Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Kambaramayanam – 2019

Her plait’s adorned with fragrant powder and pollen,
Her forehead’s curved like a slice of the moon;
He, whose lips lend colour to coral, walks with her –
like a dark cloud and a streak of lightning appearing alone,
like an adorned bull elephant and its cow walking alone.

மா கந்தமும், மகரந்தமும், அளகம் தரும் மதியின்
பாகம் தரும் நுதலாளொடு, பவளம் தரும் இதழான்,
மேகம் தனி வருகின்றது மின்னொடு என, மிளிர் பூண்
நாகம் தனி வருகின்றது பிடியோடு என, நடவா.

This verse is in கங்கைப் படலம் (Ganga chapter) when Rama and Sita enter the forest and reach the river Ganga. When Rama leaves Ayodhya, people follow him. So he sends back his chariot to Ayodhya and walks away in the night. People think he has gone back to Ayodhya and follow the chariot marks. Before they realize that they have been misled,  Rama and Sita enter the forest and walk south towards Ganga, along with Lakshmana.

Kamban describes them walking by themselves, free of the adoring populace. Sita’s hair is washed with aromatic powders and pollen from flowers and is fragrant. Rama’s lips are strikingly red, it is as if they had lent their colour to coral gemstone. As they walk together, it was like a dark cloud (Rama is dark hued in the epic) and silver lightning appearing together in the vast sky. It was like a bull elephant walking with its cow, undisturbed in the forest.

Elephant’s walk is a repeatedly used simile in Tamil literature for graceful walking. As always with Kamban’s Tamil verse, read it out loud to appreciate the cadence.

மா கந்தம் – great fragrance
மரகந்தம் – pollen of flower
அளகம் – hair / plait
மதியின் பாகம் – part of a moon
நுதல் – forehead
பவளம் – coral
இதழான் – he with lips
மின்னொடு – மின்னலோடு –
மிளிர் பூண் – shining adornments
நாகம் – male elephant (bull)
பிடி – female elephant (cow)

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