Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “February, 2018”

Pattinaththaar – 12

Wife and kids and fame and wealth will come only till your doorway;
clansmen and kin upto cremation ground; Who’ll come further?
Even if grain sized or seed sized, good that you did earlier
will accompany and ensure your heavenly abode, I swear.

மனையாளும் மக்களும் வாழ்வும் தனமும் தன் வாயில்மட்டே
இனமான சுற்றம் மயானம் மட்டே வழிக்கேது துணை?
தினையா மளவு எள்ளளவாகிலும் முன்பு செய்ததவம்
தனையாள என்றும் பரலோகம் சித்திக்கும் சத்தியமே.

This Pattinaththaar (14th century?) poem talks about the futility of worldly attachments. Your wife, kids, fame and wealth will come only upto your doorstep when you die. Your clansmen and kin will take your body upto the crematorium. Who will accompany you on further journey? No one. Only the good that you did earlier, even if it was negligible, will accompany you and ensure that you reach your heavenly abode. This is the truth. So do good deeds and don’t hanker after fame and wealth.

Pattinathaar is amongst the most popular Siddhars (religious iconoclasts) in Tamil literature. His poems are commonly quoted even today. This particular poem received further fillip when Lyricist Kannadasan reworked the first two lines into a film song.

“வீடு வரை உறவு, வீதி வரை மனைவி, காடு வரை பிள்ளை, கடைசி வரை யாரோ, கடைசி வரை யாரோ~

மனையாள் – wife
மக்கள் – kids
வாழ்வு – life (fame)
தனம் – wealth
சுற்றம் – relatives
தினை – millet (grain)
எள் – sesame seed

Thanippadal – Kamban

Are you the only Ruler? Is yours the only fertile country?
Did I learn Tamil counting on your patronage?
Is there a Ruler who won’t rush to patronize me?
Is there a branch that doesn’t accept a monkey?

மன்னவனும் நீயோ வளநாடும் உன்னதோ
உன்னையறிந் தோதமிழை ஓதினேன் – என்னை
விரைந்துஏற்றுக் கொள்ளாத வேந்துண்டோ உண்டோ
குரங்குஏற்றுக் கொள்ளாத கொம்பு

This is one of the popular stand alone poems about Kamban, the preeminent Tamil Poet who wrote Kamba Ramayanam. Kamban’s period is generally accepted to be 12th century CE. This poem is supposed to have been his response to the Chola King who belittled him, but most probably an apocryphal story. This poem however is part of Tamil consciousness as a declaration of scholar’s pride against those in authority. In modern day, you can read it as a writer’s retort to his publisher 🙂

The Chola King Kulothunga Chola – I once belittled Kamban with harsh words. Kamban got angry, spoke this poem in the court and walked out of Chola country. He says “Do you think you are the only Ruler in this world and this country is the only prosperous country? Do you think I learnt Tamil just depending on your patronage only? This world has enough Rulers who will rush to patronise me. Is there any branch in any tree that will not accept a monkey? Like that my poetic skills and my Tamil knowledge will make many a ruler rush to patronise me”

Thirukkural – 1127

As my lover resides forever in my eyes,
I won’t even line them, lest he vanish.

கண் உள்ளார் காதலவராக, கண்ணும்
எழுதேம், கரப்பாக்கு அறிந்து.

She keeps thinking him constantly when he is not with her. She says since he resides in my eyes non stop, I won’t even line my eyes as I cannot not see him even for that short duration.

கண்ணுள்ளார் காத லவராகக் கண்ணும்
மெழுதேங் கரப்பாக் கறிந்து.

கரப்பு – hide
அறிந்து – எண்ணி – thinking

Thirukkural – 1123

O’ pupil of my eye, make way!  – fair browed girl
whom I fell in love with, has no place to stay!

கருமணியின் பாவாய்! நீ போதாய்-யாம் வீழும்
திருநுதற்கு இல்லை, இடம்!.

After spending time with him, she is leaving. He doesn’t want her to leave. He wants her image to stay in his eyes forever. So he asks the pupil in his eyes to go away and give space to the fine fore-headed girl with whom he is in love.

கருமணியுட் பாவாய்நீ போதாயாம் வீழுந்
திருநுதற் கில்லை யிடம்.

கருமணி – eye
பாவை – pupil
வீழும் – whom I fall for
திருநுதல் – திரு + நுதல் –  beautiful forehead

Moodhurai – 12

Thazhai‘s* petals are bigger, yet Magizh‘s** scent is sweeter;
Don’t dismiss any one because they are physically smaller-
The ocean is vast, yet its water isn’t good to even cleanse,
A nearby small spring’s water though is good enough to drink.

*Thazhai – Screw Pine flower / Kewra flower
**Magizh – Bakul (Hindi) / Spanish Cherry / Bullet wood tree flower with small petals

மடல்பெரிது தாழை மகிழினிது கந்தம்
உடல்சிறிய ரென்றிருக்க வேண்டா-கடல்பெரிது
மண்ணீரு மாகா ததனருகே சிற்றூறல்
உண்ணீரு மாகி விடும்.

This is a straight forward poem. Don’t dismiss anyone because they are smaller in stature. To explain this the poet uses two examples. Though the petals of screw pine flower (Thazhai) are bigger , the scent from smaller Bullet wood tree flower (Maghizam poo) are sweeter. Similarly, though the ocean is vast, its water cannot be used even to wash oneself. It will be salty and sticky. But a small spring near the ocean might have water that is good enough to drink.

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

கந்தம் – scent / fragrance
மண்ணீர் – கழுவும் நீர் – water to cleanse
உண்ணீர் – உண்ணும் நீர் – drinking water


Screw Pine Flower / தாழம் பூ

Bakula, Bullet WoodFlower

Bakul / Bullet Wood tree flower / மகிழம் பூ







Thirukkural – 605

Procrastination, forgetfulness, laziness and sleep – these four
are vessel willingly boarded by those who court ruin.

நெடுநீர் மறவி மடிதுயில் நான்கும்
கெடுநீரார் காமக் கலன்.

Thiruvalluvar saying it bluntly. He uses ‘கலன்’ – in singular for boat, though he lists four characteristics earlier. In Tamil it doesn’t sound odd, but in English it is mismatched. While translating it in English, I had to make a choice whether to use plural ‘are vessels’ or to introduce another verb like other translators have done ‘these four shape the ship’. Finally I decided to go with the original singular itself.

நெடுநீர் – procrastination
மறவி – மறதி – forgetfulness
மடி – laziness
துயில் – sleep
கெடுநீர் – ruin
காமம் – desire
கலன் – boat / vessel

Thirukkural – 423

Whatever words we hear, uttered by whomsoever,
Wisdom is to discern real meaning of those words.

எப் பொருள் யார் யார் வாய்க் கேட்பினும், அப் பொருள்
மெய்ப்பொருள் காண்பது-அறிவு.

Don’t go by who said it. Go by what is said. Analyze those words, find out the real meaning behind them and act upon it. That is what Wisdom is. Much needed advice in Twitter.

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