Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “July, 2018”

Pazhamozhi 400 – 302

O’ lord of the town where blooming flowers jostle in streams!
Those who spend whatever little they have to do good deeds,
and expect to reap much more in return – are like those 
who throw in small spiny loach fish to catch a murrel.

சிறிய பொருள் கொடுத்துச் செய்த வினையால்,
பெரிய பொருள் கருதுவாரே;-விரி பூ
விராஅம் புனல் ஊர!-வேண்டு அயிரை இட்டு,
வராஅஅல் வாங்குபவர்.

Some people spend a little money on charity in this life and expect much in return in their after life. These people are like those who throw in small fish (spiny loach – அயிரை) to catch big fish (வரால் – murrel).

Pazha Mozhi Naanooru ( 400 Old Sayings) is one of the 18 post Sangam anthologies. Each verse explains a proverb. In this verse the poet doesn’t explicitly say this life / after life. It is expanded and explained in the commentary. Hence I haven’t included it in translation.

வினை – deed (good deed)
கருதுதல் – expect
விரி பூ விராஅம் – blooming flowers mingle / jostle
புனல் – stream
அயிரை – spiny loach fish
வரால் – murrel fish

Thirukkural – 1257

She tells her friend:

We know nothing called as shame – when, overcome by passion,
our lover does all that we longed for.

நாண் என ஒன்றோ அறியலம்-காமத்தான்,
பேணியார் பெட்ப செயின்.

This couplet is under the chapter நிறை அழிதல் – Losing reserve.

She was angry with him for going away leaving her alone. She had promised herself that she would make him pay for it when he comes back. But when he comes back she gives into him. Her friend asks her “why didn’t you fight with him as you said you would?”

She replies “When he came back and did all that I longed for (in his absence) due to unbridled passion, I wantonly gave in. I didn’t know that quality called shame when he fulfilled my desires”

நாண் – shame
ஒன்றோ – anything
அறியலம் – அறிய மாட்டோம் – we don’t know
காமத்தான் – due to lust / passion
பேணியார் – one who loves us
பெட்பு – wish
செயின் – செய்தால் – if he does

Sivavakkiyar – 26

O’ humans, you believe in illusions, build a house, offer sacrifices due,
and live with your women, kids, kinsfolk and cattle;
When your palm-leaf* turns up at the impartial judge’s** hand and he calls you,
this body of yours won’t be worth even the price of a begging bowl.

* Palm-leaf in which one’s fate is written
** Impartial judge – Lord of death who doesn’t differentiate between people

வீடெடுத்து வேள்வி செய்து மெய்யினோடுபொய்யுமாய்
மாடு மக்கள் பெண்டீர் சுற்றம் என்றிருக்கும் மாந்தர்காள்
நாடு பெற்ற நடுவர் கையில் ஓலை வந்து அழைத்திடில்
ஓடு பெற்ற அவ்விளை பெறாது காண் இவ்வுடலமே. 

In this poem Sivavakkiyar talks about impermanence of material aspects of life. Human beings spend their time building houses, offering sacrifices to God and live surrounded by near and dear ones thinking it is forever. They believe in this illusion. But once their time is up and palm-leaf in which their fate is written turns up in the hands of God of death, this body becomes useless. It will not be worth even the price of a begging bowl.

Siddhar poems don’t have any established commentaries. So some times it becomes difficult to interpret the hidden meaning. ‘House’ here can be read as ‘Human body’ too. Then the poem becomes you take care of this body and work for its pleasures thinking this illusion is true, but once your time is up this body is worth nothing.

வேள்வி – Religious sacrifice / Housewarming (in this context)?
மெய் – truth
நாடு பெற்ற நடுவர் – Impartial judge who rules over every one
ஓடு – திருவோடு – Clay begging bowl
உடலம் – Body


Thirukkural – 276

Those who haven’t renounced genuinely, but deceive as if they have –
there’s none more evil than them.

நெஞ்சின் துறவார், துறந்தார்போல் வஞ்சித்து,
வாழ்வாரின் வன்கணார் இல்.

There are some God men who haven’t really renounced material life from their heart. They only deceive people and act as if they have renounced everything. There is nobody more evil that such people, for they betray the trust of general public who revere them.

நெஞ்சின் – heartfelt / genuine
துறவார் – haven’t renounced / aren’t ascetic
துறந்தார் – has renounced
வஞ்சித்து – deceive
வன்கண் – evil

Kulasekara Alwar – 693

Even if a fiery blaze singes and makes its life hell,
Lotus doesn’t bloom but to the warm intimacy of the Sun;
O lord of Vittuvacode, even if you do not save me from my burning ordeal,
My heart will yield to no one else but to your infinite essence.

செந்தழலே வந்தழலைச் செய்திடினும் செங்கமலம்
அந்தரஞ்சேர்வெங்கதிரோற் கல்லா லலராவால்
வெந்துயர்வீட் டாவிடினும் விற்றுவக்கோட் டம்மாஉன்
அந்தமில்சீர்க் கல்லா லகங்குழைய மாட்டேனே.

In this poem Kulasekara Alwar sings to Lord of Thiruvittuvacode (present day Thirumittacode in Kerala). Though a fire singes it and causes it grief, a lotus does not bloom to its heat but only to the warmth of the sun it is intimate with. Likewise, even if you do not relieve my suffering (that is in my destiny), my heart won’t yield to any other God but only to your limitless presence, you who is forever in my heart.

This is a motif seen in many devotional poems. “I will pray to no God but you”. We find it in Buddhist , Jain, Saivite and Vaishnavite Tamil poems. But each poet expresses it differently, with different metaphors and similes. This particular poem stood out to me because of the “Lotus blooming only to Sun” metaphor. Also the phrase அந்தரஞ்சேர் செங்கதிரோன் – Warmth of the Sun that percolates intimately. If you can read Tamil, roll your tongue around that phrase.

செந்தழல் – Fiery blaze
அழல் – grief
செங்கமலம் – Red Lotus
அந்தரம் – initmate
செங்கதிரோன் – Sun
அலராவால் – அலரமாட்டாதால் – won’t bloom
வெந்துயர் – வெம்மை + துயர் – burning ordeal
வீட்டாவிடினும் – even if not saved
அந்தமில் – அந்தம் + இல் – endless /infinite
சீர் – nature / essence
அகம் – heart
குழைய – soften / yield

Iniyavai Narpathu – 11

To not live as a wayward tramp is much admirable;
Wisdom to not earn immorally is admirable;
To not take the food of hungry, even when one’s dying – 
there’s nothing more admirable than that.

அதர் சென்று வாழாமை ஆற்ற இனிதே;
குதர் சென்று கொள்ளாத கூர்மை இனிதே;
உயிர் சென்று தாம் படினும், உண்ணார் கைத்து உண்ணாப்
பெருமைபோல் பீடு உடையது இல்.

It is a much admirable quality for a man to not wander about and roam like a tramp for his living. To have the wisdom to not go down the wrong path to earn is also admirable. But there is nothing more admirable than not stealing the food of the hungry, even one is starving.

அதர் – way (wayward / tramp)
குதர் – perverse / immoral
கூர்மை – wisdom
உண்ணார் – those who haven’t had food (hungry)
பீடு – similarity

Thirukkural – 1071

The despicable appear like any other human, they do;
We haven’t seen such similarity as between these two.

மக்களே போல்வர், கயவர்; அவர் அன்ன
ஒப்பாரி யாம் கண்டது இல்.

Despicable people look just like any other humans externally. There is nothing that differentiates them in physical appearance. It is so remarkable that no where else have we found such similarity between two different beings.

கயவர் – despicable person
ஒப்பார் – equivalence / similarity


Kurunthokai – 2

O’ exquisitely winged bee,
You judiciously suck honey!
Tell me not what I wish to hear,
But truth as you know crystal clear:
This girl who I’m rightfully in love with,
– She of peacock’s grace, and perfect teeth –
Do you know of flowers more fragrant than her tresses.

கொங்கு தேர் வாழ்க்கை அஞ்சிறைத் தும்பி!
காமம் செப்பாது, கண்டது மொழிமோ:
பயிலியது கெழீஇய நட்பின், மயில் இயல்,
செறி எயிற்று, அரிவை கூந்தலின்
நறியவும் உளவோ, நீ அறியும் பூவே?

They are meeting secretly. She is shy, he is desperate. He gets close to her and smells her hair. He sees a bee buzzing around the flower string in her hair. He asks the bee “O’ bee with beautiful wings! You are selective in choosing honey flowers to suck. I have a doubt. Tell me the truth as you’ve known. Don’t tell me what I want to hear because you are in my country. This girl whom I am in love with is grace ful like a peacock. Her teeth are even and perfect. Is there any flower that you have seen that is more fragrant than the hair of this girl?”

I have taken some liberties in translation and sacrificed form to make the poem read fluently in English. There is no ‘crystal clear’ in the original poem.

Most of the Tamils would have heard this beautiful poem, but in a different context. In Thiruvilayadal Puranam, written in 16th century, this poem is imagined as the one given by Shiva to poet Dharumi to present in Pandiyan’s court to clear his doubt. Which is opposed by Pandiyan’s minister Nakkeeran; since he questioned the poem penned by Shiva himself, Nakkeeran was burnt to ashes by Shiva. All I can say is it was a product of fertile imagination. The 1965 ‘Thiruvilayadal’ movie further cemented this story.

கொங்கு – honey
தேர் – select
அஞ்சிறை – அம் + சிறை – beautiful wing
காமம் – desire
செப்பாது – don’t tell
மொழிமோ – tell
பயிலியது – to get to know
கெழுமை – rightful
நட்பு – love
இயல் – style / nature
செறி – close
எயிறு – teeth
அரிவை – Girl
நறியவும் – more fragrant

Thirumangai Alwar – 2016

Like inky sea and sapphire-laden hills and dark clouds,
Like attractive water lily and dark kaya* flowers,
is dark Meyyaan^, in the hill of Meyyam^^, holding a conch in his hand;
Hands that don’t worship him, we know, aren’t hands at all.

மையார் கடலும் மணிவரையும் மாமுகிலும்,
கொய்யார் குவளையும் காயாவும் போன்றிருண்ட
மெய்யானை, மெய்ய மலையானைச் சங்கேந்தும்
கையானை, கைதொழா கையல்ல கண்டாமே.

*Kaya flower – Flowers of Ironwood tree
^Meyyaan – Thiru Meyyan – Lord of Thirumayam temple
^Meyyam – Thirumayam (town near Pudukkottai)

This verse by Thirumangai Alwar sings the praise of Perumal, the lord of Thirumayam temple. He is called Thiru Meyyar there. The lord is dark hued – like the inky sea, sapphire-laden hills, dark clouds, water lilies and kaya flowers. Hands that don’t pray to him are not hands at all, they are just waste


Kaya flower (Ironwood tree flower)


Bluewater lily

Thirukkural – 995

Mockery hurts, even if done in jest; considerate people
behave courteously. even to their foes.

நகையுள்ளும் இன்னாது, இகழ்ச்சி; பகையுள்ளும்
பண்பு உள, பாடு அறிவார் மாட்டு.

Mocking a person hurts them, even if it is done in jest. So those who are considerate of other people behave courteously even to their foes.

நகை – laughter / joke
இன்னாது – grief
இகழ்ச்சி – mockery
பகை – enemy / foe
பாடு அறிவார் – those who know the right way (considerate)

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