Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Kurunthokai – 84

Her governess says after she has eloped:

When I tried to hug her again, she said “I’m sweaty”;
now I realise the reason why she,
fresher than lily flowers
and smelling of venkai** and kaantal**
in Āy’s* cloudy hills, was irked.

செவிலித்தாய் கூற்று:

பெயர்த்தனென் முயங்க, ”யான் வியர்த்தனென்” என்றனள்;
இனி அறிந்தேன், அது துனி ஆகுதலே-
கழல்தொடி ஆஅய் மழை தவழ் பொதியில்
வேங்கையும் காந்தளும் நாறி,
ஆம்பல் மலரினும் தான் தண்ணியளே.

*Āy – One of the seven benevolent chieftains in Sangam poetry.
** Venkai – yellow flower of Indian Kino (Venkai) tree
*** Kaantal – Flame lily flower

She has eloped with her lover. Her Governess laments and looks back at any hints that she had missed. “Yesterday when I tried to hug her repeatedly she said she was sweaty and pushed me off. I didn’t know the reason then why she who was fresh and fragrant, put me off. Now I realise the reason. She who valued the hug of her lover didn’t felt averse to me”

The word used for ‘fresh’ is தண்மை which literally means ‘cool’. In the temperate climate of Tamilnadu, being cool is pleasant. However in English translation, ‘ she was cool’ might be misread as being aloof. Hence I used fresh. King Āy is described as Arm band wearing Āy. I skipped that to maintain the brevity of the poem as in original.

Some Sangam poems are so cryptic that I depend on the commentaries to decipher them. In this poem there is no direct mention of Governess (செவிலித்தாய்) or daughter. The 11th century commentary for Kurunthokai has not been found. These are interpretations by commentary writers in 20th century. They were rigorous researchers and compared previous commentaries and cross verified before making these notes. The poem is classified under ‘Paalai Thinai’ (Arid landscape) associated with long journey across dry land. But What if it isn’t a Governess’ lament but a man grieving over lover’s tiff? The poem takes a different meaning. It is interesting to think so, though the purists would club me in the head.

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