Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “March, 2017”

Puranaanooru – 196

To grant if it is possible
or to refuse if not possible,
is the practice of gallant men;
To promise when not possible
or to refuse when possible,
these two cause supplicant’s grief
and also lead to patron’s shame;
Your action is like that;
I’ve seen what my ancestors did not;
May your sons be free of illness;
I too, without cursing the heat or idling in rain,
will be on my way to my impoverished home,
a hole in a rock guarding us from the wind,
thinking of my chaste young wife who awaits me
with not a jewel on her but modesty;
May you have a good day.

ஒல்லுவது ஒல்லும் என்றலும், யாவர்க்கும்
ஒல்லாது இல் என மறுத்தலும், இரண்டும்,
ஆள்வினை மருங்கின் கேண்மைப் பாலே;
ஒல்லாது ஒல்லும் என்றலும், ஒல்லுவது
இல் என மறுத்தலும், இரண்டும், வல்லே
இரப்போர் வாட்டல் அன்றியும், புரப்போர்
புகழ் குறைபடூஉம் வாயில்அத்தை;
அனைத்து ஆகியர், இனி; இதுவே எனைத்தும்
சேய்த்துக் காணாது கண்டனம்; அதனால்,
நோய் இலராக நின் புதல்வர்; யானும்,
வெயில் என முனியேன், பனி என மடியேன்,
கல் குயின்றன்ன என் நல்கூர் வளி மறை,
நாண் அலது இல்லாக் கற்பின் வாள் நுதல்
மெல் இயல் குறு மகள் உள்ளிச்
செல்வல் அத்தை; சிறக்க, நின் நாளே!

Poet Aavoor Moovan Kilar has come to the Pandya King’s (Ilavanthikai Palli Thunjiya Nanmaran) to sing his praise and get gifts. The King neither gives a gift nor refuses, but keeps on dragging his feet. The poet is upset and wrote this poem. “Either to give or say it’s not possible to give is what gallant men do. To promise when it’s not possible and to refuse when it is possible cause grief to the supplicant and also bring shame on the benefactor. What you are doing is similar to that. Your ancestors were generous men who gave gifts to my ancestors. But I have seen what my ancestors haven’t seen. I will be on my way to my impoverished home where my wife awaits me. I won’t wait anymore here in your court even if the sun is scorching or it is raining. My home is nothing but a hole in a rock. My wife has no jewels but her innate modesty. But don’t think I am cursing you. My your sons be free of illness. May your day be good”

Even when one is upset by actions of the other, it is still a practice in Tamilnadu to say “May you be well” (நல்லா இரு) instead of cursing. This habit seems to be a left over from the Sangam era. A poets curse was thought to be potent. So he did not curse the King but just spoke about his own poverty and helplessness. At the same time, he doesn’t want to give up his self respect. Hence he says he won’t wait any more in the court but be on his way to his home. Some commentators interpret ‘poverty stricken hole in a rock home, that just protects from the wind’ as ‘our home which just protects us from the wind, where poverty hangs like a millstone’.

This poem from 2000 years ago says that things haven’t changed much. Tamil poets are impoverished yet imperious.

Puranaanooru – 191

If you ask why I haven’t greyed
though I’m advanced in age,
my wife’s noble, children clever;
my attendants act as per my wish;
my ruler is a just protector;
above all, in my town live
many a learned and humble scholar.

யாண்டுபல வாக நரையில வாகுதல்
யாங்கா கியரென வினவுதி ராயின்
மாண்டவென் மனைவியொடு மக்களு நிரம்பினர்
யாண்கண் டனையரென் னிளையரும் வேந்தனும்
அல்லவை செய்யான் காக்கு மதன்றலை
ஆன்றவிந் தடங்கிய கொள்கைச்
சான்றோர் பலர்யான் வாழு மூரே.

This poem is by Pisiranadhaiyaar, a poet in Pandya country. His friendship with Chola King KopPerun Cholan was legendary, though they had never met each other. When KopPerun Cholan decides to starve to death after a tussle with his sons for the throne, he sends news to Pisiranadhaiyaar to come and see him. But before Pisiranadhaiyaar comes, he passes away.

When Pisiranadhaiyaar is asked why he hasn’t greyed though he is old, this is his answer. “My wife is a dignified soul, my children are clever. My attendants are in line with my thinking. My ruler is just and protects us safely. Above all this I am surrounded by learned and humble scholars in my town. So I have nothing to worry about, hence I haven’t greyed”.

No wonder most of us bald and grey early these days.

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

Kurunthokai – 32

காலையும் பகலுங் கையறு மாலையும்  
ஊர்துஞ் சியாமமும் விடியலு மென்றிப்
பொழுதிடை தெரியிற் பொய்யே காமம்
மாவென மடலொடு மறுகிற் றோன்றித்  
தெற்றெனத் தூற்றலும் பழியே
வாழ்தலும் பழியே பிரிவுதலை வரினே.

Dawn or daytime or wretched dusk,
dead of the night or daybreak –
if aware of time, my love is false.
To get on a palm frond horse*
and make our affair public
is a shameful act;
but it’s a shame to live too,
if we’re apart.

*Riding a palm frond horse – மடல் ஊர்தல் .  This is the last resort by a man who cannot marry his love, either because her parents don’t accept or she herself is not ready to accept him. He gets on a horse made of palm fronds, which is dragged to the town center by his friends. He carries a drawing of the woman who has caused him to do this. The townspeople then ask the girl and her parents if they are acceptable to the marriage. If not, then the man leaves the town/takes his life.

He pleads to her friend to make her come and meet him. He says “I’m so besotted with her that I don’t know the time of the day. If I know the difference in time, then my love is false. If she doesn’t come and meet her, I will have to get on a palm frond horse, carry her picture and go public. That will be a shameful act on my part for it will let the town know of our affair. At the same time it is shameful for me to live when I am apart from her. So please help me.”

Kambaramayanam – 5293

She took it; hugged it to her bosom;  
placed on her head; pressed to her eyes;  
her shoulders lifted; she sagged;
she was at peace; she longed feverishly; sighed;
is it possible to describe her state  of mind?

வாங்கினள் : முலைக்குவையில்
    வைத்தனள் : சிரத்தால்
தாங்கினள் : மலர்க்கண் மிசை
    ஒத்தினள் : தடம்தோள்
வீங்கினள், மெலிந்தனள் :
    குளிர்ந்தனள், வெதுப்போடு
ஏங்கினள் : உயிர்த்தனள் :
    இது இன்னது எனல் ஆமே?

This poem describes Sita’s reaction when Hanuman meets her in Lanka and gives her Rama’s ring (கணையாழி) to identify himself. Sita had given up hope that Rama will come to save her and is on the verge of killing herself. So when Hanuman comes bearing news from Rama, she is overcome by emotion. That ring becomes Rama for her. She takes the ring, hugs it in her bosom, places it in her head, presses it to her eyes. Her shoulders lift up. She sags. She is at peace . She longs feverishly. Sighs. All at the same time. Kamban, the poet, wonders can one define her state?

Tol Kappiyam (தொல்காப்பியம் – Old Tome), the defining book of Tamil Grammar, lists 8 types of physical display of one’s mental state. (எண் வகை மெய்ப்பாடு). These are – laughter, crying, wretchedness, surprise, fear, pride, anger, delight.

நகையே அழுகை இளிவரல் மருட்கை
அச்சம் பெருமிதம் வெகுளி உவகையென்று
அப்பால் எட்டாம் மெய்ப்பா டென்ப

Sita’s overwhelming reaction was across the spectrum that one cannot decide from her reaction what she was going through.

Moodhurai – 26

If one compares a Ruler and a flawless Scholar,
the Scholar is regarded higher than the Ruler –
Ruler is not regarded high outside the country he rules,
Scholar is regarded high wherever he goes.

மன்னனு மாசறக் கற்றோனுஞ் சீர்தூக்கின்
மன்னனிற் கற்றோன் சிறப்புடையன்-மன்னற்குத்
தன்தேச மல்லாற் சிறப்பில்லை கற்றோற்குச்
சென்றஇட மெல்லாம் சிறப்பு.

This poem by Avvayar  (the 3rd) categorically states that a scholar / poet is to be valued more than a ruler. One has to appreciate the temerity of the poet to make such statements in a monarchy.

Thirukkural – 148

For the wise, manliness of not coveting other’s wife
is not only virtue, but moral duty too.

பிறன் மனை நோக்காத பேர் ஆண்மை, சான்றோர்க்கு
அறன் ஒன்றோ?ஆன்ற ஒழுக்கு.

Thriruvalluvar says “To not look at/ covet other man’s wife is not just a virtue for wise men. It is their moral duty too.”

Kalingathup Parani -69

“He’ll come” you swing it open
“He won’t” you swing it close
You swing it all night
till the hinges erode, Open that door.

வருவார் கொழுநர் எனத்திறந்தும்
வாரார் கொழுநர் எனவடைத்தும்
திருகும் குடுமி விடியளவும்
தேயும் கபாடம் திறமினோ.

A poem from Kalingathu Parani. The poet is asking the women who are angry with their husbands returning from war. “Awaiting him, you swing the door open and close so many times that the hinges erode. Open that door and welcome your victorious husbands”.

Kalingathu p Parani is a short literary work (சிற்றிலக்கியம்) written by Poet Jayamkondar in 12th century. It is written in praise of Kulothunga Cholan’s general Karunakara Thondaiman who invaded and conquered Kalinga country (present day Orissa). Poems 21-74 are the bard calling the women of Kanchi (present day Kancheepuram, the town of Karunakara Thondaiman) to open their doors and hear the valor of their hero. These 54 poems are erotically charged. The next chapters of the work are gory descriptions of battle field and the ghosts getting together for a feast of dead bodies.

Parani is a form of poetic work that is sung in praise of a warrior. It is generally named after the battle. Since this about the battle of Kalinga, it is called Kalingathup Parani.

Naaladiyaar – 140

Of all available knowledge, if one learns
just worldly books and not books of wisdom-
it makes meaningless noise but is of no use
in removing confusion.

அலகுசால் கற்பின் அறிவுநூல் கல்லா(து)
உலகநூ லோதுவ தெல்லாங் – கலகல
கூஉந் துணையல்லாற் கொண்டு தடுமாற்றம்
போஒந் துணையறிவா ரில்.

This Naaladiyaar poem talks about learning for wisdom and not just for worldly purposes. Those worldly books will make much noise but are of no use in setting one on the path of righteousness and removing confusion. Since Naaladiyaar is an anthology by Jain monks after the Sangam period, it is tempting to think that they were dissing the earthliness of the previous era.

அலகு – limit, சால் – full. This phrase has been treated either as boundless knowledge or limited knowledge and the previous commentaries are all over the place. I have decided to go with ‘boundless’ – hence used ‘all’.

Post Navigation