Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Thirukkural – 333

Of impermanent nature, is wealth; when one acquires it,
Do good that is permanent, right away.

அற்கா இயல்பிற்றுச் செல்வம்; அது பெற்றால்,
அற்குப ஆங்கே செயல்
.

Wealth is fickle by nature and will not stay with one person for long. So whenever one acquired it, they should immediately do good deeds that are permanent.

அல்குதல் – to stay / permanent
இயல்பு – nature
ஆங்கே – then itself / right away
செயல் – do

Thirukkural – 74

From love springs forth interest in fellow humans;
That effortlessly begets the gift of friendship of all.

அன்பு ஈனும் ஆர்வம் உடைமை; அது ஈனும்,
‘நண்பு’ என்னும் நாடாச் சிறப்பு.

When one’s heart is filled with love, one takes keen interest in others and empathises with them. This interest shown begets the friendship of all , without one consciously working towards it.

சிறப்பு can mean honour / esteem / special / gift. I have interpreted as gift, based on Devaneya Paavanar ‘s commentary.

அன்பு – love

ஈனும் – gives birth to

ஆர்வம் – interest

நாடா – unsought / effortless

சிறப்பு – gift

Kambaramayanam – 5338

O’ Ignorant Moon! O’ Shining Moonlight!
O’ Endless Night! O’ Undiminishing darkness!
All of you torment only me;
will you not question the uncaring Archer?


கல்லா மதியே ! கதிர் வாள் நிலவே !
செல்லா இரவே !சிறுகா இருளே !
எல்லாம் எனையேமுனிவீர்; நினையா
வில்லாளனை,யாதும் விளித்திலிரோ ?

Sita is kidnapped and kept imprisoned in Asoka Vanam by Ravana. She is waiting for Rama to come and rescue her. Years have passed and he hasn’t come. She is wailing about her fate. By the time Hanuman comes to Lanka in search of her, she is at the end of her tether.

She laments “O’ Moon, you ignorant fool. O’ Shining moonlight! O’ Night that never ends! O’ darkness that never reduces! All of you are tormenting me in this night time. I think of Rama and wait for him to come and save me. He seems to have forgotten me. He doesn’t care for me. Will none of you go and torment him, the mighty Archer? So that he is removed of me and will come here to save me”

Kurunthokai – 61

Like kids who derive joy from pulling
a toy horse chariot made by the carpenter
even if they cannot derive joy of riding it,
We derive joy by imagining the intimacy of our lord
from the town of blossoms and majestic chariots
even if we cannot derive joy by embracing him; Hence bangles stay.

தச்சன் செய்த சிறுமா வையம்
ஊர்ந்தின் புறாஅ ராயினுங் கையின்
ஈர்த்தின் புறூஉ மிளையோர்
உற்றின் புேறெ மாயினு நற்றேர்ப்
பொய்கை யூரன் கேண்மை
செய்தின் புற்றனெஞ் செறிந்தன வளையே.

He has been to his courtesan’s place and hasn’t come home to his wife in a while. Before going home he sends his bard to placate her. Her friend stops the bard at the door and tells him “Kids playing with carpenter made toy horse chariots cannot derive joy by riding it. It is just a toy. Still they derive joy from pulling it around. Similarly even if she cannot be with him physically and derive pleasure in his presence, she still derives pleasure by imagining the intimacy she shared with him. She doesn’t miss him. So, her arms haven’t thinned down and the bangles stay on them instead of falling out”

When women miss their lover, their arms thin down and bangles become loose and fall off. This is a common motif in Sangam poetry.

தச்சன் – carpenter
சிறு மா – small horse
வையம் – chariot
ஊர்ந்து – ride
இன்புற்று – derive pleasure
கையின் ஈர்த்து – pull by hand
இளையோர் – kids
உற்று – touch / embrace
இன்புறேம் – இன்பம் உறேம் – i don’t derive pleasure
நற்றேர் – நல் + தேர் – good chariot
பொய்கை – pond
ஊரன் – man from the town
கேண்மை – intimacy
செய்து – make (in my mind) – imagine
இன்புற்றனன் – I derive pleasure
செறிந்தன – close fitting / stay
வளை – bangles

Naaladiyaar – 116

Even if they learn books of wisdom in detail,
Restless ones will never cease to be restless;
O’ beautiful eyed lass!
Even if cooked with salt and ghee, or milk, or curd, or spices,
Wild gourd will never lose its bitterness.

இடம் பட மெய்ஞ்ஞானம் கற்பினும் என்றும்,
அடங்காதார் என்றும் அடங்கார்;-தடங் கண்ணாய்!-
உப்பொடு நெய், பால், தயிர், காயம், பெய்து அடினும்,
கைப்பு அறா, பேய்ச் சுரையின் காய்.

Some people are by nature restless and are not in control of their senses. Even if they learn scriptures and books of wisdom in detail, still they will not learn to control their senses. This is like cooking wild bottle gourd. It smells and is extremely bitter. Even if it is cooked with ghee and salt or marinated in milk or curd or cooked with spices, its inherent bitterness will never go away. Similarly people’s inherent qualities will not change.

இடம் பட – expansive / in detail
மெய்ஞ்ஞானம் – true wisdom
அடங்காதார் – ones who aren’t under control / restless
தடங் கண்ணாய் – big eyed woman
காயம் – spices / condiments
அடினும் – சமைத்தாலும் – even if cooked
கைப்பு – bitterness
அறா – will not lose
பேய்ச் சுரையின் காய் – wild bottle gourd (?)

Thirukkural – 766

Valour, Honour, Marching on the path of virtue, Ruler’s confidence,
These four are the army’s defence.

மறமான மாண்ட வழிச்செலவுதேற்றம்
எனநான்கே யேமம் படைக்கு.

An army is protected by these four qualities – Valour of its troops, Honourable conduct, Following the virtuous path of its predecessors and being completely trusted by the ruler.

மறம் – bravery / valour
மானம் – honour
மாண்ட வழி – glorious path (of predecessors)
செலவு – to go / march
தேற்றம் – assurance / trust
ஏமம் – protection / defence
படை – Army

Ainkurunooru – 63

My lord! Your town’s fresh water otter
Smells of sea fish that it gets to eat daily;
Though I might wane away, its fine!
I won’t embrace the chest that hugged others.

பொய்கைப் பள்ளிப் புலவுநாறு நீர்நாய்
 வாளை நாளிரை பெறூஉ மூர
 எந்நலந் தொலைவ தாயினும்
 துன்னலம் பெருமபிறர்த் தோய்ந்த மார்பே
.

He comes back home after days with his courtesan. As he tries to placate her, she refuses to engage with him. She says “You are from the town where otters born in fresh water smell of the sea fish that they get to eat daily. Similarly you have come back from the courtesan with whom you frolicked . I might whither away by not being with you. That fine. Still I won’t get close and hug your chest that was embraced by other women”

Fresh water otter smelling of sea fish is as striking metaphor. Till I read this poem I didn’t know Fresh Water Otters (நீர் நாய்) were present in Tamil Nadu. Today I learned that Asian Small Clawed Otters have their habitat in Palani Hills of Tamil Nadu. Two thousand year old ancestors taught me about my land 🙂

பொய்கை – Natural Spring
புலவு நாறும் – smells of meat
நீர்நாய் – otter
வாளை – silver scabbard fish / sea fish
நாள இரை – daily food
பெறூஉம் – gets
ஊர – man from that town
என் நலம் – my health
தொலைவது ஆயினும் – eventhough wanes
துன்னுதல் – embrace
பெரும – my lord
பிறர் – other
தோய் – hug / embrace
மார்பு – chest

Thirukkural – 567

Thirukkural – 567.

Harsh words and punishment far exceeding the crime
Are files that wear down the Ruler’s conquering might.

கடு மொழியும், கையிகந்த தண்டமும், வேந்தன்
அடு முரண் தேய்க்கும் அரம்
.

A Ruler should not use harsh words nor give punishments that far exceed the crime. These are like metal files that wear down toughened steels. Citizens anger will similarly wear down the all conquering strength of the ruler.

கை – fault / crime
இக – beyond
தண்டம் – punishment
அடு – conquering
முரண் – strength / might
தேய்க்கும் – wear down
அரம் – file

Thirukkural – 1211

To this dream that brought my lover’s message,
What feast shall I treat it to?

காதலர் தூதொடு வந்த கனவினுக்
கியாதுசெய் வேன்கொல் விருந்து.

He has gone away to earn wealth and she is pining for him. She hasn’t heard from him for long. She dreams that he has sent a message. This makes her happy and she wonders what feast to prepare for the dream that acted as a messenger.

Thirukkural – 788

Like swift hands of one whose dress slips,
Rushing to relieve (friend’s) misery is friendship.

உடுக்கை இழந்தவன் கை போல, ஆங்கே
இடுக்கண் களைவது ஆம்-நட்பு.

When one’s dress slips, his hands instinctively rush to rectify it. One should act with the same swiftness to relieve a friend’s misery. That’s what friendship is.

உடுக்கை – dress
இடுக்கண் – misery
களைவது – to remove

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