Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “January, 2018”

Paripadal 10 – Lines 74-78

Women with shark shaped chains adorning their forehead,
take out the silver bowl from its dark casing
like moon that rises up parting the belly of clouds, pour warm toddy,
hold it in their hands like a snake closing in on the full moon,
and drink it with their red lily lips like celestial women drinking moonlight.

முகில் அகடு கழி மதியின்
உறை கழி வள்ளத்து உறு நறவு வாக்குநர்
அரவு செறி உவவு மதி என அங்கையில் தாங்கி
எறி மகர வலயம் அணி திகழ் நுதலியர்
மதி உண் அர_மகள் என ஆம்பல் வாய் மடுப்ப

Paripadal is one of the latter day Sangam works. It originally contained 70 poems, out of which only 22 are available today. These lines are from poem no. 10 singing the praise of River Vaigai that flows through Madurai. After the rains, fresh floods flow in Vaigai. It is a day of revelry for young men and women. The poem details about the festive spirit on the banks of Vaigai. These lines are rich in similes, I have tried my best to translate them.

Women’s forehead is framed with shark shaped chains (?) (மகர வலயம்). They take out shining white silver bowls from its dark casing. It looks like moon rising up from belly of dark clouds.  They pour warm toddy in those bowls and hold it in their palm. The shining bowl in their hand looks like a snake closing in on the moon. They place the bowl in their red lily like lips and drink it. They look like celestial women drinking moonlight.

holding bowl

Holding bowl in hand, looking like a snake swallowing moon

முகில் – cloud
அகடு – belly
கழி – part / tear
மதி – moon
உறை – cover / casing
வள்ளம் – bowl
நறவு – toddy
வாக்குநர் – one who pours
அரவு – snake
செறி – closing
உவவு மதி – full moon
அங்கை – beautiful hands
எறி மகர வலயம் – chain in the shape of attacking shark
நுதலியர் – women whose forehead

Thirukkural – 272

What’s the use of lofty ascetic appearance – if one does
what his own heart knows is wrong.

வானுயர் தோற்ற மெவன்செய்யுந் தன்னெஞ்சந்
தானறி குற்றம் படின்.


Sivavakkiyar – 35

 What are temples? What are holy tanks?
You misers worshipping in temples and tanks,
temples and holy tanks are within one’s mind;
Nothing, nothing, nothing is created or destroyed.

கோயிலாவது ஏதடா குளங்களாவது ஏதடா 
கோயிலும் குளங்களும் கும்பிடும் குலாமரே 
கோயிலும் மனத்துளே குளங்களும் மனத்துளே 
ஆவதும் அழிவதும் இல்லைஇல்லை இல்லையே.

Siddhar Sivavakkiyar, dated to around 10th Century CE was one of the leading rebel poets in Tamil literature. Siddhars were iconoclastic rebels whose thoughts were against the organised Vedic religion. Their main idea was one had to find God within oneself and not rely on temples and rituals.

In these verses he chides those who go to temples and sacred tanks for salvation. He says find God within you and not in these temples and tanks.  God can neither be created or destroyed by mortals. The last line I interpret it as “all that in this world only transforms into another form. There is nothing that is created new nor destroyed”.

/Joke/Simply put, The first law of thermodynamics 🙂

குலாமர் – miser.

Thirukkural – 1145

More one gets drunk, more is a drink desirable;
more our love gets gossiped, more is it blissful.

களித்தொறுங் கள்ளுண்டல் வேட்டற்றாற் காமம் 
வெளிப்படுந் தோறு மினிது.

Her friend advises her to pipe down as her love is becoming town gossip. She says “Like a drunkard relishing his drink as he gets more drunk, I relish our love more as our affair is gossiped and revealed to the public”.

This is under the chapter அலர்அறிவுறுத்தல் – Affair becomes public (Literal meaning is ‘Advising about Town gossip’)

களி – intoxicated
வேட்டல் – desirable

Kurunthokai – 29

(He chides his own heart – a common monologue technique in Sangam poetry)

You discard good counsel, follow useless words;
Like an unfired clay vessel catching rain drops
Your flood of passion is beyond what my soul can hold;
You desire what’s beyond reach, my heart!
Worthwhile will be your struggle,
if you find one who holds your words close to heart
like the young one of a monkey in upper branches holding its mother tight.

நல் உரை இகந்து, புல் உரை தாஅய்,
பெயல் நீர்க்கு ஏற்ற பசுங்கலம் போல
உள்ளம் தாங்கா வெள்ளம் நீந்தி,
அரிது அவாவுற்றனை-நெஞ்சே!-நன்றும்
பெரிதால் அம்ம நின் பூசல், உயர் கோட்டு
மகவுடை மந்தி போல
அகன் உறத் தழீஇக் கேட்குநர்ப் பெறினே.

This poem by Avvayar (of Sangam era, 2200 years ago) is a personal favorite. He comes to meet her at night. Her friend refuses him permission to meet and asks him to expedite his marriage proposal. So he is going back forlorn. But his heart is still pining to meet her. He chides his heart. “You don’t listen to good advice, but follow what you want to do. Like an unfired clay vessel held to catch rain drops turning to mush, my soul cannot hold the amount of passion in you. I will break down. You desire what is beyong reach. All your struggles will be worthwhile if you can find someone who hears your grief and holds your words close to her heart, like a monkey up on the tall branch holding its young one tight.”

Two similes make this a stand out poem.

பெயல் நீர்க்கு ஏற்ற பசுங்கலம் போல – Like an unfired clay pot held to catch rain water . The clay vessel is not yet fired and hardened, hence it turns mushy once rain water falls on it. Similarly his soul can’t bear the intensity of passion. This phrase ‘உள்ளம் தாங்கா வெள்ளம் நீந்தி’ – ‘immersed in passion beyond limits of my soul’ , written about 2200 years ago, is timeless. Any Tamil speaking person today will still understand the phrase. Such brevity and beauty.

மகவுடை மந்தி போல – like a monkey carrying its young one. If she hears you and holds your words close to your heart as tight as a monkey carrying its young one. If she values your feelings so much, that she holds them tight. Not normal tight, but as tight as a monkey holding its young one tight as it jumps from tall branches.

பெயல் நீர் – rain water
பசுங்கலம் – fresh (unfired) clay vesselவெள்ளம் – ஆசை வெள்ளம் – flood of passion
அரிது – rare / beyond reach
அவாவுற்றனை – desired
நன்றும் பெரிதால் – lot of good / worthwhile
பூசல் – struggle
உயர் கோட்டு – tall branch
மகவுடை – with kid
மந்தி – monkey
அகன் உற – close to heart
தழீஇ – holds / embraces

Moodhurai – 15

Like a venom remover who cures a striped tiger
becoming its fodder then and there –
help offered to petty minded ingrates
is a mud pot hitting a rock.

வேங்கை வரிப்புலிநோய் தீர்த்த விடகாரி
ஆங்கதனுக் காகார மானாற்போல்-பாங்கறியாப்
புல்லறி வாளர்க்குச் செய்த உபகாரங்
கல்லின்மே லிட்ட கலம்.

When a tiger was bit by a snake and poisoned, it fell sick. A physician felt sorry for it and removed the poison. Once the tiger was back on its feet, it ate the venom remover then and there. Such is the help rendered to the ungrateful who are petty minded. It will be like a mud pot thrown on a rock breaking into splinters and hurting the one who threw it. So when you offer help, make sure it is to the deserving.

The second simile – ‘help to ingrates is like a vessel hitting rock’ is a little awkward. Why equate ‘help rendered’ to ‘throwing a pot’? கலம் is like English ‘vessel’, can mean both a bowl and a boat. If we take it as a boat, then the last line will read ‘is a boat hitting a rock’ which too makes the simile convoluted.

Moodhurai (literal meaning – Elder’s words) written by Avvayar (the 3rd) is generally dated to around 12th Century AD.

வேங்கை – cheettah
வரிப் புலி – striped tiger
விட காரி – poison remover
ஆங்கு – there
ஆகாரம் – food
பாங்கறியா – பாங்கு + அறியா – manner less / ingrates
புல்லறிவாளர் – petty minded
கலம் – vessel

Thirukkural – 439

Never ever marvel at one’s own self!
Never wish to do a deed that yields no good!

வியவற்க, எஞ்ஞான்றும் தன்னை! நயவற்க,
நன்றி பயவா வினை!

Thiruvalluvar’s advice to Rulers. Never think too highly of oneself. Never even wish to do things that do not result in public good. வியத்தல் – wonder / marvel எஞ்ஞான்று – any day நயத்தல் – wish

Thirukkural – 672

Delay doing things that need to be delayed;
delay not those that are not to be delayed.

தூங்குக தூங்கிச் செயற்பால தூங்கற்க
தூங்காது செய்யும் வினை.

Nature of some jobs need them to done in gradual fashion. One shouldn’t rush to do them. Some other jobs needs to be done without delay. They should be done at the earliest.
தூங்கு – delay

Kambaramayanam – 9370

When day by day like a waxing moon you grew,
I undertook an austere vow 
to see Indra defeated by the bow you drew;
What vow did I undertake now 
to see your beheaded body, what did I do!
Will I, an abject soul, still desire this impermanent life?

கலையினால் திங்கள் என்ன   
    வளர்கின்ற காலத்தே உன்,
சிலையினால் அரியை வெல்லக்   
    காண்பதோர் தவம்முன் செய்தேன்;
தலை இலா ஆக்கை காண   
    எத் தவம் செய்தேன்! அந்தோ!
‘நிலை இலா வாழ்வை இன்னும்   
    நினைவெனோ, நினைவு இலாதேன்?

Indrajit (one who defeated Indra) has been defeated in the battle with Rama and beheaded. A grief stricken Ravana goes to the battlefield and brings his son’s headless body back. On seeing Indrajit’s body, his mother Mandodari laments and castigates herself in pity. This is one of the verses in that chapter.

“When you were growing up as an young man like a growing moon, I prayed to God to see you defeat Indra and undertook austere vows. What austere vow did I undertake to see your headless body, my son? Should I, a thoughtless woman and an abject soul, still desire to live this impermanent life. Won’t it be better if I die now”

The last line ‘நிலை இலா வாழ்வை இன்னும்  நினைவெனோ’  – ‘Will I still desire this impermanent life’ is a perfect example of alliteration and meaning coming together in Kamban’s poetry.

கலை – with skills
திங்கள் – moon
சிலை – bow
அரி – Indra
ஆக்கை – யாக்கை – body

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