Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Epics”

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

Kamba Ramayanam – 5178

Tormented by thick waisted Rakshasa women, she sat there*;
Like a fine herb growing by the side of a hard rock
never getting a drop of water, languishing in misery,
rest of her body too thinned down like her narrow waist.

* Asoka Vanam, where Sita was held captive by Ravana.

வல் மருங்குல் வாள் அரக்கியர்
         நெருக்க, அங்கு இருந்தாள் :
கல் மருங்கு எழுந்து, என்றும் ஓர்
         துளி வரக் காணா
நல் மருந்துபோல், நலன் அற
         உணங்கிய நங்கை,
மெல் மருங்குல்போல், வேறு உள
        அங்கமும் மெலிந்தாள்.

This verse is in the sequence where Hanuman first sees Sita in Asoka Vanam. He finds her in sorrow, surrounded by thick waisted harsh Rakshasa women, who were tormenting her to accept the proposal of Ravana. Her whole body had thinned down like her narrow waist. It was like a fine herb growing by the side of a hard rock not receiving even a drop of water and drooping down. She was languishing in misery as her captors had taken her away from Rama, who was her life.

Kamban contrasts the thick and narrow waists to differentiate harshness / daintiness of Rakshasa Women and Sita. This objectification doesn’t go well with modern sensibilities. All I can say is he was the product of his times.

வல் – thick
மருங்குல் – waist
வாள் – harsh
அரக்கியர் – Rakshasa Women
நெருக்க – tormented
கல் – பாறை – Rock
மருங்கு – side
எழுந்து – grew
நல் மருந்து – fine herb
நலன் உற – health spoiled / misery
உணங்குதல் – suffer / languish
மெல் – soft / thin
வேறு உள அங்கமும் – other parts of her body / rest of her body

Manimekalai – 11.61-72

O’ Gallant conqueror of Lust,
Eliminator of hateful doctrines,
Great one who strives to do right to men,
Ancient one who doesn’t yearn for heaven,
One who is unperturbed by others thoughts,
Wise One who helps others obtain wisdom,
One whose ears block hateful words,
One whose tongue utters only truth,
One who went to hell to redeem the sinners,
One who eradicates the misery of Nagas,
To praise thy hallowed feet, instead of worshiping,
will be impertinent of my tongue to do,
said the beautiful damsel..

மாரனை வெல்லும் வீர நின்அடி
தீநெறிக் கடும்பகை கடிந்தோய் நின்அடி
பிறர்க்குஅறம் முயலும் பெரியோய் நின்அடி
துறக்கம் வேண்டாத் தொல்லோய் நின்அடி
எண்பிறக்கு ஒழிய இறந்தோய் நின்அடி
கண்பிறர்க்கு அளிக்கும் கண்ணோய் நின்அடி
தீமொழிக்கு அடைத்த செவியோய் நின்அடி
வாய்மொழி சிறந்த நாவோய் நின்னடி
நரகர் துயர்கெட நடப்போய் நின்அடி
உரகர் துயரம் ஒழிப்போய் நின்அடி
வணங்குதல் அல்லது வாழ்த்தல்என் நாவிற்கு
அடங்காது என்ற ஆயிழை …,

Manimekalai is a Tamil Buddhist epic, generally dated around 5th Century CE. It follows the life of Manimekalai, who is the daughter of Madhavi from Silappathikaram (the premier epic in Tamil literature). Goddess Deeva Thilakai takes her to the Gomukhi pond on the auspicious day of Vaikasi Visakha (Buddha Poornima?). They pray to Buddha and go around the pond. Manimekalai is given the ‘Amudha Surabhi’ (never empty food bowl) which will satiate the hunger of all living beings.

On receiving the bowl, she is happy and praises Buddha. “You conquered the God of Lust (who tried to disturb Buddha’s meditation under the Bodhi tree). You eliminate the hateful doctrines and show us the true path. You try to do right to all men. You are beyond hell and heaven, having attained true Nirvana. So you don’t yearn for heaven. Others thoughts don’t reach and disturb you. You are the wise one who gives wisdom to others. Your ears close to hateful speech. Your tongue utters only the truth. You visited hell to redeeem sinners there. (Buddha is supposed to have visited Hell in one of his births to redeem the sufferers there). You’ve walked the country of Nagas (South India?) to eradicate their misery. It will be impertinent of my tongue to praise your hallowed feet. I should only bow down and worship you”

In the Tamil verse, every line ends with ‘Hallowed feet’. I have used it only once, to read easy in English. Na.Mu.Venkatasamy Naattar in his commentary helpfully says “Since Manimekalai was overcome with joy, she kept repeating hallowed feet in every line. We can take it at the end of her felicitations”.

வாழ்த்த வயதில்லை வணங்குகிறேன் – ‘I’m not old enough to praise you, so I worship you’ is a cliched sentence in Tamil Nadu political oratory in the last decade. So when I found that this phrase had its origin in an epic written 1500 years ago, I was extremely pleased. One keeps finding such nuggets as one explores Tamil literature.

மாரன் – God of Love / Lust
தீநெறி – தீய நெறி – hateful doctrines
கடும்பகை – strong enmity
நின் அடி – your (hallowed) feet
கடிந்தோய் – கடிதல் – removal / elimination
துறக்கம் – heaven
எண்பிறக்கு ஒழிய – பிறரது எண்ணங்கள் தீண்ட முடியாத உயரத்தில் – not touched by others thoughts
இறந்தோய் – one who has given up
கண் பிறர்க்கு – wisdom to others
கண்ணோய் – கண்ணோட்டம் உடையவன் – One who is wise
தீமொழி – hateful words
செவி – ear
வாய்மொழி – வாய்மை + மொழி – true words
நாவோய் – நா + உடையவன் – tongue
நரகர் – sinners
உரகர் – Nagas
வணங்குதல் – Bow / Worship
வாழ்த்தல் – Praise / Bless
நாவிற்கு அடங்காது – my tongue should not do
ஆயிழை -girl wearing beautiful jewels / damsel / woman

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

Kambaramayanam – 595

Lethal spear, the God of death, and all such things
will be vanquished by her joyous eyes,
that are beyond words to describe.
Hills and walls and hard stones and grass,
all melt in her presence, with such poise
did the luscious lady stand.

கொல்லும் வேலும் கூற்றமும்
      என்னும் இவை எல்லாம்,
வெல்லும் வெல்லும் என்ன
      மதர்க்கும் விழி கொண்டாள்,
சொல்லும் தன்மைத்து அன்று அது;
     குன்றும் சுவரும் திண்
கல்லும் புல்லும் கண்டு உருகப்,
    பெண் கனி நின்றாள்.

Kamban describing Sita standing in the balcony, before Rama sets his eyes on her. Her charming eyes are so powerful that they vanquish lethal spears and even God of death. They are beyond words to describe. Her regal presence is such that even non living things such as hills, walls, hard stones and tender grass melt in her presence.

Kamban doesn’t say just Girl – பெண். He uses பெண் கனி – fruit like lady. The word கனி – fruit, brings to mind fresh, tender, juicy, sweet and so many other qualities. I’ve used ‘luscious lady’ as an equivalent.

கூற்றம் – Death / God of death
மதர்ப்பு  – joyous
தன்மைத்து – quality
திண் கல் – hard stone

Kambaramayanam – 70

கூற்றம் இல்லை, ஓர் குற்றம் இல்லமையால்;
சீற்றம் இல்லை, தம் சிந்தையின் செம்மையால்;
ஆற்றல் நல் அறம் அல்லது இல்லாமையால்,
ஏற்றம் அல்லது, இழித்தகவு இல்லையே.

Death is absent, as crime is absent;
anger is absent, due to virtuous thought;
they act righteously and not otherwise,
so they achieve eminence, not baseness.

Since there is no crime in Kosala, there is no unnatural death. Anger is absent since the citizens have only virtuous thoughts.  Due to fairness of their actions, the citizens of Kosala achieve superiority in their lives, they are never base.

கூற்றம் – death
சீற்றம் – anger
சிந்தை – thoughts
செம்மை – goodness
ஆற்றல் – do
நல் அறம் – righteous deed
இழித்தகவு – baseness

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