Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Devotional”

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

Siddhar – Pattinaththaar – Thiruvekamba Malai – 7

When we’re born we bring nothing,
When we die we take nothing;
Wealth made in between is a gift of Shiva
They don’t realise, and hoard it till they die;
What shall I tell these misers, Kanchi Ekambara?

பிறக்கும்பொழுது கொடுவந்ததில்லைப் பிறந்துமண்மேல் 
இறக்கும்பொழுது கொடுபோவதில்லை இடைநடுவில் 
குறிக்கும்இச் செல்வம் சிவன்தந்த தென்று கொடுக்கறியாது 
இறக்குங் குலாமருக்கென் சொல்லுவேன்கச்சி ஏகம்பனே.

This Pattinaththaar poem is part of a collection sung in praise of the deity of Kanchi Ekambara Nathar temple. He says “We bring nothing when we are born. We take nothing when we die. All that we make in between is a gift of Lord Shiva. But these misers don’t realise and do not give their wealth away. What shall I tell them?”

குலாமர் – Miser (slave to wealth, probably from Arabic word Gulam – Slave)

கச்சி – காஞ்சிபுரம் – Kanchipuram

ஏகம்பன் – ஏகாம்பர நாதர் – Ekambara Nathar (Name of Shiva in Kanchipuram temple)

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)

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

Nammalvaar – 2654

One with a Golden crown, one with a thousand names,
one whose dazzling disc dims the stars- him
I kept in my heart as protective mom and dad;
henceforth, whatever happens does it matter?

அடர்ப்பொன் முடியானை யாயிரம்பே ரானை,
சுடர்கொள் சுடராழி யானை,-இடர்கடியும்
மாதா பிதுவாக வைத்தேன் எனதுள்ளே
யாதாகில் யாதே இனி

This verse is from Nammalvar’s pasurams. Nammalvar is considered the greatest amongst twelve Alwars (Vaishnavite saints) and has written 1352 of the 4000 verses in Naalaayira Divya Prabandham. His period is generally dated to 8th Century AD. The Vaishnavite philosophy of Alwars is qualified non-dualism (Vishishtadvaita), simply put – total surrender to the One. (I am not qualified to talk about nuances of philosophy. This is just my understanding.)

In this poem Nammalvar says “I have placed him – who wears a dazzling golden crown, who has a thousand name, whose disc dims the brightness of all the sun and stars in this earth – in my heart like my mother and father, who remove all obstacles in my path.Hence forth, whatever happens doesn’t bother me. Because I have totally surrendered to him, whatever happens is his wish”

If you can read Tamil, do read it for the cadence and simplicity of the verse. Nammalvar’s verses are known for their innate rhythm and are a pleasure to read out loud. I haven’t read all his verses. Chose this particular verse for its simplicity and universal theme. In this 1200 year old verse, except ஆழி, all other words are simple Tamil words still in use.

சுடர் + கொள் – stars + subsume
சுடர் ஆழி – bright disc
இடர் கடியும் – peril + removing (protective)
பிது – பித்ரு – father
எனதுள்ளே – எனது + உள்ளத்திலே – in my heart
யாது – whatever / anything

Naachiyar Thirumozhi – 584

O’ dark clouds that appear over Venkata hills during monsoon!
I tumble down like withered crown flower leaves in rainy season,
chanting the name of one who appeared in battlefield victoriously;
Will he not send me a word of hope as time stretches before me!

கார்காலத் தெழுகின்ற கார்முகில்காள் வேங்கடத்துப்
போர்காலத் தெழுந்தருளிப் பொருதவனார் பேர்சொல்லி
நீர்காலத் தெருக்கிலம் பழவிலைபோல் வீழ்வேனை
வார்காலத் தொருநாள்தம் வாசகம்தந் தருளாரே!

This is a poem from Nachiyar Thirumozhi by Andal, dated to around 8th century. She is in love with Lord Vishnu, who resides in the Venkata hills (Tirupati). As monsoon clouds rise up, she complains to them. “I keep chanting his name, who appeared in the battlefield and emerged victorious. Constantly thinking of him, I am becoming weak and brittle. I fall down like the crown flower (எருக்கு) leaves that dry out in summer and at the first touch of rains fall down. Why does he not send me a message one of these days as I wait for him. His message would revive me”

Crown flower plant has a milky stem. During the hot summer, the milky liquid is completely dried out and the leaves fade. As soon as the rain drops fall on the plant, the leaves break and fall down. She says she is like those leaves, her soul is withering as he hasn’t appeared in front of her. At this stage, if rain drops fall on her, she will break down completely. If he sends a message to her, that will sustain her life.

I was reminded of this poem after seeing a video of a leaf falling down in a pond. It is not a crown flower leaf, but the image triggered the memory of this beautiful poem.

Falling gracefully….

A post shared by Itchyfeetindian (@itchyfeetindian) on

கார்காலம் – monsoon
கார்முகில் – dark clouds
பொருதுதல் – fight
நீர்காலம் – rainy season
எருக்கு – crown flower
இலம் – without / poor
பழு – பழுத்த – faded
வார் – lengthen
வாசகம் – message

Naachiyar Thirumozhi – 508

Like the sacred offerings
made by priests to the deities
being trampled and smelled
by a fox roaming in the wild,
if any talk arises that my breasts
which rise in pleasure for the noble One
are to be possessed by a human,
I will cease to live, God of love.

வானிடை வாழுமவ் வானவர்க்கு
மறையவர் வேள்வியில் வகுத்தஅவி
கானிடைத் திரிவதோர் நரிபுகுந்து
கடப்பதும் மோப்பதும் செய்வதொப்ப
ஊனிடை யாழிசங் குத்தமர்க்கென்று
உன்னித் தெழுந்தவென் தடமுலைகள்
மானிட வர்க்கென்று பேச்சுப்படில்
வாழகில் லேன்கண்டாய் மன்மதனே.

Andal, who had decided to become one with Lord Vishnu dedicated her life to be with him. However she learned of her father trying to get her married. This poem is Andal throwing the gauntlet. “My body and life are meant for the Lord. If I ever hear you talk about getting me married to a mortal, that my body which is meant for the Lord is to be handled by a human being, I will give up my life. It will be like a wild fox smelling and trampling the sacred offering made to deities.”

The raw passion of this poem is a beauty to behold. She equates herself to the sacred offering made to God.

Naachiyar Thirumozhi – 567


Does it smell of camphor? or of Lotus?
His coral red mouth, is it delicious?
Yearning to know the taste and smell
of the tusk breaker’s* mouth, I ask you;
tell me O’ ocean born white Conch.

கருப்பூரம் நாறுமோ கமலப்பூ நாறுமோ
திருப்பவளச் செவ்வாய்தான் தித்தித்தி ருக்கும்மோ
மருப்பொசித்த மாதவன்றன் வாய்ச்சுவையும் நாற்றமும்
விருப்புற்றுக் கேட்கின்றேன் சொல்லாழி வெண்சங்கே.

*When Kamsa sent his Royal elehant to trample Krishna and Balarama, they broke its tusk and threw it off easily.

Panchajanyam is the white conch of Krishna, which he blows to sound the start of war. Andal, a fervent devotee of Krishna, asks the Panchajanyam about how his mouth tastes and smells.

“Does it smell of camphor or lotus (which are offered to him while praying)? Does his mouth taste delicious? I desire to know the taste and smell of his mouth. Since you are lucky enough to be on his mouth, please tell me”

Andal is one of the well known poet saints in Tamil literary canon. She is the only woman among the 12 Alwars (saints) in Sri Vaishnavite tradition. Born in 8th Century AD as the daughter of Vishnu Chittan (Periyalvar) in Sri Villiputhur, she fell in love with Lord Vishnu at an young age and decided to marry him. Her poems in Thiruppavai are sung during the month of Margazhi (Dec-Jan). Naachiyar Thirumozhi consists of 143 poems of intense longing and desire for Lord Vishnu.

Thirumandhiram – 7.11.1

Heart a grand shrine, mortal body a temple,
mouth a gateway to reach the generous Lord,
to those clear of mind, soul is Shivam*;
fickle five senses are light that clears darkness.

உள்ளம் பெருங்கோயில், ஊன் உடம்பு ஆலயம்,
வள்ளல் பிரானார்க்கு வாய் கோபுர வாசல்,
தெள்ளத் தெளிந்தார்க்குச் சீவன் சிவலிங்கம்
கள்ளப் புலன் ஐந்தும் காளா மணிவிளக்கு.

* Shivam / Shivalingam – Lord Shiva, the Supreme being

This is a famous verse from Saivite saint Thirumoolar’s Thirumandhiram. 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.

“Physical body is a temple. Heart is the shrine in which Lord resides. Mouth is the gateway through which (by chanting his name) we can reach the generous Lord. To those who are clear of mind and don’t have any doubts, their Soul is Shivam (the supreme being). Our fickle five senses are lights that clear away the darkness in the temple”.

I understand this verse as “Look for the God within you. God resides in your soul. Don’t look for him outside, but chant his name. Once you lose your doubts, you will become one with Him”. I might be completely wrong too, as I am not a student of Saivite Theology.

Two important things to note in this verse.
1. He makes a difference between கோயில் & ஆலயம், which I have translated as ‘shrine’ and ‘temple’. Shrine is the inner sanctum where the God resides. Temple is the building built around it. In Tamil கோயில் – கோ + இல் (Lord’s residence). ஆலயம் – ஆன்மா+லயம் (Soul + union – where soul unites with God).

2.Another important phrase in this verse is கள்ளப் புலன் ஐந்தும்  – Fickle five senses. He doesn’t simply say five senses. Those senses are needed to drive away the darkness in your body (temple). But those are fickle / deceptive and may mislead you. So you have to keep them in control to light the way forward.

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