Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Thanippaadal – Avvaiyaar

What we’ve learned amounts to a fistful of sand,
what we’ve not learned is vast as the world,
hence the Goddess of Arts too keeps learning –
don’t boast and challenge others, O bard,
an ant too is eight spans wide by its own hand.

கற்றதுகைம் மண்ணளவு கல்லா துலகளவென்(று)
உற்ற கலைமடந்தை ஓதுகிறாள் – மெத்த
வெறும்பந்த யங்கூற வேண்டாம் புலவீர்
எறும்புந்தன் கையாலெண் சாண்.

This is one of the famous poems of Avvaiyar. Scholars estimate that there have been six poets by the name of Avvaiyar in Tamil literature. This poem is attributed to Avvaiyar II, whose time is estimated to be before 10 Century CE.

In this poem, she mocks the poet who challenges her. She says what we have learned is just a fistful of sand, what we are yet to learn is as vast as the world. Knowing this, even the Goddess of education, Saraswati, is still learning. (Saraswati is depicted with a manuscript in her hand). So don’t boast that you know everything and challenge me. Just because an ant measures eight spans when measured by its own hand doesn’t mean it can compete with a human being who too measures eight spans by his hand.

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