Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Devotional”

Thiruvasagam – 8.39.3

Kinsfolk I don’t yearn for; a town to live I don’t yearn for;
Fame I don’t yearn for; 
company of learned men I don’t yearn for;
All I’ve learned is enough; 
O’ My dancing Lord who resides in Kuttralam!
I yearn to mellow down and melt 
at your anklet tinkling feet,
like that of a cow’s heart yearning for its calf.

உற்றாரை யான்வேண்டேன் ஊர்வேண்டேன் பேர்வேண்டேன்
கற்றாரை யான்வேண்டேன் கற்பனவும் இனியமையுங்
குற்றாலத் தமர்ந்துறையுங் கூத்தாஉன் குரைகழற்கே
கற்றாவின் மனம்போலக் கசிந்துருக வேண்டுவனே.

This verse is part of Thiruvasagam by 9th century Shaivite poet Manikkavasagar. Thiruvasagam (Sacred utterances) is considered one of the pinnacles of Tamil Bhakti (Devotional) poetry.

In this verse Manikkavasagar says he doesn’t yearn to be with his kith and kin. He doesn’t yearn to have a town to live in. Nor does he yearn for worldly fame. He doesn’t crave the company of learned men whose knowledge is just the tomes that they have learned. He says all that he has learned so far in this world is enough. He pleads to Lord Shiva who resides in his abode in the hills of Kuttralam that all he yearns for is to be at the anklet tinkling feet of the Lord. He yearns for it with a melting heart, like that of a cow yearning for its calf.

உற்றார் – Relative / Kinsfolk
வேண்டேன் – வேண்ட மாட்டேன் – I don’t desire / I don’t yearn
பேர் – fame
கற்றார் – learned men
இனி அமையும் – henceforth enough
குற்றாலத்து அமர்ந்து உறையும் – who resides in Kuttralam
கூத்தன் – Dancer / Dancing Lord (Shiva)
குரை – sounding / tinkling
கழல் – anklet
கற்றா – கன்று (உடைய) ஆ – Cow with calf
கசிந்து உருக – become tender and melt

 

Thevaram 3.49.1

Those who chant it immersed in love, yielding to him
with tears of bliss – it guides them to the path of virtue;
It is the essence of all four Vedas;
It is the moniker of my lord, Namachivaya.

காதல் ஆகி, கசிந்து, கண்ணீர் மல்கி,
ஓதுவார் தமை நன் நெறிக்கு உய்ப்பது;
வேதம் நான்கினும் மெய்ப்பொருள் ஆவது
நாதன் நாமம் நமச்சிவாயவே.

This verse by Thirugnana Sambandhar extols the word Namachivaya, moniker of Shiva. He says those who chant it with heart full of love, melting to a puddle and tears of bliss streaming from their eyes – in other words unconditional surrender to God – will be guided by Him to the virtuous path. His Name is the truth and essence of all four Vedas.

The first line in Tamil – காதல் ஆகி, கசிந்து, கண்ணீர் மல்கி– uses alliteration and packs a punch in describing unconditional surrender of the devotees.

காதல் – love
கசிந்து – melting / yielding / giving in
ஓதுவார் – those who chant
நன் நெறி – right way
உய்ப்பது – guides / brings
மெய்ப்பொருள் – true meaning / essence
நாமம் – name / moniker

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

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

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

Kayamboo

Kaya flower (Ironwood tree flower)

SONY DSC

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

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