Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “April, 2016”

Naaladiyaar – 256

Scholars don’t talk much, afraid of errors;
simpletons are verbose, with no such fears;
Palm tree’s dried fronds crackle;
lush green fronds never rustle.

கற்று அறிந்த நாவினார் சொல்லார், தம் சோர்வு அஞ்சி;
மற்றையர் ஆவார் பகர்வர்;-பனையின்மேல்
வற்றிய ஓலை கலகலக்கும்; எஞ் ஞான்றும்
பச்சோலைக்கு இல்லை, ஒலி.

A poem about ignorance. Really learned scholars measure their words, afraid of making mistakes. But the simpletons have no such fear and keep on talking. The similes used are dried fronds for simpletons and lush green fronds for scholars.

Naaladiyaar – 319

Ruler of lofty hill that attracts prime cattle!-
Words of those who have not elaborately analyzed
summary, spread, subtlety and sense of a tome –
can they be good commentary?

பொழிப்பு, அகலம், நுட்பம், நூல் எச்சம், இந் நான்கின்
கொழித்து, அகலம் காட்டாதார் சொற்கள்,-பழிப்பு இல்
நிரை ஆமா சேக்கும் நெடுங் குன்ற நாட!-
உரை ஆமோ, நூலிற்கு நன்கு?

This poem explains how a good commentary for a book should be. One should analyze the book by its summary (பொழிப்புரை), the breadth of topic it covers (அகலம்), its subtleties (நுட்பம்) and what one learns (நூல் எச்சம்) from the book. Then he should write elaborately based on his analysis. That is how a good commentary should be written.

Ruler of lofty hill that attracts prime cattle is a metaphor for poets crowding a wealthy ruler. When a ruler is wealthy, lot of poets will surround him and offer their works. He should consider those based on the above rules and decide which is worthy.

Thirukkural – 1009

Strangers will seize the wealth of the insular,
who neither savor nor share.

அன்பு ஒரீஇ, தற் செற்று, அறம் நோக்காது, ஈட்டிய
ஒண் பொருள் கொள்வார், பிறர்.

The wealth earned by one who insulates oneself from relatives, and who neither relishes it nor shares it, is bound to be seized by others.

Puranaanooru – 256

Oh master potter! master potter!
Like a small white lizard stuck
to the wagon’s axle hub spoke,
I traveled many an arid land with him;
show me some mercy.
To bury him in this ground,
shape a flared burial urn
that’s wide enough for me too,
this vast ancient town’s master potter.

கலஞ்செய் கோவே கலஞ்செய் கோவே
அச்சுடைச் சாகாட் டாரம் பொருந்திய
சிறுவெண் பல்லி போலத் தன்னொடு
சுரம்பல வந்த வெமக்கு மருளி
வியன்மல ரகன்பொழி லீமத் தாழி
அகலி தாக வனைமோ
நனந்தலை மூதூர்க் கலஞ்செய் கோவே.

Poem no. 256 of Puranaanooru. Poet’s name is unknown. A dead warrior’s wife asks the town potter to make a burial urn that has space enough for her to be buried along with him. The ‘for me too’ is implied and not explicitly stated in the Tamil original. The simile used in this poem is arresting. A white lizard that is stuck to the wheel spoke will travel wherever the wagon wheel goes. Like that she traveled her entire life with her husband. Now he has left her and died. She doesn’t want to live without him, so she wants to buried along with him.

Thirukkural – 473

Overrating oneself, unaware of true strength,
and destroyed by the foe, are many.

உடைத் தம் வலி அறியார், ஊக்கத்தின் ஊக்கி,
இடைக்கண் முரிந்தார் பலர்.

One should be aware of one’s own strength and not over rate oneself getting carried away. There are many in history who thought so and were destroyed by a stronger enemy.

Kaliththokai – 55

Like streaks of lightning that part dark clouds,
fine gold strands part your braided hair
that is adorned with pine flower strands.
Pleasant smiling, bright toothed, sweet spoken
red lipped girl with a fine  forehead;
I’ll tell you something, listen:

“Stop”, he held me back; came closer,
looking at my forehead, face, shoulders, eyes
stride and speech, complimenting them
he said,
“it wanes, but is not the crescent;
it is flawless, but is not the moon;
it is like bamboo, but this isn’t a hill;
it is like flowers, but this isn’t a brook;
soft is the stride, but not a peacock;
tender is the speech, but not a parrot”

praising me with many a word, slowly,
like hunters watching their prey weaken,
just when my heart mellowed, he looked
at me plaintively, like a bard seeking alms
pleaded with me and at the same time petted me too;

like a musth elephant not stopping at mahout’s goad,
he kept pleading and petting me; innocence
is not one of his traits, my friend!

மின் ஒளிர் அவிர் அறல் இடை போழும் பெயலேபோல்,
பொன் அகை தகை வகிர் வகை நெறி வயங்கிட்டு,
போழ் இடை இட்ட கமழ் நறும் பூங் கோதை,
இன் நகை, இலங்கு எயிற்று, தேம் மொழி துவர்ச் செவ் வாய்,
நன்னுதால்! நினக்கு ஒன்று கூறுவாம்; கேள், இனி:
‘நில்’ என நிறுத்தான்; நிறுத்தே வந்து,
நுதலும் முகனும், தோளும், கண்ணும்,
இயலும், சொல்லும், நோக்குபு நினைஇ,
‘ஐ தேய்ந்தன்று, பிறையும் அன்று;
மை தீர்ந்தன்று, மதியும் அன்று;
வேய் அமன்றன்று, மலையும் அன்று;
பூ அமன்றன்று, சுனையும் அன்று;
மெல்ல இயலும், மயிலும் அன்று;
சொல்லத் தளரும், கிளியும் அன்று’
என ஆங்கு,
அனையன பல பாராட்டி, பையென,
வலைவர் போல, சோர் பதன் ஒற்றி,
நெஞ்சு நெகிழ்ந்த செவ்வி காணூஉப்
புலையர் போல, புன்கண் நோக்கி,
தொழலும் தொழுதான்; தொடலும் தொட்டான்;
காழ் வரை நில்லாக் கடுங் களிறு அன்னோன்
தொழூஉம்; தொடூஉம்; அவன் தன்மை
ஏழைத் தன்மையோ இல்லை, தோழி!

This is another romantic poem in Kaliththokai. I have taken couple of liberties with the translation.

The similes in second stanza are : forehead – crescent, face – moon, bamboo – shoulders, flowers – eyes, stride – peacock, speech – parrot. In the original poem the previous line contains these in order and the similes don’t mention them directly. I decided to follow the same convention.

There is a difference of opinion whether the first four lines of description pertain to the heroine or her friend to whom the poem is addressed. Nachinaarkkiniyaar of 13th century, whose commentaries of Sangam poems form the bedrock of later day commentaries, takes it as description of the friend. AK Ramanujan who translated this into English assumes it is description of the heroine by the hero. I have decided to follow Nachinaarkkiniyaar’s stance.

I have broken the poem into stanzas to make it easy to read. I have used ‘golden strands’ for நெற்றிச்சுட்டி / வகுப்புச் சுட்டி the golden jewellery worn in hair parting.  In the third stanza, புலையர் – the current usage is a lowly person or an outcaste. But it was used to denote bards, priests and hunters in Sangam era. I decided to go with ‘bard’ as it fits with the flow of the poem. The major change I made in translation is to use ‘pleading’ for தொழுதல். Almost every other translator uses ‘worship’. However when the previous line is ‘ he looks pitifully’ , if followed by ‘worshiped me’, it doesn’t make sense. So after much deliberation I decided to use ‘pleading’. This usage is based in Tholkappiyam’s rules (களவொழுக்கம் – மெய்தொட்டுப் பயிறல்).

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