Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “June, 2018”

Kurunthokai – 313

Whiskered tern in his vast seashore
picks and f
eeds on fish from flooded inky estuary,
then dwells in nearby fragrant grove; 
With him have I bonded;
this bond won’t be undone;

it’s hard to unravel, fastened forever.

பெருங் கடற் கரையது சிறுவெண் காக்கை
நீத்து நீர் இருங் கழி இரை தேர்ந்து உண்டு,
பூக் கமழ் பொதும்பர்ச் சேக்கும் துறைவனொடு
யாத்தேம்; யாத்தன்று நட்பே;
அவிழ்த்தற்கு அரிது; அது முடிந்து அமைந்தன்றே.

He hasn’t come to meet her for long. Her friend disparages him for making her grieve. She talks to her friend in support of him. “It is true that he hasn’t come to meet me. Doesn’t mean that he has forgotten me. Whiskered terns in his vast seashore come to the flooded inky black estuary to hunt for fish. After picking up the fish and eating it, they go back and dwell in nearby fragrant groves. With him have I hooked up. Our love is strong and won’t unravel easily. It is set forever, a permanent bond. Will be hard for others to undo it”

‘Tern hunting fish and going back to the grove’ is a metaphor. They have met secretly near the estuary at night. But she is sure, like how the tern goes back to the grove, he too will take her to his home as wedded wife. Tern doesn’t hunt indiscriminately. It picks and chooses. Likewise he too chose only her.

‘Hard to unravel’ is a veiled warning to her friend. “Don’t badmouth him to me. You won’t be able to change my mind about him”


Whiskered Tern (from Wikimedia)

சிறுவெண் காக்கை – Whiskered Tern
நீத்து நீர் – Excess Water (flooded)
இருங் கழி – dark sanded estuary
பூக் கமழ் – flower smelling (fragrant)
பொதும்பை – grove
சேக்கும் – dwells
யாத்தல் – tied / bonded
முடிந்து – tied / fastened
அமைந்து – settled / permanent / forever

Nammazhvar – 2907

If you say he is, then he is, his form pervades all things;
If you say he isn’t, still his formlessness pervades all things;
With the virtue of both being and not being
He is pervasive across all time and space.

உளனெனி லுளனவ னுருவமிவ் வுருவுகள்
உளனல னெனிலவன் அருவமிவ் வருவுகள்
உளனென விலனென விவைகுண முடைமையில்
உளனிரு தகைமையொ டொழிவிலன் பரந்தே.

This is a tongue twister and wordplay verse by Nammazhvar. He says that God is everywhere. Even if atheists say he is not there, yet his formlessness pervades across things. He has the quality of being and not being. Hence he is present in all things, at all times, all over.

I hope I have conveyed the meaning properly in translation. Being not well versed in devotional literature, I am always hesitant to attempt them.

உளன் – He is (there)
இலன் – He is not (there)
உருவம் – form
அருவம் – formlessness
குணம் – quality/ virtue
தகைமை – characteristic
ஒழிவு இலன் – no place he is not there (omnipresent)

Thirukkural – 64

Far sweeter than ambrosia is the porridge that is  
messed up by tender fingers of one’s own kids.

அமிழ்தினும் ஆற்ற இனிதே-தம் மக்கள்
சிறு கை அளாவிய கூழ்.

Food in which kids have put their tender fingers in and played with, is far more sweeter for their parents than even the food of Gods. That is because becoming a parent is considered a boon. This couplet is in the chapter ‘(Boon of) having children’ (புதல்வரைப் பெறுதல்)

அமிழ்து – ambrosia / food of Gods
மக்கள் – children
அளாவுதல் – mix up / play with
கூழ்  – porridge

Ainthinai 70 – 16

O’ my supple shouldered friend!
He who left me hasn’t come back;
Dark clouds have drawn up water from the sea
And have arrived accompanied by lightning,
Making soft stepped peacocks crow in delight;
But there’s none to ask me ‘are you doing fine?”

தட மென் பணைத் தோளி! நீத்தாரோ வாரார்;
மட நடை மஞ்ஞை அகவ, கடல் முகந்து,
மின்னோடு வந்தது எழில் வானம்; வந்து, என்னை,
‘என் ஆதி?’ என்பாரும் இல்.

He has left her to earn money. He promised her that he will be back by monsoon. She is waiting for him. Rains have arrived but he hasn’t come. She confides in her friend, “O’ my friend with long soft bamboo like shoulders! He who left me hasn’t come back yet. Beautiful dark clouds have drawn up water and arrived with lighting. Seeing them soft stepped peacocks are crowinf in delight. But I’m all alone. There is none to ask me ‘ Are you doing ok?’. “

Naaladiyaar – 192

Even a tender sapling by the wayside,
once its core hardens, will be used to tie an elephant;
Living too is like that,
if one strengthens oneself, without sloth.

ஆடு கோடு ஆகி அதரிடை நின்றதூஉம்,
காழ் கொண்டகண்ணே, களிறு அணைக்கும் கந்து ஆகும்;-
வாழ்தலும் அன்ன தகைத்தே, ஒருவன்தான்
தாழ்வு இன்றித் தன்னைச் செயின்.

This Naaladiyaar poem is under the chapter தாளாண்மை (Spiritedness / perseverance). What is a tender sapling by the way side will be used to tie a mighty elephant in the future, once its core strengthens  and it becomes a strong tree. Such is life too. If one puts in effort to strengthen oneself, without being lazy, he will prosper in life.

ஆடு – shaky
கோடு – branch
அதர் – way
காழ் – hard
களிறு – elephant
அணைக்கும் – tie
கந்து – Post to tie an elephant

Kurunthokai – 25

There was no one else but the crook himself;
if he refutes his words, what can I do?
A Kurugu*, with greenish legs like millet stalks,
too was there watching the water to hunt slippery eels,
when he made love to me.

*Kurugu – Yellow bittern, a reclusive egret kind of bird that resides in reed beds.

யாரும் இல்லை; தானே கள்வன்;
தான் அது பொய்ப்பின், யான் எவன் செய்கோ?
தினை தாள் அன்ன சிறு பசுங் கால
ஒழுகு நீர் ஆரல் பார்க்கும்
குருகும் உண்டு, தான் மணந்த ஞான்றே.


They have consummated their love. But he is delaying the commitment of marriage. She is afraid that he may go back on his word and confides her anxiety to her friend, as all of us do: There was no witness to the passion and the promises shared – unless you count the Kurugu who was hunting eels in the river nearby.

Sangam poetry takes its cues and metaphors and also implications from nature. Hence the mention of the Kurugu has different layers of meaning.

First, it is indicative of setting. The Kurugu is reclusive and stays among bushes or river brush. It signifies the place where the couple made love – an isolated riverbank.
Second, it underlines her helplessness, since the bird after all, cannot speak – and so cannot speak for her.

Third, the bird waiting to hunt eels is a metaphor, for him, the lover, waiting to hunt her, make her his ‘conquest’. In separation, she remembers how he charmed her and begins to doubt his intentions – hence calling him a crook.

But as we know, these feelings of anxiety and doubt are quickly followed by lovers’ hope, and assurances to the self.

Kambaramayanam – 70

கூற்றம் இல்லை, ஓர் குற்றம் இல்லமையால்;
சீற்றம் இல்லை, தம் சிந்தையின் செம்மையால்;
ஆற்றல் நல் அறம் அல்லது இல்லாமையால்,
ஏற்றம் அல்லது, இழித்தகவு இல்லையே.

Death is absent, as crime is absent;
anger is absent, due to virtuous thought;
they act righteously and not otherwise,
so they achieve eminence, not baseness.

Since there is no crime in Kosala, there is no unnatural death. Anger is absent since the citizens have only virtuous thoughts.  Due to fairness of their actions, the citizens of Kosala achieve superiority in their lives, they are never base.

கூற்றம் – death
சீற்றம் – anger
சிந்தை – thoughts
செம்மை – goodness
ஆற்றல் – do
நல் அறம் – righteous deed
இழித்தகவு – baseness

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