Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Thiurumandhiram – 1.2.3

Whole town gathered and lamented noisily,
Discarded the given name and called it a dead body,
Carried it to the cremation ground, burnt it to ashes,
Took a dip in the pond and forgot all about it.

ஊரெலாம் கூடி ஒலிக்க அழுதிட்டுப்
பேரினை நீக்கிப் பிணமென்று பேரிட்டுச்
சூரையங் காட்டிடைக் கொண்டுபோய்ச் சுட்டிட்டு
நீரினில் மூழ்கி நினைப்பொழிந் தார்களே.

This verse by Thirumoolar (dated generally to 8th century CE) talks about impermanence of life. Once a person is dead, the whole town gathers at his house and laments noisily. The moment the person is dead the given name is discarded and it becomes just a body. They carry it to the cremation ground, burn it to ashes. Then everyone takes a dip in the village pond to clean themselves and with that the dead person is forgotten.

சூரையங்காடு – சுடுகாடு – Cremation ground

Puranaanooru – 82

His pregnant wife needs his assistance;
Village festival too has begun;
Sunlight is fast fading in rainy season;
With all this in mind, sharp needle in the hands
of the lowly cot upholsterer moves swiftly;
Swifter than that moves the golden flower wearing mighty warrior
to fight the enemy who comes to conquer his town.

சாறுதலைக் கொண்டெனப் பெண்ணீற் றுற்றெனப்
பட்ட மாரி ஞான்ற ஞாயிற்றுக்
கட்டி னிணக்கு மிழிசினன் கையது
போழ்தூண் டூசியின் விரைந்தன்று மாதோ
ஊர்கொள வந்த பொருநனொ
டார்புனை தெரிய னெடுந்தகை போரே.

This verse is about the Chola King Porvaikko PeruNarKilli. A local chieftain Aamoor Mallan comes to attack the Chola king’s town. The poet says Killi did not delay going to face his enemy but moved swiftly as if he wanted to finish the job before the sun set. The simile he uses is of the lowly leather worker upholstering a cot. The worker’s wife is pregnant and he needs to be near her to help her. The village festival has begun and he wants to take part in it too. But the job at hand is holding him back. The sun is fading away quickly in the rainy season. If the sun sets, he can’t work further. With all this weighing in his mind, the needle in his hand moves in and out of the leather swiftly as if it has a mind of its own. Even swifter than that moves the Golden yellow flower (the clan flower of Chola Kings) wearing mighty Lord when the enemy is at the gates to conquer his town. He wants to finish him off in a day.

Each of the three Tamil Kings (Chera / Chola / Pandya) had their own clan flowers which they wore as a garland in the battlefield.

சாறு – festival
பெண் – woman (wife)
ஈற்று – pregnant
உற்று – suffering
மாரி – rain
ஞான்று – time of day (Sun set)
ஞாயிறு – sun
கட்டில் – cot
இணக்கு – bind together
இழிசினன் – lowly person (leather worker?)
போழ் – pass through
விரைந்து – swiftly
அன்று – different / more
பொருநன் – enemy combatant
ஆர் – Bauhinia racemosa flower / son patta flower / golden flower
புனை – wearing
நெடுந்தகை – mighty

Kurunthokai – 117

She misses him and her arms wane and bangles fall loose. Her friend tells her:

Your man is from the shores
Where a distressed wet crab fears
The watchful eyes of glistening lily like stork
And rushes to hide in its nest in shrub roots
Like a bull cutting loose of the cowherd’s rope;
If he doesn’t come here, it is fine!
Traders here have even smaller bangles.

மாரி ஆம்பல் அன்ன கொக்கின்
பார்வல் அஞ்சிய பருவரல் ஈர் ஞெண்டு
கண்டல் வேர் அளைச் செலீஇயர், அண்டர்
கயிறு அரி எருத்தின், கதழும் துறைவன்
வாராது அமையினும் அமைக!
சிறியவும் உள ஈண்டு, விலைஞர் கைவளையே.

He meets her on the sly for days but is not proceeding to the next step, asking her parents to wed her. Also he hasn’t come to meet her in a while. All this is making her whither and the bangles in her arm fall loose. So her friend tells her :

Your lover’s from the sea shore where white storks glistening with water droplets like lily flowers in rain look to hunt crabs. Fearing their eyes, the fearful wet crabs rush to hide in their nests in shrub roots. They rush like the bull that cuts loose from cowherd’s rope and running away. Like that you are afraid of the town’s gossip and are pining for him in your house. Don’t worry about the town’s gossip. If he doesn’t come it is fine. Even if your bangles drop loose because you are waning, traders here have smaller bangles that will stay in your arm.

மாரி – Rain
ஆம்பல் – Lily
கொக்கு – Stork
பருவரல் – fearful
ஞெண்டு – நண்டு – crab
கண்டல் – screw pine shrub
வேர் – root
அளை – hole in the ground, nest
அண்டர் – cow herd
கயிறு – rope
அரி – cut
எருது – bull
கதழ் – run fast
துறைவன் – man from the shore
ஈண்டு – here
விலைஞர் – trader
கைவளை – bangle

Puranaanooru – 187

Whether a settlement or a forest,
Whether shallow land or raised ground,
Wherever your men are good,
Blessed land, you are good too.

நாடா கொன்றோ காடா கொன்றோ
அவலா கொன்றோ மிசையா கொன்றோ
எவ்வழி நல்லவ ராடவர்
அவ்வழி நல்லை வாழிய நிலனே.

This poem by Avvayar, written around 2000 years ago, says that a land doesn’t have any innate characteristic of its own. It is as good as its citizens are. She says to the land – You are a settlement (inhabited) at some places, a forest (deserted) at others; depressed at some places, raised at others. You don’t have any defining characteristic. You are as good as the citizens who occupy you are.

நாடு – country / settlement
ஆக –
ஒன்றோ – (used as a conjunction)
காடு – forest
அவல் – shallow
மிசை – raised
ஆடவர் – men
நல்லை – good

Moodhurai – 29

Affectionate kith and kin, finest of wealth,
handsome looks, nobility of clan – all these
Arrive with Goddess of wealth when she arrives,
And depart with her when she departs
.

மருவினிய சுற்றமும் வான்பொருளும் நல்ல
உருவும் உயர்குலமு மெல்லாம்-திருமடந்தை
ஆம்போ தவளோடு மாகும் அவள்பிரிந்து
போம்போ தவளொடு போம்.

When Goddess of wealth decides to visit one, the best things of the world will be with him. Like affectionate relatives, finest of things, handsome looks and nobility of clan. But when she leaves one, all these things too leave. So do not think these are permanent.

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

மருவு – affectionate
இனிய – loving
சுற்றம் – relatives
வான் – excellent / finest
பொருள் – wealth
உரு – figure
உயர் குலம் – superior clan
திரு மடந்தை – goddess of wealth
ஆம் போது – ஆகும் போது – when she comes
போம் போது – போகும் போது – when leaves

Thirukkural – 400

Learning is the superior wealth that doesn’t decay;
Other forms of wealth are not equal to it.

கேடில் விழுச்செல்வங் கல்வி யொருவற்கு
மாடல்ல மற்றை யவை.

Education is one superior wealth for a person, as it doesn’t decay. All other forms of wealth will decay over time or can be taken away. Hence nothing is equal to learning.

கேடு – decay
இல் – இல்லாத – not
விழு – superior / excellent
செல்வம் – wealth
ஒருவற்கு – to a person
மாடு – wealth
அல்ல – not (equal)
மற்றையவை – others

Naaladiyaar – 64

When unqualified people malign them,
Wise men don’t get hot under the collar;
Lowly people though take it to heart,
repeat it all over town, get furious,
and slam themselves into a pillar in anger.

நேர்த்து நிகரல்லார் நீரல்ல சொல்லியக்கால்
வேர்த்து வெகுளார் விழுமியோர் – ஓர்த்தனை
உள்ளத்தான் உள்ளி உரைத்துராய் ஊர்கேட்பத்
துள்ளித்தூண் முட்டுமாம் கீழ்.

When some one who in unqualified thinks of himself as an equal and maligns, wise men don’t get angry and hot under the collar. They just ignore the words. But lowly people keep thinking of the slur uttered against them. They take the words to heart, keep repeating it all over the town, build up their anger and in their rage slam themselves into a nearby pillar. There is no point in taking the slurs uttered by unequal people to heart. To keep thinking of it only harms the person who was slurred against. It is wise to just ignore and move on.

Thirukkural – 339

Like falling asleep, is Death;
Like waking up from sleep, is Birth.

உறங்கு வதுபோலுஞ் சாக்காடு உறங்கி 
விழிப்பது போலும் பிறப்பு

Birth and death happen regularly in this world. They are inevitable. They are just like falling asleep and waking up. So don’t think that one will be here for ever.

உறங்குவது – To sleep
சாக்காடு – Death
விழிப்பது – To wake up
பிறப்பு – Birth

Thirukkural – 333

Of impermanent nature, is wealth; when one acquires it,
Do good that is permanent, right away.

அற்கா இயல்பிற்றுச் செல்வம்; அது பெற்றால்,
அற்குப ஆங்கே செயல்
.

Wealth is fickle by nature and will not stay with one person for long. So whenever one acquired it, they should immediately do good deeds that are permanent.

அல்குதல் – to stay / permanent
இயல்பு – nature
ஆங்கே – then itself / right away
செயல் – do

Thirukkural – 74

From love springs forth interest in fellow humans;
That effortlessly begets the gift of friendship of all.

அன்பு ஈனும் ஆர்வம் உடைமை; அது ஈனும்,
‘நண்பு’ என்னும் நாடாச் சிறப்பு.

When one’s heart is filled with love, one takes keen interest in others and empathises with them. This interest shown begets the friendship of all , without one consciously working towards it.

சிறப்பு can mean honour / esteem / special / gift. I have interpreted as gift, based on Devaneya Paavanar ‘s commentary.

அன்பு – love

ஈனும் – gives birth to

ஆர்வம் – interest

நாடா – unsought / effortless

சிறப்பு – gift

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