Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “December, 2017”

Puranaanooru – 278

The old woman’s stomach is shriveled like lotus leaves;
veins stand out in her weak and withered shoulders;
on hearing many a person say that her son fled
after losing to the enemy, she angrily declared
“if he retreated from the battle field,
I’ll chop off my breasts that fed him”;
with a sword she went and searched the bloody field
from which bodies were yet to be removed;
on seeing her son’s dismembered body,
she felt happier than the day she birthed him.

நரம்பெழுந் துலறிய நிரம்பா மென்றோள்
முளரி மருங்கின் முதியோள் சிறுவன்
படையழிந்து மாறின னென்றுபலர் கூற
மாண்டமர்க் குடைந்தன னாயி னுண்டவென்
முலையறுத் திடுவென் யானெனச் சினைஇக்
கொண்ட வாளொடு படுபிணம் பெயராச்
செங்களந் துழவுவோள் சிதைந்துவே றாகிய
படுமகன் கிடக்கை காணூஉ
ஈன்ற ஞான்றினும் பெரிதுவந் தனளே.

Pura Naanooru is an anthology of 400 poems about external world – wars, kings and warriors. This is one of the popular poems which is used by politicians of all hues to whip up the glorious bravery of Tamils of yesteryears. The old woman has sent her son to battle field. She is reed thin, veins stand out in her shoulders, her stomach is shrivelled like dry lotus leaves. People bringing news from battle field say that her son ran away from the battle field after losing to the enemy. She is incensed on this blot to her clan. She declares angrily, “if it is true that he retreated from the battle field, I will chop of my breasts that fed him. He is no more my son”. She takes a sword in her hand and enters the battlefield to find whether it is true that her son ran away. The bodies are yet to be removed from the battlefield, which is still red with the blood spilt that day. She searches among those bodies. Finally she finds her son’s dismembered body amidst the battlefield. She feels joyful that her son held up her clan prestige and died bravely in the battle field instead of running away. The joy she felt (that he had upheld clan pride) was much more than the joy she felt when she gave birth to him.

“படையழிந்து மாறினன்” – U Ve Saa interprets this as “he retreated after losing”. Avvai Duraisamy Pillai in his commentary interprets it as “he was injured in the back while retreating and killed”. I have followed U Ve Saa’s interpretation as I think it makes more sense. George L Hart too follows U Ve Saa.

The original poem flows in one single sentence. It was difficult to maintain that structure without making the poem clunky. So I have split it into sentences.

நரம்பு – blood vessels / veins
உலறிய – dry
நிரம்பா – not full / withered
மென் தோள் – soft shoulders
முளரி – lotus
மருங்கு – waist
படை அழிந்து மாறினன் – lost to enemy and fled
மாண்டமர் – மாண் + அமர் – great battle
படுபிணம் – dead bodies
செங்களம் – (blood) red field
சிதைந்து வேறாகிய – destroyed and cut into pieces
படுமகன் – dead son
ஈன்ற – birthed
ஞான்று – day
உவத்தல் – happy

Thirukkural – 115

Loss or gain is nothing new; to not lose evenness of mind
is the adornment of the learned.

கேடும் பெருக்கமும் இல்லல்ல நெஞ்சத்துக்
கோடாமை சான்றோர்க் கணி.

To lose one’s possessions or to gain the same is not something new. It is natural in the course of life. So the learned scholars do not lose their mind and deviate from fairness in both cases. That evenness is what defines them.

கேடு – loss
பெருக்கம் – gain
இல் அல்ல – இல்லாதவை அல்ல – not something new
கோடு – deviation
அணி  – adornment

Kambaramayanam – 1103

Is it anything new to discard 
golden jewels and dresses worn externally?
A bright foreheaded woman discarded
modesty residing in her heart too;-
Like an ascetic who undertakes
severe forms of renunciation,
to forego one’s self

is a characteristic of passion too.

பொன் அருங் கலனும், தூசும்,
     புறத்து உள துறத்தல் வம்போ?
நல் நுதல் ஒருத்தி. தன்பால்
    அகத்து உள நாணும். நீத்தாள்;-
உன்ன அருந் துறவு பூண்ட
    உணர்வுடை ஒருவனேபோல்.
தன்னையும் துறக்கும் தன்மை
     காமத்தே தங்கிற்று அன்றே.

This poem is in the Revelry chapter (உண்டாட்டுப் படலம்) recording  revelries of women accompanying Dasaratha to Mithila. Kamban says “To give up external adornments like jewels and dress is nothing new. Anybody can do it. But this woman gives up modesty that resides in her heart and hankers after her man. Like ascetics who give up their self and undertake severe forms of renunciation, love makes these women discard their self and forget their reserve.”

Thirukkural – 573

Of what use is a tune, if it is not harmonious to sing?
Of what use is an eye, that lacks a kind sight?

பண் என் ஆம், பாடற்கு இயைபு இன்றேல்?-கண் என் ஆம்,
கண்ணோட்டம் இல்லாத கண்?

A tune that is not harmonious to sing is of no use. It provides no pleasure to the listener. Similarly an eye that lacks compassion is of no use. Though one may see with those eyes, it is as good as not seeing. ‘Use’ is not explicit in the original verse. I have made it explicit in translation.

The Tamil word கண்ணோட்டம் means kindly / benign / compassion, with the root word கண் – eye; ‘looking kindly at the other person.’.

‘பாடற்கு – பாடுவதற்கு – to sing’. Both Parimel Alagar and Devaneya Paavaaanar interpret it this way. However Mu Va and others treat it as ‘பாடலுக்கு – to the song’. G.U.Pope too in his translation interprets it as ‘to the song’ . Hence my translation differs from his.

பண் – Tune
இயைபு – suitable / harmonious
கண்ணோட்டம் – kindness / compassion

Thirukkural – 305

To guard oneself, one should guard against anger!
If not guarded, anger will kill the angry person himself.

தன்னைத் தான் காக்கின், சினம் காக்க! காவாக்கால்,
தன்னையே கொல்லும், சினம்.

Puranaanooru – 185

Wagon of governance that drives the world
with wheel and axle joined together,
will have a smooth path without obstacles
if wagoner is skillful; if he’s inept in driving,
it will get mired in slush of enmity daily,
bringing more and more misery.

கால்பார் கோத்து ஞாலத் தியக்கும்
காவற் சாகா டுகைப்போன் மாணின்
ஊறின் றாகி யாறினிது படுமே
உய்த்த றேற்றா னாயின் வைகலும்
பகைக்கூ ழள்ளற் பட்டு
மிகப்பஃறீநோய் தலைத்தலைத் தருமே.

This poem written by King Thondaiman Ilanthirayan, advises a ruler on how to rule his country with movement of wagons as a metaphor. Movement in the world happens when wheel and axle are joined together. It is similar to how a ruler rules his country. If the ruler who directs his country’s progress is skillful, the path ahead will be smooth with no obstacles. But if he is weak and indecisive in driving the country forward, its progress will get mired in the slush of enmity often and will create much misery to his subjects.

The first part of the poem was tough to translate. Some commentaries explained it as “Like how wheel and axle joined together drive a vehicle, does movement in the world occur. So the king who drives the wagon of governance..” But the source poem doesn’t have the word ‘போல்’ – ‘like’ for it to be treated as a simile. Other commentaries treat it as a metaphor “Wagon of governance that’s driven in the world with wheel and axle together..”. I have followed this. However what do wheel and axle stand for in the metaphor is not clear. Or may be ‘Wagon of governance’ and movement of vehicles is equated in the metaphor with ‘wheel and axle’ treated as they are.

Such ambiguity is what makes it a pleasure to read and interpet the classics.

கால் – Wheel
பார் – Axle
கோத்து – joined
ஞாலம் – world
இயக்கும் – operate
காவல் – guard / governance
சாகாடு – Wagon
உகைப்போன் – driver / wagoner
மாண் – skillful / great
ஊறு – obstacle
இன்றி – without
இனிது – smooth
உய்த்தல் – to drive
தேற்றுதல் – making clear / decisive
வைகல் – daily
பகை – enmity
கூழ் – slush
அள்ளல் – mire
மிகப்பஃறீநோய் – மிக + பல + தீ + நோய் – lots of misery
தலைத்தலை – more and more

Kambaramayanam – 1053

Celestials from skies and nymphs from magical realms
cannot match the form of these mortal women;
when these women, whose eyes outdoes the doe’s,
partook toddy in their mouth,
it was like honey flowing into a honeyed flower.

 மீனுடைய விசும்பினார். விஞ்சை நாட்டவர்
ஊனுடை உடம்பினார் உருவம் ஒப்பு இலார்மா
மானுடை நோக்கினார் வாயின் மாந்தினார்-
தேனுடைய மலரிடைத் தேன் பெய்தென்னவே.

Kamban praises the women of Kosala accompanying Dasaratha as they go to Rama’s wedding. This chapter of revelry (உண்டாட்டுப் படலம்) has verses about women drinking toddy and losing their reserve.

In this verse, he says even the celestials or nymphs or no match to the shape and form of these mortal women. These doe eyed women’s mouths are already sweet like honey. Pouring toddy into their mouth was like honey flowing into an already honeyed flower.

மீன் – விண்மீன் – stars
விசும்பு – space
விஞ்சை – magical
ஊன் – flesh / mortal
மாந்துதல் – drink

Ainkurunooru – 287

In your country, parrot in millet field fears
the short legged goat that grazes in tall hills!
You are adept in trickery;
you are inept too, as you act unfairly.

நெடுவரை மிசையது குறுங்கால் வருடை
தினைபாய் கிள்ளை வெரூஉ நாட
வல்லை மன்ற பொய்த்தல்
வல்லாய் மன்றநீ யல்லது செயலே.

He has promised to come and ask her dad for her hand. But hasn’t turned up as promised. Her friend chides him saying “You are an expert in deceiving us. You lied to us that you will come home and ask her father for her hand. But because you don’t do the right thing, you are “. The first two lines are interesting. The goats aren’t bothered about the parrots and go about their grazing. But the parrot is afraid of the goat unnecessarily. Her friend implies that he is afraid of her relatives unnecessarily and that’s why he has not turned up as promised.

நெடு வரை – tall hills
குறுங்கால் – short legged
வருடை – (mountain) goat
தினை – millet
கிள்ளை – parrot
வெரூ – fear
வல்லை – able / adept
பொய்த்தல் – lie / trickery
வல்லாய் – not able /inept

Thirukkural – 1266

My husband will come back one day; when he does,
I’ll relish him 
and get rid of this miserable sickness.

வருகமன் கொண்கன் ஒருநாள் பருகுவன்
பைதல்நோய் எல்லாம் கெட.

Her husband has been away for long and she is wasting away, pining for him. She says to herself, “One day or the other he will come back. And when he does, I’ll relish and savor his intimacy completely and get rid of this love sickness afflicting me”

கொண்கன் – Husband
பருகுவன் – will consume / relish
பைதல் – sorrowful / miserable

Kambaramayanam – 2873

“To declare their lust in words of their own,
is not done by women from clans of renown;
but what shall I do, I long for you miserably, 
I’ve no one for me, save me from grief caused by Kama*”, said she.

‘தாம் உறு காமத் தன்மை தாங்களே 
     உரைப்பது என்பது 
ஆம் எனல் ஆவது அன்றால், அருங் குல   
    மகளிர்க்கு அம்மா! 
ஏமுறும் உயிர்க்கு நோவேன்; என் செய்கேன்?   
    யாரும் இல்லேன்;
காமன் என்று ஒருவன் செய்யும் வன்மையைக்
    காத்தி’ என்றாள்.

Surpanakai sees Rama in the forest and falls in love with him. She thinks he might not like the Asura form and changes herself to a human beauty and appears in front of Rama and professes her love for him.

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