Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Thirukkural 819

Friendship of those whose words and deeds differ
Is an agony even in one’s dream.

கனவினு மின்னாது மன்னோ வினைவேறு
சொல்வேறு பட்டார் தொடர்பு.

Friendship of people who say something and do something else is an agony,not only when one is awake but even when asleep.

Thirukkural – 950

Patient, Doctor, Medicine and Caretaker –
Constitute four components of the cure.

உற்றவன் தீர்ப்பான் மருந்துஉழைச் செல்வானென்று
அப்பானாற் கூற்றே மருந்து.

Thiruvalluvar talks of holistic approach to medicine. Cure for a disease is based on the type of patient, the treating doctor, medicine and one who gives medicine (nurse / caretaker). These four components constitute a cure.

உற்றான் – One who suffers
தீர்ப்பான் – one who cures
மருந்து – medicine
உழைச் செல்வான் – one who gives medicine / nurse / care taker
அப்பால் – these
நாற் கூற்று – four components

Thirukkural – 627

Realising that human body is a target for suffering,
Wise ones will not be distressed by distress.

இலக்கம், உடம்பு இடும்பைக்கு’ என்று, கலக்கத்தைக்
கையாறாக் கொள்ளாதாம், மேல்.

Wise people realise that the human body is a target for grief and suffering. Hence they will not be distressed when suffering affects them.

இலக்கம் – target
இடும்பை – suffering
கலக்கம் – distress
கையாறு – affliction / distress
கொள்ளாது – will not
மேல் –  high people / Wise ones

Thirukkural 546

Spear isn’t what gives victory; it is Ruler’s sceptre,
That too only if it’s upright.

வேல் அன்று, வென்றி தருவது; மன்னவன்
கோல்; அதூஉம், கோடாது எனின்

A Ruler’s victory is not dependent on the strength of his arms but the fairness of his justice.

வேல் – spear

வென்றி – வெற்றி – victory

கோல் – செங்கோல் – sceptre

கோடு – bent / கோடாது – unbent / upright

Thirukkural 496

Majestic chariot with strong wheels cannot traverse the sea;
Likewise, seafaring boat too will not travel in land.

கடல் ஓடா, கால் வல் நெடுந் தேர்; கடல் ஓடும்
நாவாயும் ஓடா, நிலத்து.

This couplet is under the chapter ‘Knowing the (right) place’ – இடனறிதல். Though a chariot might have string wheels it cannot travel in sea. It will sink. Similarly a boat that travels in sea cannot travel in land. It will run aground. Each is meant to be used in its place. Out of its place, it will become a liability.

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

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