Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Manimekalai – 16.84-90

Listen : Clear minded men give up
intoxicating toddy and taking lives;
Death of men born and rebirth of dead
is like going to sleep and waking up;
Knowing that virtuous attaining heaven
and vile men attaining hell is true,
wise men give them up.

மயக்கும் கள்ளும் மன்உயிர் கோறலும்    
கயக்குஅறு மாக்கள் கடிந்தனர் கேளாய்:
பிறந்தவர் சாதலும் இறந்தவர் பிறத்தலும்
உறங்கலும் விழித்தலும் போன்றது உண்மையின்
நல்அறம் செய்வோர் நல்உலகு அடைதலும்
அல்லறம் செய்வோர் அருநரகு அடைதலும்
உண்டுஎன உணர்தலின் உரவோர் களைந்தனர்

These lines are from Manimekalai, a Tamil Buddhist Epic. Of the 5 great Epics in Tamil literature, 3 are Jainism oriented (Seevaka Sinthamani, Silappathikaaram and Valaiyapathi) and 2 are Buddist (Manimekalai and Kundalakesi). Of the Buddisht epics, Manimekalai is the only fully extant text. Manimekalai is dated to around 6th Century AD. You can read more about Manimekalai in Wiki.

Being an epic of an ascetic religion, it propagates giving up things that cause immorality in men. Murder and drunkennes are placed at par. This verse is of a Buddhist merchant Sadhuvan who is stranded in an island with Nagas advising the Naga Chief. When Sadhuvan is castaway in the island, the Chief gives him a woman, food and wine. Sadhuvan refuses and the Naga chides him asking what’s the point of life if you give up women and food? This verse is Sadhuvan’s reply.

“Death and birth are regular occurences like going to sleep and waking up. It is well known that the virtuous attain heaven and the vile attain hell. Since wise men know this, they give up intoxicating wine and taking others lives”

Manimekalai was written to refute other competing religions of that time and hence most of its verses are moralistic. I chose these lines for their beautiful brevity, especially

பிறந்தவர் சாதலும் இறந்தவர் பிறத்தலும்,
உறங்கலும் விழித்தலும் போன்றது

Death of men born and rebirth of dead
is like going to sleep and waking up

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