Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “March, 2018”

Nattrinai – 234

Think of the efforts by elders (of his clan)
and lofty fame of your own clan;
It’d be good if you accept gifts from his hills –
where waterfalls bring down rich gems –
and betroth this budding girl to him;
But if you decide based on their gifts ,
even majestic chariot riding Sembian’s
-who captured his foes’ standards in Kalumalam battle-
Panguni festival celebrating Urandhai
along with Ulli festival celebrating Vanji
will be lesser in value (for our girl).

சான்றோர் வருந்திய வருத்தமும் நுமது
வான்தோய்வு அன்ன குடிமையும் நோக்கித்
திருமணி வரன்றும் குன்றம் கொண்டிவள்
வருமுலை ஆகம் வழங்கினோ நன்றே
அடைபொருள் கருதுவிர் ஆயின் குடையொடு
கழுமலம் தந்த நற்றேர்ச் செம்பியன்
பங்குனி விழவின் உறந்தையொடு
உள்ளி விழவின் வஞ்சியும் சிறிதே.

He is from hill country. Her folks are from the plains. They belong to different clans. Both of them have fallen in love. He has send elders from his clan to her house, with gifts, asking for her hand in marriage. Her father and brothers aren’t receptive. They aren’t aware of the couple’s love affair. But her mother knows. This poem is her mother telling them to accept the wedding proposal.

“These elders have taken such pains to walk all the way to our house and brought gifts for our daughter. Think of that. Also think of the name and fame of our clan. Taking these factors into account it would be better if you accept for marriage proposal of our budding daughter with the man from the hills. His hills are so rich that the flowing waterfalls rake in gems from the hills. If you think that these gifts that they have brought in aren’t valuable enough, there are no gifts that are equal in value to our daughter. Even Panguni festival celebrating Sembian’s (Chola King) Urandhai and Ulli festival celebrating Cheran’s Vanji are no match for our daughter”.

”இவள் வருமுலை ஆகம்” – ‘This girl’s body with budding breasts’. I’ve used budding girl. Her mother hints that her daughter is in love with him, by saying “consider the pride of our clan”. With ‘waterfalls that rake in gems’, she hints that his country is wealthy enough to give her daughter in marriage to him.

Today is Panguni Uttharam festival in Tamil Nadu. It is celebrated across Murukan temples in the month of Panguni. This poem is one of the earliest mentions of Panguni festival celebrated in the banks of Cauvery river near Urandhai (present day Uraiyur, Tiruchi). From the description in Akanaanooru – 137, it must have been a festival heralding arrival of summer that later morphed into a festival in Murukan temples. Vanji is generally thought to be near present day Kodungallur in Kerala. Karur in Tamil Nadu was also called Vanji later.

சான்றோர் – Elders
வருத்தம் – painstaking efforts
வான்தோய்வு – sky high / lofty
குடிமை – clan (pride)
திருமணி – rich gems
வரன்றுதல் – வரன்டுதல் – rakes up / gathers
வருமுலை – budding breast
ஆகம் – body
அடைபொருள் – gifts received
குடையொடு – (enemy king’s) Royal Parasol
நற்றேர் – நல்ல தேர் – majestic chariot
செம்பியன் – Chola King
பங்குனி விழவு – Panguni festival
உறந்தை – Urandhai (present day Uraiyur, Trichy)
உள்ளி விழவு – Ulli festival (not sure what it is)
சிறிது – lesser

Nammalwar – Thiruvai Mozhi – 3381

Oh Gods, what shall I do? This night stands like seven aeons
in front of me and weakens my soul;
My Kannan, with chakra* in his hands, hasn’t come too;
Caressing cool breeze singes me, hotter than a fiery blaze.

தெய்வங்காள் என்செய்கேன்? ஓர்இரவு ஏழ்ஊழியாய்
மெய்வந்து நின்று எனதாவி மெலிவிக்கும்
கைவந்த சக்கரத்துஎன் கண்ணனும் வாரானால்
தைவந்த தண்தென்றல் வெம்சுடரில் தான்அடுமே.

This is a verse from Nammalwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi. Nammalwar is the most prolific of the 12 Alwars (Vaishnavite Saints) and has penned 1352 of the 4000 verses in Vaishnavite canon.

In this set of verses he imagines himself as a woman in love with Krishna. She says “Oh Gods! What shall I do now. This night stretches like seven aeons in front of me. This night weakens my soul as Krishna, with Chakra in his hand, hasn’t come to meet me. Because of his absence, even this cool breeze singes me much hotter than a fiery blaze.”

தைவந்த – is interpreted as ‘caressing’ in Vaishnavite commentaries, though I can’t find that meaning in Tamil lexicon. My instict was to interpret it as ‘cool breeze in the month of Thai’. But I’ve gone with the standard commentaries.

ஊழி – aeon
ஆவி – soul / spirit
மெலிவிக்கும் – மெலிவு செய்யும் – weakens
தண்தென்றல் – cool breeze
வெஞ்சுடர் – fiery blaze
அடும் – burns

Thirumandhiram – 8.8.21

Majestic toy-elephant conceals the wood
Majestic toy-elephant vanishes in the wood
Worldly elements conceal the divine
Worldly elements vanish in the divine.

மரத்தை மறைத்தது மாமத யானை
மரத்தில் மறைந்தது மாமத யானை
பரத்தை மறைத்தன பார்முதல் பூதம்
பரத்தில் மறைந்தன பார்முதல் பூதமே .

This is an oft quoted verse from Thirumoolar’s Thirumandhiram, dated to around 5th Century CE. When one sees a toy elephant, one doesn’t see the wood out of which the toy is made. The artisan’s skill makes one believe it is an elephant, not a chunk of wood. When one realises that it is nothing but a chunk of wood, the elephant vanishes from sight. Similarly, when one sees only the worldly elements that make up this world, one doesn’t realise the divine. They think that only the elements are real. But when one realises the divine, the elements vanish in the divine.

பார் முதல் பூதம் – 5 physical elements (air,land,water,sky,fire).

Thirumoolar lived around 5th Century AD (though there’s lot of debate about the chronology). He penned over 3000 verses, collected together as Thirumandhiram. This forms the 10th Thirumurai of the Saivite canon

பார் – World
பரம் – The Divine / Omnipresent

Kurunthokai – 157

‘Cock-a-doodle-do’ crows the rooster;
at which my naive heart trembles –
for it heralds rapier like dawn
that rends cuddled lovers apart.

‘குக்கூ” என்றது கோழி; அதன் எதிர்
துட்கென்றன்று என் தூய நெஞ்சம்-
தோள் தோய் காதலர்ப் பிரிக்கும்
வாள் போல் வைகறை வந்தன்றால் எனவே.

This is a popular Kurunthokai poem. The rooster has crowed. Hearing that her heart skips a beat and she is afraid. Because the arrival of dawn means separation from her lover who is in tight embrace with her. The outstanding phrase here is ‘வாள் போல் வைகறை’ – sword like dawn. Dawn has no mercy and is going to sever the lovers apart, like a sword does.

The Tamil poem says ‘cuckoo crows the rooster’. I have used the more common English version ‘cock-a-doodle-do’ instead of ‘cuckoo’.

துட்கு – fear
தூய – pure / naive
தோள் தோய் – hugging shoulders
வாள் – sword
வைகறை – dawn

Thirukkural – 1260

Is it possible for those whose heart melts like lard placed on fire –
To say we’ll feign anger when our lover gets intimate?

நிணம் தீயில் இட்டன்ன நெஞ்சினார்க்கு உண்டோ-
புணர்ந்து ஊடி நிற்பேம் எனல்?

She’s angry with him, but when he gets intimate she can’t help mellowing down. Though she wants to feign anger, it is impossible for her as her heart melts like fat placed on fire.

நிணம் – fat /lard
புணர்தல் – get close / intimate
ஊடல் – tiff

Thirukkural – 611

Thinking task at hand is hard, one shouldn’t give up;
Untiring effort will give the strength needed.

அருமை உடைத்து என்று அசாவாமை வேண்டும்;
பெருமை முயற்சி தரும்.

One shouldn’t give into inactivity thinking that the task at hand is hard to do. The efforts put in will give the strength needed to complete the job.

There’s an ambiguity in the second line. If you read பெருமை as power / might , then ‘effort put in will give the strength needed’. If you read பெருமை as Laurel, then ‘effort put in will bring laurels’.

அருமை – difficulty
அசா‌ – idleness, lethargy
பெருமை – strength

Kurunthokai – 383

When she hesitates to elope, her friend says:

Since you agreed, I passed on the message,
to him, the lord from the hills;
he waits at the place we chose;
Now you say “Let today pass by”;
My limbs are tired and weary;
Other than to flutter
like a tender shoot amidst fire,
there’s nothing else I can do.

நீ உடம்படுதலின், யான் தர, வந்து,
குறி நின்றனனே, குன்ற நாடன்;
”இன்றை அளவைச் சென்றைக்க என்றி;
கையும் காலும் ஓய்வன ஒடுங்கத்
தீ உறு தளிரின் நடுங்கி,
யாவதும், இலை, யான் செயற்கு உரியதுவே.

She has decided to elope with him and has sent him message through her friend. They have fixed a point to meet. Now at the last minute, she is having second thoughts and is jittery. Her natural shyness is holding her back. She says to her friend, “Let today pass. I will go tomorrow”. Her friend knows that she needs a push to act upon her decision. So she says, “I am tired, my hands and legs are weary . I tremble like a tender shoot amidst fire. There is nothing I can do”, implying she can’t go and tell him of the change in plans.

குறி – குறிப்பிட்ட இடம் – chosen place
குன்ற நாடன் – man from the hill country
தீ உறு தளிர் – tender shoot in middle of fire
இலை – இல்லை – nothing

Thirukkural – 191

One who utters drivel to anger many,
will be mocked by every one.

பல்லார் முனியப் பயன் இல சொல்லுவான்
எல்லாரும் எள்ளப்படும். 

Thiruvalluvar advises one to not talk rubbish. While this angers wise men in the community, he will be mocked and derided by all.

பல்லார் – many  / assembly of wise men
முனிதல் – to anger
பயன் இல – useless
எள்ளல் – reproached / mocked


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