Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Later works”

Azhagar KillaiVidu Thoothu – 153-157

As Sun rose in the horizon
and Azhagar mounted his horse,
glittering Silver canopies and Golden flags
rose rapidly like crores of suns and moons ,
bright flags were raised towards the sky
wiping the sweat of celestials,
ambling elephants with sonorous drums on top
moved like dark clouds and accompanying thunder,
River Vaigai which throws up schools of fish
was overrun by a flood of humans

உம்பரில் வெய்யோ னுதயஞ் செயக்குதிரை
நம்பிரா னேறி நடந்தருளி-அம்பரத்திற்
கோடி கதிரோனும் கோடி பனிமதியும்
ஓடி நிரையா உதித்தவென-நீடிய
பொற்கொடியும் வெள்ளிக் குடையும் பொலிந்திலங்க
விற்கொடிகள் விண்ணோர் வெயர் துடைப்பச்-சொற்கத்
தியலுங் கரியுமதி லெற்று முரசும்
புயலும் உருமேறும் போலக் கயலினத்தை
அள்ளுந் திரைவையை யாறுட் பரந்துநர
வெள்ளங் கரைகடந்து மீதூர

Today is the festival of Lord Azhagar (Thirumal) entering the River Vaigai in Madurai, Tamil Nadu’s ancient city. This festival has been celebrated for milleniums  centuries, with slight changes in myths. The above verses are from a comparatively new work, Azhagar Killai Vidu Thoothu (Sending a parrot as messenger to Azhagar), written around 1700 CE. In this long poem the heroine falls in love with Lord Azhagar and sends her parrot as her messenger to him. The poem describes in detail the festival of Azhagar entering the river.

Muththollayiram – 37

My heart, reserve and virtue, all of them
the Ruler of river country* has seized;
My friend with flared waist like a snake’s hood!
isn’t just one-sixth of produce owed to the King?

* Ruler of River Country – Cholas in whose country River Cauvery flowed.

என்னெஞ்சு நாணு நலனும் இவையெல்லாம்
மன்னன் புனனாடன் வௌவினான் – என்னே
அரவகல் அல்குலாய் ஆறில் ஒன் றன்றோ
புரவலர் கொள்ளும் பொருள்.

Muththollayiram (Three times Nine Hundred) is an anthology of poems sung in praise of the Three Royal dynasties of Tamil Country – the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas. Only 108 of the poems are available now. It is generally dated to around 5th Century CE.

In this poem, a girl pines for the Chola King. She says to her friend, I am so much in love with him that he has seized my heart, reserve and virtue. He owns me completely now. This is unfair. Isn’t just one sixth of the produce owed to the King. How can he seize them all?

The third line is simple in Tamil அரவு அகல் அல்குலாய் – snake hood flared waisted girl. English readers will find it odd though. The curve of the snake hood is equated the curves of the girl. அல்குல் means either ‘mound of venus’ or ‘waist’ based on context. It is one of the most contested words in Tamil. Tamil readers can read this post http://madhavipanthal.blogspot.in/2011/10/alkul.html to know more about the word அல்குல்.

Once we move beyond waist / mound of venus, we also realise that the tax rated 1500 years ago was just sixteen percent.

River Cauvery flows through the Chola Kingdom, so the Chola Kings are mentioned by the river. (Tamil readers, remember Ponniyin Selvan? Ponni is another name for Cauvery).

NalVazhi – 11

If I ask you to give up a day’s food, you won’t;
if I ask you to eat two days’ food, you won’t;
never will you understand my torment;
it’s hard to live with you, my dreaded appetite.

ஒருநாள் உணவை ஒழியென்றால் ஒழியாய்
இருநாளுக்கு ஏலென்றால் ஏலாய்-ஒருநாளும்
என்னோ வறியாய் இடும்பைகூர் என்வயிறே
உன்னோடு வாழ்தல் அரிது.

This poem by Avvaiyar (the 3rd, of 12th Century AD) talks about the unforgiving nature of hunger. “If no food is available, you won’t give it up for a day. When excess food is available and I ask you to eat two days worth of food, you again will not. You will never understand my struggles to feed you. It is hard to live with you, my dreaded stomach”

I have used “appetite” in translation instead of “stomach” as in the original, because I felt it read better.

Moodhurai – 26

If one compares a Ruler and a flawless Scholar,
the Scholar is regarded higher than the Ruler –
Ruler is not regarded high outside the country he rules,
Scholar is regarded high wherever he goes.

மன்னனு மாசறக் கற்றோனுஞ் சீர்தூக்கின்
மன்னனிற் கற்றோன் சிறப்புடையன்-மன்னற்குத்
தன்தேச மல்லாற் சிறப்பில்லை கற்றோற்குச்
சென்றஇட மெல்லாம் சிறப்பு.

This poem by Avvayar  (the 3rd) categorically states that a scholar / poet is to be valued more than a ruler. One has to appreciate the temerity of the poet to make such statements in a monarchy.

Moodhurai – 17

Those who vanish at the sign of distress,
like birds that abandon a dry pond, aren’t kin;
those who stay back and suffer with us,
like water lilies in that pond, they’re kin.

அற்ற குளத்தின் அறுநீர்ப் பறவைபோல்
உற்றுழித் தீர்வார் உறவல்லர்-அக்குளத்திற்
கொட்டியும் ஆம்பலும் நெய்தலும் போலவே
ஒட்டி யுறுவார் உறவு.

Poet Avvayar (the 12th century one), in Moodhurai (literal meaning – Elder’s words) defines who are our real kith and kin. Those who abandon us at the first sign of distress aren’t our kin. They are like birds that abandon a pond once it dries up. Those who stay with us and share  our suffering, like flowers and weeds in that pond, are our real kin.

There are three types of water lilies mentioned in the verse. கொட்டி, ஆம்பல், நெய்தல் – I could not identify their English names. So used generic ‘water lilies’.

Thanippadal – 57

With mom departs palate; with dad departs learning;
with children departs one’s riches – fine life
departs with kin, strength departs with sibling;
everything departs along with wife.

தாயோ டறுசுவைபோம் தந்தையொடு கல்விபோம்
சேயோடு தான்பெற்ற செல்வம்போம் – ஆயவாழ்(வு)
உற்றா ருடன்போம் உடற்பிறப்பால் தோள்வலிபோம்
பொற்றாலி யோடெவையும் போம்.

This poem by Avvayar (the 3rd) is about what we lose when we lose people in our life. Mother is one who cares about serving tasty food to you. Father is one from whom we constantly learn. Children are one’s valuable posessions. Kith and kin are needed for fine life. A sibling adds strength. We lose each of these when each one of them departs from our life. Wife embodies all this and more. So when you lose your wife, you loses everything.

With mother goes அறு சுவை – six tastes (sweet, sour, pungent, salt,astringent, bitter). I’ve substituted palate for it.
The word used for wife is பொற்றாலி – பொன் + தாலி meaning Golden bridal chain / Mangalsutra. I used generic wife to make it easier to understand in English.

Moodhurai – 14

Seeing a peacock spread its plume and dance,
a turkey thinks itself to be alike, spreads
its ugly feathers and dances – like that
is a verse learned by the unschooled.

கான மயிலாடக் கண்டிருந்த வான்கோழி
தானு மதுவாகப் பாவித்துத்-தானுந்தன்
பொல்லாச் சிறகைவிரித் தாடினாற் போலுமே
கல்லாதான் கற்ற கவி.

This is a poem by Avvayar in Moodhurai (மூதுரை) , literally meaning “Old advice”. It is a collection of 30 poems, written around 12th Century AD.

An unschooled person may memorize a verse by hearing it from scholars. However he will not know its meaning or nuances. If he tries to act learned based on this, it is like a turkey thinking itself to be a beautiful peacock, spreading its ugly feathers and dancing. It is not possible to imitate a scholar. If one tries to, it will look ungainly.

“Spread its plume” is implied in the original. I have made it explicit in 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.

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.

Neethi Neri – 49

Even if a task cannot be completed,
wise men try till the end – it isn’t wrong
to give a lifesaving dose to one at deathbed,
at times impossible may be possible too.

உறுதி பயப்பக் கடைபோகா வேனும்
இறுவரை காறும் முயல்ப – இறும் உயிர்க்கும்
ஆயுள் மருந்தொழுக்கல் தீதன்றால் அல்லனபோல்
ஆவனவும் உண்டு சில.

This set of poems were written by Kumarakurubarar in 17th century on the request of Tirumalai Nayakkar, Nayak King of Madurai. These poems are moral advise on how to live. These are straight forward and easy to understand.

When one is at death bed, people still try to revive him by giving a life saving medicine. Some times it may work. Likewise wise men will try till the end even if a task cannot be completed. The last line works well in Tamil – அல்லன போல் ஆவனவும் உண்டு சில. ‘Impossible may be possible too’ is the closest I could translate it to.

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