Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Kurunthokai – 2

O’ exquisitely winged bee,
You judiciously suck honey!
Tell me not what I wish to hear,
But truth as you know crystal clear:
This girl who I’m rightfully in love with,
– She of peacock’s grace, and perfect teeth –
Do you know of flowers more fragrant than her tresses.

கொங்கு தேர் வாழ்க்கை அஞ்சிறைத் தும்பி!
காமம் செப்பாது, கண்டது மொழிமோ:
பயிலியது கெழீஇய நட்பின், மயில் இயல்,
செறி எயிற்று, அரிவை கூந்தலின்
நறியவும் உளவோ, நீ அறியும் பூவே?

They are meeting secretly. She is shy, he is desperate. He gets close to her and smells her hair. He sees a bee buzzing around the flower string in her hair. He asks the bee “O’ bee with beautiful wings! You are selective in choosing honey flowers to suck. I have a doubt. Tell me the truth as you’ve known. Don’t tell me what I want to hear because you are in my country. This girl whom I am in love with is grace ful like a peacock. Her teeth are even and perfect. Is there any flower that you have seen that is more fragrant than the hair of this girl?”

I have taken some liberties in translation and sacrificed form to make the poem read fluently in English. There is no ‘crystal clear’ in the original poem.

Most of the Tamils would have heard this beautiful poem, but in a different context. In Thiruvilayadal Puranam, written in 16th century, this poem is imagined as the one given by Shiva to poet Dharumi to present in Pandiyan’s court to clear his doubt. Which is opposed by Pandiyan’s minister Nakkeeran; since he questioned the poem penned by Shiva himself, Nakkeeran was burnt to ashes by Shiva. All I can say is it was a product of fertile imagination. The 1965 ‘Thiruvilayadal’ movie further cemented this story.

கொங்கு – honey
தேர் – select
அஞ்சிறை – அம் + சிறை – beautiful wing
காமம் – desire
செப்பாது – don’t tell
மொழிமோ – tell
பயிலியது – to get to know
கெழுமை – rightful
நட்பு – love
இயல் – style / nature
செறி – close
எயிறு – teeth
அரிவை – Girl
நறியவும் – more fragrant

Thirumangai Alwar – 2016

Like inky sea and sapphire-laden hills and dark clouds,
Like attractive water lily and dark kaya* flowers,
is dark Meyyaan^, in the hill of Meyyam^^, holding a conch in his hand;
Hands that don’t worship him, we know, aren’t hands at all.

மையார் கடலும் மணிவரையும் மாமுகிலும்,
கொய்யார் குவளையும் காயாவும் போன்றிருண்ட
மெய்யானை, மெய்ய மலையானைச் சங்கேந்தும்
கையானை, கைதொழா கையல்ல கண்டாமே.

*Kaya flower – Flowers of Ironwood tree
^Meyyaan – Thiru Meyyan – Lord of Thirumayam temple
^Meyyam – Thirumayam (town near Pudukkottai)

This verse by Thirumangai Alwar sings the praise of Perumal, the lord of Thirumayam temple. He is called Thiru Meyyar there. The lord is dark hued – like the inky sea, sapphire-laden hills, dark clouds, water lilies and kaya flowers. Hands that don’t pray to him are not hands at all, they are just waste

Kayamboo

Kaya flower (Ironwood tree flower)

SONY DSC

Bluewater lily

Thirukkural – 995

Mockery hurts, even if done in jest; considerate people
behave courteously. even to their foes.

நகையுள்ளும் இன்னாது, இகழ்ச்சி; பகையுள்ளும்
பண்பு உள, பாடு அறிவார் மாட்டு.

Mocking a person hurts them, even if it is done in jest. So those who are considerate of other people behave courteously even to their foes.

நகை – laughter / joke
இன்னாது – grief
இகழ்ச்சி – mockery
பகை – enemy / foe
பாடு அறிவார் – those who know the right way (considerate)

Siddhar – Pattinaththaar – Thiruvekamba Malai – 7

When we’re born we bring nothing,
When we die we take nothing;
Wealth made in between is a gift of Shiva
They don’t realise, and hoard it till they die;
What shall I tell these misers, Kanchi Ekambara?

பிறக்கும்பொழுது கொடுவந்ததில்லைப் பிறந்துமண்மேல் 
இறக்கும்பொழுது கொடுபோவதில்லை இடைநடுவில் 
குறிக்கும்இச் செல்வம் சிவன்தந்த தென்று கொடுக்கறியாது 
இறக்குங் குலாமருக்கென் சொல்லுவேன்கச்சி ஏகம்பனே.

This Pattinaththaar poem is part of a collection sung in praise of the deity of Kanchi Ekambara Nathar temple. He says “We bring nothing when we are born. We take nothing when we die. All that we make in between is a gift of Lord Shiva. But these misers don’t realise and do not give their wealth away. What shall I tell them?”

குலாமர் – Miser (slave to wealth, probably from Arabic word Gulam – Slave)

கச்சி – காஞ்சிபுரம் – Kanchipuram

ஏகம்பன் – ஏகாம்பர நாதர் – Ekambara Nathar (Name of Shiva in Kanchipuram temple)

Naaladiyaar – 259

Though a flower overflows with honey and is fragrant,
A fly doesn’t go for it but desires lowly stuff; like that,
For those whose heart is full of base thoughts,
What’s the use of honeyed words of advice uttered by the wise?

பொழிந்து இனிது நாறினும், பூ மிசைதல் செல்லாது,
இழிந்தவை காமுறூஉம் ஈப்போல், இழிந்தவை-
தாம் கலந்த நெஞ்சினார்க்கு என் ஆகும், தக்கார் வாய்த்
தேன் கலந்த தேற்றச் சொல் தேர்வு?

Ainthinai Ezhupathu – 23

Dark clouds have started pouring, monsoon is here;
Riding his horse whose bells sound like noisy toads,
Won’t my lover come today to alleviate my sickness?
Not a bangle stays in my arms.

தேரைத் தழங்குரல் தார் மணி வாய் அதிர்ப்ப,
ஆர்கலி வானம் பெயல் தொடங்கி, கார் கொள,
இன்று ஆற்ற வாரா விடுவார்கொல், காதலர்?
ஒன்றாலும் நில்லா, வளை.

He has gone away in summer to earn money, promising that he will come back by the time monsoon starts. Now the clouds have darkened it has started pouring. Monsoon is here. He hasn’t come yet. She is pining for him. She asks her friend, “The monsoon is here. Won’t he come today to alleviate my sickness? I’m so weak that not a single bangle stays in my arm, they are all falling down”

The first line in the Tamil poem (which I have made second line in translation) is packed with description. She wants him to ride fast and reach her. As he rides fast, sleigh bells in his horse’s neck sound noisily, like toads croaking in monsoon season. It isn’t specified in the poem whether he is riding a chariot or a horse. Earlier commentators have taken in as horse driven chariot. I couldn’t work it into the translation.

தேரை – toad
தழங்குரல் – தழங்கு + குரல் – sounding noise
தார்மணி – bells worn by horse
வாய் அதிர்ப்ப – sounding
ஆர்கலி வானம் – rainy clouds
பெயல் – to pour
கார் – monsoon
ஆற்ற – to alleviate

 

Thirukkural – 1287

Like those who dive into a stream aware that they’ll be washed away,
What’s the use of lover’s tiff when I’m aware it’s a sham.

உய்த்த லறிந்து புனல்பாய் பவரேபோற் 
பொய்த்த லறிந்தென் புலந்து.

She resignedly tells herself, there’s no point in pretending to be angry with him. The moment I see him all my anger will vanish and I will give in. It’s like one who jumps into a river, though they are aware that they will be washed away. I can’t help it.

உய்த்தல் – carried away

புனல் – stream

பொய்த்தல் – false (sham)

புலத்தல் – tiff

Nanmanik Kadigai – 48

Fragrance reveals presence of a flower;
Uttered words reveal one’s ability;
If examined, mind reveals its evils; nothing reveals
thoughts in advance like one’s face.

நாற்றம் உரைக்கும், மலர் உண்மை; கூறிய
மாற்றம் உரைக்கும், வினை நலம்; தூக்கின்,
அகம் பொதிந்த தீமை மனம் உரைக்கும்; முன்னம்
முகம் போல முன் உரைப்பது இல்.

Presence of a flower is known by its fragrance. Similarly one’s ability to do a works is revealed by words he uses. When one looks into his mind and examines closely, his evil thoughts are revealed to himself. Nothing reveals one’s thoughts to the world like his face.

Kambaramayanam – 595

Lethal spear, the God of death, and all such things
will be vanquished by her joyous eyes,
that are beyond words to describe.
Hills and walls and hard stones and grass,
all melt in her presence, with such poise
did the luscious lady stand.

கொல்லும் வேலும் கூற்றமும்
      என்னும் இவை எல்லாம்,
வெல்லும் வெல்லும் என்ன
      மதர்க்கும் விழி கொண்டாள்,
சொல்லும் தன்மைத்து அன்று அது;
     குன்றும் சுவரும் திண்
கல்லும் புல்லும் கண்டு உருகப்,
    பெண் கனி நின்றாள்.

Kamban describing Sita standing in the balcony, before Rama sets his eyes on her. Her charming eyes are so powerful that they vanquish lethal spears and even God of death. They are beyond words to describe. Her regal presence is such that even non living things such as hills, walls, hard stones and tender grass melt in her presence.

Kamban doesn’t say just Girl – பெண். He uses பெண் கனி – fruit like lady. The word கனி – fruit, brings to mind fresh, tender, juicy, sweet and so many other qualities. I’ve used ‘luscious lady’ as an equivalent.

கூற்றம் – Death / God of death
மதர்ப்பு  – joyous
தன்மைத்து – quality
திண் கல் – hard stone

Naaladiyaar – 215

To bloom like a tree flower and never close back
is friendship; once a friend, forever a friend;
Those who bloom initially and then close back,
like a pond flower, none likes or befriends.

கோட்டுப்பூப் போல மலர்ந்துபிற் கூம்பாது
வேட்டதே வேட்டதாம் நட்பாட்சி;- தோட்ட
கயப்பூப்போல் முன்மலர்ந்து பிற்கூம்பு வாரை
நயப்பாரும் நட்பாரும் இல்.

Good friends are like flowers that bloom on trees. Ones those flowers open up, they remain open till they whither and fall. Like wise good friendship remains steadfast, always open. Those who are friends initially and then shut down are like flowers that bloom in a pond – lilies or lotus. They bloom and close back. No body likes or befriends such people.

கோடு – Tree
கூம்புதல் – close
வேட்டல் – வேட்கை – விரும்புதல் – desire (friend)
கயம் – pond
நயப்பார் – like
இல் – இல்லை – no one

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