Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Epics”

Kambaramayanam – 7409

The King with strong shoulders
Wasn’t ashamed at the thought that
Humans and celestial beings will laugh at him,
So will foes whom he laughed at;
But shriveled with shame at the thought that
Dainty princess of Mithilai, Janaki,
– Of red lips and eyes that mock spears –
Will laugh mockingly at him.

வானகு மண்ணு மெல்லா நகும் நெடு வயிரத் தோளான்
நானகு பகைஞ ரெல்லா நகுவரென் றதற்கு நாணான்
வேனகு நெடுங்கட் செவ்வாய் மெல்லியன் மிதிலை வந்த
சானகி நகுவ ளென்றே நாணத்தாற் சாம்பு கின்றான்.

வான் நகும்; மண்ணும் எல்லாம்
நகும்; ‘ நெடு வயிரத் தோளான்
‘நான் நகு பகைஞர் எல்லாம்
நகுவர் ‘என்று, அதற்கு நாணான்;
‘வேல் நகு நெடுங்கண்
செவ்வாய் மெல்லியல், மிதிலை வந்த
சானகி நகுவள்‘ என்றே
நாணத்தால் சாம்புகின்றான்

Ravana is disarmed in the first battle with Rama. Rama spares him and lets him go asking him to come back to fight the next day. Mighty Ravana walks back, burning with shame. He is not ashamed at the thought that all humans in this world will laugh at him or the celestial beings whom he conquered will laugh at him. He is not even ashamed that the foes whom he defeated in battle and laughed derisively at will now laugh at him. What burns him with shame is the thought that Janaki (Sita), the dainty princess of Mithilai, whose eyes are so sharp that they mock spears and whose lips are red in colour, will laugh at him.

Ravana craves for Sita’s acceptance. So the thought that now she will laugh at him for losing the battle burns him with shame.

வான் – sky / celestial beings
நகும் – laugh
மண் – earth / humans in earth
நெடு வயிரத் தோளான் – long armed with strong shoulders
பகைஞர் – foes
நாண் – shame
வேல் நகு நெடுங்கண் – long eyes that laugh (mock) at spears
செவ் வாய் – red lips
மெல்லியள் – மெல்லிய சாயல் கொண்டவள் – tender / dainty
சாம்பு – வாடுதல் – shrivel

Kambaramayanam – 1430

(When Dasaratha informs his ministers of his decision to make his son Rama the new King)

As the broad-shouldered King told them so,
Their hearts bubbled over with joy; At the same time,
Their hearts cried in agony at his proposed departure;
Like a cow that yearns for both its calves and not let one go.

திரண்ட தோளின னிப்படிச் செப்பலுஞ் சிந்தை
புரண்டு மீதிடப் பொங்கிய வுவகைய ராங்கே
வெருண்டு மன்னவன் பிரிவெனும் விம்முறு நிலையால்,
இரண்டு கன்றினுக் கிரங்குமோ ராவென விருந்தார்.

திரண்ட தோளினன் இப்படிச் செப்பலும், சிந்தை
புரண்டு மீதிடப் பொங்கிய உவகையர், ஆங்கே
வெருண்டு, மன்னவன் பிரிவு எனும் விம்முறு நிலையால்,
இரண்டு கன்றினுக்கு இரங்கும் ஓர் ஆ என இருந்தார்.

After Rama’s marriage, Dasaratha decides that he has had enough of being a King and decides to hand over the crown to his son and renounce the world. So he calls his ministers and informs them of his decision. In this verse, Kamban explains the situation of the ministers. When they hear Rama is going to be the next king, they are joyous and look forward to his rule. At the same time, they feel sad at the proposed departure. Their hearts are torn between this joy and sorrow. They are like a cow that wants to keep both its calves and not let one go.

The simile இரண்டு கன்றினுக்கு இரங்கும் ஓர் ஆ என – like a cow that yearns to keep both its calves (and not let one go) makes this a stand out poem for me.

செப்புதல் – Told
சிந்தை புரண்டு – heart bubbling over
உவகை – joy
வெருண்டு – agony
பிரிவு – separation
விம்முதல் – cry
இரங்கும் – yearn
ஆ – cow

Kambaramayanam – 4279

Dazzling gem like colourful bees swarm and adorn
The beautiful Red Flame Lily that sheds honey and wilts;
It’s like Lady Earth folding her fingers in wonder
At how monsoon has conquered the summer.

நாநிறச் சுரும்பும் வண்டு நவமணி யணியிற் சாரத்
தேனுக மலர்ந்து சாய்ந்த சேயிதழ்க் காந்தட் செம்பூ
வேனிலை வென்ற தம்மா காரென வியந்து நோக்கி
மாநிலக் கிழத்தி கைகள் மறித்தன போன்ற மன்னோ

It is monsoon season and red coloured flame lily flower has bloomed. Flame Lily (Gloriosa Superba) is generally used as a simile for long fingers of a girl. Multiple coloured beetles and bees swarm about it, looking like gem adorned jewellery on a girl’s hands. As they suck the honey from the flower, the petals wilt and the flower folds in. It is like Lady Earth looking at change of season,  wondering  how monsoon has won over summer and folding her fingers.

This verse is part of Kishkinta Kandam , after the slaying of Vali and coronation of Sugriva.

நாநிற – நால் + நிற – multiple coloured
சுரும்பு , வண்டு – bee
நவமணி – nine gems
அணி – adorn
சார – swarm
தேன் – honey
உக – overflow
சேயிதழ் – beautiful petal
காந்தள் – Flame Lily / Gloriosa Superba
செம்பூ – Red Flower
வேனில் – Summer
கார் – monsoon / rainy season
வியந்து – wonder
மாநிலம் – Majestic Earth
கிழத்தி – Woman
மறித்தன – Fold

Kambaramayanam – 1254

Town’s bustle doesn’t seem to abate;
Daybreak too is a long way away;
I can’t stop thinking of him,
there’s no dawn to this night;
My heartache doesn’t ease up
Nor does my life depart;
Eyes too don’t go to sleep,
Is this to be my fate?

பண்ணோ ஒழியா; பகலோ புகுதாது;
எண்ணோ தவிரா; இரவோ விடியாது;
உள் நோ ஒழியா; உயிரோ அகலா;
கண்ணோ துயிலா; இதுவோ கடனே

This verse is by Sita the night before her wedding to Rama. She is desperate for the daybreak to arrive and the wedding to happen. She laments in love sickness “This town doesn’t understand my love sick heart. Every one seems to be up and about joyously. The bustle of the town doesn’t seem to die down. I’m desperate for day break to arrive, but it seems to be a long way away. In the mean while his thoughts consume me and I can’t stop thinking of him. This night seems to be never ending. My heart aches for him but there is no remedy to ease it up. Unable to suffer this sweet pain, I want to die but my life doesn’t let go of me too. Nor do my eyes go to sleep. Is it my fate to suffer like this?”

பண் – noise
ஒழி – end
புகு – arrive
எண் – thoughts
தவிர் – avoid
உள் நோ(வு) – inner pain / heart ache
துயில் – sleep
கடன் – destiny / fate

Kambaramayanam – 5338

O’ Ignorant Moon! O’ Shining Moonlight!
O’ Endless Night! O’ Undiminishing darkness!
All of you torment only me;
will you not question the uncaring Archer?

கல்லா மதியே ! கதிர் வாள் நிலவே !
செல்லா இரவே !சிறுகா இருளே !
எல்லாம் எனையேமுனிவீர்; நினையா
வில்லாளனை,யாதும் விளித்திலிரோ ?

Sita is kidnapped and kept imprisoned in Asoka Vanam by Ravana. She is waiting for Rama to come and rescue her. Years have passed and he hasn’t come. She is wailing about her fate. By the time Hanuman comes to Lanka in search of her, she is at the end of her tether.

She laments “O’ Moon, you ignorant fool. O’ Shining moonlight! O’ Night that never ends! O’ darkness that never reduces! All of you are tormenting me in this night time. I think of Rama and wait for him to come and save me. He seems to have forgotten me. He doesn’t care for me. Will none of you go and torment him, the mighty Archer? So that he is removed of me and will come here to save me”

Manimekalai – 26 : 228 -230

If you ask what is virtue, listen carefully –
To provide food, clothes and shelter to all living beings
Is virtue; I haven’t known any other definition

அறம்எனப் படுவது யாதுஎனக் கேட்பின்
மறவாது இதுகேள் மன்உயிர்க்கு எல்லாம் 
உண்டியும் உடையும் உறையுளும் அல்லது 
கண்டது இல்

Manimekalai is a Buddhist Epic and is counted among the 5 great epics of Tamil literature. In this verse Manimekalai advices Aputra, the ruler of Manipallavam Island to rule his country in a righteous manner. “If you ask me what is the virtue of a ruler, I’ll tell you this. Listen carefully. To ensure food, clothes and shelter of all living beings is the virtue of a ruler. I haven’t found any other definition for virtue of a ruler”

அறம் – righteousness / virtue

மறவாது – without fail / carefully

மன் உயிர் – all living beings / humanity

உண்டி – food

உடை – dress

உறை – shelter

Kambaramayanam – 2096

O’ perky bosomed woman!O’ hard to portray beauty!
A tipsy peacock plucks a flame lily
Bud, thinking it is the hood of a snake;
Honeyed jasmines smile at this, look!

ஏந்து இள முலையாளே!
     எழுத அரு எழிலாளே!
காந்தளின் முகை கண்ணின்
     கண்டு, ஒரு களி மஞ்ஞை,
‘பாந்தள் இது’ என உன்னிக்
     கவ்விய படி பாரா,
தேம் தளவுகள் செய்யும்
     சிறு குறுநகை – காணாய்!

After he is exiled by his father, Rama goes to the forest with Sita and Lakshmana. They cross River Ganges and enter the forest. There Rama shows Sita the beauty of forest. A peacock is plucking at Flame lily bud. Jasmine buds are blooming around.

He says, “O’ Sita of perky bosom! It is hard to portray your  beauty! No painter can do justice to thee! Look at the first around us. A peacock looks at a flame lily bud, thinks it is the hood of a snake and plucks it. Looking at its shenanigans, honeyed jasmine buds are smiling at it” 

ஏந்து – upright / perky

இள முலையாள் – tender bosomed woman

எழுத – to paint / portray

அரு – hard

எழில் – beauty

காந்தள் – செங்காந்தள் – Flame Lily

முகை – bud

களி – drunk / tipsy

மஞ்ஞை – peacock

பாந்தள் – snake

உன்னி – think

கவ்வி – pluck

தேம் தளவு  – honeyed jasmine

குறு நகை – short laugh / smile

Silappathikaaram – 2.3.184-188

As if long stemmed purple lilies and lotus
knew for sure the misery of separation
that awaited the lady and her husband,
bees wailed mournfully shedding tears
and the flowers quivered in sorrow

கருநெடுங் குவளையும் ஆம்பலும் கமலமும்
தையலும் கணவனும் தனித்துறு துயரம்
ஐய மின்றி அறிந்தன போலப்
பண்ணீர் வண்டு பரிந்தினைந் தேங்கிக்
கண்ணீர் கொண்டு காலுற நடுங்கப்

Kovalan and Kannagi have walked all the way from KaveripPoomPattinam to Madurai, planning to restart their lives. They have crossed the Vaigai River and are at the outskirts of Madurai. They are walking around the moat before the city. Gentle breeze sways the lilies and lotus flowers in water. Bees are buzzing around the flowers. Dew drops cover the petals.

Ilango adikal the poet uses this imagery to foretell the fate that awaits them in the city. Something disastrous is going to happen to them and they will be separated forever. (Kovalan will be mistaken for a thief and ordered to be killed by the King). So he says the flowers seemed to know the disastrous fate that awaited the innocent couple. Bees felt sorry for them and sand in mournful tunes. Dew drops were like tears shed by the bees. Knowing the fate that awaited the couple, the flowers swayed in sorrow.

I am not sure of numbering of the lines. This verse occurs in Maduraik Kaandam (2nd Part), Purancheri Irutha Kaadhai (3rd Chapter), lines 184-188. Hence I numbered with that in mind.

கருங்குவளை – purple lily
நெடு – long (stemmed)
ஆம்பல் – water lily
கமலம் – lotus
தையல் – woman / lady
தனித்து – separated
உறு துயரம் – feel misery
ஐயமின்றி – ஐயம் + இன்றி – without doubt
பண் – tune
வண்டு – water bees
பரிந்து – felt sorry
இனை – grief
ஏங்கி – cry
கண்ணீர் – tears

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

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