Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Sangam”

Pura Naanooru – 358

This worthy world ringed by the sun
will have seven chiefs a day, such is its nature;
If material and spiritual realms are weighed,
material is not even mustard sized
compared to spiritual, so (spiritually) desirous let it go;
Thiru* doesn’t let go those who let it go;
those who don’t let it go, are whom she lets go.

*Thiru – Goddess of Wealth

பருதி சூழ்ந்த இப் பயம் கெழு மா நிலம்
ஒரு பகல் எழுவர் எய்தியற்றே;
வையமும் தவமும் தூக்கின், தவத்துக்கு
ஐயவி அனைத்தும் ஆற்றாது ஆகலின்,
கைவிட்டனரே காதலர்; அதனால்
விட்டோரை விடாஅள், திருவே;
விடாஅதோர் இவள் விடப்பட்டோரே.

“This world is fickle. No one rules it for long, it will have seven people lead it in a day. Such is its nature. If we compare the material world and spiritual world, the material world is not even mustard seed sized when compared to the spiritual world. So those who want to attain spirituality, let go of the material world. Thiru, the gooddess of wealth holds on to those who are not desirous of material world. Those who are desirous of material world, she gives up on them. So don’t hanker behind wealth. It will be elusive. If you take a distant attitude towards it, wealth will come to you by itself”

Wordplay of the last two lines stand out in this poem. I have tried to translate that as close to the original as possible.

பருதி – பரிதி – Sun
பயம் – பயனுடைய – Worthy / useful
கெழு – bright
மா நிலம் – Big land – world
வையம் – (Material) world
தவம் – spiritual
ஐயவி – mustard
காதலர் – desirous one

Nattrinai – 10

Her friend says :

Even when her perky breasts sag down
and long dark hair draped over
her lustrous body turns white,
never leave her,
Lord of colourful flower adorned town!
Your word is as trusted by her
as the spears of Chief Palayan
– with an army of tuskers – 
was trusted by sweet toddy carrying,
decorated chariot riding
Chola Kings to subdue Kongars*.

*Kongars – Rulers of Kongu Nadu, Western part of present day Tamil Nadu

அண்ணாந்து ஏந்திய வன முலை தளரினும்
பொன் நேர் மேனி மணியின் தாழ்ந்த
நல் நெடுங் கூந்தல் நரையொடு முடிப்பினும்
நீத்தல் ஓம்புமதி பூக் கேழ் ஊர !
இன் கடுங் கள்ளின் இழை அணி நெடுந் தேர்க்
கொற்றச் சோழர் கொங்கர்ப் பணீஇயர்
வெண்கோட்டு யானைப் போஒர் கிழவோன்
பழையன் வேல் வாய்த்தன்ன நின்
பிழையா நல் மொழி தேறிய இவட்கே.

They are eloping at early hours of the day. Her friend has accompanied her to send her off. Friend says to him “She’s abandoning all her relatives and coming with you. You must not leave her even when she grows old, her perky breasts sag and her dark hair turns white. She trusts your word completely, like how the Chola Kings trusted the spears of their allied chieftain (with an army of tuskers) to subdue Kongars*. So keep your promise even when the initial flush of love is gone”

Kongars* may mean Chera Kings who were ruling Kongu Nadu (the area around present day Coimbatore) then. Chola Kings must have used the services of a local Chieftain Palayan to help them in subduing Kongars*

தளர் – sag
மணி – gem / dark color
ஓம்புதல் – to leave
கேழ் – color
இழை – jewel
கொற்றவன் – King
பணித்தல் – subdue
வெண்கோட்டு – white tusk
கிழவோன் – Chief
பிழையா – not false – true – promise
தேறுதல் – believe

Kurunthokai – 312

He tells his heart:

Two faced charlatan, our lover is:
one who comes to us at midnight
like fragrant breeze from the forests
of mighty spear wielding Malayan;
The other, who at day break
gets rid of flowers in her tresses
and plaits her hair with fragrant oil,
goes to her kin and becomes a stranger.

இரண்டு அறி கள்வி நம் காதலோளே:
முரண் கொள் துப்பின் செவ் வேல் மலையன்
முள்ளூர்க் கானம் நாற வந்து,
நள்ளென் கங்குல் நம் ஓரன்னள்;
கூந்தல் வேய்ந்த விரவுமலர் உதிர்த்து,
சாந்து உளர் நறுங் கதுப்பு எண்ணெய் நீவி,
அமரா முகத்தள் ஆகித்
தமர் ஓரன்னள், வைகறையானே.

This is a popular poem in Kurunthokai. She leaves his after their nightly rendezvous. He tells his heart, “This girl, our lover, is a two faced charlatan. She comes like fragrant breeze from the forests of Malayaman and brings joy to us. At day break she gets rid of flowers strewn in her tresses, applies oil to her hair and plaits it like goody two shoes and goes to her relatives. Then she becomes a stranger to us”

Puranaanooru – 195

O’ learned wise men, learned wise men!
O’ learned wise men of futile seniority
and wrinkled cheeks with fish bone like grey hairs!
When the mighty one* with sharp battle axe
throws his noose, you’ll feel sorry;
even if you aren’t able to good,
avoid doing bad;
that’s what pleases every one;
also, that’s path of righteousness.

*God of death

பல் சான்றீரே! பல் சான்றீரே!
கயல் முள் அன்ன நரை முதிர் திரை கவுள்,
பயன் இல் மூப்பின், பல் சான்றீரே!
கணிச்சிக் கூர்ம் படைக் கடுந் திறல் ஒருவன்
பிணிக்கும் காலை, இரங்குவிர் மாதோ;
நல்லது செய்தல் ஆற்றீர் ஆயினும்,
அல்லது செய்தல் ஓம்புமின்; அதுதான்
எல்லாரும் உவப்பது; அன்றியும்,
நல் ஆற்றுப் படூஉம் நெறியும்மார் அதுவே.

The poet admonishes the old learned men who advise the ruler. They mislead the ruler on a path of ruin. The poet says to them “O’ learned wise men, of useless old age (with fish bone like grey hair in wrinkled cheeks) and experience! You will feel sorry when the God of death appears with his weapons and throws a noose at you. Even if you aren’t able to do good, at least don’t do bad. That’s what will keep everyone peaceful and happy. Also, that’s the path to righteousness”

கயல் – fish
திரை – wrinkle
கவுள் – cheek
கணிச்சி – battle axe
கூர்ம் படை – sharp weapon
கடுந் திறல் – mighty
பிணி – tie / catch
இரங்கு – sorry
ஆற்றீர் – not able to
ஓம்புமின் – avoid
உவப்பது – pleases
நல் ஆற்று – right way
நெறி – path

Puranaanooru – 252

His hair’s greyed as he bathes
in noisy white waterfalls,
and is matted like thillai* leaves;
He, who plucks leaves from dense creepers,
was once a hunter who held
naive peahen like woman at home
spell bound with a net of words!

*Thillai – milky mangrove tree

கறங்கு வெள் அருவி ஏற்றலின், நிறம் பெயர்ந்து,
தில்லை அன்ன புல்லென் சடையோடு,
அள் இலைத் தாளி கொய்யுமோனே
இல் வழங்கு மட மயில் பிணிக்கும்
சொல் வலை வேட்டுவன் ஆயினன், முன்னே!

The poet meets a warrior turned ascetic in the forests. The poet has known in him worldly life earlier and is surprised by how he has changed. The poet says to his fellow travelers, “This man is now an ascetic staying in forests. His hair is greyed because of bathing in noisy white water falls. His hair is matted like leaves of thillai (Milky mangrove) tree. You can see him pluck leaves from creepers in this woods. In his previous life he was such a persuasive lover that he used to hold his naive woman spellbound with his words. He was like a hunter with a net of words.”

The phrase “சொல்வலை வேட்டுவன்” – Hunter with a net of words makes this poem special. That’s every story teller’s dream – to hold his audience spell bound with words.


Milky Mangrove tree 

Source : By Vengolis – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26616445

கறங்கு – noisy
வெள் – white
தில்லை -Milky Mangrove tree
அன்ன – like
அள் – dense / close
தாளி – creeper
கொய்தல் – pluck
இல் – home
மட – naive
பிணித்தல் – tie down / bound

Kurunthokai – 244

Her friend says :

It’s not that we didn’t hear you
try to open the door like a strong elephant
at midnight when every one was asleep;
We did hear, my lord!
Like a fine peacock trapped in a net
with its crown crushed and feathers broken,
heartless mother hugged us tight everytime we shuddered.

பல்லோர் துஞ்சும் நள்ளென் யாமத்து,
உரவுக் களிறுபோல் வந்து, இரவுக் கதவு முயறல்
கேளேம் அல்லேம்; கேட்டனெம்-பெரும!-
ஓரி முருங்கப் பீலி சாய
நல் மயில் வலைப் பட்டாங்கு, யாம்
உயங்குதொறும் முயங்கும், அறன் இல் யாயே.

He tried to meet her at night. But the door was locked and she did not open. Next day her friend says to him, “My lord, it is not that we did not hear you try to open our door at midnight when the whole town was asleep. We heard you clearly. However she was sleeping next to her foster mother, who kept hugging her tightly when she as much as moved. Her situation was like a peacock caught in a hunter’s net. That’s why she couldn’t open the door and meet you”. The implied meaning is since it is difficult to meet at night anymore, you better take steps to marry her. Mother is called heartless as she put paid to their nightly rendezvous plans.

துஞ்சுதல் – sleep
நள் – middle
யாமம் – mid night
உரவு – strong
களிறு – elephant
ஓரி – mane (here the crown of a peacock)
உயங்கு – suffer / shudder
முயங்குதல் – embrace
அறன் – fairness (அறன் இல் – unfair / heartless)
யாய் – mother

Kurunthokai – 249

School of peacocks scream and
white faced monkeys shiver with their young ones
in rain drenched thickly wooded slopes of his hill country.
Looking at those hills – my friend! –
my faded forehead gains colour, you see?

இன மயில் அகவும் மரம் பயில் கானத்து,
நரை முக ஊகம் பார்ப்பொடு பனிப்ப,
படு மழை பொழிந்த சாரல் அவர் நாட்டுக்
குன்றம் நோக்கினென்-தோழி!-
பண்டையற்றோ, கண்டிசின், நுதலே?

He has not come to see her for long. She is afflicted by love sickness in his absence. Pallor spreads on her face. Noticing that her friend asks how will you manage to hold yourself together in his absence? She says, “I’ll look at his hills and that will sustain me through this period of sepration. See how my faded forehead gains colour on seeing his hills.” Peacocks screaming and monkeys shivering indicate that it is the monsoon season and he will be back soon.

இனம் – group
அகவுதல் – scream (sound of a peacock)
பயில் – செறிந்த – thick
கானம் – forest
நரை – white
ஊகம் – monkey
பார்ப்பு- young one
பனித்தல்- shiver
சாரல் – slope
குன்றம் – hill
பண்டை- (as it was) earlier
கண்டிசின் – you see
நுதல் – forehead

Kurunthokai – 401

In his shores glistening crabs scurry into the sea
afraid of frolicking girls whose damp hair
is adorned with braided flower strings
of fragrant creeper flowers and lilies;
my physical revelry with him, rules out 
further harmless fun, even for a day; strange is this!

அடும்பின் ஆய் மலர் விரைஇ, நெய்தல்
நெடுந் தொடை வேய்ந்த நீர் வார் கூந்தல்
ஓரை மகளிர் அஞ்சி, ஈர் ஞெண்டு
கடலில் பரிக்கும் துறைவனொடு, ஒரு நாள்,
நக்கு விளையாடலும் கடிந்தன்று,
ஐதே கம்ம, மெய் தோய் நட்பே!

She’s been to the beach and made out with him. As her mother notices the change in her, she is locked up at home and further meeting with him is ruled out. She says, “It is surprising that a day’s physical brings about changes in me and rules out chances of even being around with him.” Since she has bathed in the sea her hair is damp and she’s wearing fresh flowers. These make her mother suspicious.

அடும்பு – creeper
ஆய் – beautiful
விரை – fragrant
நெய்தல் – lily
தொடை – braid
ஓரை – frolic
ஈர் – wet
ஞெண்டு – crab
பரி – run
துறை- shore
நகு(தல்) – laugh
கடிதல் – rebuke
ஐது – surprising / strange
மெய் – physical
தோய் – embrace

Puranaanooru – 273

Horse hasn’t returned, horse hasn’t returned;
every one’s horse has returned,
but the horse he rode hasn’t returned,
he who fathered a sparsely maned son in my house;
Like a mighty tree standing guard
at the confluence of two roaring rivers,
was it felled down, the horse he rode to battle?

மா வாராதே; மா வாராதே;
எல்லார் மாவும் வந்தன; எம் இல்,
புல் உளைக் குடுமிப் புதல்வற் தந்த
செல்வன் ஊரும் மா வாராதே
இரு பேர் யாற்ற ஒரு பெருங் கூடல்
விலங்கிடு பெரு மரம் போல,
உலந்தன்றுகொல், அவன் மலைந்த மாவே?

She’s waiting for her husband to return from battlefield. All the warriors have returned with their horses, but he hasn’t. She laments has he been felled at the battlefield, like a tree that stands guard at the confluence of two great rivers. The two armies are equated to great rivers and the battlefield to the confluence of rivers.

An interesting trivia. The poet is Erumai Veliyanaaar, that is Veliyan from Erumai Naadu. The current Mysore region was called Erumai (Buffalo) Naadu in Tamil epigraphs. So it can be assumed that this poem was about a battle / skirmish around Mysore area. The name Mysore derives from Mahisha Asura, which means (Buffalo demon).

மா – horse
இல் – home
புல் – smallness (I’ve used ‘sparse’)
உளை – mane
ஊர் – ride
கூடல் – confluence / together
விலங்கு – guard
உலத்தல் – to die
மலை – to battle

Ainkurunooru – 185

The lass with fine bangles shaped by file* –
her teeth are like shining pearls in Korkai harbour
where lily petals sway;
her mouth is of coral hue;
her word is sweet like a harp’s twang.

* – polishing file; probably shell bangles carved with a file

அலங்குஇதழ் நெய்தல் கொற்கை முன்துறை
இலங்கு முத்து உறைக்கும் எயிறு கெழு துவர் வாய்,
அரம் போழ் அவ் வளைக் குறுமகள்
நரம்பு ஆர்த்தன்ன தீம் கிளவியளே.

He is in the beach looking at a group of girls. One of the girls comes and asks him who is his lover among the group. He describes her. She is the one wearing bangles shaped by a polishing file. Her teeth are like shining pearls fished in Korkai’s (an important harbor in Pandiya Kingdom, situated in present day South Tamil Nadu) anchorage, where lily petals sway gently. Her mouth is coral red in colour. Her words are sweet like the music emanating when strings of a harp are plucked.

அலங்கு – sway
நெய்தல் – Lily flower
முன் துறை – lightening anchorage where load is lightened before the vessel goes to berth
இலங்கு – shine
உறைக்கும் – similar
எயிறு – teeth
கெழு – color
துவர் – coral
அரம் – file
போழ் – cut (I have used ‘shaped’)
குறுமகள் – young girl – lass
நரம்பு – string of a harp (யாழ்)
ஆர் – sound (I’ve used ‘twang’)
தீம் – sweet
கிளவி – word

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