Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Kurunthokai – 387

The day’s over, jasmine blooms,
fiery sun softens; even if I swim across
this forlorn dusk with night as its end,
what’s the point, my friend?
Night’s expanse is vaster than the sea.

எல்லை கழிய முல்லை மலரக்
கதிர்சினந் தணிந்த கையறு மாலையும்
இரவரம் பாக நீந்தின மாயின்
எவன்கொல் வாழி தோழி
கங்குல் வெள்ளங் கடலினும் பெரிதே.

She’s pining for him but he hasn’t come to meet her. She says “The day is over. Jasmines have bloomed. (Jasmines bloom at night time. Their fragrance adds to her grief.) Fieriness of the sun has softened. But he hasn’t come and I miss him a lot. I am forlorn this evening without him. Even if I some how bear my pain and cross this evening holding myself together, there is no point in it. For, at the end of the evening lies the never ending night. It is even more vaster than the sea. I can’t bear this pain through the night.”

“Night’s expanse is vaster than the sea” is a poor imitation of கங்குல் வெள்ளங் கடலினும் பெரிதே. The cadence in that phrase is unmatchable.

எல்லை – Daytime
முல்லை – jasmine
கதிர் – sun
வரம்பு – boundary
நீந்தினம் – we swim
ஆயின் – if
கையறு – helpless (forlorn)
எவன்கொல் – what is the use
கங்குல் – night
வெள்ளம் – excess

Pazha Mozhi 400 – 42

Even Thirumal* who saved cows in distress
is called just a cow herd by this world;
irrespective of whether Gods or humans,
tongue that speaks ill is never at a loss.

*Thirumal – Tamil for Lord Vishnu

ஆவிற் கரும்பனி தாங்கிய மாலையும்
கோவிற்குக் கோவல னென்றுலகம் கூறுமால்
தேவர்க்கு மக்கட் கெனல்வேண்டா தீங்குரைக்கும்
நாவிற்கு நல்குர(வு) இல்

When Indra sent rain and thunder to destroy Brindavan, Lord Krishna (avatar of Vishnu) lifted the hills and saved men and cattle from their distress. Even though standing up to Indra was a praiseworthy feat, still the world calls him but a cow herd. So this world doesn’t differentiate between Gods or humans when it disparagaes them. The tongue is never at a loss to criticize / say bad things about people.

The proverb here is “Tongue that speaks ill is never at a loss” (தீங்குரைக்கும் நாவிற்கு நல்குர(வு) இல்)

Pazhamozhi 400 (Proverbs 400) is one of the 18 post Sangam anthologies. It was written / compiled by முன்றுறை அரையனார் (Mundrurai Arayanar, Chief of Mundrurai) and is generally dated to around 5th Century AD.

ஆ – cow
அரும் – great
பனி – distress
மால் – திருமால் – Thirumal (Tamil for Vishnu)
கோ – cow
கோவலன் – cow herd
தீங்கு உரைக்கும் – speaking ill
நா – tongue
நல்குரவு – poverty / shortage

Naaladiyaar – 4

“What’s ours, ours won’t be forever ours” realize this;
noble, noble deeds you wanted to do, do them immediately; –
down and down dwindles one’s life time; wrathfully
comes here, comes here the god of death!

‘நின்றன நின்றன நில்லா’ என உணர்ந்து,
ஒன்றின ஒன்றின வல்லே, செயின், செய்க-
சென்றன சென்றன, வாழ்நாள்; செறுத்து, உடன்
வந்தது வந்தது, கூற்று!

This Naaladiyaar poem talks about the impermanence of wealth. All the wealth that we think is ours won’t remain forever ours. So use your wealth to do all good deeds you wanted to do and do them immediately. Don’t wait. Because one’s life time is dwindling rapidly and God of death is approaching one day by day.

The Tamil poem uses simple words repeated twice to achieve an inherent rhythm. I can’t bring that flow in the translation. Yet I have used repetitive words to give a sense of the original poem.

ஒன்றின – suitable / good / noble
வல் – quick
செறு – angry
கூற்று – death

Thirukkural – 560

Cow udders will dry up, all six professions will discard their skills – 
if the protector fails to protect.

ஆ பயன் குன்றும்; அறுதொழிலோர் நூல் மறப்பர்;-
காவலன் காவான் எனின்.

If the King fails in ruling his country justly, his country’s wealth will dry up and people engaged  in professions will discard their skills leading the country to ruin.

Cows will weaken if agriculture fails and their udders will dry up. Six professions are farming, weaving, drawing/painting, education/knowledge, trading and manufacturing. Devaneya Paavaanar comes to this conclusion based on Sendhan Thivakaram, an eighth century thesaurus.

ஆ – cow
பயன் – output
குன்றும் – reduce
அறுதொழிலோர் – six professionals
காவான் – does not protect

Naaladiyaar – 335

Though there’s no real reason, if he doesn’t rage
as if there’s a reason, and in his rage,
rant and rave at those beyond his reach,
a dimwit’s tongue will really itch.

பெறுவது ஒன்று இன்றியும், பெற்றானே போலக்
கறுவுகொண்டு, ஏலாதார்மாட்டும், கறுவினால்
கோத்து இன்னா கூறி உரையாக்கால், பேதைக்கு
நாத் தின்னும், நல்ல சுனைத்து

The reason for one to outrage might not exist in reality. Yet a dumb person will act as if there’s a reason to outrage against those who are beyond his reach, justify his rage to himself and utter harsh words against them. If he does not do so, his tongue will itch (he cannot rein his tongue in).

A dumb person cannot hold his words. He will curse and rave at those who are beyond reach even though there is no obvious reason. Beyond his reach implies that his harsh words will have no effect on them, yet he will rant and rave.

பெறுவது – பெறும் காரணம் – reason to get (angry)
கறுவு – anger
ஏலாதார் – (one whom we) cannot reach
கோத்து – justify
இன்னா – harsh
உரையாக்கால் – உரையாமல் போனால் – if he does not tell
சுனை – itch

Kambaramayanam – 619

Not his sapphire like dark hued mane,
full moon face, long arms,
or beautiful dark boulder like shoulders – but,
it was his smile that first seized my heart.

இந்திர நீலம் ஒத்து இருண்ட குஞ்சியும்
சந்திர வதனமும் தாழ்ந்த கைகளும்
சுந்தர மணி வரைத் தோளுமே அல
முந்தி என் உயிரை அம் முறுவல் உண்டதே.

After Sita and Rama eye each other for the first time, he goes away. She is struck by love at first sight and pines for him. She loses her composure and is overcome by her emotions. She says, “His hair is dark like the blue sapphire. His face is round and bright like the full moon. His arms are long and hang low. His dark shoulders are like mountains. But it wasn’t all these features that captivated me first. Before all these, I lost my heart looking at his smile.”

Long arms – arms that hang below the knees were considered as a sign of well formed man.
Dark mountain like shoulders – Though the current day TV serials show Rama almost as white as a caucasian, in the epic he is a dark hued person. Hence dark shoulders.

இந்திர நீலம் – Blue sapphire
குஞ்சி – hair
வதனம் – face
சுந்தர – beautiful
மணி – sapphire (dark)
வரை – mountain (I’ve used boulder)
அல – not
முறுவல் – smile

Thirukkural – 784

To befriend isn’t to just laugh merrily; it’s to censure
in advance when one strays from virtue.

நகுதற்பொருட்டு அன்று, நட்டல்; மிகுதிக்கண்
மேற்சென்று இடித்தற்பொருட்டு.

Friendship isn’t meant only for laughing heartily and being pleasant. It is meant to warn in advance and admonish a person when he strays from the righteous path.

நகுதல் – to laugh
நட்டல் – நட்பு கொள்ளுதல் – to befriend
மிகுதி – excess (crossing the line of propriety)
மேற்சென்று – before something happens
இடித்தல் – இடித்து உரைத்தல் – admonish / censure

Kurunthokai – 231

She refuses him entry  when her friend pleads his case:

Though he lives in the same town,
he doesn’t come to our street;
even if he comes to our street,
he doesn’t hug me tight;
he avoids and ignores me
like a stranger’s cremation ground –
making my shameless foolish passion go waste
like an arrow shot from a bow into the distance.

ஓர் ஊர் வாழினும் சேரி வாரார்;
சேரி வரினும் ஆர முயங்கார்;
ஏதிலாளர் சுடலை போலக்
காணாக் கழிபமன்னே-நாண் அட்டு,
நல் அறிவு இழந்த காமம்
வில் உமிழ் கணையின் சென்று சேண் படவே.

He has been spending time at the courtesan’s house for long. He wants to come back home, so he sends her friend as an emissary to placate her. She refuses to hear her friend’s pleading. She says “Though he lived so long in the same town, he never came to our street. Even if he came to our street, he never came home and spent time with me, hugging me tight. Even if he saw me, he acted as if he didn’t and avoided me, like avoiding a stranger’s cremation ground.Because of this, my foolish and shameless passion went waste like an aimless arrow shot from a bow. I don’t love him anymore. He isn’t welcome here”

ஏதிலாளர் சுடலை – ‘stranger’s cremation ground’ is a simile for ignoring something as irrelevant to one.

சேரி – street
ஆர – fully
முயங்கார் – முயங்க மாட்டார் – does not embrace
ஏதிலாளர் – stranger
சுடலை – cremation ground
காணா – without seeing
கழிப – leaves
நாண் – modesty
உமிழ் – discharge
கணை – arrow
சேண் – distance

Thirukkural – 1151

Her friend to him:

If you aren’t leaving, tell me; your promise of speedy return,
tell that to those who’ll be alive then.

செல்லாமை உண்டேல், எனக்கு உரை; மற்று நின்
வல்வரவு, வாழ்வார்க்கு உரை

After marriage, he plans to go in search of wealth. He can’t tell her that he is leaving. So he tells her friend to pass on the message that he will return quickly. Her friend refuses saying “If you have decided not to leave, tell that to me. I will go and tell her. But if you have decided to leave and want to tell her that you will return quickly, I can’t pass that message to her. Tell that to those who will be alive when you come back. She won’t be alive She will wither away in your absence.”

Thiruvalluvar packs so much into those seven words that it is impossible to bring out all the nuances in translation.

வல் – quickness / speed

Ainkuru Nooru – 172

The woman with shiny bangles seized my heart!
Like unceasing clamorous waves
of Thondi’s* cool shores where bees hum,
I cannot sleep even at night!

* Thondi – Major port of Chera kings, near modern day Kozhikode, Kerala.

ஒண் தொடி அரிவை கொண்டனள், நெஞ்சே!
வண்டு இமிர் பனித் துறைத் தொண்டி ஆங்கண்
உரவுக் கடல் ஒலித் திரை போல,
இரவினானும் துயில் அறியேனே!

His friend asks him why he is not sleeping. He says the girl I saw in the sea shore, wearing shining bangles, has taken away my heart. Like the unceasing noisy waves of Thondi shore, where bees buzz around, I too am not able to sleep even at night.

The rolling waves never sleep. He likens himself to those waves. Bees buzz around as they circle lily flowers in backwaters. Similarly his heart is roaming around the backwaters after the girl he saw there.

ஒண் – ஒண்மை – shining, bright
தொடி – bracelet / bangle
அரிவை – woman
இமிர் – hum
உரவு – to be in constant motion
திரை – wave
துயில் – sleep

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