Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “October, 2017”

Thirukkural – 1049

It’s even possible to sleep inside fire; but impossible
any which way to close eyes and sleep in poverty.

நெருப்பினுள் துஞ்சலும் ஆகும்; நிரப்பினுள்
யாது ஒன்றும் கண்பாடு அரிது.

It might even be possible for a person to sleep inside a fire, but it is impossible to sleep peacefully when one is destitute.

துஞ்சல் – sleep
நிரப்பு – poverty
கண் பாடு – close eyes and sleep
அரிது – difficult

Thirukkural – 389

King who tolerates words bitter to his ears,
under his protection does the world abide.

செவிகைப்பச் சொற்பொறுக்கும் பண்புடை வேந்தன்
கவிகைக்கீழ்த் தங்கு முலகு.

When a ruler deviates from justice, his ministers have to advice him and point out his mistakes. If a ruler can tolerate those bitter words and listen to them, then the world will abide by his rule.

A ruler who wants to rule the world should be open to hear harsh words from his advisors. The word கவிகை mean Umbrella / parasol. It was a symbol of royalty. Since this is not so common in English speaking world, I have used protection.

கைத்தல் – bitter
கவிகை – umbrella / parasol / protection

Puranaanooru – 51

If water surges, there’s no bank that can hold it;
if fire surges, there’s no refuge that can save living beings;
if air surges, there’s nothing stronger to stop it;
like them is the renowned fierce Vazhuthi*;
unable to tolerate the saying that
“Tamil country is equally ruled (by all three kings)”,
he raises an army and demands tribute;
kings who pay up can be without worry,
those who don’t are pitiable, for they fall foul of him;
like winged termites that fly out of mounds
built painstakingly by hordes of white ants,
they flutter about to live for just a day.

* – Pandiyan King Kootakarathu thunchiya Maran Vazhuthi

நீர் மிகின், சிறையும் இல்லை; தீ மிகின்,
மன் உயிர் நிழற்றும் நிழலும் இல்லை;
வளி மிகின், வலியும் இல்லை; ஒளி மிக்கு
அவற்று ஓர் அன்ன சினப் போர் வழுதி,
‘தண் தமிழ் பொது’ எனப் பொறாஅன், போர் எதிர்ந்து,
கொண்டி வேண்டுவன் ஆயின், ‘கொள்க’ எனக்
கொடுத்த மன்னர் நடுக்கு அற்றனரே;
அளியரோ அளியர், அவன் அளி இழந்தோரே
நுண் பல சிதலை அரிது முயன்று எடுத்த
செம் புற்று ஈயல் போல,
ஒரு பகல் வாழ்க்கைக்கு உலமருவோரே!

This poem by Ayoor Mudavanar is about the valour of Pandiyan King Kootakarathu thunchiya Maran Vazhuthi (Maran Vazhuthi who died in Kootakaram battle). He was known for waging war against other rulers of Tamil country and subduing them. Thepoet says like the surge of elements (water, fire and air), fierce Vazhuthi also could not be contained. He could not tolerate when people said Tamil country is common for the three kings – Cheras, Cholas and Pandiyas. So he waged war against them and asked them to pay tributes to him and accept him as their overlord. Those who accepted were without worry. Those who didn’t fell foul of him and their condition was pitiable. Like winged termites that buzz out of termite mounds and die within a day, they rose briefly only to die.

The termite mound simile stands out in this poem. A termite mound is built by the hard work of thousands of termites. Similarly a country attains wealth by the hard work of its citizens. But when winged termites fly out of the mound, their life span is hardly a day. So is the life span of any one who opposes Vazhuthi.

The word play in அளியரோ அளியர், அவன் அளி இழந்தோரே is noteworthy. The poet uses the word அளி thrice, each time with a different meaning.
அளியரோ – அளிக்காதவரோ – those who don’t give
அளியர் – poor/wretched
அளி இழந்தோரே – those who lost his grace / fell foul of him

Nammalvaar – 2654

One with a Golden crown, one with a thousand names,
one whose dazzling disc dims the stars- him
I kept in my heart as protective mom and dad;
henceforth, whatever happens does it matter?

அடர்ப்பொன் முடியானை யாயிரம்பே ரானை,
சுடர்கொள் சுடராழி யானை,-இடர்கடியும்
மாதா பிதுவாக வைத்தேன் எனதுள்ளே
யாதாகில் யாதே இனி

This verse is from Nammalvar’s pasurams. Nammalvar is considered the greatest amongst twelve Alwars (Vaishnavite saints) and has written 1352 of the 4000 verses in Naalaayira Divya Prabandham. His period is generally dated to 8th Century AD. The Vaishnavite philosophy of Alwars is qualified non-dualism (Vishishtadvaita), simply put – total surrender to the One. (I am not qualified to talk about nuances of philosophy. This is just my understanding.)

In this poem Nammalvar says “I have placed him – who wears a dazzling golden crown, who has a thousand name, whose disc dims the brightness of all the sun and stars in this earth – in my heart like my mother and father, who remove all obstacles in my path.Hence forth, whatever happens doesn’t bother me. Because I have totally surrendered to him, whatever happens is his wish”

If you can read Tamil, do read it for the cadence and simplicity of the verse. Nammalvar’s verses are known for their innate rhythm and are a pleasure to read out loud. I haven’t read all his verses. Chose this particular verse for its simplicity and universal theme. In this 1200 year old verse, except ஆழி, all other words are simple Tamil words still in use.

சுடர் + கொள் – stars + subsume
சுடர் ஆழி – bright disc
இடர் கடியும் – peril + removing (protective)
பிது – பித்ரு – father
எனதுள்ளே – எனது + உள்ளத்திலே – in my heart
யாது – whatever / anything

Puranaanooru – 309

To destroy weapons and conquer foes
in mighty battles is easy for anyone;
but, like the mound where cobra resides,
like the arena where deadly bull roams,
powerful enemies are afraid when they learn
he is in his barracks; such is the fame
of my victorious spear wielding lord.

இரும்புமுகம் சிதைய நூறி ஒன்னார்
இருஞ்சமம் கடத்தல் ஏனோர்க்கும் எளிதே;
நல்அரா உறையும் புற்றம் போலவும்
கொல்ஏறு திரிதரு மன்றம் போலவும்
மாற்றருந் துப்பின் மாற்றோர் பாசறை
உளன்என வெரூஉம் ஓர்ஒளி
வலன்உயர் நெடுவேல் என்னைகண் ணதுவே.

This is a poem singing the praise of a renowned warlord. The poet says, “Any one can fight in the battlefield, destroy the weapons of enemies and conquer them. That is what normal warriors do. But my lord’s fame is much more than that. Enemies are afraid when they learn he is in his barracks. Fear creeps into them, like the fear one has on seeing a mound where Cobra resides; like the fear one has on seeing the arena where the deadly bull roams. Such is his renown.”

‘Mound where cobra resides’ is a metaphor for his barracks where he rests. Even without seeing the cobra, people are afraid. Likewise enemies are afraid just on knowing that he is in his barracks. ‘Arena where the deadly bull roams’ is a metaphor for the fear he instlls in his enemies about his prowess.

Now you know where our propensity to ‘punch dialogues’ come from.

இரும்புமுகம் – iron face – spears, swords
நூறி – நூறுதல் – to destroy
ஒன்னார் – enemy
இருஞ்சமம் – இரு+ சமர் – great battle
கடத்தல் – conquer
ஏனோர் – others
நல்அரா – நல்ல பாம்பு – cobra
கொல்ஏறு – கொல் + ஏறு – deadly bull
மன்றம் – arena
மாற்று – destroy
துப்பு – strength
மாற்றோர் – enemies
பாசறை – barracks
வெரு – fear
ஒளி – fame
வலன் – வலம் – victorious
என்னை – என் + அய் – my lord
கண்ணதுவே – with him

Kurunthokai – 28

Shall I whack them? or clobber them?
I don’t know; shall I intentionally scream
“aaah,Oh”? – at this town that sleeps
unaware of my love sickness,

while I’m tormented by swirls of swaying breeze.

முட்டுவேன்கொல்? தாக்குவேன்கொல்?
ஓரேன், யானும்: ஓர் பெற்றி மேலிட்டு,
‘ஆஅ! ஒல்’ எனக் கூவுவேன்கொல்?-
அலமரல் அசைவளி அலைப்ப, என்
உயவு நோய் அறியாது, துஞ்சும் ஊர்க்கே.

This is another popular poem in Kurunthokai, written by Avvaiyaar. She is pining for him and is unable to sleep at night. The swaying breeze adds to her suffering. The entire town is sleeping peacefully except her. She is irked with the town that doesn’t know her misery. “While I am suffering in love, this town sleeps peacefully. Shall I go and whack them? Or clobber them?. I don’t know. May be I will scream intentionally and wake them up.” The implied meaning is once the townspeople wake up and curse her, then they will start gossiping about her condition and force her lover to come and marry her.

Sangam era Avvaiyaar was most definitely a fiesty young woman, not the old woman we see in Tamil mythical movies.

பெற்றி – reason / intention
அலமரல் – swirling
அசைவளி – அசைவு + அளி – sway + breeze
அலை – tormented / afflicted
உயவு நோய் – love sickness
துஞ்சுதல் – sleep

Thirukkural – 1307

There’s a distress in lover’s tiff too – when mind worries
whether love-making will be delayed or not.

ஊடலின் உண்டாங்கோர் துன்பம் புணர்வது
நீடுவ தன்று கொல் என்று.

They are meeting after a long separation. She feigns a tiff with him, to make him wait more. But the tiff comes with its own distress, as her mind worries whether they will start making love soon or will it be delayed further because of the tiff. Implied meaning is feigned tiff shouldn’t extend too much and delay the conjugal union.

Dr. Mu Varadarasan and others take ‘நீடுவது’ as ‘love-making time will be extended’ and interpret the Kural as “Whether love-making time will extend or be cut short because of the tiff”. Devaneya Paavaanar takes it as ‘time to start making love will be lengthened (delayed)’ and interprets the Kural as “Whether love-making will be delayed because of the tiff or start soon”. I have gone with Devaneya Paavaanar’s interpretation.

ஊடல் – lover’s tiff / quarrel / pouting
ஆங்கோர் – ஆங்கு + ஓர் – there (is) a
புணர்வது – making love
நீடுவது – extend
அன்று – not

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