Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Thirukkural – 661

Strength needed for a job is one’s mental strength;
All else is secondary to that.

வினைத் திட்பம் என்பது ஒருவன் மனத் திட்பம்;
மற்றைய எல்லாம் பிற.

Manpower, equipment and all other strengths needed to do a job are secondary to one’s mental strength in completing it.


வினை – job / work
திட்பம் – strength

Thirukkural – 1217

The cruel one doesn’t bestow his affection in reality,
Then why in my dreams does he torment me?

நனவினா னல்காக் கொடியார் கனவினான்
என்னெம்மைப் பீழிப் பது.

He has been away for a while and she is pining for him. When she is awake his absence makes her sick. When she sleeps, he appears in her dreams and torments her further. This is her lament.

நனவு – reality
நல்குதல் – to bestow
கொடியர் – cruel one
கனவு – dream
பீழித்தல் – to torment

Pattinap Palai – 126-132

Like the monsoon season
When water scooped up by the clouds
Pours down the mountain
And water from the mountain
Flows back to the sea,
Countless variety of goods
In limitless quantities
Are offloaded from sea to land
And loaded from land to sea..

வான் முகந்த நீர் மலைப் பொழியவும்,
மலைப் பொழிந்த நீர் கடல் பரப்பவும்,
மாரி பெய்யும் பருவம் போல
நீரினின்றும் நிலத்து ஏற்றவும்,
நிலத்தினின்று நீர்ப் பரப்பவும்,
அளந்து அறியாப் பல பண்டம்
வரம்பு அறியாமை வந்து ஈண்டி,

These lines are from Pattinap Palai, a long poem written in praise of Chola King Karikala Cholan, generally dated to the beginning of Common Era. Pattinap Palai is one of the ten long poems (பத்துப்பாட்டு) that are part of Sangam literature.

These lines talk about the flourishing trade and wealth of Karikala’s kingdom. Water cycle is the simile used for import and export of goods. Water from sea evaporates, rises up as clouds and pours as rain down the mountain during rainy season. Rain pouring down the mountains runs back as river to the sea and completes the cycle. Similarly in Karikala’s customs house, goods from the ships offloaded to land (import) and goods from land to be loaded on ships are gathered in countless quantities under the hawk eye of the customs officials.

If you can read Tamil, you will realize that these lines written 2000 years ago are as fresh as those written yesterday. All the words used then are still in use now. I chose these lines to show the continuity of Tamil, the biggest strength of our language.

வான் – cloud
முகந்த – scooped
மாரி பெய்யும் பருவம் – rain pouring season / monsoon
பண்டம் – goods
வரம்பு – limit
ஈண்டி – gathered

Thirukkural – 1036

If hands of those who till their lands turn inactive,
Even those who renounced worldly pleasure, suffer.

உழவினார் கைம்மடங்கி னில்லை விழைவதூஉம்
விட்டேமென் பார்க்கும் நிலை.

If farmers stop tilling their lands and rest their hands idly, it will disturb everyone. Even monks who claim to have renounced worldly pleasures will find it difficult to carryout their duties in the absence of food.

உழவினார் – those who plough the land

கைம் மடங்கி – hands turn inactive

விழைவது – yearning / pleasure

விட்டேம் – gave up

என்பார்க்கும் – who say

நிலை இல்லை – can’t do their duty

Thirukkural – 1238

As I relaxed my embracing arms a bit,
Golden bangled lass’s forehead grew pale.

முயங்கிய கைகளை யூக்கப் பசந்தது
பைந்தொடிப் பேதை நுதல்.

He was hugging her tight, and thought it might hurt her. So he relaxed his arms. When his embrace loosened a bit, she thought he is going to take leave of her. That thought pained her immensely, and her forehead grew pale.

முயக்கம் – embrace / hug
ஊக்குதல் – loosen
பசந்தது – grew pale
பைந் தொடி – golden bangle (wearing girl)
நுதல் – forehead

Kambaramayanam – 1254

Town’s bustle doesn’t seem to abate;
Daybreak too is a long way away;
I can’t stop thinking of him,
there’s no dawn to this night;
My heartache doesn’t ease up
Nor does my life depart;
Eyes too don’t go to sleep,
Is this to be my fate?

பண்ணோ ஒழியா; பகலோ புகுதாது;
எண்ணோ தவிரா; இரவோ விடியாது;
உள் நோ ஒழியா; உயிரோ அகலா;
கண்ணோ துயிலா; இதுவோ கடனே


This verse is by Sita the night before her wedding to Rama. She is desperate for the daybreak to arrive and the wedding to happen. She laments in love sickness “This town doesn’t understand my love sick heart. Every one seems to be up and about joyously. The bustle of the town doesn’t seem to die down. I’m desperate for day break to arrive, but it seems to be a long way away. In the mean while his thoughts consume me and I can’t stop thinking of him. This night seems to be never ending. My heart aches for him but there is no remedy to ease it up. Unable to suffer this sweet pain, I want to die but my life doesn’t let go of me too. Nor do my eyes go to sleep. Is it my fate to suffer like this?”

பண் – noise
ஒழி – end
புகு – arrive
எண் – thoughts
தவிர் – avoid
உள் நோ(வு) – inner pain / heart ache
துயில் – sleep
கடன் – destiny / fate

Thirukkural – 628

He who doesn’t seek pleasure but knows distress is normal,
Will not be afflicted with grief.

இன்பம் விழையான், ‘இடும்பை இயல்பு’ என்பான்,
துன்பம் உறுதல் இலன்.

A man who does not seek pleasure in life knows sorrow is natural human condition. Since he know this, he will not be bogged down by grief.

விழை – desire, விழையான் – he who does not desire
இடும்பை – distress / sorrow
இயல்பு – natural / normal
உறுதல் – feel

Thirukkural – 1128

As my lover resides in my heart, I dread
eating hot food, lest it singe him.

நெஞ்சத்தார் காத லவராக வெய்துண்ட
லஞ்சுதும் வேபாக் கறிந்து.

Her friend asks her why she isn’t eating properly. She says my lover resides in my heart, so I avoid hot food as it might burn him.

What to say, Love is stupid.

வெய்து – hot

உண்டல் – to eat

அஞ்சுதும் – I fear / dread

வேபாக்கு – burn / singe

அறிந்து – I know

Kar Naarpathu – 24

Hilly forest smells of musth elephant now;
Dark clouds are raining at night time too;
Long dark haired girl won’t bear it anymore;
Leave all work aside and go to her, my heart!


எல்லா வினையும் கிடப்ப, எழு, நெஞ்சே!
கல் ஓங்கு கானம் களிற்றின் மதம் நாறும்;
பல் இருங் கூந்தல் பணி நோனாள்; கார் வானம்
எல்லியும் தோன்றும், பெயல்.

He has gone away in search of wealth, promising her that he will be back by winter season. It is winter now. He tells his heart “Elephants are in musth period and the hilly forest smells of their temporal secretion. Dark clouds are raining even at night time now. All these signs mean winter is here. My dark haired lover who held on to my words of assurance won’t be able to bear the separation anymore. So, my heart, leave aside whatever work you are doing, and go to her”

கல் ஓங்கு – rising hill

கானம் – forest

களிறு – elephant

மதம் – musth secretion

நாறும் – smells

பல் இருங் கூந்தல் – long black haired

பணி – word (promise)

நோனாள் – won’t suffer / bear (anymore)

கார் வானம் – dark rain clouds

எல்லி – night

பெயல் – rain

Thirumurugaattrup Padai – Thanip Paadal


I put my trust in no one but you,
I’d never follow someone else in future too;
O’ twelve armed handsome God!O’Spear wielding Lord!
O’ Resident of Tiruchendur!
You clear grievous obstacles faced by celestials too!


உன்னை யொழிய வொருவரையு நம்புகிலேன்
பின்னை யொருவரையான் பின் செல்லேன் – பன்னிருகைக்
கோலப்பா வானோர் கொடியவினை தீர்த்தருளும்
வேலப்பா செந்திவாழ் வே.

This is a latter day addition to Thirumurugaattrup Padai, a Sangam era work that praises Murugan, the Supreme Tamil God. The poet says “I trust only you Muruga. I won’t go behind any other God, not now, not in the future. You are a twelve armed handsome God. Even the celestials beseech you when they face obstacles and you save them with your spear. O’ Resident of Tiruchendur, You are my saviour”

செந்தி – திருச்செந்தூர் – Tiruchendur , an important Murugan Temple

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