Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Silappathikaaram – ManaiAram Padutha Kaathai 73-80

O’ blemishless Gold! O’ pristine Pearl!
O’ faultless Incense! O’ sugar! O’ honey!
Hard to acquire woman! elixir of life!
Noble merchant’s dazzling daughter!
– Ruby not born in the mountain?
– Nectar not born in the ocean?
– Melody not born in the harp?
How shall I extol thee, long dark tressed woman!

மாசு அறு பொன்னே! வலம்புரி முத்தே!
காசு அறு விரையே! கரும்பே! தேனே!
அரும் பெறல் பாவாய்! ஆர் உயிர் மருந்தே!
பெருங்குடி வாணிகன் பெரு மட மகளே!
மலையிடைப் பிறவா மணியே என்கோ?
அலையிடைப் பிறவா அமிழ்தே என்கோ?
யாழிடைப் பிறவா இசையே என்கோ?
தாழ் இருங் கூந்தல் தையால்! நின்னை

This is one of the more popular poems of the epic Silappathikaaram. Even the Tamils who haven’t read Silappathikaram would have heard the first two lines.

This is Kovalan praising his wife Kannaki on their first night. Five things he calls her are equated to five senses. Gold (sight), Pearl (touch), Incense (smell), Sugar cane (taste), Honey dripping voice (hearing). More romantic of the commentary writers expand it as “He calls her blemishless gold. She smiles a little, opening her mouth. Her teeth are like pearls. As he comes near her she smells divine. He kisses her and tastes her sweetness. She sheds her inhibition and starts talking. Her voice is like honey”

Kovalan and Kannaki are from the merchant caste. Her father MaaSaathuvan was the leading merchant of Pukar (Poompuhar) town. Kovalan praises her family and then goes on to extol her virtues. “You are like a rare ruby, but you weren’t born in the mountains. You are like the hard to get nectar, but you weren’t born in the ocean (remember the nectar Devas and Asuras found by churning the ocean). You are like melodious music, but you were not born in the harp”

In the first line the literal translation for pearl is வலம்புரி முத்தே – pearl found in the right hand conch. The right hand conch (சங்கு) is rare to find and the pearl formed in it is of better quality. I have used ‘pristine’ instead of unwieldy ‘right hand conch’. In the second line the word விரை (virai) is given in Tamil dictionary as an aromatic substance made of five ingredients. I have used ‘incense’ for easy reading. In the last four lines I have slightly altered the structure for better readability in English.

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