Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Kambaramayanam – 4307

O’ creeper swaying gently in the monsoon winds,
you enter my soul and taunt me with your blooms;
Like the waist of my radiant faced beloved do you sway;
Tell me, are you trying to weaken my soul away?

மழை வாடையொடு ஆடி, வலிந்து, உயிர்மேல்,
நுழைவாய்; மலர்வாய் நொடியாய் – கொடியே! –
இழை வாள் நுதலாள் இடைபோல் இடையே
குழைவாய்; எனது ஆவி குழைக்குதியோ?

After Sita has been kidnapped by Ravana, Rama and Lakshmana go in search of her in the forest. With the arrival of monsoon, everything Rama sees reminds him of Sita. In this set of verses of he laments nature that reminds him of his beloved. Here he looks at the creeper gently swaying in the monsoon wind and that reminds him of her slender waist.

“O’ Creeper! You sway in the rain bearing monsoon winds and that sight enters my parched soul. You taunt me with fresh blooms in your stalks while I pine for Sita. You sway back and forth like the waist of my Sita, she whose forehead is radiant and adorned with jewels. You swing harmoniously this way and that way. Tell me! By reminding me of her, are you trying to torment and weaken my soul, turning it to a pulp?”

“Weaken away” is a poor translation of குழைக்குதியோ which literally means “turning to mush”. I might change this when I get a better phrase. If you can read Tamil, utter this phrase ”குழைவாய்! எனது ஆவி குழைக்குதியோ” and relish the alliteration of your language.

மழை – rain
வாடை – cool northerly wind
வலிந்து – sway
மலர்வாய் – you bloom
நொடியாய் – Tell me
இழை – jewelled
வாள் நுதல் – radiant forehead
இடையே குழைவாய் – swing / sway back and forth
குழைக்குதியோ – turning to mush

Thirukkural – 332

 

Accrual of riches is like crowds thronging theater halls;
It departs too the same way once screen falls.

கூத்தாட்டு அவைக்குழாத் தற்றே பெருஞ்செல்வம் 
போக்கும் அதுவிளிந் தற்று.

This Kural is under the chapter Impermanence. Great wealth accrues to a person like crowds thronging a theater hall. But the crowd is not permanent. It departs once the show is over. Similarly wealth doesn’t stay with one person forever.

கூத்து – drama / theater
அவை – hall
குழாம் – crowd
பெரும் செல்வம் – great wealth
போக்கு – goes away / departs
விளி – over / (screen falls)

Thirukkural – 1196

 

One sided love is misery; if matched evenly
On both sides, like kavadi*, it is blessed.

ஒருதலையான் இன்னாது, காமம்; காப் போல
இருதலையானும் இனிது.

*Kavadi – pole carried on shoulder by devotees with sacrificial offerings on both ends. (Hindi – Kanvar?)

He has gone away to earn wealth. She pines for him. She says “Only I pine for him. He doesn’t think about me. One sided love is nothing but misery. Love is blessed when it is matched evenly on both sides, like the kavadi”

இன்னாது – painful
கா – kavadi

 

 

Kambaramayanam – 5278

Ravana pleading his love to Sita in Asoka Vanam

Many todays have passed; many tomorrows have passed;
Yet this is the mercy you offer me;
Will you become one with me
Only after I pass away
Killed by the misery you cause me?
Tell me, O’ Woman whose reddened eyes cause me grief,
Swinging back and forth to your ear rings.

இன்று இறந்தன நாளை இறந்தன
என் திறம் தரும் தன்மை இதால்; எனைக்
கொன்று இறந்தபின் கூடுதியோ? குழை
சென்று இறங்கி மறம் தரு செங்கணாய்!

After Ravana has carried Sita away to Lanka, he has her imprisoned in Asoka Vanam. Hanuman is sent by Rama to find Sita. After reaching Lanka, Hanuman searches around and finally find Sita in Asoka Vanam. While he is there, Ravana comes to plead his love to Sita. That’s where this verse appears.

Ravana tells Sita, “I have waited for many days thinking today will be the day you will accept my love. I have waited for many days thinking hopefully tomorrow will be the day you will accept me. Yet you haven’t accepted my love. This is the mercy you have shown me. Will you unite with me only after you kill me by the pain caused by your refusal? You have been shedding tears thinking of Rama. Hence your eyes are reddened. Frightened on seeing me, those eyes swing back and forth all the way to your ear rings. This is causing me further grief.”

As you can see, Kamban uses sparse words to capture this emotion. I have had to elaborate in my translation to capture all that brevity.

இறந்தன – passed away / die
திறம் – mercy
கூடு – join / unite
குழை – ear ring
மறம் – pain
செங்கணாய் – red eyed woman

Thirukkural – 151

Like Earth that bears with those who dig her up,
To bear with the scornful is the best of virtue. 

அகழ்வாரைத் தாங்கும் நிலம் போல, தம்மை
இகழ்வார்ப் பொறுத்தல் தலை.

Though people dig earth up, yet earth carries them with patience. Similarly to bear with those who are scornful towards one is the topmost virtue. It is not easy though.

அகழ் – to dig / excavate
தாங்கும் – supports, carries / bear
நிலம் – earth
இகழ் – mock / scorn
பொறுத்தல் – bear

Thirukkural – 1118

 

If you can shine as bright as this girl’s face,
You too shall be my beloved, O’ moon.

மாதர் முகம்போலொளிவிட வல்லையேல்
காதலை வாழி மதி.

O’ Moon, You wax and wane, have spots in your face. If you’re able to shine as bright as this girl’s face, then you too shall become my love. But you can’t. So she’s my only love.

வல் – able

வல்லையேல் – if you’re able

Thirukkural – 896

Even if engulfed in a fire, one may escape;
But those who cause grief to noble men, cannot escape.

எரியான் சுடப்படினும், உய்வு உண்டாம்; உய்யார்,
பெரியார்ப் பிழைத்து ஒழுகுவார்.

Even if one is caught in a fire and singed, there is a chance for him to escape and survive. But causing grief to noble men is a sin from which there is no escape. One who indulges in it will have to suffer the consequences.

எரி – flame
சுடப் படினும் – even if burned
உய்வு – escape
உய்யார் – உய்ய மாட்டார் – 2will not escape
பிழைத்து – cause grief
ஒழுகுவார் – to do / act

Thirukkural – 1140

They laugh at me in front of my eyes, these dolts –
Since what I suffer, they don’t.

யாம் கண்ணின் காண நகுப, அறிவு இல்லார்-
யாம் பட்ட தாம் படாவாறு.

She tells to herself these idiots (her friends) laugh at me because they don’t suffer the pangs of love as I do

கண்ணின் காண – in front of my eyes
நகு – to laugh
படா – don’t feel

Kambaramayanam – 4464

“Those who give up their vices consciously
Will be freed from cycle of rebirth”
Proclaim faultless philosophers and scriptures;
Yet, removing the wiggling worms from toddy,
I drink and find (false) solace in it,
Like those who put out fire by pouring oil in it.

“‘தெளிந்து தீவினையைச் செற்றோர்
         பிறவியின் தீர்வர் “ என்ன,
விளிந்து இலா உணர்வினோரும்,
         வேதமும், விளம்பவேயும்,
நெளிந்து உறை புழுவை நீக்கி
        நறவு உண்டு நிறைகின்றேனால்
அளிந்து அகத்து எரியும் தீயை
       நெய்யினால் அவிக்கின்றாரின்.

Rama agrees to help Sugreevan defeat his brother Vali in return for Sugreevan helping him find Sita. Rama kills Vali and Sugreeva is made King. He forgets his promise to Rama and indulges in revelry. Rama gets angry and sends Lakshmana to enquire. Seeing an angry Lakshmana marching towards the fort, Angadan goes and wakes up Sugreevan. Sugreevan lies senseless. So Angadan asks Hanuman to help out. Hanuman send Tara and other women to stop Lakshmana since he knows Lakshmana won’t fight women. As Tara explains that Sugreevan has sent spies all over in search of Sita, Lakshmanan cools down a bit. Then Hanuman comes and assuages him. Angadan goes again to wake up Sugreevan. Sugreevan wakes up this time and asks why wasn’t he informed earlier of Lakshmana’s arrival. Angadan says “You were drunk senseless when I tried to wake you up”. Sugreevan castigates himself miserably in this verse.

“Wise men have said that those who have thought through worldly matters and decided to give up their vices will be freed from cycle of rebirth. Scriptures too say the same. Yet even after knowing all this, I still gave in to this vice of drinking. See this toddy. Worms wiggle at its surface. Still I removed those worms and drank myself seeking false contentment. My action is like that of one who sees his house on fire and tries to put it out with oil. It will only burn more”

தெளிந்து – who think and decide / consciously
தீவினை – vices
செற்றோர் – those who give up
பிறவியின் தீர்வர் – escape birth cycle
விளிந்து இலா – fault less
வேதம் – Vedas / scriptures
விளம்ப – say
நெளிந்து – wiggling
உறை – reside
புழு – worm
நறவு – toddy
நிறைகின்றேன் – become content
அளிந்து – blazing
அகத்து எரியும் – burns at home
நெய் – oil
அவி – put out

Kalingathu p Parani – 54

Sweet words stutter, sharp eyes redden, lips pale;
Oh’ women! Nectar of your lips
Has turned to wine, m
aking you lose your senses;
Open your doors!

மதுர மானமொழி பதற வான்விழிசி
வப்ப வாயிதழ்வெ ளுப்பவே
அதர பானமது பான மாகஅறி
வழியு மாதர்கடை திறமினோ.

The poet is in town to praise the valor of victorious Chola army in the battle of Kalinga. (1110 CE) He asks the women to open their doors and listen to their men’s valor. In this poem he says “Because of your love making, you have started stammering your sweet words. Your sharp eyes have turned red and your lips have paled in the act of love making. The nectar of your mouth has become wine and has made you lose your senses. That’s why you are still asleep. Please open your doors and listen the valorous deeds of your army”

Kalingathu p Parani is a short literary work (சிற்றிலக்கியம்) written by Poet Jayamkondar in 12th century. It is written in praise of Kulothunga Cholan’s general Karunakara Thondaiman who invaded and conquered Kalinga country (present day Orissa). Poems 21-74 are the bard calling the women of Kanchi (present day Kancheepuram, the town of Karunakara Thondaiman) to open their doors and hear the valor of their hero. These 54 poems are erotically charged. The next chapters of the work are gory descriptions of battle field and the ghosts getting together for a feast of dead bodies.

Parani is a form of poetic work that is sung in praise of a warrior. It is generally named after the battle. Since this about the battle of Kalinga, it is called Kalingathup Parani.

மதுரம் – sweet
பதற – stumble / stutter
வான்விழி – வாள் + விழி –  sword eyes (sharp eyes)
சிவப்ப – redder
வெளுப்ப – whiten / pale
அதர பானம் – அதரம் + பானம் – lip’s liquid (nectar)
மது பானம்  – liquor / winw
அறிவழியும் – அறிவு +அழியும் – lose sense
கடை – Door
திறமின் – Open

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