Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the month “August, 2018”

Inna Naarpathu – 31

To sing with an untuned harp is much of a pain;
Auspicious day prediction by untrained astrologer is a pain;
Sound of a tuning-paste-less drum is a pain;
Likewise painful is enmity of the uncouth.

பண் அமையா யாழின்கீழ்ப் பாடல் பெரிது இன்னா;
எண் அறியா மாந்தர் ஒழுக்கு நாள் கூற்று இன்னா;
மண் இல் முழவின் ஒலி இன்னா; ஆங்கு இன்னா,
தன்மை இலாளர் பகை.

When a harp is untuned, to sing with it causes much pain to the singer. When an astrologer in untrained, selection of auspicious day by him causes pain to those who ask  him. The center of a drum is covered with a black paste (made of clay, iron oxide and other ingredients). This paste is important for the sound produced by the drum. Sound produced by a drum without tuning paste will be painful. Similar to these three, enmity of a graceless person is extremely painful. They will not stick to the standards of propriety expected in an adversary.

பண் – tune
அமையா – அமையாத – not set
யாழ் – harp
இன்னா – misery / agony / pain
எண் அறியா மாந்தர் – one who doesn’t know to calculate – untrained astrologer
ஒழுக்கு நாள் – right day / auspicious dau
கூற்று – saying / prediction
மண் – tuning paste (of drums)
முழவு – drum
ஆங்கு – likewise
தன்மை இலாளர் – grace less
பகை – enmity / hostility

Naachiyaar Thirumozi – 599

O’ Lady Jasmine! You too don’t torment me
with your grins! O’ clustered beauty, I beg thee!
He who cut the nose of the impudent demoness,
if his words are a lie, may my birth too be a lie.

முல்லைப் பிராட்டி நீயுன் முறுவல்கள் கொண்டுஎம்மை
அல்லல் விளைவியே லாழிநங் காய்உன்ன டைக்கலம்
கொல்லை யரக்கியை மூக்கரிந் திட்ட குமரனார்
சொல்லும் பொய்யானால் நானும் பிறந்தமை பொய்யன்றே

In this set of verses, everything that Aandaal sees reminds her of Lord Vishnu. The clouds, the berries, the parrots, jasmine buds – all of them. In this particular verse, she pleads with the bunch of flowers in Jasmine creeper not to laugh at her plight and increase her agony. Surpanakai smitten with Rama, tried to kill Sita so Rama could be with her. For this impudence, he cut her nose. He promised to unite with me. But he hasn’t turned up yet. If his words are a lie, then there is no purpose in my birth. My birth too is a lie.

முல்லை – Jasmine
பிராட்டி – Lady
முறுவல் – smile / grin
அல்லல் – agony / torment
விளைவி – cause
ஆழி – circular / (clustered)
நங்காய் – beautiful lady
அடைக்கலம் – surrender / beg
கொல்லை – to kill
அரக்கி – demoness (Surpanakai)
மூக்கரிந்திட்ட – மூக்கு + அரிந்திட்ட – cut nose

Kurunthokai – 37

He has much love for you; will take care of you too;
Male elephant with its long trunk
strips the bark off toddy palm tree
to quench the hunger of its female;
such tender scenes dot the road he took, my friend!

நசை பெரிது உடையர்; நல்கலும் நல்குவர்;
பிடி பசி களைஇய பெருங் கை வேழம்
மென் சினை யாஅம் பொளிக்கும்
அன்பின-தோழி!-அவர் சென்ற ஆறே.

She is pining for him. Her friend consoles her saying “Don’t worry. He has much love for you. He will definitely come back and take care of you. When a female elephant suffers from hunger in the parched way, male elephant strips the bark off toddy palm tree with thin branches and lets the sap flow and quench its partner’s hunger. Such tender scenes dot the road in which he traveled. They will remind him of his duty to you. So he will definitely be back and take care of you”

Toddy Palm Tree / Wine Palm tree (கூந்தப்பனை in Tamil) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caryota_urens is a flowering palm tree.

kithul tree

நசை – love
நல்கல் – protect / care
நல்குவர் – will give
பிடி – female elephant
களைஇய – remove / satiate / quench
பெருங்கை – long trunk
வேழம் – male elephant
மென் சினை – thin branch
யாஅம் – யா மரம் – Toddy Palm Tree / Wine Palm Tree
பொளி – strip
அன்பின – affectionate / tender
ஆறு – way / road

Thirukkural – 235

Fame that grows as mortal body weakens, and endures after death,
is hard for anyone other than the masterly.

நத்தம்போல் கேடும், உளதாகும் சாக்காடும்,
வித்தகர்க்கு அல்லால் அரிது.

As one’s days pass by the mortal body weakens. For those who are proficient and skillful, fame grows at the same time as their mortal body weakens. Their fame achieves its zenith on their death and endures after that. Such achievement is not easy for any one other than those who are masters in their field.

Fame and mortal body are implied in the original, not mentioned explicitly.

நத்தம் – நந்து + அம் – growth / increase
கேடு – diminish / weakens
உளதாகும் – உளது ஆகும் – established / endures
சாக்காடு – death
வித்தகர் – adept / skillful / proficient
அரிது – hard / difficult

Thirukkural – 781

What else is harder to make than friendship? If made,
What else is better than it to guard the work we do?

செயற்கு அரிய யா உள, நட்பின்?-அதுபோல்
வினைக்கு அரிய யா உள, காப்பு?

A good friend is the hardest thing to acquire in this world. But once we have acquired a good friend, there is no one better to protect our work from foes. So work hard in getting good friends. They will take care of you.

செயற்கரிய – செய்தலுக்கு + அரிய – hard to make
யா – யாது – what
உள – உள்ளது – there
நட்பின் – than friendship
வினை – task / duty
காப்பு – protection

Silappathikaaram – Kanal Vari – 37-44

Clamour of farmers, clamour of sluice gates,
Clamour of water breaking river banks, clamour of revellers
Celebrating fresh floods – escorted by this cacophony
You march majestically; may You live long Cauvery;
Your march amidst the clamour of revellers
celebrating fresh floods, defines the wealth of Valavan,
whose clamorous soldiers needn’t guard the city doors*;
May You live long, Cauvery!

* – His reputation is such that enemies are afraid to attack him. Hence his soldiers need not guard the city doors.

உழவர் ஓதை, மதகு ஓதை,
உடை நீர் ஓதை, தண்பதம் கொள்
விழவர் ஓதை, சிறந்து ஆர்ப்ப,
நடந்தாய்; வாழி, காவேரி!
விழவர் ஓதை சிறந்து ஆர்ப்ப
நடந்த எல்லாம் வாய் காவா
மழவர் ஓதை வளவன்-தன்
வளனே; வாழி, காவேரி!-

This verse is sung in praise of River Cauvery as she flows into Chola country. After the monsoon, Cauvery flows into Chola country with fresh waters. Arrival of floods is a joyous occasion, making the farmers hail the river. The noise as she flows to canals through sluice gates adds to the ruckus. Since river is overflowing, it breaks the river banks noisily. Revelers assemble at riverfronts to celebrate the fresh floods. Amidst such noise, Cauvery marches in majestically. All such noises indicate her bounty to the country of Valavan (Chola King). The boisterous soliders of Valavan have no need to guard the city gates as enemies are afraid of their king’s reputation and are afraid to attack. May you live long Cauvery, who has brought such wealth to our country.

Today is Aadi-p-Perukku (literally Bounty during Aadi month). This is celebrated on the 18th day of Tamil month Aadi, thanking the river for her bounty. River flow was minimal in the last few years due to vagaries of Politics and Nature. This year’s monsoon has been good and the river is brimming. May all of us be blessed by Nature.

உழவர் – farmer
ஓதை – noise / clamor
மதகு – sluice gates
உடை நீர் – உடைத்துக் கொண்டு ஓடும் நீர் – water that breaks river banks
தண்பதம் – தண்மை + பதம் – fresh / cool + water
விழவர் – விழா கொண்டாடுபவர்கள் – revelers
ஆர் – big noise / cacophony
வாய் காவா – வாயில் + காக்காத – not guarding the gates
மழவர் – solider
வளவன் – Chola King Valavan
வளன் – wealth

Thirukkural – 1041

What’s more miserable than poverty, if you ask,
poverty alone is more miserable than poverty.

‘இன்மையின் இன்னாதது யாது?’ எனின், இன்மையின்
இன்மையே இன்னாதது.

There is nothing more miserable than poverty. If you ask what is more miserable, then the answer is only poverty is more miserable than poverty.

Tamil classical poetry follows strict rules of meter. Hence words are joined together to adhere to the rules. To understand the verse, one has to split them and understand it. For example the unsplit versionof the above verse is

இன்மையி னின்னாத தியாதெனி னின்மையின்
இன்மையே யின்னா தது.

As you can see it has four words in the first line and three in the second line, the way you were taught in school. After a lot of thought, I stick to split version of the verse, to make it easy for regular Tamil readers to understand. It is a compromise, it makes the verse lose its cadence; yes, but I don’t want to scare people off immediately.

இன்மையின் – than poverty
இன்னாதது – miserable
இன்மையே – only poverty / poverty alone

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