Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “July, 2017”

Ainkuru Nooru – 172

The woman with shiny bangles seized my heart!
Like unceasing clamorous waves
of Thondi’s* cool shores where bees hum,
I cannot sleep even at night!

* Thondi – Major port of Chera kings, near modern day Kozhikode, Kerala.

ஒண் தொடி அரிவை கொண்டனள், நெஞ்சே!
வண்டு இமிர் பனித் துறைத் தொண்டி ஆங்கண்
உரவுக் கடல் ஒலித் திரை போல,
இரவினானும் துயில் அறியேனே!

His friend asks him why he is not sleeping. He says the girl I saw in the sea shore, wearing shining bangles, has taken away my heart. Like the unceasing noisy waves of Thondi shore, where bees buzz around, I too am not able to sleep even at night.

The rolling waves never sleep. He likens himself to those waves. Bees buzz around as they circle lily flowers in backwaters. Similarly his heart is roaming around the backwaters after the girl he saw there.

ஒண் – ஒண்மை – shining, bright
தொடி – bracelet / bangle
அரிவை – woman
இமிர் – hum
உரவு – to be in constant motion
திரை – wave
துயில் – sleep

Thirukkural – 336

“Yesterday, one was alive; today he is not”
such is the reputation of this world.

‘நெருநல் உளன், ஒருவன்; இன்று இல்லை!’ என்னும்
பெருமை உடைத்து, இவ் உலகு.

This Kural verse talks about the impermanence of life. One who was alive yesterday is no more today. This world is well known for such fickleness.

நெருநல் – Yesterday
பெருமை – reputation

Thanippadal – Avvaiyaar – 66

To the generous minded, gold is a trifle;
to the valorous, waiting death is a trifle;
to the wise, affection of women is a trifle;
to the ascetic, King is a trifle.

போந்த உதாரனுக்குப் பொன்துரும்பு சூரனுக்குச்
சேர்ந்த மரணம் சிறுதுரும்பு – ஆய்ந்த
அறிவோர்க்கு நாரிய ரும்துரும்பாம் இல்லத்
துறவியர்க்கு வேந்தன் துரும்பு

One who is generous will not put much value on gold. He looks at it as something to be given away. A brave warrior doesn’t fear death waiting for him. He treats it contemptuously. The wise men will not put much value on women’s affection. Similarly, those who have renounced worldly life will treat a King as just another person.

This poem is attributed to one of the later day Avvaiyars, dated between 12th and 15th Century CE. Various versions of this poem can be found in later day anthologies.

போந்த – perfect
உதாரன் – benefactor
துரும்பு – small bit, a trifling
சூரன் – brave, valorous
ஆய்ந்த – well read
நாரி – woman
துறவி – ascetic / monk

Pura Naanooru – 312

To give birth and nurture is my duty;
to make him wise is his father’s duty;
to forge a spear for him is blacksmith’s duty;
to impart virtue is Ruler’s duty;
to destroy enemies in battle with dazzling sword,
kill war elephants and return is youth’s duty.

ஈன்று புறந்தருதல் என் தலைக் கடனே;
சான்றோன் ஆக்குதல் தந்தைக்குக் கடனே;
வேல் வடித்துக் கொடுத்தல் கொல்லற்குக் கடனே;
நன்னடை நல்கல் வேந்தற்குக் கடனே,
ஒளிறு வாள் அருஞ் சமம் முருக்கி,
களிறு எறிந்து பெயர்தல் காளைக்குக் கடனே.

This is a stirring poem written from the point of view of a woman from a martial clan. She says, “To bring forth a son and nurture him is my duty. To teach him skills and make him knowledgeable is his father’s duty. To provide him with weapons is the blacksmith’s duty. It is the duty of our ruler to point him in the path of virtue. The bull like strong youth’s duty is to engage in war, destroy the enemies, kill their elephants and return back”.

As is clear, these poems drum up martial feelings and ignite the passion for warfare, which was a necessity in those times.

I think that this poem has shades of ‘Protagoras’, Plato’s dialogue about a debate between Protagoras and Socrates. Or may be I am reading too much into a straight forward poem.

ஈன்று – Give birth
புறம் தருதல் – bring to world (nurture)
வடித்தல் – forge
நன்னடை – நல்ல + நடை – right path / good conduct / virtue
நல்குதல் – give / grant / impart
ஒளிறுதல் – to shine brightly
வாள் – sword
அருமை – good / great
சமம் – battle
முருக்குதல் – destroy
களிறு – elephant
எறிதல் – knock down
பெயர்தல் – return
காளை – youth

Aasaara k Kovai – 76

Don’t talk fast; don’t talk often;
don’t embellish with lies; don’t be verbose – but
cover the subject with clarity, use few words
and speak at the right moment.

விரைந்து உரையார்; மேன்மேல் உரையார்; பொய் ஆய
பரந்து உரையார்; பாரித்து உரையார்;-ஒருங்கு எனைத்தும்
சில் எழுத்தினானே, பொருள் அடங்க, காலத்தால்
சொல்லுப செவ்வி அறிந்து!

One must not talk fast; should not repeat his sentences; should not exaggerate and lie; and must not use too many words. On the other hand, cover the subject completely and with clarity, use only few words to explain oneself and wait for the right time to put forward his thoughts.

Aasaarak Kovai is a collection of 100 verses of moral aphorisms. These are thought to be written based on Sanskrit smritis.

விரைந்து – fast
மேன்மேல் – over and above (often)
பரந்து – expanded (embellish)
பாரித்து – spread (verbose)
ஒருங்கு – entirety
செவ்வி – time / moment

Thirukkural – 1161

I conceal this malady; but it gushes forth,
like spring water to those who draw it up.

மறைப்பேன்மன் யான், இஃதோ, நோயை-இறைப்பவர்க்கு
ஊற்றுநீர் போல மிகும். 

Her friend tells her that revealing her love sickness is not good for her reputation. She  replies, “I do conceal this ailment of passion. But it gushes up like spring water gushing up to those who draw. Spring water never dries up, how much ever one draws. Similarly I can’t hide my love sickness how much ever I try”

Thirukkural – 942

No medicine a body needs – if one eats
after digestion of previous meal.

மருந்து என வேண்டாவாம், யாக்கைக்கு- அருந்தியது,
அற்றது போற்றி உணின்.

If you eat only after sure signs of digestion of previous meal, then there is no need of medicine to take care of one’s body.

யாக்கை – body
அருந்துதல் – to eat
அறுத்தல் – to digest
போற்றுதல் – consider
உண் – eat

Kurunthokai – 75

Did you see yourself? Or heard from those who saw?
from whom did you hear of my lord’s arrival?
I’d like to know for sure; please tell me!
You’ll receive the golden city of Patali
where elephants with white tusks play in river Son.

நீ கண்டனையோ? கண்டார்க் கேட்டனையோ?-
ஒன்று தெளிய நசையினம்; மொழிமோ!
வெண் கோட்டு யானை சோணை படியும்
பொன் மலி பாடலி பெறீஇயர்!-
யார்வாய்க் கேட்டனை, காதலர் வரவே?

She is desperately waiting for her lover’s arrival. The bard comes to her and says that her lover has come to town. She asks the bard “Did you see yourself o just heard from some one who saw him? If so who? I would like to know for sure, please tell me. If what you say is true, you will receive the wealth of the golden city of Pataliputra where elephants with white tusks play in river Son”

The poem brings out her desperation for good news. It also talks about the wealthy city of Pataliputra built in 3rd century BC as capital of Magadha empire. That might help to date this poem. Of course, Pataliputra was a flourishing city till 9th century AD. Pataliputra was situated at the confluence of three rivers – Ganges, Gandaki and Son.


நசை – desire / wish
மொழி – tell
வெண் கோடு – white tusk
சோணை – river Son
மலி – abound


Valaiyaapathi – 41

Youth isn’t permanent; pleasure isn’t long lasting;
Wealth too is like that; everyday is a flood of misery;
don’t think these are forever; prepare daily for salvation
like the farmer who produces seeds for next season.

இளமையும் நிலையாவால்; இன்பமும் நின்ற அல்ல;
வளமையும் அஃதேபோல் வைகலும் துன்ப வெள்ளம்
உளஎன நினையாதே செல்கதிக்கு என்றும் என்றும்
விளைநிலம் உழுவார் போல் வித்துநீர் செய்து கொண்மின்.

Youth is not permanent. It will be over in a jiffy. The pleasure you chase in youth isn’t long lasting. So is the wealth you think you have. Life is but a flood of misery. So don’t think these (youth, pleasure and wealth) are forever. Only the good deeds you do in this birth will help you achieve salvation. So be like the farmer who works hard but doesn’t consume everything he produces. He saves seeds for the next season from this year’s harvest.

This poem is from Valaiyapathi, dated to 9th Century AD. Valaiyapathi is a Jain epic and buttresses their religious view about salvation and rebirth. As with most Tamil works, all the words in this poem are still in daily use (except வைகல்).

செல்கதி – dictionary says “salvation”. Po.Ve.Somasundaranar in his commentary interprets it as “next birth”. I decided to stick to the dictionary meaning.

நிலை – permanent
வைகல் – daily
உள – there (foerever)
செல்கதி – salvation
விளைநிலம் – farmland
வித்து – seed

Naachiyar Thirumozhi – 584

O’ dark clouds that appear over Venkata hills during monsoon!
I tumble down like withered crown flower leaves in rainy season,
chanting the name of one who appeared in battlefield victoriously;
Will he not send me a word of hope as time stretches before me!

கார்காலத் தெழுகின்ற கார்முகில்காள் வேங்கடத்துப்
போர்காலத் தெழுந்தருளிப் பொருதவனார் பேர்சொல்லி
நீர்காலத் தெருக்கிலம் பழவிலைபோல் வீழ்வேனை
வார்காலத் தொருநாள்தம் வாசகம்தந் தருளாரே!

This is a poem from Nachiyar Thirumozhi by Andal, dated to around 8th century. She is in love with Lord Vishnu, who resides in the Venkata hills (Tirupati). As monsoon clouds rise up, she complains to them. “I keep chanting his name, who appeared in the battlefield and emerged victorious. Constantly thinking of him, I am becoming weak and brittle. I fall down like the crown flower (எருக்கு) leaves that dry out in summer and at the first touch of rains fall down. Why does he not send me a message one of these days as I wait for him. His message would revive me”

Crown flower plant has a milky stem. During the hot summer, the milky liquid is completely dried out and the leaves fade. As soon as the rain drops fall on the plant, the leaves break and fall down. She says she is like those leaves, her soul is withering as he hasn’t appeared in front of her. At this stage, if rain drops fall on her, she will break down completely. If he sends a message to her, that will sustain her life.

I was reminded of this poem after seeing a video of a leaf falling down in a pond. It is not a crown flower leaf, but the image triggered the memory of this beautiful poem.

View this post on Instagram

Falling gracefully….

A post shared by Senthil (@itchyfeetindian) on

கார்காலம் – monsoon
கார்முகில் – dark clouds
பொருதுதல் – fight
நீர்காலம் – rainy season
எருக்கு – crown flower
இலம் – without / poor
பழு – பழுத்த – faded
வார் – lengthen
வாசகம் – message

Post Navigation