Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Naaladiyaar – 24

In a dead man’s house, funeral drum is sounded once; 
it’s stopped for a while,  and sounded again; notice that  
before it’s sounded thrice, covering the body,lighting a flame,
the to-be-dead carry away the dead! .

சென்றே எறிப ஒருகால்; சிறு வரை
நின்றே எறிப, பறையினை; நன்றேகாண்,
முக் காலைக் கொட்டினுள், மூடி, தீக் கொண்டு எழுவர்,
செத்தாரைச் சாவார் சுமந்து!

The above Naaladiyaar poem is about impermanence of life (யாக்கை நிலையாமை). In a dead man’s house, funeral drums are sounded once. When it is sounded a second time it indicates to all present that the body is about to be lifted. Before it is sounded the third time, they cover his body, light a funeral torch and carry away the body to the cremation ground. When one is dead, there is not much time left for him even in his house. They take him away quickly. Realize this and do good deeds to make this life worthwhile.

The beauty of the poem is in the last line. Those who carry away the dead too will be dead one day. The poet calls them to-be-dead. “செத்தாரைச் சாவார் சுமந்து – The to-be-dead carry away the dead”. Death is the only constant in this world.

ஒருகால் – once
சிறு வரை – a short time
எறிப – strike
பறை – drum
முக்கால் – third time
கொட்டு – beat
நன்றே காண் – notice carefully ( Tamilvu site commentary interprets this as “Think whether it’s good”)

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