Silappathikaaram – Kaanal Vari 86-97
making men ache, her flawless face is a moon, you see!
A moon, you see – that lives in fishermen’s hamlet,
afraid of being gobbled by the snake* in the sky!
swing this way and that – she’s death, you see!
Death, you see – that lives as a tender lass
in this village by the sea.
Chasing away birds that steal dried fish,
causing distress to onlookers – she’s a misery you see!
A misery, you see – in the form of a plaited girl
in this flower adorned backwaters.
* Lunar Nodes – Rahu and Ketu are personified as snakes in Hindu mythology. Eclipse is explained as snakes swallowing the Sun and the Moon.
கயல் எழுதி, வில் எழுதி, கார் எழுதி, காமன்
செயல் எழுதி, தீர்த்த முகம் திங்களோ, காணீர்!
திங்களோ, காணீர்-திமில் வாழ்நர் சீறூர்க்கே
அம் கண் ஏர் வானத்து அரவு அஞ்சி வாழ்வதுவே!
எறி வளைகள் ஆர்ப்ப, இரு மருங்கும் ஓடும்,
கறை கெழு வேல் கண்ணோ கடுங் கூற்றம், காணீர்!
கடுங் கூற்றம், காணீர்-கடல் வாழ்நர் சீறூர்க்கே
மடம் கெழு மென் சாயல் மகள் ஆயதுவே!
புலவு மீன் வெள் உணங்கல் புள் ஓப்பி, கண்டார்க்கு
அலவ நோய் செய்யும் அணங்கு இதுவோ, காணீர்!
அணங்கு இதுவோ, காணீர்-அடும்பு அமர் தண் கானல்
பிணங்கு நேர் ஐம்பால் ஓர் பெண் கொண்டதுவே!
This is from the greatest Tamil epic Silappathikaaram. Silappathikaaram is dated to 2nd Century CE. It’s themes and characters are part of public discourse in Tamil Nadu. These three verses are sung by Kovalan when he visits the beach with his courtesan, Madhavi. These verses cause them to bicker with each other and makes him leave her to go back to his wife Kannaki.
During Indira Vizha (festival of Indra), Kovalan and Madhavi go to the beach at Kaveri Poompattinam (current day Poompuhar). River Cauvery joins the sea here. He takes the harp and starts singing. These three poems are him singing in praise of an imaginary girl at the beach. Madhavi thinks that he is in love with another girl and has a tiff with him.
First verse – Her eyes are fish shaped, brow is like a curved bow and tresses are dark like clouds. Her face makes men yearn for her. Her face is a moon, that now lives in the fisherman’s hamlet because it was afraid of snakes in the sky swallowing it. The Lunar Nodes are personified as snakes (Rahu and Ketu) in Hindu mythology. Solar and Lunar eclipses were explained as Rahu and Ketu swallowing the Sun and the moon. So Kovalan says this girl’s face is like a moon. But why did the moon come down to earth. It must have been to escape the snakes.
Second verse – The sea is throwing up conch shells which roar with noise of the sea. Hearing that she is afraid and her eyes swing either way. Her eyes are reddened. Those red eyes look like blood stained spears that take the life of him. He says her eyes are the weapons with which she kills him. She is death incarnate living like a soft spoken tender girl in this sea side village.
Third verse – She is chasing away birds that come to steal dried fish that are white in color. Seeing her move about causes distress to him. She is misery incarnate in the form of a girl wearing plaits in the backwaters which are full of flowers.