
don’t worry my friend!
Like hostile Kosars*
who raided Nannan’s country
by felling the barrier of mango trees,
a little ruthless scheming too is needed.

*A clan of warriors antagonistic to Chieftain Nannan

தோழி கூற்று:

மகிழ்நன் மார்பே வெய்யையால் நீ;
அழியல் வாழி-தோழி!-நன்னன்
நறு மா கொன்று ஞாட்பிற் போக்கிய
ஒன்றுமொழிக் கோசர் போல,
வன்கட் சூழ்ச்சியும் வேண்டுமால் சிறிதே.

She has promised to meet him in day time. Then changes it to night time. Her friend asks her to not show up during the night time too. Reason? “If you meet him whenever he calls, he will take you for granted. So if you desire to own his broad chest, you need a little ruthless scheming. Like the Kosar warriors who overran Nannan’s country by felling a barrier of mango trees, you have to break his complacency and make him suffer. Only then will he value you better and plan accordingly”

The poem itself talks of her friend asking her to scheme ruthlessly. The ‘no show’ part of it is in the introduction to the poem given by earlier commentaries, derived from palm leaf manuscripts.

Naachiyar Thirumozhi – 567

 

Does it smell of camphor? or of Lotus?
His coral red mouth, is it delicious?
Yearning to know the taste and smell
of the tusk breaker’s* mouth, I ask you;
tell me O’ ocean born white Conch.

கருப்பூரம் நாறுமோ கமலப்பூ நாறுமோ
திருப்பவளச் செவ்வாய்தான் தித்தித்தி ருக்கும்மோ
மருப்பொசித்த மாதவன்றன் வாய்ச்சுவையும் நாற்றமும்
விருப்புற்றுக் கேட்கின்றேன் சொல்லாழி வெண்சங்கே.

*When Kamsa sent his Royal elehant to trample Krishna and Balarama, they broke its tusk and threw it off easily.

Panchajanyam is the white conch of Krishna, which he blows to sound the start of war. Andal, a fervent devotee of Krishna, asks the Panchajanyam about how his mouth tastes and smells.

“Does it smell of camphor or lotus (which are offered to him while praying)? Does his mouth taste delicious? I desire to know the taste and smell of his mouth. Since you are lucky enough to be on his mouth, please tell me”

Andal is one of the well known poet saints in Tamil literary canon. She is the only woman among the 12 Alwars (saints) in Sri Vaishnavite tradition. Born in 8th Century AD as the daughter of Vishnu Chittan (Periyalvar) in Sri Villiputhur, she fell in love with Lord Vishnu at an young age and decided to marry him. Her poems in Thiruppavai are sung during the month of Margazhi (Dec-Jan). Naachiyar Thirumozhi consists of 143 poems of intense longing and desire for Lord Vishnu.

Thirukkural – 759

Earn wealth! There’s no sharper steel
to cut down foe’s conceit.

செய்க பொருளை! செறுநர் செருக்கு அறுக்கும்
எஃகு அதனின் கூரியது இல்

Wealth is the strongest weapon to cut down an opponent’s arrogance. So go forth and make money.

Naaladiyaar – 285

O’Ruler of hills where clamorous waterfall
washes rock surface! Clan pride will erode;
honour will erode; education too will erode
for those embraced by poverty.

பிறந்த குலம் மாயும்; பேர் ஆண்மை மாயும்;
சிறந்த தம் கல்வியும் மாயும்;-கறங்கு அருவி
கல்மேல் கழூஉம் கண மலை நல் நாட!-
இன்மை தழுவப்பட்டார்க்கு.

The poet advises the ruler about the devastating effort of poverty. A man’s pride, honour and education will be washed away in face of abject poverty. Waterfall washing away the top surface of the rocks can be expanded as a metaphor for relentless poverty washing away the qualities of a man.

Silappathikaaram – Indira Vizhavu 68-75

Offering steamed lentils, sesame seed balls, rice mixed with meat,
flowers, incense and freshly cooked rice
women hold hands together and dance in a trance
as old elegant women bless and proclaim
“In this great land ruled by our ruler
may hunger, disease and enmity leave;
may rains and wealth spring forth;”


புழுக்கலும், நோலையும், விழுக்கு உடை மடையும்,

பூவும், புகையும், பொங்கலும், சொரிந்து;

துணங்கையர், குரவையர், அணங்கு எழுந்து ஆடி;
‘பெரு நில மன்னன் இரு நிலம் அடங்கலும்
பசியும், பிணியும், பகையும், நீங்கி;
வசியும், வளனும், சுரக்க’ என வாழ்த்தி;
மாதர்க் கோலத்து, வலவையின் உரைக்கும்,
மூதில் பெண்டிர்

Today is the first day of Chittirai month in Tamil Calendar, considered an auspicious day. The above verse detailing the celebration during the month of Chittirai is from the epic Silappathikaaram, written in 2nd Century AD.

Women get together and offer steamed lentil snacks, sesame seed balls, rice mixed with meat, flowers and incense and Pongal (interpreting it as rice cooked in front of the temple, I have used freshly cooked rice) to the Protecting deity (காவல் பூதம்) at a grove in between two parts (Maruvoorp Paakkam and Pattinap Paakkam) of the town of Kaveri Poompattinam. The young women are in a trance as the Goddess enters them (அணங்கு ஏறி ஆடுதல்)  and dance traditional folk dances of Thunangai and Kuravai. Old women from their clan prays to the deity and proclaims may this great land ruled by our ruler amidst two kingdoms, may hunger, disease and enmity leave; may rains and wealth springforth”

The prayer ritual is almost the same as it is practiced in Tamil Nadu today. Most of the Tamil words in the above lines are still in use today. I never tire to repeat the saying “Glory of Tamil language is not in its antiquity, but its continuity” (தமிழின் மேன்மை அதன் தொன்மையில் இல்லை, தொடர்ச்சியில் உள்ளது)

Naaladiyaar – 214

Though they live nearby for days together,
one doesn’t warm to those not close to heart;
though they live apart for days together,
does one forego a soul mate’s bond?

பல நாளும் பக்கத்தார் ஆயினும், நெஞ்சில்
சில நாளும் ஒட்டாரோடு ஒட்டார்; பல நாளும்
நீத்தார் என, கைவிடல் உண்டோ-தம் நெஞ்சத்து
யாத்தாரோடு யாத்த தொடர்பு.

Friendship depends not on distance but on understanding.

Siddhar – Pattinaththaar – 17

Life’s false, death is real; so don’t wish
anyone harm, my heart! – while we think
our paunch is ours, dogs,foxes, ghouls and vultures
wait thinking it’s theirs.

இருப்பதுபொய் போவதுமெய் என்றெண்ணி நெஞ்சே
ஒருத்தருக்கும் தீங்கினை உன்னாதே – பருத்ததொந்தி
நம்மதென்று நாமிருப்ப நாய்நரிகள் பேய்கழுகு
தம்மதென்று தாமிருக்கும் தான் !

“Life in this world is false, death is the only constant. Keep this in mind my hear and do not think of harming others. Because we think our paunch is ours. But the dogs, foxes, ghouls and vultures in the graveyard wait for us thinking that it is to be food for them after we die.”

Pattinathaar was one of the prominent Siddhars (ascetic rebels) in Tamil nadu. There have been atleast 3 people named Pattinathaar, living in 10th, 14th and 17th centuries. This poem is thought to have been written by the second one, from 14th Century. I have not been able to conclusively decide which one of the three wrote the above poem. All their poems are clubbed together as Pattinathaar Paadal in texts. The leitmotif of all their poems is despairing of human life and praying to become one with God. The poems range from self flagellations to pleading to Lord Shiva. A set of soulful poems sung by Pattinathaar the first while cremating his mother is still recited by some communities during cremation.

Kambaramayanam – 34

Rushing water’s sound; cane crushers’ noise;
cane juice’s gurgle; fresh water snails’ squeak;
bull fighting bustle; crash of buffaloes jumping in water;
All these mingle to create a heady buzz in the farm lands.

ஆறு பாய் அரவம்; மள்ளர் ஆலை பாய் அமலை; ஆலைச்
சாறு பாய் ஒதை; வேலைச் சங்கின் வாய் பொங்கும் ஓசை;
ஏறு பாய் தமரம்; நீரில் எருமை பாய் துழனி; இன்ன
மாறு மாறு ஆகி தம்மின் மயங்கும் மா மருத வேலி.

Kamban uses various synonyms of “sound” in Tamil – அரவம், அமலை, ஒதை, ஓசை, தமரம், துழனி. I have tried to do the same in the English translation.

Describing various sounds of a city or land is an age old technique in Tamil literature. Similar lines can be found in Sangam poetry (Malai Padu Kadaam – lines 291 – 345, Madurai Kanchi line 260-270).

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