Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “September, 2017”

Some questions I have been asked

1. Are you a Tamil scholar/expert/academic?

No, definitely not. I studied in English medium schools in various towns of Tamil Nadu. I learned Tamil only as a language, it wasn’t my medium of education. However, all my initial fiction reading was in Tamil. I read my first English book only when I was 13. My translations are part of my self learning of classical Tamil literature.

I am an Engineer by qualification. I have worked as an Engineer, Ship Chandler and now am a business owner. I have never been a teacher / academic. The beauty of Tamil is it is a living classical language, so it is easily accessible to any Tamil speaking person if he is willing to put in effort.

2. Why have a separate twitter account for translation? Why not post it in your personal account?

A separate account creates a focused brand. If I post in my personal account, it will be diluted with my personal tweets. In the polarized world we live in, my politics (I identify myself as a Liberal atheist) may not be appreciated by those who follow me only for translations. So I thought it is better to keep the accounts separate.

3.How do you choose which poem to translate?

Purely on random basis. Sometimes I select poems in line with current news events. I try to mix and match slice of life poems, aphorisms, epics and so on so that there is no monotony.

4.Why not translate in chronological order, finishing one anthology before moving on to the next?

I tried to translate Kamba Ramayanam in 2013, but couldn’t make much progress because the monotony got to me. I lack the perseverance to stick to one project. By this method of mix and match, I myself don’t know what I will be translating tomorrow. So it keeps the interest going, for me and the readers.

5.Where is your source material from?

The original poems I take from Tamilvu.org site. It is a treasure trove for Tamil literature and one of those instances where a government organization does real good.

The translations are done by me.  (Yes, I still get this query). For commentaries I rely on Tamil commentaries from Tamilvu site as well as blogs. There are many Tamil blogs that have detailed commentaries. For dictionary, again I use the Madras University Tamil lexicon in the Tamilvu site.

6.Do you think your translations are good? Why waste time?

Sangam Poetry has many translations off line and online. Thirukkural has been translated countless times. Other works have been translated in bits and pieces. So it is not like I am the first one to do this. I am my worst critic. I am aware of my drawbacks. I would like to have skills like Vikram Seth and translate metrical Tamil poetry into iambic pentameter verse. But I don’t have such skills.

I read somewhere that “you have to be willing to be bad at something before you become good at it”. That’s what I am doing. I am putting myself out there, warts and all, and trying to improve.

7. How do you find time? 

I don’t watch TV much. That frees up a lot of time. I do steal time from my family, but they have reconciled to that a long time ago. My other reading has suffered a lot since I started this project.

8. Why don’t you include Tamil commentary / audio clip for each poem?

I have a business to run too :-). This is a solo project. My skills are limited and there is only so much time I can spend. I did try recording my voice, but it came out horrible.

There are lot of Tamil commentaries available online –  தினம் ஒரு சங்கத் தமிழ் (KRS blog), 365 பா (Group blog), கற்க நிற்க (Palaniappan Vairam Sarathi), http://learnsangamtamil.com (Vaidehi Herbert), sangacholai (Dr. P Pandiaraja), http://vaiyan.blogspot.in (Sengai Pothuvan) are some I know. You can google and find more.

9. Why do you do reposts in twitter? Why not tweet only new translations?

To keep the readers engaged. This is one tip I got from twitter.com/sentantiq .

Also I am afraid that if I stop posting for one day, then I might drop the project altogether. So I impose a condition on myself that I have to post atleast one translation a day. Sometimes this leads to too much pressure on myself. No one is going to ask me why I didn’t post that day. Yet, I have to do it. In a way this project is a monkey on my back.

10. Are you bringing out a book anytime soon?

No. There is lot more to do before I can compile these into a book. Most of these translations are done last minute, sometimes while traveling in a bus or train. They are like a curate’s egg, good in parts. I need to build up a corpus of translations and clean them up before venturing to publish a book.

Maduraik Kanchi – 590-599

On the auspicious day of Onam,
birthday of golden garland wearing *Maayon,
who destroyed groups of Asuras,
in the hamlets of warriors
scarred with sword marks on their faces
and strong arms calloused by riding elephants,
passionate warriors wearing garland of flowers
and wound marks in their foreheads
obtained in fights with other clans,
engage elephants to fight each other;
blue cloth spread over a fence of caltrops
to protect the audience, falls down and pricks them;
people roam around buzzed with pure clarified toddy

*Maayon – Thirumal, Tamil equivalent of Vishnu

கணம் கொள் அவுணர்க் கடந்த பொலந் தார்
மாயோன் மேய ஓண நல் நாள்,
கோணம் தின்ற வடு ஆழ் முகத்த,
சாணம் தின்ற சமம் தாங்கு தடக் கை,    
மறம் கொள் சேரி மாறு பொரு செருவில்,          
மாறாது உற்ற வடுப் படு நெற்றி,    
சுரும்பு ஆர் கண்ணிப் பெரும் புகல் மறவர்  
கடுங் களிறு ஓட்டலின், காணுநர் இட்ட
நெடுங் கரைக் காழகம் நிலம் பரல் உறுப்ப,        
கடுங் கள் தேறல் மகிழ் சிறந்து திரிதர

Onam is today identified solely as the festival of Kerala. It was a festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu too, during th Sangam era and the first millennium. This is a description of Onam celebrated in Madurai during the reign of ‘Thalayalanganathu Cheru Vendra Nedunchezhiyan‘ (Nedunchezhiyan who won the Thalayalanganam battle).

The hamlets around Madurai are getting ready to celebrate the auspicious day of Onam, birthday of Maayon (Thirumal, equivalent of Vishnu). Maayon wears a golden garland and destroyed groups of strong Asuras. In the hamlet of warrior clans, warriors with wound marks on their foreheads and strong calloused arms, wearing flower garlands (that signify that they are ready to battle), engage their elephant to fight each other. The whole town is there to see the spectacle. To protect the audience from elephants, a long fence of spiked caltrops are set up and covered with blue cloth. Due to the rush the fence falls down and the spikes prick the audience. Everyone is pleasantly drunk of pure clarified toddy and happily roaming around.

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