Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Thirukkural – 1273

Like the thread that gleams through gems strung,
something gleams in this girl’s beauty, unsung.

மணியுள் திகழ்தரும் நூல்போல், மடந்தை
அணியுள் திகழ்வது ஒன்று உண்டு.

The thread through which the gems are strung is not directly visible to the eye, but it shines through the light of the gems. Similarly there is something that radiates through this girls beauty (which cannot be explained).

‘Unsung’ is not explicit in the original Kural. I have made it explicit in the translation.

Devaneya Paavaanar interprets அணி – post coital glow. That adds an extra layer to the Kural.

மணி – gem / necklace of gems strung together
திகழ் – shine / glimmer
மடந்தை – girl
அணி – beauty
ஒன்று உண்டு  – Something there

A profile in The Hindu Business Line

Shriya Mohan of The Hindu Business Line interviewed me and wrote a profile, as part of their poetry special edition. Here it is. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/cover/tamizh-on-my-timeline/article26542548.ece

Naaladiyaar – 223

Even if a friend causes us much grief,
To put up with them is worth it; My Lord!
Bees buzz around bright flowers in your country’s tall peaks;
Patience of one saves friendship of two.

இறப்பவே தீய செயினும், தன் நட்டார்
பொறுத்தல் தகுவது ஒன்று அன்றோ?-நிறக் கோங்கு
உருவ வண்டு ஆர்க்கும் உயர் வரை நாட!-
ஒருவர் பொறை இருவர் நட்பு.

This verse is under the chapter நட்பிற் பிழைபொறுத்தல் – Bearing with faults in friendship. The poet says “One whom we have chosen as friend, even if they causes us much grief, it is worth to put up with them. If one person is patient, he saves the friendship between the two.”

The third  line is interesting. It is a description of the ruler’s country. It also means ‘though the flowers are at a height, bees go to them and buzz around. Similarly though a friend is at fault, we have to bear with them for the sake of friendship’.

இறப்பு – much / lot
தீய – grief
நட்டார் – நட்பு உடையவர் – friend
தகுவது – worth
நிறக் கோங்கு – colourful flowers of kOngu tree (Red cotton tree)
உருவ வண்டு – beautiful bee
ஆர் – noise (buzz)
உயர் வரை – tall peaks
பொறை – Patience

Thiruvasagam – 10.2

If the Lord of the celestials had not in his compassion conquered me, 
What would have I been? What would my heart or knowledge be?
Who would’ve known me?
The Ruler of the world, who accepts alms in a broken skull – 
Go to his honeyed lotus like feet and hum his praise, O’ Royal Bee!

நானார்என் உள்ளமார் ஞானங்க ளார்என்னை யாரறிவார்
வானோர் பிரான்என்னை ஆண்டிலனேல் மதிமயங்கி
ஊனார் உடைதலையில் உண்பலிதேர் அம்பலவன்
தேனார் கமலமே சென்றூதாய் கோத்தும்பீ.

திருக்கோத்தும்பி  – ThirukkOthumbi is a set of 20 verses in Thiruvasagam, where Manickavasagar sings the praise of Lord Shiva in Chidambaram. In these verses he hails Lord Shiva and asks the Royal Bee to hum around the Lord.

In this verse he says “If Shiva, Lord of the celestials, had not taken pity on me and conquered my soul, what would I have been? What would my heart or knowledge be? Nothing. Who would have known me? No one. It is because of Lord Shiva I am all that I am. He is the Ruler of the world. He uses a broken human skull as begging bowl and accepts alms in it to eat.  O’ Royal bee, go to his feet and hum his praise like you hum around honeyed lotus flowers”

வானோர் பிரான் – Lord of the Celestials
ஆண்டிலனேல் – if he hadn’t conquered
மதிமயங்கி- Yield (his) head – become compassionate
ஊனார் உடைதலை – Broken skull with flesh sticking
உண்பலிதேர் – Food + Alms + Accept
அம்பலவன் – Ruler of the World
தேனார் கமலம் – honeyed Lotus
கோத்தும்பி – Royal Bee

Thirukkural – 1274

Like fragrance inside an yet to blossom bud,
There’s a hint in this girl’s budding smile.

முகைமொக்குள் உள்ளது நாற்றம்போல் பேதை
நகைமொக்குள் உள்ளதொன் றுண்டு.

This couplet is under the chapter குறிப்பு அறிவுறுத்தல் – Reading the signs. She is half smiling at him, keeping him on tenterhooks. He says it is like fragrance hidden inside a bud. When the bud blossoms, it will spread its fragrance. But one has to wait till then. Similarly, her half smile hints of her love, but he has to wait till she confirms it.

முகை & மொக்கு – both mean bud. Hence I have used ‘yet to blossom bud’. Could have used ‘unblossomed’, but that didn’t sound good to my ears.

முகை – bud
மொக்கு – bud
நாற்றம் – fragrance / scent
நகை – smile
உள்ளதொன்றுண்டு – உள்ளது ஒன்று உண்டு – there’s  something in it – a hint

Thirukkural – 1082

This stunning looker looking back at my ogling gaze
is like a mighty war goddess bringing an army too.

நோக்கினாள் நோக்கெதிர் நோக்குதல் தாக்கணங்கு
தானைக்கொண் டன்ன துடைத்து.

In the previous couplet, he first sees her and is perplexed whether she is a celestial or a splendid peacock or a human. She looks back at him. Now he is sure that she is a human being. He says, “Her beauty alone is enough to knock me out. On top of that she returns my stare and looks back at me. It is like a mighty war goddess who can win a victory on her own, bringing additional armies too to battle”. Her beauty is equated to war goddess and her looking back is equated to additional armies. Ogling is implied in the original verse, not explicit.

நோக்கினாள் – நோக்குமாறு வனப்பாய் இருப்பவள் – Beautiful / looker
நோக்கெதிர் – நோக்கு எதிர் – opposite (to my) gaze
நோக்குதல் – looking
தாக்கணங்கு – தாக்கும் அணங்கு -mighty war goddess
தானை – army
கொண்டன்னது – like bringing

நோக்கினாள் is interpreted by some commentators as ‘one whom I saw’ – என்னால் நோக்கப்பட்டவள். In that case the first line will read as “This girl whom I saw looking back at my ogling gaze..”

Nanmanik Kadigai 82

 

If you give, give food to the needy;
If you give up, give up affinity to earthly life;
If you aid, aid the needy among your kin;
If you destroy, destroy your anger.

கொடுப்பின் அசனங் கொடுக்க விடுப்பின்
உயிரிடை ஈட்டை விடுக்க எடுப்பிற்
கிளையுட் கழிந்தார் எடுக்க கெடுப்பின்
வெகுளி கெடுத்து விடல்.

அசனம் – food
ஈடு – attachment / affinity
எடுப்பு – lift up / aid
கிளை – relative / kin
வெகுளி – anger

Thirukkural – 1288

Though it causes shameful misery, dear to the reveler is toddy;
You rogue, so is your chest to me!

இளித்தக்க இன்னா செயினும் களித்தார்க்குக் 
கள்ளற்றே கள்வநின் மார்பு.

This couplet is in the chapter ‘Desire for reunion’ – ‘புணர்ச்சி விதும்பல்’. He has been away for long and is now back. She was angry with him for deserting her, but now that he is back all her anger vanishes. She says, “Though toddy makes one behave shamelessly and causes misery, it is still desired by the reveler. Similarly, though I remember the untold misery you have caused me, you rogue, I still desire to embrace your chest”

இளி – shame
இன்னா – misery
களித்தார் – reveler
கள் – toddy
கள்வ – rogue

Kambaramayanam – 3841

Her red painted toes
are corals in her lotus like feet;
She resides forever
in the blooming lotus that’s my heart;
Blossoms adorn her glorious dark braids;
O’ dark blue lily, you are like her eyes!
Then why do you torment me
With the poisonous spread that’s your smile.

பஞ்சு பூத்த விரல் பதுமம்
பவளம் பூத்த அடியாள் என்
நெஞ்சு பூத்த தாமரையின்
நிலையம் பூத்தாள், நிறம் பூத்த
மஞ்சு பூத்த மலர் பூத்த
குழலாள் கண்போல் மணிக் குவளாய்!
நஞ்சு பூத்தது ஆம் அன்ன
நகையால் என்னை நலிவாயோ.

Rama and Lakshmana search the forest after Sita has been kidnapped by Ravana. During their search they come to Pampa Lake in Kishkinta. The lake is full of Lotuses. They decide to stay there for the night. The lake and the lotuses remind Rama of Sita. He laments over losing her.

He looks at the blue water lily and says “O’ dark blue water Lily! You are like the eyes of my Sita. She whose red painted toes look like corals grown out of her lotus like soft feet.; she who forever resides in the blooming Lotus of my heart; she whose hair is dark like clouds and is beautifully adorned with flowers.  But her eyes would look at my pleasantly with love. But your smile (bloom) is like spreading poison that torments me by reminding of her. Why do you torment me so?”

Sita is the incarnation of Lakshmi who is depicted seated on a Lotus. So Rama says, she forever resides in the Lotus that is my heart.

The Tamil verse uses the word ‘பூத்த’ with multiple meanings – blooming, spreading, applied, growing. This gives a beautiful cadence when you read it out loud.

பஞ்சு பூத்த விரல் – செம்பஞ்சுக்குழம்பு ஊட்டிய விரல் – red painted toes
பதுமம் – Lotus
பவளம் பூத்த அடி – coral growing feet
என் நெஞ்சு பூத்த தாமரை – blooming lotus that’s my heart
நிலையம் பூத்தாள் – she who resides forever
நிறம் பூத்த – filled with (dark) colour, like clouds
மஞ்சு பூத்த – full of beauty / glorious
மலர் பூத்த குழலாள் – she whose hair is adorned with flowers
மணிக் குவளாய் – gem (dark blue) lily flower
நஞ்சு – posion
நகை – smile
நலிவாயோ – will you torment

Thirukkural – 600

Resolute will is one’s real strength; those who lack it
Are just trees, only their form is human.

உரம் ஒருவற்கு உள்ள வெறுக்கை; அஃது இல்லார்
மரம்; மக்கள் ஆதலே வேறு.

 

A person’s real strength is the strength of his spirit. Those who lack that strength ar just like trees. Only difference between trees and them is they are in human form.

உரம் – strength
உள்ள வெறுக்கை – big heart / resolute will

 

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