Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “February, 2016”

Villi Bharatham – 41 (60)

Surrounding the mighty hero
who stood like a mythical beast,
they shot many an arrow,
as ghosts danced awaiting a feast.

யாளி என நின்ற வய
மீளியை வளைந்து, பல
வாளிகள் பொழிந்தனர்கள்,
கூளிகள் நடம்செயவே.

Villi Bharatham, 13th day war.

Though a 2000 year old Mahabaratham rendition written by Perundhevanar is mentioned in Tamil texts, it has not been found. Mention of Mahabaratham war occurs in Sangam poetry too. Mahabaratham written by SriVilliputhurar (the man from SriVilliputhur) in 14th century is the oldest available Mahabaratham in Tamil. He makes it clear in the introduction that it is not a complete rendition but a shortened form just following the main story.

This poem describes the Kaurava warriors surrounding Abhimanyu and attacking him from all sides. The ghosts of death dance around awaiting his fall. The brevity and the rhyme of Tamil poem is marvellous. Translating that into English in impossible, but I have tried to do justice to the original.

Kambaramayanam – 624

As if unable to withstand fiery flames
of the dainty stepped woman’s passion,
the scorching sun folded his lengthy arms
and immersed himself in the ocean.

அன்ன மெல் நடை அவட்கு அமைந்த காமத் தீத்
தன்னையும் சுடுவது தரிக்கிலான் என,
நல் நெடும் கரங்களை நடுக்கி ஓடிப்போய்,
முன்னை வெங் கதிரவன் கடலில் மூழ்கினான்.

In Kamban’s Ramayanam, Sita and Rama see each other even before breaking Shiva’s Bow. As Rama enters Mithila, he looks up at Sita standing in the balcony. It is love at first sight. Then he walks away. Sita falls love sick. This poem is descriptive of that evening, when the sun has set. In Kamban’s imagination, the sun is unable to withstand the heat of Sita’s passion. Hence he goes and hides in the ocean.

Naaladiyaar – 136

You won’t see even believers reproach
the boatman as last of ‘Varna’s;
With his help one crosses the river, so does
one gain wisdom with the help of the learned.

தோணி இயக்குவான், தொல்லை வருணத்து,
காணின், கடைப்பட்டான் என்று இகழார்; காணாய்!
அவன் துணையா ஆறு போயற்றே, நூல் கற்ற
மகன் துணையா நல்ல கொளல்

Poem 136 from Naaladiyaar. The poet says one’s birth ‘Varna’ is not important. Knowledge and wisdom trumps it. A boatman’s knowledge is important to cross the river. Hence even those who believe in ‘Varna’ system will take his help to cross the river and will not reproach him for being last in the ‘Varna’ hierarchy. Similarly a learned man’s help is needed to cross this river of life. We should learn from the knowledgeable whatever be their birth ‘Varna’

*’Varna’ meaning colour is the name of Caste system in India. There are four ‘Varnas’ which roughly translate to – Priestly class, Warrior class, Trading Class and the Working class. This is a simplistic description.

Thirukkural – 1216

If only there was no reality,my lover,
who’s in my dreams, will never leave

நனவு என ஒன்று இல்லைஆயின், கனவினான்
காதலர் நீங்கலர்மன்

Poem 1216 from Thirukkural. She lives with him in her dreams. But when she wakes up, she find that he is not there. So she hates reality that is snatching him away from her.

Naaladiyaar – 352

Even if it lives in a prosperous pond,
a frog cannot cleanse its sliminess;
Even if one learns flawless tomes,
one who doesn’t get its nuances, cannot improve.

செழும் பெரும் பொய்கையுள் வாழினும், என்றும்
வழும்பு அறுக்ககில்லாவாம், தேரை; வழும்பு இல் சீர்
நூல் கற்றக்கண்ணும், நுணுக்கம் ஒன்று இல்லாதார்
தேர்கிற்கும் பெற்றி அரிது.

Poem 352 from Naaladiyaar. A frog, even though it lives in water, cannot cleanse itself of its sliminess. Similarly, even if one is immersed in great books, unless he understands its essence and nuances, he will not be able to improve himself.

Ainkurunooru – 81

What the courtesan said:

In your town’s flower festooned pond
a stork breaks tortoise’s shell to eat its pale meat,
and the remains are consumed by drummers!
You say that you love me; If
your wife hears this, she’ll grieve a lot.

குருகு உடைத்து உண்ட வெள் அகட்டு யாமை
அரிப்பறை வினைஞர் அல்குமிசைக் கூட்டும்,
மலர் அணி வாயில் பொய்கை, ஊர! நீ
என்னை ‘நயந்தனென்’ என்றி; நின்
மனையோள் கேட்கின், வருந்துவள் பெரிதே.

Poem 81 from Ainkurunooru. This is said by the Courtesan to him. The courtesan has heard that his wife spoke ill of her. So when he comes to meet her, she says “Your wife will feel aggrieved if you are with me, so go away”. The interesting bit is the seemingly unrelated description of his town. “Like the drummers who eat the remains of what the stork has eaten, your wife gets to embrace you only after I have had my fill” is the courtesan’s way of putting down his wife.

Naaladiyaar – 331

Like a tortoise splashing about in the cooking pot
unaware of the hunter lighting it –
are those who revel in worldly tangles
while God of death waits for the right time.

கொலைஞர் உலை ஏற்றித் தீ மடுப்ப, ஆமை
நிலை அறியாது அந் நீர் படிந்தாடியற்றே-
கொலை வல் கொடுங் கூற்றம் கோள் பார்ப்ப, ஈண்டை
வலையகத்துச் செம்மாப்பார் மாண்பு.

Poem 331 from Naaladiyaar. This is the first poem in the chapter Ignorance (பேதைமை). This poem is about the ignorance of people who think that their world is permanent. I chose this poem for the simile of tortoise in a cooking pot. In old Tamil literature, the tortoise is used as a simile often. I think that these must have been fresh water tortoises found near farmlands.

Ainkurunooru – 415

This, my girl, is the time when we loved;
That, my  girl is the forest where we loved;
Blissful is youth, when spent
merrily in the arms of one’s lover.

இதுவே, மடந்தை! நாம் மேவிய பொழுதே;
உதுவே, மடந்தை! நாம் உள்ளிய புறவே;
இனிது உடன் கழிக்கின், இளமை
இனிதால் அம்ம, இனியவர்ப் புணர்வே!

Poem 415 from Ainkurunooru. This is a Mullai Thinai  (forest & pastoral landscape) poem. Evening time and forest are the leitmotif of these poems. Poems 411-420 are about him coming back earlier than promised and wooing her back again with memories of past.

Thirukkural – 1284

It’s to quarrel I went, my friend! forgetting
that, my heart started to romance.

ஊடற்கண் சென்றேன்மன்;-தோழி! அது மறந்து
கூடற்கண் சென்றது, என் நெஞ்சு

She’s upset that he was away for long. So when he comes back she goes to quarrel with him. But on seeing him her heart melts and she starts romancing him.

Ainkurunooru – 60

You,from the town where the junglefowl
crows in fields to lure its hen! I say:
You always come after the house is asleep;
Aren’t you afraid of her dad’s spear?

பழனக் கம்புள் பயிர்ப்பெடை அகவும்
கழனி ஊர! நின் மொழிவல்: என்றும்
துஞ்சு மனை நெடு நகர் வருதி;
அஞ்சாயோ, இவள் தந்தை கை வேலே?

Poem no. 60 from Ainkurunooru. Her friend admonishes him for coming to visit her in the night and warns him of her dad’s anger. The junglefowl crowing to attract the female is equated to him wooing her.

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