Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “September, 2017”

Manimekalai 11.(lines 92-96)

Benefactors to the able are just traders in virtue;
Those who satiate the hunger of the feeble
are who embody virtuous life in this world;
Of all those who live in this densely packed world –
One who gives food is one who gives life.

ஆற்றுநர்க்கு அளிப்போர் அறவிலை பகர்வோர்
ஆற்றா மாக்கள் அரும்பசி களைவோர்
மேற்றே உலகின் மெய்ந்நெறி வாழ்க்கை
மண்திணி ஞாலத்து வாழ்வோர்க்கு எல்லாம்
உண்டி கொடுத்தோர் உயிர்கொடுத் தோரே.

Manimekalai is a Buddist epic, generally dated around 5th Century CE. It follows the life of Manimekalai, who is the daughter of Madhavi from Silappathikaram (the premier epic in Tamil literature). She is given the ‘Amudha Surabhi’ (never empty food bowl) which will satiate the hunger of all living beings. While giving her the Amudha Surabhi, the goddess Deeva Thilakai explains to her the virtue of feeding the hungry.

The Goddess says “Those who give to able men who can do something back for them are just traders in virtue. They do virtuous deeds expecting something in return. Those who remove the hunger of the feeble ones embody virtuous life in this world. There are in this atom packed world. In this world one who provides food to the needy is one who gives life to them”. Feeding the hungry was considered the highest form of virtue.

The phrase “உண்டி கொடுத்தோர் உயிர்கொடுத் தோரே” – ‘One who feeds is one who gives life’ is very popular in Tamil Nadu. It is derived from Puranaanooru poem number 18. Similarly the phrase ‘அறவிலை பகர்வோர்’ – ‘traders in virtue’ is from Puranaanooru poem no. 134.

ஆற்றுநர் – those who are able (to do some thing in return)
அறம் – virtue
விலை பகர்வோர் – who tell price (trader)
ஆற்றா – unable / feeble
மாக்கள் – people
மேற்றே – follows
மெய்ந்நெறி – true path (virtuous)
மண் திணி – atom packed
ஞாலம் – world
உண்டி – food

Kalingathup Parani

Believing your sleep is real, 
he places his hand  on your foot to massage,
thinking it will be a remedy to your tiff;
Oh women, who still pretend sleep
and not open your sharp eyes, open your doors!

இத்துயில் மெய்த்துயிலே என்றுகு றித்திளைஞோர்
இதுபுல விக்குமருந் தெனமனம் வைத்தடியில்
கைத்தலம் வைத்தலுமே பொய்த்துயில் கூர்நயனக்
கடைதிற வாமடவீர் கடைதிற மின்.

The poet is in town to praise the valor of victorious Chola army in the battle of Kalinga. (1110 CE) He asks the women to open their doors and listen to their men’s valor. In this poem he says “You pretend to be asleep. Your lover thinks it is real and takes your foot in his hand to massage and reconcile over a tiff. Though you love it, you still pretend to be asleep and do not open your eyes. Oh women, open your doors and hear me” Massage is not explicit in the original poem. I have made it explicit for readability.

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.

துயில் – sleep
மெய் – true
குறித்து – believing
இளைஞோர் – lover
மனம் வைத்து – thinking
புலவி – tiff / sulk
அடி – foot
கூர் நயனம் – sharp eyes

Thirukkural – 664

It’s easy for any one to declare;
harder to do as declared.

சொல்லுதல் யார்க்கும் எளிய அரியவாம் 
சொல்லிய வண்ணம் செயல்.

It is easy for any one to declare “This is how I am going to do this job”. But much harder for him to do as he claimed he would do.

எளிய – easy
அரிய – difficult / hard

Kurunthokai – 71

He tells his heart:

If it’s cure I seek, then she’s cure;
if it’s wealth  I seek, then she’s wealth –
this hill chieftain’s young daughter
with beautiful freckled bosom,
strong shoulders and slender waist.

மருந்து எனின் மருந்தே; வைப்பு எனின் வைப்பே-
அரும்பிய சுணங்கின் அம் பகட்டு இள முலை,
பெருந் தோள், நுணுகிய நுசுப்பின்,
கல் கெழு கானவர் நல்குறு மகளே.

She is the daughter of hill chieftain. She is young and freckle bosomed, has strong shoulders and slender waist and he has fallen in love with her. His heart tells him to go away from her to earn wealth. But he argues with his heart saying there is no need for him to go. If he goes away he will fall love sick and the cure for that is this girl. If it is wealth (future savings) he is going in search of, that too is this girl for him. So why should he go away?

The brevity of original poem is difficult to translate. Literal translation of ‘மருந்து எனின் மருந்தே’ is ‘if cure then cure’. The ‘I seek – then she is’ is implied. I had to make it explicit to make the translation easy to read.

வைப்பு – savings (wealth)
அரும்பிய – budding
சுணங்கு – freckle
பகட்டு – atbeautifu
நுணுகிய – narrow
நுசுப்பு – waist
கல் கெழு – rock filled (hills)
கானவர் – ruler of forest
குறு மகள் – young daughter

Thirukkural – 882

Fear not sword like overt foes,
fear friendship of kinsmen-like foes. 

வாள்போல் பகைவரை அஞ்சற்க வஞ்சுக
கேள்போல் பகைவர் தொடர்பு

One can protect oneself from visible sword like known enemies, so he need not fear them much. But one has to fear enemies who pretend to be kin yet harbor enmity in their hearts. He has to be more careful with them than open foes.

The original verse does not explicitly state ‘overt’. I have added it in translation for better readability.

வாள் – Sword
கேள் – Relatives

Naaladiyaar – 133

Wise men consider salt from saline lands
valuable than paddy from fertile lands;
scholars, even if they are born in low lands,
are placed above those from higher lands.

களர் நிலத்துப் பிறந்த உப்பினைச் சான்றோர்
விளை நிலத்து நெல்லின் விழுமிதாக் கொள்வர்;-
கடை நிலத்தோர் ஆயினும், கற்று அறிந்தோரைத்
தலை நிலத்து வைக்கப்படும்.

This Naaladiyaar poem talks about the value of education. Salt was a precious commodity in those days and wise men valued it much more than paddy sown in fertile lands. Similarly, an educated man, even if he is from lower strata of society, will be placed above those born in higher rungs of society.

Literal meaning: கடை நிலத்து – low lands, தலை நிலத்து – high lands. Thi. Su. Balasundaram Pillai in his commentary interprets it as those born in lower and higher caste respectively.

களர் – saline land
விழுமியம் – value

Thirukkural – 1103

Sleep in the soft arms of the girl one falls in love with –
is lotus-eyed lord’s heaven blissful than that?

தாம்வீழ்வார் மென்தோள் துயிலின் இனிதுகொல் 
தாமரைக் கண்ணான் உலகு

This Kural is under the chapter புணர்ச்சி மகிழ்தல் – to delight in copulation (Some English commentators title it as ‘Rejoicing in embrace’, out of prudishness). When his friend advises him to not give in to carnal pleasure, he says “The nap I take in the soft arms of the girl I have fallen for, is so blissful that even lotus-eyed lord’s (Thirumal) abode can’t be compared to it”.

தாம் வீழ்வார் – literally ‘whom one falls to’. I have translated it as ‘whom one falls in love with’.

Based on the preceding Kurals, this Kural can be taken as praising the bliss of post coital nap.

வீழ் – fall down (yield)
துயில் – sleep
தாமரைக் கண்ணான் –  Lotus-eyed lord (Thirumal)
உலகு – world (where the lotus -eyed lord lives)

Puranaanooru – 123

It’s easy for anyone to gift a chariot
if he drinks early and stays tipsy through the day;
gilded chariots gifted by sober Malayan
of lasting fame are innumerable
than fruitful rain drops over Mullur peaks.

நாட்கள் ளுண்டு நாண்மகிழ் மகிழின்
யார்க்கு மெளிதே தேரீ தல்லே
தொலையா நல்லிசை விளங்கு மலையன்
மகிழா தீத்த விழையணி நெடுந்தேர்
பயன்கெழு முள்ளூர் மீமிசைப்
பட்ட மாரி யுறையினும் பலவே.

This is a poem written by Kapilar, the premier Sangam era poet, in praise of Malayan (Malayaman Thirumudik Kaari) who ruled over Mullur hills. He was a famous patron to many poets. Kapilar says “Many patrons bestow chariots as gifts when they are drunk and intoxicated through out the day. Those are tainted by the intoxicated nature of the patron. But Malayaman gifts gilded chariots when he is sober. This makes those chariots more valuable, as they are given in good sense. These chariots are more in number than the rain drops that fall over Mullur hills of Malayaman”

Exaggeration is a poetic virtue. Kapilar too is not immune to that.

மகிழ் – Happy / tipsy
எளிது – easy
ஈதல் – to gift / bestow
தொலையா – un decaying / lasting
நல்லிசை – good name / fame
மகிழாது ஈத்த – given when not tipsy / sober
இழையணி – bedecked / gilded
பயன்கெழு – useful / fruitful
மீமிசை – over (peaks)
மாரி – rain
உறை – drops

Kurunthokai – 113

Her friend says:

Near our hamlet is a pond;
not too far from the pond is a rivulet;
other than white stork in search of prey
nothing else comes to the nearby grove;
we go there to collect clay for our tresses;*
naive girl will come there too.

ஊர்க்கும் அணித்தே, பொய்கை; பொய்கைக்குச்
சேய்த்தும் அன்றே, சிறு கான்யாறே:
இரை தேர் வெண் குருகு அல்லது யாவதும்
துன்னல் போகின்றால், பொழிலே; யாம் எம்
கூழைக்கு எருமண் கொணர்கம் சேறும்;
யாண்டும் வருகுவள் பெரும் பேதையே.

* using clay to wash hair was a prevalent practice till recent times.

He is loitering around their house to meet her. She has decided to change the meeting place. So she asks her friend to convey the message to him. Her friend says “There is a pond near our hamlet. Not far from the pond is a small rivulet that flows from the forest. Near that rivulet is a grove where no one comes except white stork in search of prey. We will come to the banks of that rivulet to collect clay to wash our hair. This naive girl will come there too.”

When she says that ‘we come to the rivulet to collect clay’, she implies others will stay only at the banks of the river, no one else will be in that grove. White stork hunting for fish can be expanded as a metaphor for him trying to meet her. ‘Naive girl’ can be expanded to ‘she is love struck and is naive enough to take such risk to meet you’.

அணித்து – அண்மையில் – near
பொய்கை – natural spring / pond
சிறு கான்யாறு – சிறு கான் ஆறு – small forest river (rivulet)
வெண் – வெண்மை – white
குருகு – stork / crane
துன்னல் – close
பொழில் – grove
கூழை – hair / tress
எருமண் – clay
கொணர்கம் – bring (collect)
சேறும் – செல்வோம் – go there
யாண்டு – there
பேதை – naive (girl)


Thirukkural – 114

Was one fair or unfair will be known
by the legacy one leaves behind.

தக்கார் தகவு இலர் என்பது அவர் அவர்
எச்சத்தால் காணப்படும்.

This Kural is under the chapter நடுவுநிலைமை – Impartiality / Neutrality. In this couplet Valluvar says whether one has been fair or unfair will be known by what he leaves behind. The word எச்சம் means ‘remainder / balance’.

Parimel Alagar and Devaneya Paavaanar interpret it as ‘progeny / children’ and read the Kural as “whether one was fair or unfair will be known by the qualities of his children”. Dr. Mu.Va. on the other hand interprets it as fame or infamy. In that case the Kural will be read as “whether one was fair or unfair will be known by his fame or infamy after his death”

I couldn’t decide either way and felt as if Valluvar was laughing at us across 2 milleniums with his ambiguous choice of words. I settled on legacy which can be read either way, as ambiguous as the original.

தக்கார் தகவில ரென்ப தவரவ
ரெச்சத்தாற் காணப் படும்.

தக்கார் – தகுதி மிக்கவர் – qualified / just person
தகவு – Quality
இலர் – இல்லாதவர் – without
எச்சம் – Balace / remainder / left over

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