Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “August, 2017”

Naaladiyaar – 332

Like people who go to bathe in the ocean saying
“I’ll bathe after the noise (of waves) subsides completely” –
is the shabby conduct of those who wait saying
“I’ll think of virtuous deeds after completing my domestic duties”

பெருங் கடல் ஆடிய சென்றார், ‘ஒருங்கு உடன்
ஓசை அவிந்தபின் ஆடுதும்’ என்றற்றால்-
‘இல் செய் குறைவினை நீக்கி, அறவினை
மற்று அறிவாம்’ என்று இருப்பார் மாண்பு.

One should not wait to complete all his domestic responsibilities before doing good deeds. Because domestic responsibilities never end. It is like those who go to bathe in the ocean and wait for the noise of waves to completely subside before entering the ocean. Only an ignoramus will wait for something that will never happen.

ஒருங்கு – complete
அவிந்த பின் – after it subsides
இல் – home
செய் – to do
குறைவினை – shortage
அறவினை – virtuous deed
மற்று – later
அறிவாம் – will think
இருப்பார் – wait
மாண்பு – glory (used here in opposite meaning – shabby)

Nattrinai – 110

Grey haired governesses
carrying golden bowls
of sweet milk mixed with honey
ordered “Eat!” and threatened
to hit her with flowering twigs.
Refusing to eat, she tired them
by running under garden creepers
with her pearl filled golden anklets tinkling,
my playful little girl!
when did she become so mature and wise?
As her husband’s clan fell into poverty,
she doesn’t think of rich food at her dad’s house,
but like finely dispersed sand in running water,
skips a meal and eats, my strong little woman!

பிரசம் கலந்த வெண் சுவைத் தீம்பால்
விரி கதிர்ப் பொற்கலத்து ஒரு கை ஏந்தி,
புடைப்பின் சுற்றும் பூந் தலைச் சிறு கோல்,
”உண்” என்று ஓக்குபு பிழைப்ப, தெண் நீர்
முத்து அரிப் பொற்சிலம்பு ஒலிப்பத் தத்துற்று,
அரி நரைக் கூந்தற் செம் முது செவிலியர்
பரி மெலிந்து ஒழிய, பந்தர் ஓடி,
ஏவல் மறுக்கும் சிறு விளையாட்டி
அறிவும் ஒழுக்கமும் யாண்டு உணர்ந்தனள்கொல்?
கொண்ட கொழுநன் குடி வறன் உற்றென,
கொடுத்த தந்தை கொழுஞ் சோறு உள்ளாள்,
ஒழுகு நீர் நுணங்கு அறல் போல,
பொழுது மறுத்து உண்ணும் சிறு மதுகையளே!

Her governess goes to see her at her in law’s place and finds that they have fallen into poverty. She comes back and tells her mom that her daughter’s household is so poor that they have to skip a meal.

Her mother reminisces about how her daughter was pampered as a young girl. Governesses used to chase her with golden bowls full of milk and honey. She refused to eat and when they threatened to hit her with soft flowering twigs, she used to run under garden creepers with her anklets tinkling. Old governesses were tired by her running around. So playful was she. But now, she has become so mature and wise that she doesn’t think back on her pampered upbringing but has adjusted herself to the new reality of her husband’s place.

Her pampered upbringing is brought out by ‘golden bowls of sweet milk mixed with honey’ and ‘golden anklets filled with pearls’. Finely dispersed sand in running water is a simile for thin gruel, I guess. The previous sentence talks about கொழுஞ் சோறு – thick and rich food, at her father’s house.

If you are a Tamil movie aficionado, you will immediately recall the ‘Idli Upma’ scene from the movie ‘Soorya Vamsam’.

பிரசம் – honey
தீம்பால் – sweet milk
விரிகதிர் – rising sun (shiny)
பொற்கலம் – golden bowl
புடைப்பு – hit
பூந்தலைச் சிறுகோல் – flowering twigs (soft so it won’t hurt the child)
ஓக்குதல் – to raise / throw (threaten)
தெண் நீர் – cool water
முத்து – pearl
பொற்சிலம்பு – golden anklet
அரி நரை – thin grey
கூந்தல் – hair
செவிலியர் – governess
பரி மெலிந்து ஒழிய – tired by running
பந்தர் – (jasmine flower) creeper
ஏவல் – order
யாண்டு – when
கொண்ட – married
கொழுநன் – husband
குடி – clan
வறன் – poverty
கொடுத்த தந்தை – father who gave birth
கொழு – thick
உள்ளாள் – உள்ள (உள்ளுதல்) + மாட்டாள் – does not think
ஒழுகு நீர் – running water
நுணங்கு – fine
அறல் – sand
பொழுது – time
மறுத்து – refuse
மதுகையள் – மதுகை + உடையவள் – Strong girl

Thirukkural – 772

It’s more laudable to carry a spear that missed a tusker,
than an arrow that shot a rabbit.

கான முயல் எய்த அம்பினில், யானை
பிழைத்த வேல் ஏந்தல் இனிது.

To try something big and fail is more laudable than middling success.

Ainthinai Ezhupathu – 7

She comes back after a tryst with him and suddenly sees her governess. This is her friend to the governess who inquires why her eyes are red.

Don’t get angry, mother! She’s done no wrong;-
frolicking in waterfalls, that cascades down
with glorious red waters of forest river
awash with honey, made her eyes red.

காய்ந்தீயல், அன்னை! இவேளா தவறு இலள்;-
ஓங்கிய செந் நீர் இழிதரும் கான் யாற்றுள்,
தேம் கலந்து வந்த அருவி குடைந்து ஆட,
தாம் சிவப்பு உற்றன, கண்

She goes to meet him beside millet fields, made love and is coming back. Her governess comes in search of her and finds her with reddened eyes and suspects something amiss. Her friend steps in and says “Don’t be angry with her mother. She has done nothing wrong. She was playing in the waterfalls beside our field that flows down with red waters mixed with honey on the way. That’s why her eyes are red”

Ainthinai Ezhupathu (70 poems about five land scapes) is a collection of 70 poems written by Moovaadhiyaar. Some of these poems seem to have been derived from earlier works. This is generally dated to around 5th Century AD.

காய் – angry
ஓங்கு – glorious
செந்நீர் – red water
இழி – flow
கான் – forest
ஆற்றுள் – ஆறு + உள் – in the river
தேம் – honey
குடைந்து – immersed/ burrowed
ஆட – விளையாட – play

Nanmanik Kadigai – 6

From spurges* is aromatic agar born;
In deer’s stomach is rich musk** born;
Inside the sea invaluable pearl is born;
Who knows in which clan virtuous will be born?

கள்ளி வயிற்றின் அகில்பிறக்கும் மான்வயிற்றின்
ஒள்ளரி தாரம் பிறக்கும் பெருங்கடலுள்
பல்விலைய முத்தம் பிறக்கும் அறிவார்யார்
நல்லாள் பிறக்குங் குடி.

*Sap of square spurge (cactus like plant) was considered equivalent of agar wood resin from which attar is manufactured.
**Musk gland is inside a male deer’s body, between its genitals and umbilicus.

This poem is about how worth is based on one’s activities and not where he was born. The poet points out that aromatic substance is born in cactus like plants, rich musk is born inside a male deer’s stomach, invaluable pearls are born inside the huge ocean. So who knows in which clan the virtuous will be born. So do not value a person based on where he is born, value him based on his activities.

‘ஒள் அரிதாரம்’ has been interpreted as ‘bright musk’ in Tamil commentaries. Common meaning of ஒள் – ஒண்மை is bright. But it doesn’t make sense to call musk as bright. I have used ‘rich’ one of the other meanings in Madras University Dictionary.

Wikipedia link for
Spurge – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphorbia
Musk deer – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musk_deer

கள்ளி – Square Spurge
அகில் – Agar / aloes (aromatic resin of agarwood. Here an equivalent sap from spurge plant)
ஒள் – luxurious / rich
அரிதாரம் – musk
பல்விலை – highly valued
முத்தம் – pearl
குடி – clan

Kar Naarpathu – 14

My bedecked friend! Imminent return of our lover,
who went in search of wealth, is for sure;
Cool pleasant clouds smile gently
for jasmine shrubs to bloom with shiny teeth.

செல்வம் தரல் வேண்டிச் சென்ற நம் காதலர்
வல்லே வருதல் தெளிந்தாம்;-வயங்கிழாய்!-
முல்லை இலங்கு எயிறு ஈன, நறுந் தண் கார்
மெல்ல இனிய நகும்.

Kar Naarpathu is a collection of 40 poems set during rainy season, written by Madurai Kannan Koothanar. It is generally dated around 5th Century CE.

She is waiting for him to return. Her friend consoles her, showing the change of seasons. “It is monsoon time now. Cool clouds are smiling gently and there is a drizzle. Because of these rains, jasmine shrubs bloom with shiny white buds that are like teeth. It means that our lover is expected to return any time now. Please don’t worry yourself”

‘Clouds smile gently and jasmine shrubs bloom with shiny teeth’ – this is the stand out phrase in this poem for me. The imagery is striking. You can actually smell the first rains, feel the gentle drizzle and see those first jasmine buds.

‘Our lover’ – நம் காதலர் might sound odd for those who are new to Sangam literature. It was the norm for the friend to include herself as part of heroine’s persona. So when she says ‘our lover’ it means ‘your lover’. I decided to keep the original phrase.

தரல் – தருதல் – to get
வல் – quick
தெளி – clear
வயங்கு – shining
இழாய் – இழை உடையாய் – wearing jewels (bedecked)
முல்லை – jasmine
இலங்கு – shining
எயிறு – teeth
ஈன் – give birth to (bloom)
நறு – pleasant
தண் – cool
கார் – clouds
நகும் – smile

Thirukkural – 491

Don’t start any work (against a foe), don’t taunt – till

you’ve found the right place to encircle!

தொடங்கற்க எவ் வினையும்; எள்ளற்க-முற்றும்
இடம் கண்டபின் அல்லது!

When engaging an enemy you should lie low till you have found the right place to besiege and best him. Till that time you shouldn’t make the enemy know that you are preparing for war and do no mock / taunt the enemy. The right place decides the outcome of the battle. 

Thirukkural – 1183

He took my beauty and modesty away – 
giving misery and pallor in its place.

சாயலும் நாணும் அவர் கொண்டார்-கைம்மாறா
நோயும் பசலையும் தந்து.

He has left her and gone away. She agonizes over him and starts to weaken. Her friend advises her to take care of herself and not let the town  know about her tryst with him. She replies “While leaving me he took away my beauty and modesty with him, giving me love sickness and pallor in return”

கொண்டார் – is interpreted either as “got it from me – பெற்றுக் கொண்டார்” (by Dr. Mu. Va.) or “took it away from me – எடுத்துக் கொண்டு சென்றார்”(by Parimel Alagar and Devaneya Paavaanar). I have gone with Paavaanar’s interpretation.

சாயல் – beauty
நாண் – shame / modesty
கைம்மாறு – in return / in its place
நோய் – (love) sickness
பசலை – wanness / pallor

Kurunthokai – 387

The day’s over, jasmine blooms,
fiery sun softens; even if I swim across
this forlorn dusk with night as its end,
what’s the point, my friend?
Night’s expanse is vaster than the sea.

எல்லை கழிய முல்லை மலரக்
கதிர்சினந் தணிந்த கையறு மாலையும்
இரவரம் பாக நீந்தின மாயின்
எவன்கொல் வாழி தோழி
கங்குல் வெள்ளங் கடலினும் பெரிதே.

She’s pining for him but he hasn’t come to meet her. She says “The day is over. Jasmines have bloomed. (Jasmines bloom at night time. Their fragrance adds to her grief.) Fieriness of the sun has softened. But he hasn’t come and I miss him a lot. I am forlorn this evening without him. Even if I some how bear my pain and cross this evening holding myself together, there is no point in it. For, at the end of the evening lies the never ending night. It is even more vaster than the sea. I can’t bear this pain through the night.”

“Night’s expanse is vaster than the sea” is a poor imitation of கங்குல் வெள்ளங் கடலினும் பெரிதே. The cadence in that phrase is unmatchable.

எல்லை – Daytime
முல்லை – jasmine
கதிர் – sun
வரம்பு – boundary
நீந்தினம் – we swim
ஆயின் – if
கையறு – helpless (forlorn)
எவன்கொல் – what is the use
கங்குல் – night
வெள்ளம் – excess

Pazha Mozhi 400 – 42

Even Thirumal* who saved cows in distress
is called just a cow herd by this world;
irrespective of whether Gods or humans,
tongue that speaks ill is never at a loss.

*Thirumal – Tamil for Lord Vishnu

ஆவிற் கரும்பனி தாங்கிய மாலையும்
கோவிற்குக் கோவல னென்றுலகம் கூறுமால்
தேவர்க்கு மக்கட் கெனல்வேண்டா தீங்குரைக்கும்
நாவிற்கு நல்குர(வு) இல்

When Indra sent rain and thunder to destroy Brindavan, Lord Krishna (avatar of Vishnu) lifted the hills and saved men and cattle from their distress. Even though standing up to Indra was a praiseworthy feat, still the world calls him but a cow herd. So this world doesn’t differentiate between Gods or humans when it disparagaes them. The tongue is never at a loss to criticize / say bad things about people.

The proverb here is “Tongue that speaks ill is never at a loss” (தீங்குரைக்கும் நாவிற்கு நல்குர(வு) இல்)

Pazhamozhi 400 (Proverbs 400) is one of the 18 post Sangam anthologies. It was written / compiled by முன்றுறை அரையனார் (Mundrurai Arayanar, Chief of Mundrurai) and is generally dated to around 5th Century AD.

ஆ – cow
அரும் – great
பனி – distress
மால் – திருமால் – Thirumal (Tamil for Vishnu)
கோ – cow
கோவலன் – cow herd
தீங்கு உரைக்கும் – speaking ill
நா – tongue
நல்குரவு – poverty / shortage

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