Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the tag “Kurunthokai”

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”

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

Kurunthokai – 4

Don’t grieve my heart, don’t grieve my heart;
don’t grieve that our lover who should wipe away
my eyelash singeing tears and cheer me,
is indifferent to my plight.

நோம், என் நெஞ்சே; நோம், என் நெஞ்சே;
இமை தீய்ப்பன்ன கண்ணீர் தாங்கி,
அமைதற்கு அமைந்த நம் காதலர்
அமைவு இலர் ஆகுதல், நோம், என் நெஞ்சே.

He hasn’t come as promised. She chides her heart not to grieve over him. He who should have wiped away her tears that are so hot that they singe her eyelashes and cheered her up is indifferent to her plight. So she asks her heart not to grieve over him.

Two phrases in this poem stand out for me.

இமை தீய்ப்பன்ன கண்ணீர் – eyelash singeing tears. Instead of simply saying ‘hot tears’, when the poet uses ‘ eyelash singeing tears’, the pain comes through more sharply.

The word play of அமைதற்கு அமைந்த நம் காதலர் அமைவு இலர் ஆகுதல் is hard to bring out in English. I have had to settle for prosaic words – “our lover who should cheer is indifferent”.


நோ(வு) – suffer , grieve

தீய்ப்பன்ன – burn like fire

தாங்கி – to stop (the tears)

அமைதல் – to be content

அமைந்த – to happen

அமைவு – support





Kurunthokai – 120

Like a pauper yearning for pleasure,
you wish for the unattainable, my heart!
My girl’s sweet, you realize;
that she’s hard to get, you don’t.

இல்லோன் இன்பம் காமுற்றாஅங்கு,
அரிது வேட்டனையால்-நெஞ்சே!-காதலி
நல்லள் ஆகுதல் அறிந்தாங்கு
அரியள் ஆகுதல் அறியாதோயே.

He’s returning after yet another secret rendezvous with her. He feels the pain of separation badly. He chides his heart to not wish for what is not attainable. He says “Like a pauper yearning for pleasure you yearn for her. You know that she is a pleasant girl. What you don’t know is that she is hard to get.”

இல்லோன் – இல்லாதவன் – pauper
காமுறுதல் – காமம் உறுதல் – desire / wish / yearn
வேட்ட ல் – desire
அரிது – rare / difficult / unattainable
நல்லள் – good / pleasant girl
அரியள் – hard to get girl

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.

Kurunthokai – 84

Her governess says after she has eloped:

When I tried to hug her again, she said “I’m sweaty”;
now I realise the reason why she,
fresher than lily flowers
and smelling of venkai** and kaantal**
in Āy’s* cloudy hills, was irked.

செவிலித்தாய் கூற்று:

பெயர்த்தனென் முயங்க, ”யான் வியர்த்தனென்” என்றனள்;
இனி அறிந்தேன், அது துனி ஆகுதலே-
கழல்தொடி ஆஅய் மழை தவழ் பொதியில்
வேங்கையும் காந்தளும் நாறி,
ஆம்பல் மலரினும் தான் தண்ணியளே.

*Āy – One of the seven benevolent chieftains in Sangam poetry.
** Venkai – yellow flower of Indian Kino (Venkai) tree
*** Kaantal – Flame lily flower

She has eloped with her lover. Her Governess laments and looks back at any hints that she had missed. “Yesterday when I tried to hug her repeatedly she said she was sweaty and pushed me off. I didn’t know the reason then why she who was fresh and fragrant, put me off. Now I realise the reason. She who valued the hug of her lover didn’t felt averse to me”

The word used for ‘fresh’ is தண்மை which literally means ‘cool’. In the temperate climate of Tamilnadu, being cool is pleasant. However in English translation, ‘ she was cool’ might be misread as being aloof. Hence I used fresh. King Āy is described as Arm band wearing Āy. I skipped that to maintain the brevity of the poem as in original.

Some Sangam poems are so cryptic that I depend on the commentaries to decipher them. In this poem there is no direct mention of Governess (செவிலித்தாய்) or daughter. The 11th century commentary for Kurunthokai has not been found. These are interpretations by commentary writers in 20th century. They were rigorous researchers and compared previous commentaries and cross verified before making these notes. The poem is classified under ‘Paalai Thinai’ (Arid landscape) associated with long journey across dry land. But What if it isn’t a Governess’ lament but a man grieving over lover’s tiff? The poem takes a different meaning. It is interesting to think so, though the purists would club me in the head.

Kurunthokai – 97

I am here all alone; 
my virtue grieves in the shore;
coastal chief is in his hamlet;
our affair’s a gossip in public square.

யானே ஈண்டையேனே; என் நலனே
ஆனா நோயொடு கானலஃதே.
துறைவன் தம் ஊரானே;
மறை அலர் ஆகி மன்றத்தஃதே

He has left her after their love has been consummated. He hasn’t come back as promised. The town has started to gossip about their affair. So she says to her friend “I am suffering here all alone. My reserve and virtue have deserted me and are in the shore sadly. The man from the coast is in his hamlet. Our affair is now a gossip in public square.”

When she says ‘virtue is in the shore’ she hints that that’s where their love was consummated. The brevity of the original poem is remarkable, almost like a Japanese Haiku.

Kurunthokai – 47

Her friend says:

Dark Vengai’s* yellow blossoms strewn on rock 
make it appear as big tiger cub in the forest
he crosses in his secretive night jaunts;
You aren’t helpful, O’ white moon who stays late.

* Vengai Tree – Indian Kino / Malabar Kino tree. Of dark trunks and Yellow flowers.

தோழி கூற்று:

கருங்கால் வேங்கை வீயுகு துறுகல்
இரும்புலிக் குருளையிற் றோன்றுங் காட்டிடை
எல்லி வருநர் களவிற்கு
நல்லை யல்லை நெடுவெண் ணிலவே.

Her friend says to the moon, “You are staying up longer than you normally do. In moonlight, the rocks on which yellow flowers of Vengai tree have fallen look like big tiger cubs (black rock strips visible amidst yellow flowers) and are frightening. He has to cross this forest at night to come and meet my friend. Your staying late isn’t helping anyway. You are unwelcome.” The implied meaning to him is “Don’t take risks crossing the forest in moon light. The towns people may see you. So expedite your marriage proposal to my friend.”

The original poem simply say’s ‘Dark Vengai’s blossoms’. I have added ‘yellow’ to make it easier to understand.



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