Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Thirukkural – 1048

Will it come today too, like it did yesterday,
poverty that sucked my life away!

இன்றும் வருவது கொல்லோ-நெருநலும்
கொன்றது போலும் நிரப்பு!

For கொன்றது – I have used ‘sucked my life away ‘ instead of literal meaning ‘killed’

கொல் – An affix implying doubt ( Will it)
நெருநல் – Yesterday
நிரப்பு – Poverty

Siddhar – SivaVakkiyar – 80

When a clay vessel falls , they still save the shards;
When a bronze vessel falls, they save it for future;
When this mortal vessel falls, they discard it saying it smells;
In such a worthless body that measures just eight hand spans, 
what an illusion of life you created, my Lord!

மண்கலம் கவிழ்ந்த போது வைத்து வைத்து அடுக்குவார்
வெண்கலம் கவிழ்ந்த போது வேணும் என்று பேணுவார்
நண்கலம் கவிழ்ந்த போது நாறும் என்று போடுவார்
எண்கலந்து நின்ற மாயம்என்ன மாயம் ஈசனே.

In this poem Siva Vakkiyar talks about the impermanence of human body. When a clay vessel falls and breaks, people still save the shards saying it might be useful some day. When a bronze vessel falls and is dented, they save it carefully for the future. But when this human body falls and dies, they immediately discard it saying it smells. In such a worthless body that measures just eight hand spans, what an illusion of life you created, My lord.

In the fourth line he uses just ‘எண் – eight’ to mean this body that measures eight spans. Each human body measures eight hand spans of its own hand. In Tamil this word எண் சாண் – eight hand spans is understood easily. But in English translation I had to make it a separate sentence to explain.

மண்கலம் – mud vessel
வெண்கலம் – bronze
நண்கலம் – நன் கலம் – good vessel / human body (This is no dictionary meaning. I’m extrapolating)
எண் – eight (for eight hand spans)

Silappathikaaram – Oor Soozh Vari: 53-58

Are there wise men here? Are there wise men here?
Are there wise men here? Are there wise men here
who nurture and care for others’ child?
Is there a God? Is there a God?
In this *town whose King unjustly killed (my husband)
Is there a God? Is there a God?

*Madurai

சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்? சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்?
ஈன்ற குழவி எடுத்து வளர்க்குறூஉம்
சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்? சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்?
தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்? தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்?
வை வாளின் தப்பிய மன்னவன் கூடலில்
தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்? தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்?’

This is the searing accusation of Kannaki on seeing her husband Kovalan’s body. Kovalan was wrongly accused of stealing the Queen’s anklet and was ordered to be killed by the Pandiya King without an enquiry. Kannaki learns of this and comes and laments over her husband’s dead body and curses the town. She asks “What sort of town is this? Are there wise men here who take care of even others’ children? In this high storeyed town (Madurai), whose King unjustly ordered my husband to be killed is there a God?”

After this she goes to the King’s court and proves with her other anklet that her husband was innocent. When the King learns that he has made a mistake, he dies instantly. Kannaki’s anger does not abate yet. She curses Madurai to be burnt down and Madurai burns.

சான்றோர் – Wise men
ஈன்ற குழவி – Birthed Child – Child born to others
கை வாளின் தப்பிய – cut with sword
கூடல் – நான்மாடக் கூடல் – Town with four towers – Madurai

Thirukkural – 740

Even if it has all the resources, it is of no use
for a country without a suitable ruler.

ஆங்கு அமைவு எய்தியக்கண்ணும் பயம் இன்றே-
வேந்து அமைவு இல்லாத நாடு.

This Kural is the last in the chapter titled “Country”. The previous couplets talk about resources needed for a country. In this Kural he says “Even if a country has all the above, it is of no use if it doesn’t have a suitable ruler”

Thirukkural – 553

A ruler who doesn’t check and redress injustice everyday,
will lose his realm day by day.

நாள்தொறும் நாடி, முறைசெய்யா மன்னவன்
நாள்தொறும் நாடு கெடும்.

நாடி – search / check
முறை செய்யா – doesn’t do justice
கெடும் – lose

Puranaanooru – 74

Even if a baby is stillborn or born unformed
it’d still be considered part of the Royal clan
and be inflicted with battle wound (before burying);
Will such a clan give birth to one who’s so weak
as to beg spiteful foes for water to quench his hunger;
foes who demean him by keeping him chained like a dog?

குழவி இறப்பினும், ஊன்தடி பிறப்பினும்,
‘ஆள் அன்று’ என்று வாளின் தப்பார்;
தொடர்ப் படு ஞமலியின் இடர்ப்படுத்து இரீஇய
கேள் அல் கேளிர் வேளாண் சிறு பதம்,
மதுகை இன்றி, வயிற்றுத் தீத் தணிய,
தாம் இரந்து உண்ணும் அளவை
ஈன்மரோ, இவ் உலகத்தானே?

This poem is attributed to Chera King Kanaikkal Irumporai. He loses the battle of ThirupPorpPuram to Chola King Chenkanaan and is taken prisoner. He is kept chained in prison and has to request his captors for water. He decides to give up his life instead of living in such abject condition. He says “In Royal clans, even a stillborn baby or one born unformed will be inflicted with battle wound before being buried. Will such a clan give birth to one who is reduced to beg for food and water from spiteful foes who instead of killing him honorably in the battlefield, keep him chained like a dog and demean him? I’d rather give up my life than live so abjectly.”

Dying in battle was the biggest honor for men from martial clans. So even a stillborn baby was inflicted with a battle wound before being buried.

குழவி – baby
ஊன்தடி – unformed flesh
வாளின் தப்பார் – won’t escape the sword (be inflicted with battle wound)
தொடர் – linked (chained)
ஞமலி – dog
இடர்ப்படுத்து – distress (demean)
கேள் அல் – unfriendly (spiteful)
கேளிர் – friends(used sarcastically here, hence I used foes)
வேளாண் – charity / benificence
மதுகை இன்றி – without strength (weak)
இரந்து – beg
ஈன் – give birth

Naaladiyaar – 222

 

Though fresh flood breaks canal banks again and again,
those who depend on water for livelihood don’t curse it,
but build the banks again and again;
One whom we’ve chosen as a good friend, we bear with,
though they exasperate us again and again.

செறுத்தோறு உடைப்பினும், செம் புனலோடு ஊடார்,
மறுத்தும் சிறைசெய்வர், நீர் நசைஇ வாழ்நர்;-
வெறுப்ப வெறுப்பச் செயினும், பொறுப்பரே,
தாம் வேண்டிக் கொண்டார் தொடர்பு.

செறு – மடை – canal(?). Not sure of the English word
தோறும் – again
புனல் – flood
ஊடார் – ஊடல் கொள்ள மாட்டார் – won’t get angry
மறுத்தும் – again
சிறை செய்வார் – build again
நசை – desire
வெறுப்பு – hate (I’ve used exasperate as it is meant for friends)

Nattrinai – 234

Think of the efforts by elders (of his clan)
and lofty fame of your own clan;
It’d be good if you accept gifts from his hills –
where waterfalls bring down rich gems –
and betroth this budding girl to him;
But if you decide based on their gifts ,
even majestic chariot riding Sembian’s
-who captured his foes’ standards in Kalumalam battle-
Panguni festival celebrating Urandhai
along with Ulli festival celebrating Vanji
will be lesser in value (for our girl).

சான்றோர் வருந்திய வருத்தமும் நுமது
வான்தோய்வு அன்ன குடிமையும் நோக்கித்
திருமணி வரன்றும் குன்றம் கொண்டிவள்
வருமுலை ஆகம் வழங்கினோ நன்றே
அஃதான்று,
அடைபொருள் கருதுவிர் ஆயின் குடையொடு
கழுமலம் தந்த நற்றேர்ச் செம்பியன்
பங்குனி விழவின் உறந்தையொடு
உள்ளி விழவின் வஞ்சியும் சிறிதே.

He is from hill country. Her folks are from the plains. They belong to different clans. Both of them have fallen in love. He has send elders from his clan to her house, with gifts, asking for her hand in marriage. Her father and brothers aren’t receptive. They aren’t aware of the couple’s love affair. But her mother knows. This poem is her mother telling them to accept the wedding proposal.

“These elders have taken such pains to walk all the way to our house and brought gifts for our daughter. Think of that. Also think of the name and fame of our clan. Taking these factors into account it would be better if you accept for marriage proposal of our budding daughter with the man from the hills. His hills are so rich that the flowing waterfalls rake in gems from the hills. If you think that these gifts that they have brought in aren’t valuable enough, there are no gifts that are equal in value to our daughter. Even Panguni festival celebrating Sembian’s (Chola King) Urandhai and Ulli festival celebrating Cheran’s Vanji are no match for our daughter”.

”இவள் வருமுலை ஆகம்” – ‘This girl’s body with budding breasts’. I’ve used budding girl. Her mother hints that her daughter is in love with him, by saying “consider the pride of our clan”. With ‘waterfalls that rake in gems’, she hints that his country is wealthy enough to give her daughter in marriage to him.

Today is Panguni Uttharam festival in Tamil Nadu. It is celebrated across Murukan temples in the month of Panguni. This poem is one of the earliest mentions of Panguni festival celebrated in the banks of Cauvery river near Urandhai (present day Uraiyur, Tiruchi). From the description in Akanaanooru – 137, it must have been a festival heralding arrival of summer that later morphed into a festival in Murukan temples. Vanji is generally thought to be near present day Kodungallur in Kerala. Karur in Tamil Nadu was also called Vanji later.

சான்றோர் – Elders
வருத்தம் – painstaking efforts
வான்தோய்வு – sky high / lofty
குடிமை – clan (pride)
திருமணி – rich gems
வரன்றுதல் – வரன்டுதல் – rakes up / gathers
வருமுலை – budding breast
ஆகம் – body
அடைபொருள் – gifts received
குடையொடு – (enemy king’s) Royal Parasol
நற்றேர் – நல்ல தேர் – majestic chariot
செம்பியன் – Chola King
பங்குனி விழவு – Panguni festival
உறந்தை – Urandhai (present day Uraiyur, Trichy)
உள்ளி விழவு – Ulli festival (not sure what it is)
சிறிது – lesser

Nammalwar – Thiruvai Mozhi – 3381

Oh Gods, what shall I do? This night stands like seven aeons
in front of me and weakens my soul;
My Kannan, with chakra* in his hands, hasn’t come too;
Caressing cool breeze singes me, hotter than a fiery blaze.

தெய்வங்காள் என்செய்கேன்? ஓர்இரவு ஏழ்ஊழியாய்
மெய்வந்து நின்று எனதாவி மெலிவிக்கும்
கைவந்த சக்கரத்துஎன் கண்ணனும் வாரானால்
தைவந்த தண்தென்றல் வெம்சுடரில் தான்அடுமே.

This is a verse from Nammalwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi. Nammalwar is the most prolific of the 12 Alwars (Vaishnavite Saints) and has penned 1352 of the 4000 verses in Vaishnavite canon.

In this set of verses he imagines himself as a woman in love with Krishna. She says “Oh Gods! What shall I do now. This night stretches like seven aeons in front of me. This night weakens my soul as Krishna, with Chakra in his hand, hasn’t come to meet me. Because of his absence, even this cool breeze singes me much hotter than a fiery blaze.”

தைவந்த – is interpreted as ‘caressing’ in Vaishnavite commentaries, though I can’t find that meaning in Tamil lexicon. My instict was to interpret it as ‘cool breeze in the month of Thai’. But I’ve gone with the standard commentaries.

ஊழி – aeon
ஆவி – soul / spirit
மெலிவிக்கும் – மெலிவு செய்யும் – weakens
தண்தென்றல் – cool breeze
வெஞ்சுடர் – fiery blaze
அடும் – burns

Thirumandhiram – 8.8.21

Majestic toy-elephant conceals the wood
Majestic toy-elephant vanishes in the wood
Worldly elements conceal the divine
Worldly elements vanish in the divine.

மரத்தை மறைத்தது மாமத யானை
மரத்தில் மறைந்தது மாமத யானை
பரத்தை மறைத்தன பார்முதல் பூதம்
பரத்தில் மறைந்தன பார்முதல் பூதமே .

This is an oft quoted verse from Thirumoolar’s Thirumandhiram, dated to around 5th Century CE. When one sees a toy elephant, one doesn’t see the wood out of which the toy is made. The artisan’s skill makes one believe it is an elephant, not a chunk of wood. When one realises that it is nothing but a chunk of wood, the elephant vanishes from sight. Similarly, when one sees only the worldly elements that make up this world, one doesn’t realise the divine. They think that only the elements are real. But when one realises the divine, the elements vanish in the divine.

பார் முதல் பூதம் – 5 physical elements (air,land,water,sky,fire).

Thirumoolar lived around 5th Century AD (though there’s lot of debate about the chronology). He penned over 3000 verses, collected together as Thirumandhiram. This forms the 10th Thirumurai of the Saivite canon

பார் – World
பரம் – The Divine / Omnipresent

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