Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Epics”

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

Kambaramayanam – 10171-10173

Whole world hails my chastity;
Even Brahma can’t derail my conviction;
Yet, if the omniscient Lord doesn’t believe me,
Is there any other God who can convince him otherwise?

Lotus seated Lord, One who herds the bull,
Lord of justice with a conch in his hand-
this trinity sees everything like gooseberry on a palm,
yet, are they capable of fathoming women’s mind?

“So, for whom else should I 
prove my blemish less chastity?
It’s better to give up my life; It’s your command my lord, 
I deserve it; that’s my fate too” said she.

பார்க்கு எலாம் பத்தினி; பதுமத்தானுக்கும் 
பேர்க்கல் ஆம் சிந்தையள் அல்லள், பேதையேன்; 
ஆர்க்கு எலாம் கண்ணவன், ”அன்று” என்றால், அது 
தீர்க்கல் ஆம் தகையது தெய்வம் தேறுமோ?

பங்கயத்து ஒருவனும், விடையின் பாகனும்,
சங்குகைத் தாங்கிய தரும மூர்த்தியும்
அங்கையின் நெல்லிபோல் அனைத்தும் நோக்கினும்,
மங்கையர் மனநிலை உணர வல்லரோ?

ஆதலின் புறத்து இனி யாருக்காக என்
கோது அறுதவத்தினைக் கூறிக் காட்டுகேன்?
சாதலின் சிறந்தது ஒன்று இல்லை; தக்கதே
வேத! நின்பணி; அதுவிதியும் ‘என்றனள்.

This set of three verses are Sita bemoaning her fate when Rama accuses her of not following the Dharma and giving up her life when kidnapped by Ravana. The war is over, Ravana has bee slain; Hanuman and Vibishana go to Ashoka Vanam to bring Sita to see Rama. She is overwhelmed by joy and comes to see Rama. At this point Rama accuses her and doubts her chastity. All her joy becomes a mirage and she is grief stricken.

She says, “The whole world hails my chastity. Even the God of Creation, Brahma (who is seated on a lotus) won’t be able to change my conviction to stick to the righteous path. But what’s the use? You, who can see everything in this world say ‘No’, is there any other God I can turn to to convince you otherwise?

The Lotus seated Lord (Brahma, the creator), Lord who herds the bull (Shiva, the destroyer), Lord of Justice (Vishnu) who carries a conch in his hand – these three are all seeing. They see everything crystal clear like a gooseberry held in a palm. Yet can they understand what is inside a women’s heart?

To whom else should I prove my chastity? What is the use? It is better for me to give up my life as per your command, my Lord; I am fated to do so, and I deserve it too”. After this she walks into the fire and the power of her chastity burns the Lord of Fire himself and he comes out and proclaims her as pure.

பதுமத்தான் – பத்மத்தில் (தாமரையில் ) அமர்ந்தவன் – Brahma
பங்கயம் – பங்கஜம் – Lotus விடை – Bull
அங்கையின் நெல்லி – gooseberry on a palm (crystal clear)
கோது – fault

Silappathikaaram – Oor Soozh Vari: 53-58

Are there wise men here? Are there wise men here?
Are there wise men here? Are there wise men here
who nurture and care for others’ child?
Is there a God? Is there a God?
In this *town whose King unjustly killed (my husband)
Is there a God? Is there a God?

*Madurai

சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்? சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்?
ஈன்ற குழவி எடுத்து வளர்க்குறூஉம்
சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்? சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்?
தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்? தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்?
வை வாளின் தப்பிய மன்னவன் கூடலில்
தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்? தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்?’

This is the searing accusation of Kannaki on seeing her husband Kovalan’s body. Kovalan was wrongly accused of stealing the Queen’s anklet and was ordered to be killed by the Pandiya King without an enquiry. Kannaki learns of this and comes and laments over her husband’s dead body and curses the town. She asks “What sort of town is this? Are there wise men here who take care of even others’ children? In this high storeyed town (Madurai), whose King unjustly ordered my husband to be killed is there a God?”

After this she goes to the King’s court and proves with her other anklet that her husband was innocent. When the King learns that he has made a mistake, he dies instantly. Kannaki’s anger does not abate yet. She curses Madurai to be burnt down and Madurai burns.

சான்றோர் – Wise men
ஈன்ற குழவி – Birthed Child – Child born to others
கை வாளின் தப்பிய – cut with sword
கூடல் – நான்மாடக் கூடல் – Town with four towers – Madurai

Kambaramayanam – 9370

When day by day like a waxing moon you grew,
I undertook an austere vow 
to see Indra defeated by the bow you drew;
What vow did I undertake now 
to see your beheaded body, what did I do!
Will I, an abject soul, still desire this impermanent life?

கலையினால் திங்கள் என்ன   
    வளர்கின்ற காலத்தே உன்,
சிலையினால் அரியை வெல்லக்   
    காண்பதோர் தவம்முன் செய்தேன்;
தலை இலா ஆக்கை காண   
    எத் தவம் செய்தேன்! அந்தோ!
‘நிலை இலா வாழ்வை இன்னும்   
    நினைவெனோ, நினைவு இலாதேன்?

Indrajit (one who defeated Indra) has been defeated in the battle with Rama and beheaded. A grief stricken Ravana goes to the battlefield and brings his son’s headless body back. On seeing Indrajit’s body, his mother Mandodari laments and castigates herself in pity. This is one of the verses in that chapter.

“When you were growing up as an young man like a growing moon, I prayed to God to see you defeat Indra and undertook austere vows. What austere vow did I undertake to see your headless body, my son? Should I, a thoughtless woman and an abject soul, still desire to live this impermanent life. Won’t it be better if I die now”

The last line ‘நிலை இலா வாழ்வை இன்னும்  நினைவெனோ’  – ‘Will I still desire this impermanent life’ is a perfect example of alliteration and meaning coming together in Kamban’s poetry.

கலை – with skills
திங்கள் – moon
சிலை – bow
அரி – Indra
ஆக்கை – யாக்கை – body

Kambaramayanam – 1103

Is it anything new to discard 
golden jewels and dresses worn externally?
A bright foreheaded woman discarded
modesty residing in her heart too;-
Like an ascetic who undertakes
severe forms of renunciation,
to forego one’s self

is a characteristic of passion too.

பொன் அருங் கலனும், தூசும்,
     புறத்து உள துறத்தல் வம்போ?
நல் நுதல் ஒருத்தி. தன்பால்
    அகத்து உள நாணும். நீத்தாள்;-
உன்ன அருந் துறவு பூண்ட
    உணர்வுடை ஒருவனேபோல்.
தன்னையும் துறக்கும் தன்மை
     காமத்தே தங்கிற்று அன்றே.


This poem is in the Revelry chapter (உண்டாட்டுப் படலம்) recording  revelries of women accompanying Dasaratha to Mithila. Kamban says “To give up external adornments like jewels and dress is nothing new. Anybody can do it. But this woman gives up modesty that resides in her heart and hankers after her man. Like ascetics who give up their self and undertake severe forms of renunciation, love makes these women discard their self and forget their reserve.”

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