Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Kundalakesi – 18

What’s to wither will wither; what’s to bloom will bloom;
what’s to be gained will be gained; what’s to be lost will be lost;
those who realise this will neither brood nor rejoice;
the maxim what’s to happen will happen is true.

மறிப மறியும் மலிர்ப மலிரும்
பெறுப பெறும் பெற்று இழப்ப இழக்கும்
அறிவது அறிவார் அழுங்கார் உவவார்
உறுவது உறும்என்று உரைப்பது நன்று.

The above poem is from Kundalakesi, the buddhist epic. It encapsulates the Buddhist philosophy of Karma. All that happens is destined to happen based on one’s Karma in previous birth. The Tamil poem is highly concise and precise. It’s difficult to bring that brevity in the translation. I have tried my best.

“If some thing has to die it will die. All your efforts cannot save it. Similarly if something is to grow, it will grow despite hardships. If one is destined to get something, he will get it. All the world can’t stop it. Similarly if one has to lose what he has he will lose it. Wise men who realise this will not grieve when they lose something nor rejoice when they get something. The worldly saying that what is destined to happen will happen is completely true”

Kundalakesi is one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. Three of these are Jainism based (Seevaka Sinthamani, Silappathikaaram, Valayaapathi) and two are Buddishm based (Manimekalai and Kundalakesi). Kundalakesi is estimated to have been written before 5th Century AD. Only 19 of the 99 verses of Kundalakesi are available today.

மறிதல் – diminish / destroyed
மலிர்தல் – grow
பெறுதல் – get
இழத்தல் – lose
அறிதல் – know
அழுங்குதல் – worry
உவத்தல் – be happy
உறு – to happen

 

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

Naaladiyaar – 112

The noble and ignoble both
never vary from their character! –
Whoever eats it, cane sugar is never bitter;
neem fruit is bitter even if Gods eat it.

தக்காரும் தக்கவ ரல்லாரும் தந்நீர்மை
எக்காலுங் குன்றல் இலராவர் ! – அக்காரம்
யாவரே தின்னினும் கையாதாம் கைக்குமாம்
தேவரே தின்னினும் வேம்பு.

Those who are honorable are always like that and never deviate from their character irrespective of the situation . Same goes with dishonorable people. It’s like sugar and neem. Sugar is never bitter, irrespective of who tastes it. Similarly neem is bitter even if Gods taste it.

தக்கார் – noble
நீர்மை – property / inherent quality
குன்றல் – reduce / diminish
அக்காரம் – cane sugar
கைத்தல் – taste bitter
தேவர் – celestials / God / good people
வேம்பு – neem

Thirukkural – 387

With pleasing words one who’s able to provide and protect,

this world yields to his wishes.

இன் சொலால் ஈத்து, அளிக்க வல்லாற்குத் தன் சொலால்
தான் கண்டனைத்து, இவ் உலகு.


A ruler who speaks pleasantly, provides to the need and protects his citizens from harm will find this world yielding to his wishes. 

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

Thirukkural 978

Ever humble are the great; the lowly

praise themselves pompously.


பணியுமாம் என்றும் பெருமை சிறுமை
அணியுமாம் தன்னை வியந்து.


Great men are always humble. The lowly ones think high of their meagre achievements and praise themselves.

Thirukkural – 236

If one’s born, be born to achieve glory;
One who can’t, is better not born.


தோன்றின், புகழொடு தோன்றுக! அஃது இலார்
தோன்றலின் தோன்றாமை நன்று


Everybody born in this world must strive to achieve glory. If one does not strive, his life’s wasted and he’s better not born.

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

Kambaramayanam – 6186

If you say he’s one, he’s one;
if you say he’s many, he’s many;
if you say he’s not so, he’s not so;
if you say he’s so, he’s so;
if you say he’s not there, he’s not there;
if you say he’s there, he’s there;
Immense is God’s presence!
How do we achieve salvation from this world?

‘ஒன்றே’ என்னின், ஒன்றே ஆம்;
‘பல’ என்று உரைக்கின், பலவே ஆம்;
‘அன்றே’ என்னின், அன்றே ஆம்;
‘ஆமே’ என்னின், ஆமே ஆம்;
‘இன்றே’ என்னின், இன்றே ஆம்;
‘உளது’ என்று உரைக்கின், உளதே ஆம்;
நன்றே, நம்பி குடி வாழ்க்கை!
நமக்கு இங்கு என்னோ பிழைப்பு? அம்மா!

The above poem is the Invocation to God at the beginning of Yuddha Kaanda (War chapter) in Kambaramayanam. It fits in with the concept of God is everything in this world. Mere mortals can’t realise him except by surrendering to him.

If you say God is one, that’s true because he is one that created this world. If you say he is many, that is true, because everything in nature – air, sea, water, fire, space – are manifestations of him. If you ask if he is like the sun or the moon or things visible, no he is not so. If you say he is the warmth of the sun or coolness of the moon, yes, he is so. If you say he is not there, it is true, because he is invisible. If you say he is there, it is true, because his presence is felt by believers. So immense is the nature of God. How can we lowly humans ever grow out of our ignorance and realise him in this world and achieve salvation (other than by surrendering to him)?

As I repeatedly say, I am not an expert in religious interpretations. My interpretations are based on existing commentaries and the language itself. If there’s any mistake, do point it out. ‘You’ in every sentence is implied. I have made it explicit in the translation.

This verse is reminiscent of Nammalvar Paasuram

உளன் எனில் உளன் அவன் உருவம் இவ் உருவுகள்
உளன் அலன் எனில் அவன் அருவம் இவ் அருவுகள்
உளன் என இலன் என இவை குணம் உடைமையில்
உளன் இரு தகைமையொடு ஒழிவு இலன் பரந்தே (2907)

அன்று – Not
ஆம் – Yes
இன்று – No
உளது – that which is
நன்று – immense / great
நம்பி – God
குடி வாழ்க்கை – nature / characteristic
பிழைப்பு – escape / deliverance

Thirukkural – 1166

இன்பம் கடல் அற்றுக் காமம்; மற்று அஃது அடுங்கால்,
துன்பம் அதனின் பெரிது.

Pleasure of love is like a sea; misery
of it, when apart, is even bigger.

Pleasure enjoyed by the lovers when their love is satiated, is like a sea. But the same love causes misery when they are apart, misery that is even bigger than the sea sized pleasure.

அற்று – like
மற்று – later
அடு – trouble (caused by separation)

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