Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Epics”

Kundalakesi – 9

Death of our embryonic stage, death of our childhood,
Death of our adolescence, death of our passionate youth –
Dying repeatedly is the norm; same awaits us at old age too;
As we are dying everyday, why not we cry for ourselves too?

பாளையாம் தன்மை செத்தும்
பாலனாம் தன்மை செத்தும்
காளையாம் தன்மை செத்தும்
காமுறும் இளமை செத்தும்
மீளும்இவ் இயல்பும் இன்னே
மேல்வரு மூப்பும் ஆகி
நாளும் நாள் சாகின்றாமால்
நமக்கு நாம் அழாதது என்னோ!

Kundalakesi is one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. Three of these are Jainism based (Seevaka Sinthamani, Silappathikaaram, Valayaapathi) and two are Buddishm based (Manimekalai and Kundalakesi). Kundalakesi is estimated to have been written before 5th Century AD. Only 19 of the 99 verses of Kundalakesi are available today.

It is about Kundalakesi, daughter of a rich merchant in Puhar, who falls in love with a thief Kaalan about to be beheaded. Her father pleads with the King and saves Kaalan from death. After marriage one day she playfully calls him thief. Enraged by this , he plans to kill her and takes her to a mountain peak to push her down. When he tells this to her, she requests him to let her go around him three times as worship before being killed. He agrees. She goes behind him and pushes him down , killing him. Then she repents and becomes a Buddhist monk. She defeats Jain and Hindu scholars in theological debates.

In this poem, the poet talks about impermanence of life. “We cry for the death of our near and dear ones. But we ourselves are dying every day. Every stage of our life entails death of the previous stage. We are a fetus in our mother’s womb. Once we are born, the fetus dies. Then our childhood dies when we become young adults. Which again dies when we become passion driven youth. That stage too dies. Death repeats itself in our life. That is the norm. What is more, it is death that awaits us in our old age too. As we are dying every day, why do we not cry for ourselves? It is pointless to cry for the death of near and dear ones”

பாளை – embryo / fetus
தன்மை – nature
பாலன் – toddler / child
காளை – young adult
காமுறும் – becoming passionate
இளமை – youth
மீளும் – repeatedly
இயல்பு – nature
இன்னே – இனிமேல் – in future
மூப்பு – old age
சாகின்றாமால் – செத்துக் கொண்டிருக்கிறோம், ஆதலால் – as we are dying
என்னோ – why?

Kambaramayanam – 4307

O’ creeper swaying gently in the monsoon winds,
you enter my soul and taunt me with your blooms;
Like the waist of my radiant faced beloved do you sway;
Tell me, are you trying to weaken my soul away?

மழை வாடையொடு ஆடி, வலிந்து, உயிர்மேல்,
நுழைவாய்; மலர்வாய் நொடியாய் – கொடியே! –
இழை வாள் நுதலாள் இடைபோல் இடையே
குழைவாய்; எனது ஆவி குழைக்குதியோ?

After Sita has been kidnapped by Ravana, Rama and Lakshmana go in search of her in the forest. With the arrival of monsoon, everything Rama sees reminds him of Sita. In this set of verses of he laments nature that reminds him of his beloved. Here he looks at the creeper gently swaying in the monsoon wind and that reminds him of her slender waist.

“O’ Creeper! You sway in the rain bearing monsoon winds and that sight enters my parched soul. You taunt me with fresh blooms in your stalks while I pine for Sita. You sway back and forth like the waist of my Sita, she whose forehead is radiant and adorned with jewels. You swing harmoniously this way and that way. Tell me! By reminding me of her, are you trying to torment and weaken my soul, turning it to a pulp?”

“Weaken away” is a poor translation of குழைக்குதியோ which literally means “turning to mush”. I might change this when I get a better phrase. If you can read Tamil, utter this phrase ”குழைவாய்! எனது ஆவி குழைக்குதியோ” and relish the alliteration of your language.

மழை – rain
வாடை – cool northerly wind
வலிந்து – sway
மலர்வாய் – you bloom
நொடியாய் – Tell me
இழை – jewelled
வாள் நுதல் – radiant forehead
இடையே குழைவாய் – swing / sway back and forth
குழைக்குதியோ – turning to mush

Kambaramayanam – 5278

Ravana pleading his love to Sita in Asoka Vanam

Many todays have passed; many tomorrows have passed;
Yet this is the mercy you offer me;
Will you become one with me
Only after I pass away
Killed by the misery you cause me?
Tell me, O’ Woman whose reddened eyes cause me grief,
Swinging back and forth to your ear rings.

இன்று இறந்தன நாளை இறந்தன
என் திறம் தரும் தன்மை இதால்; எனைக்
கொன்று இறந்தபின் கூடுதியோ? குழை
சென்று இறங்கி மறம் தரு செங்கணாய்!

After Ravana has carried Sita away to Lanka, he has her imprisoned in Asoka Vanam. Hanuman is sent by Rama to find Sita. After reaching Lanka, Hanuman searches around and finally find Sita in Asoka Vanam. While he is there, Ravana comes to plead his love to Sita. That’s where this verse appears.

Ravana tells Sita, “I have waited for many days thinking today will be the day you will accept my love. I have waited for many days thinking hopefully tomorrow will be the day you will accept me. Yet you haven’t accepted my love. This is the mercy you have shown me. Will you unite with me only after you kill me by the pain caused by your refusal? You have been shedding tears thinking of Rama. Hence your eyes are reddened. Frightened on seeing me, those eyes swing back and forth all the way to your ear rings. This is causing me further grief.”

As you can see, Kamban uses sparse words to capture this emotion. I have had to elaborate in my translation to capture all that brevity.

இறந்தன – passed away / die
திறம் – mercy
கூடு – join / unite
குழை – ear ring
மறம் – pain
செங்கணாய் – red eyed woman

Kambaramayanam – 4464

“Those who give up their vices consciously
Will be freed from cycle of rebirth”
Proclaim faultless philosophers and scriptures;
Yet, removing the wiggling worms from toddy,
I drink and find (false) solace in it,
Like those who put out fire by pouring oil in it.

“‘தெளிந்து தீவினையைச் செற்றோர்
         பிறவியின் தீர்வர் “ என்ன,
விளிந்து இலா உணர்வினோரும்,
         வேதமும், விளம்பவேயும்,
நெளிந்து உறை புழுவை நீக்கி
        நறவு உண்டு நிறைகின்றேனால்
அளிந்து அகத்து எரியும் தீயை
       நெய்யினால் அவிக்கின்றாரின்.

Rama agrees to help Sugreevan defeat his brother Vali in return for Sugreevan helping him find Sita. Rama kills Vali and Sugreeva is made King. He forgets his promise to Rama and indulges in revelry. Rama gets angry and sends Lakshmana to enquire. Seeing an angry Lakshmana marching towards the fort, Angadan goes and wakes up Sugreevan. Sugreevan lies senseless. So Angadan asks Hanuman to help out. Hanuman send Tara and other women to stop Lakshmana since he knows Lakshmana won’t fight women. As Tara explains that Sugreevan has sent spies all over in search of Sita, Lakshmanan cools down a bit. Then Hanuman comes and assuages him. Angadan goes again to wake up Sugreevan. Sugreevan wakes up this time and asks why wasn’t he informed earlier of Lakshmana’s arrival. Angadan says “You were drunk senseless when I tried to wake you up”. Sugreevan castigates himself miserably in this verse.

“Wise men have said that those who have thought through worldly matters and decided to give up their vices will be freed from cycle of rebirth. Scriptures too say the same. Yet even after knowing all this, I still gave in to this vice of drinking. See this toddy. Worms wiggle at its surface. Still I removed those worms and drank myself seeking false contentment. My action is like that of one who sees his house on fire and tries to put it out with oil. It will only burn more”

தெளிந்து – who think and decide / consciously
தீவினை – vices
செற்றோர் – those who give up
பிறவியின் தீர்வர் – escape birth cycle
விளிந்து இலா – fault less
வேதம் – Vedas / scriptures
விளம்ப – say
நெளிந்து – wiggling
உறை – reside
புழு – worm
நறவு – toddy
நிறைகின்றேன் – become content
அளிந்து – blazing
அகத்து எரியும் – burns at home
நெய் – oil
அவி – put out

Kambaramayanam – 3841

Her red painted toes
are corals in her lotus like feet;
She resides forever
in the blooming lotus that’s my heart;
Blossoms adorn her glorious dark braids;
O’ dark blue lily, you are like her eyes!
Then why do you torment me
With the poisonous spread that’s your smile.

பஞ்சு பூத்த விரல் பதுமம்
பவளம் பூத்த அடியாள் என்
நெஞ்சு பூத்த தாமரையின்
நிலையம் பூத்தாள், நிறம் பூத்த
மஞ்சு பூத்த மலர் பூத்த
குழலாள் கண்போல் மணிக் குவளாய்!
நஞ்சு பூத்தது ஆம் அன்ன
நகையால் என்னை நலிவாயோ.

Rama and Lakshmana search the forest after Sita has been kidnapped by Ravana. During their search they come to Pampa Lake in Kishkinta. The lake is full of Lotuses. They decide to stay there for the night. The lake and the lotuses remind Rama of Sita. He laments over losing her.

He looks at the blue water lily and says “O’ dark blue water Lily! You are like the eyes of my Sita. She whose red painted toes look like corals grown out of her lotus like soft feet.; she who forever resides in the blooming Lotus of my heart; she whose hair is dark like clouds and is beautifully adorned with flowers.  But her eyes would look at my pleasantly with love. But your smile (bloom) is like spreading poison that torments me by reminding of her. Why do you torment me so?”

Sita is the incarnation of Lakshmi who is depicted seated on a Lotus. So Rama says, she forever resides in the Lotus that is my heart.

The Tamil verse uses the word ‘பூத்த’ with multiple meanings – blooming, spreading, applied, growing. This gives a beautiful cadence when you read it out loud.

பஞ்சு பூத்த விரல் – செம்பஞ்சுக்குழம்பு ஊட்டிய விரல் – red painted toes
பதுமம் – Lotus
பவளம் பூத்த அடி – coral growing feet
என் நெஞ்சு பூத்த தாமரை – blooming lotus that’s my heart
நிலையம் பூத்தாள் – she who resides forever
நிறம் பூத்த – filled with (dark) colour, like clouds
மஞ்சு பூத்த – full of beauty / glorious
மலர் பூத்த குழலாள் – she whose hair is adorned with flowers
மணிக் குவளாய் – gem (dark blue) lily flower
நஞ்சு – posion
நகை – smile
நலிவாயோ – will you torment

Kambaramayanam – 3870

“Don’t his words show that there’s no skill in this world
that he hasn’t mastered, Nor Vedas he hasn’t grasped?
O’ my archer brother, Who’s this master of words?
Is he Brahma, the creator? Or the bull riding Lord*?”

*bull riding Lord – Lord Shiva

இல்லாத உலகத்து எங்கும், இங்கு இவன் இசைகள் கூரக்
கல்லாத கலையும், வேதக் கடலுமே” என்னும் காட்சி
சொல்லாலே தோன்றிற்று அன்றே? யார்கொல் இச் சொல்லின்செல்வன்? –
வில் ஆர்தோள் இளைய வீர! – விரிஞ்சனோ? விடைவலானோ?

This verse is Rama praising Hanuman at first sight. Rama and Lakshmana enter the Kishkinta forest in search of Sita. Sugreeva who is hiding from his brother in the forest, despatches Hanuman to find out who these two are. Hanuman is captivated by Rama at first sight. He introduces himself and asks Rama who they are.

Rama too is pleased with the way Hanuman spoke. He says to Lakshmana, his younger brother “O Lakshmana, carrying a bow in your shoulders! Did you hear his words? It sounds like there is no skill he has not mastered in this world, nor any Vedas he has not understood. He is such an erudite person. Who is he? Is he the four faced Brahma, the creator of all beings in this wold? Or is he Lord Siva who rides a bull?”

இல்லாத உலகத்து எங்கும் – There’s nothing in this world
இசைகள் கூர – புகழ் மிக்க – flawlessly / mastered
கல்லாத கலை – skill not learned
வேதக் கடல் –  Sea of Vedas (scriptures)
சொல்லின் செல்வன் – erudite / master of words
வில் ஆர் தோள் – carrying bow in shoulder
இளைய வீர – young warrior
விரிஞ்சன் – Brahma, the creator
விடை வலான் – Bull Master / Lord Shiva who rides a bull

Thiruvasagam – 12.3

Cremation ground’s his temple, a killer tiger’s skin his garment,
Motherless, fatherless; a loner he is, you see, my friend!
Motherless, fatherless, a loner he is; Yet if he’s incensed,
This whole world will crumble to dust, you see; Chazhalo*

* Chazhalo – a word to indicate that this is a game

கோயில்சு டுகாடு கொல்புலித்தோல் நல்லாடை
தாயுமிலி தந்தையிலி தான்தனியன் காணேடீ!
தாயுமிலி தந்தையிலி தான்தனியன் ஆயிடினுங்
காயில்உ லகனைத்துங் கற்பொடிகாண் சாழலோ.

Thiruchazhal is part of Thiruvasagam, the 8th collection (எட்டாம் திருமுறை) of poems in Saivite canon. In this, first two lines are by a girl teasing her friend about Lord Siva. The next two lines are the friend’s answer. In these playful verses the glory of Lord Siva is explained and his detractors answered. Each verse ends with Chazhalo (சாழலோ) to indicate it is part of a playful banter.

In this verse, the first girl says “He lives in a cremation ground. That is his temple. He wears a murderous tiger’s skin as his garment. He has no father, no mother. He is an orphan, all alone. Is this your God?” The second girl replies, “What you say is true. He has no father, no mother. He is all alone, an orphan, yes. But he is the primordial God of this world. If he is angered, he will crumble this whole world into dust.”

இலி – இல்லை –  Does not have
தனியன் – all alone – orphan
காயில் – காய்ந்து விட்டான் ஆனால் – if he’s angered
கற்பொடி – கல் + பொடி – stone dust

Kambaramayanam – 1777

They fell down; wilted; writhed in agony;
Cried “It’s today we lost our eyes”;
Were immersed in a sea of misery;
“O’ my son! O’ my son” they sobbed;
“You broke our heart” they grieved;
“You’ve gone to live in the eternal world,
We can’t bear to live here by ourselves,
here we come, here we come” they cried.

“வீழ்ந்தார்; அயர்ந்தார்; புரண்டார்;
‘விழி போயிற்று இன்று ‘என்றார்;
ஆழ்ந்தார் துன்பக் கடலுள்;
‘ஐயா! ஐயா! ‘என்றார்;
‘போழ்ந்தாய் நெஞ்சை ‘என்றார்;
‘பொன் நாடு அதனில் போய் நீ
வாழ்ந்தே இருப்பத் தரியேம்;
வந்தேம்! வந்தேம் இனியே!‘‘

King Dasaratha killed a blind ascetic couple’s son by mistake while hunting. The boy had come to a jungle pond to take water for his thirsty parents. Dasaratha hears the noise and shoots an arrow thinking it’s a deer. Once he realises his mistake, he grieves and goes to the old couple and tells them of his mistake and apologises.

The blind couple collapse on hearing the death of their son, who was everything to them. They cry saying “Though we were blind, he never made us feel that. With his death today, we have really lost our eyes. O’ my son! O’ my son! In your death you have broken our heart. You have left us and gone to live in the eternal world (heaven). We won’t live alone here by ourselves. We will die and come along with you there” they grieved.

Death of a son is a pain that cannot be assuaged. Further to this they curse Dasaratha that he too will suffer the same fate. That curse is what causes the sequence of events leading to Rama’s exile and Dasaratha’s death.
போழ் – split / break
பொன் நாடு – golden country / heaven / eternal world
தரியேம் – can’t bear

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)

Silappathikaaram – Vanji-k-Kaandam – Kundrak Kuravai

There’s no reason I see , to be miffed
with the fresh waters that have caressed his hills;
But my heart aches my friend, if others frolic
in the fresh waters that have caressed his hills;

There’s no reason I see, to be miffed
with the fresh waters that carry pollen from his hills;
But my heart aches my friend, if others frolic before I do
in the fresh waters that carry pollen from his hills;

There’s no reason I see, to be miffed
with the fresh waters that carry flowers from his hills;
But my heart aches my friend, if others frolic
in the fresh waters that carry flowers from his hills.

எற்றொன்றும் காணேம் புலத்தல் அவர்மலைக்
கற்றீண்டி வந்த புதுப்புனல்
கற்றீண்டி வந்த புதுப்புனல் மற்றையார்
உற்றாடி னோம்தோழி நெஞ்சன்றே ;

என்னொன்றும் காணேம் புலத்தல் அவர்மலைப்
பொன்னாடி வந்த புதுப்புனல்
பொன்னாடி வந்த புதுப்புனல் மற்றையார்
முன்னாடி னோம்தோழி நெஞ்சன்றே;

யாதொன்றுங் காணேம் புலத்தல் அவர்மலைப்
போதாடி வந்த புதுப்புனல்
போதாடி வந்த புதுப்புனல் மற்றையார்
மீதாடி னோம்தோழி நெஞ்சன்றே;

This set of verses are in Vanji-k-Kaandam, the third part of Silappathikaaram. A girl’s lover hasn’t come to see her in a long while. He is from the hills. She goes along with her friend to bathe in the water falls. In the previous verse, she says though he has forsaken me, I have come shamelessly to bathe in the water falls that flows from his hills. In these verses she says she doesn’t have reason to be miffed with the water falls. Her tiff is only with him who has not come to see her.She is possessive about the waters from his hills and thinks they are meant only for her.

“I don’t have any reason to be angry with the fresh waters that come here having caressed his hills. But if other girls frolic in these waters, my heart aches. I don’t have any reason to be angry with the fresh waters that come bearing pollen from his hills. But if other girls frolic in these waters before I do, my heart aches. I don’t have any reason to be angry with the fresh waters that come bearing flowers from his hills. But if other girls frolic in these waters, my heart aches.”

Ilango uses multiple words for ‘any reason’ – எற்றொன்றும் / என்னொன்றும் / யாதொன்றும் in order to maintain the rhyme of each verse. Similarly கற்றீண்டி / உற்றாடி , பொன்னாடி / முன்னாடி , போதாடி / மீதாடி rhymes make it a joy to read out loud in Tamil. I haven’t been able to bring that out in translation.

எற்றொன்றும் – எது ஒன்றும் – any reason
காணேம் – காண மாட்டேன் – I don’t see
புலத்தல் – tiff / be miffed
கற்றீண்டி – கல் + தீண்டி – rock caress
புதுப்புனல் – புது + புனல் – fresh water
மற்றையார் – other (girls)
உற்று – reach
ஆடின் – if  (they) frolic
நோம் – நோகும் – pains
நெஞ்சன்றே – நெஞ்சு+அன்றே – but (my) heart
என்னொன்றும் – எது ஒன்றும் – any reason
பொன் – பொன் தூள் – மகரந்தம் (?) – golden colored powder – (pollen?)
முன் – before
யாதொன்றும் – யாது + ஒன்றும் – any reason
போது – flower
மீது – on

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