Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Epics”

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.”

Kambaramayanam – 1053

Celestials from skies and nymphs from magical realms
cannot match the form of these mortal women;
when these women, whose eyes outdoes the doe’s,
partook toddy in their mouth,
it was like honey flowing into a honeyed flower.

 மீனுடைய விசும்பினார். விஞ்சை நாட்டவர்
ஊனுடை உடம்பினார் உருவம் ஒப்பு இலார்மா
மானுடை நோக்கினார் வாயின் மாந்தினார்-
தேனுடைய மலரிடைத் தேன் பெய்தென்னவே.

Kamban praises the women of Kosala accompanying Dasaratha as they go to Rama’s wedding. This chapter of revelry (உண்டாட்டுப் படலம்) has verses about women drinking toddy and losing their reserve.

In this verse, he says even the celestials or nymphs or no match to the shape and form of these mortal women. These doe eyed women’s mouths are already sweet like honey. Pouring toddy into their mouth was like honey flowing into an already honeyed flower.

மீன் – விண்மீன் – stars
விசும்பு – space
விஞ்சை – magical
ஊன் – flesh / mortal
மாந்துதல் – drink

Kambaramayanam – 2873

“To declare their lust in words of their own,
is not done by women from clans of renown;
but what shall I do, I long for you miserably, 
I’ve no one for me, save me from grief caused by Kama*”, said she.

‘தாம் உறு காமத் தன்மை தாங்களே 
     உரைப்பது என்பது 
ஆம் எனல் ஆவது அன்றால், அருங் குல   
    மகளிர்க்கு அம்மா! 
ஏமுறும் உயிர்க்கு நோவேன்; என் செய்கேன்?   
    யாரும் இல்லேன்;
காமன் என்று ஒருவன் செய்யும் வன்மையைக்
    காத்தி’ என்றாள்.

Surpanakai sees Rama in the forest and falls in love with him. She thinks he might not like the Asura form and changes herself to a human beauty and appears in front of Rama and professes her love for him.

Kambaramayanam – 1109

Kumkumam* dropped down; tresses unraveled;
bangles jangled; clothes slipped off;
anklets rattled up and down clamorously –
as young men partook pleasures of women.

* Kumkumam – Red powder applied as a dot in the forehead

குங்குமம் உதிர்ந்தன; கோதை சோர்ந்தன;
சங்கினம் முரன்றன; கலையும் சாறின;
பொங்கின சிலம்புகள் பூசல் இட்டன;
மங்கையர் இள நலம் மைந்தர் உண்ணவே.

This poem is in Revelry chapter (உண்டாட்டுப் படலம்) in Kamba Ramayanam written in 12th century. These set of poems detail the drunken revelry of women who accompanied Dasaratha as he went to Mithila for the wedding of his son Rama.

Kamban details the dishevelment that happens when a couple makes love. Red mark on her forehead drops off. Braided hair comes unraveled. Her bangles jangled and anklets rattle. Her clothes slip off.

கோதை – Braided hair / tresses
சங்கினம் – சங்கு + இனம் – shell bangles
கலை – clothes

Kambaramayanam – 10181

She leaped into the fire as if reaching for her abode
of lotus that rose above hard-to-swim floods*;
as she leapt in, the fire was burnt to a cinder
like white cotton, by the fieriness of her chastity.

நீந்த அரும் புனலிடை நிவந்த தாமரை
ஏய்ந்த தன் கோயிலே எய்துவாள் எனப்
பாய்ந்தனள்; பாய்தலும் பாலின் பஞ்சு எனத்
தீய்ந்தது அவ் எரி அவள் கற்பின் தீயினால்.

* Legend of Lakshmi – She rose from the milky ocean, seated on a lotus, when it was churned.

Trial by fire is one of the dramatic peaks in Kamba Ramayanam. After Rama has killed Ravana, Sita comes to see him in the battlefield. She is overwhelmed with joy at being rescued by her husband. But Rama chides her and says she should have taken her life when she was kidnapped. He accuses her of enjoying the comforts of Lanka and not killing herself.

Sita is shocked. She says, “I kept myself alive in hopes of seeing you. Now that you yourself doubt me, what is the point of me living. Let me end my life by entering the fire.”

Sita is incarnate of Goddess Lakshmi. Kamban says “She leaps into the fire as if she is reaching her abode of lotus that floats above the immense flood”. One of the legends of Lakshmi is she rose seated on a lotus when the milky ocean was churned. So Sita entering the fire gladly is like she going to her abode of Lotus from where she originally came.The fieriness of her chastity is such that it burns the fire itself to a cinder, like how a white ball of cotton is burnt by fire.

நீந்த அரும் – difficult to swim
புனல் – flood
நிவத்தல் – rise
ஏய்ந்தல் – suitable
கோயில் – abode
பாலின் – like milk (white)

Manimekalai 11.(lines 92-96)

Benefactors to the able are traders in virtue;
Those who satiate the hunger of the feeble
embody virtuous life in this world;
To all those alive in this atom packed world –
One who gives food is one who gives life.

ஆற்றுநர்க்கு அளிப்போர் அறவிலை பகர்வோர்
ஆற்றா மாக்கள் அரும்பசி களைவோர்
மேற்றே உலகின் மெய்ந்நெறி வாழ்க்கை
மண்திணி ஞாலத்து வாழ்வோர்க்கு எல்லாம்
உண்டி கொடுத்தோர் உயிர்கொடுத் தோரே.

Manimekalai is a Buddist 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). She is given the ‘Amudha Surabhi’ (never empty food bowl) which will satiate the hunger of all living beings. While giving her the Amudha Surabhi, the goddess Deeva Thilakai explains to her the virtue of feeding the hungry.

The Goddess says “Those who give to able men who can do something back for them are just traders in virtue. They do virtuous deeds expecting something in return. Those who remove the hunger of the feeble ones embody virtuous life in this world. There are in this atom packed world. In this world one who provides food to the needy is one who gives life to them”. Feeding the hungry was considered the highest form of virtue.

The phrase “உண்டி கொடுத்தோர் உயிர்கொடுத் தோரே” – ‘One who feeds is one who gives life’ is very popular in Tamil Nadu. It is derived from Puranaanooru poem number 18. Similarly the phrase ‘அறவிலை பகர்வோர்’ – ‘traders in virtue’ is from Puranaanooru poem no. 134.

ஆற்றுநர் – those who are able (to do some thing in return)
அறம் – virtue
விலை பகர்வோர் – who tell price (trader)
ஆற்றா – unable / feeble
மாக்கள் – people
மேற்றே – follows
மெய்ந்நெறி – true path (virtuous)
மண் திணி – atom packed
ஞாலம் – world
உண்டி – food

Kambaramayanam – 619

Not his sapphire like dark hued mane,
full moon face, long arms,
or beautiful dark boulder like shoulders – but,
it was his smile that first seized my heart.

இந்திர நீலம் ஒத்து இருண்ட குஞ்சியும்
சந்திர வதனமும் தாழ்ந்த கைகளும்
சுந்தர மணி வரைத் தோளுமே அல
முந்தி என் உயிரை அம் முறுவல் உண்டதே.

After Sita and Rama eye each other for the first time, he goes away. She is struck by love at first sight and pines for him. She loses her composure and is overcome by her emotions. She says, “His hair is dark like the blue sapphire. His face is round and bright like the full moon. His arms are long and hang low. His dark shoulders are like mountains. But it wasn’t all these features that captivated me first. Before all these, I lost my heart looking at his smile.”

Long arms – arms that hang below the knees were considered as a sign of well formed man.
Dark mountain like shoulders – Though the current day TV serials show Rama almost as white as a caucasian, in the epic he is a dark hued person. Hence dark shoulders.

இந்திர நீலம் – Blue sapphire
குஞ்சி – hair
வதனம் – face
சுந்தர – beautiful
மணி – sapphire (dark)
வரை – mountain (I’ve used boulder)
அல – not
முறுவல் – smile

Valaiyaapathi – 41

Youth isn’t permanent; pleasure isn’t long lasting;
Wealth too is like that; everyday is a flood of misery;
don’t think these are forever; prepare daily for salvation
like the farmer who produces seeds for next season.

இளமையும் நிலையாவால்; இன்பமும் நின்ற அல்ல;
வளமையும் அஃதேபோல் வைகலும் துன்ப வெள்ளம்
உளஎன நினையாதே செல்கதிக்கு என்றும் என்றும்
விளைநிலம் உழுவார் போல் வித்துநீர் செய்து கொண்மின்.

Youth is not permanent. It will be over in a jiffy. The pleasure you chase in youth isn’t long lasting. So is the wealth you think you have. Life is but a flood of misery. So don’t think these (youth, pleasure and wealth) are forever. Only the good deeds you do in this birth will help you achieve salvation. So be like the farmer who works hard but doesn’t consume everything he produces. He saves seeds for the next season from this year’s harvest.

This poem is from Valaiyapathi, dated to 9th Century AD. Valaiyapathi is a Jain epic and buttresses their religious view about salvation and rebirth. As with most Tamil works, all the words in this poem are still in daily use (except வைகல்).

செல்கதி – dictionary says “salvation”. Po.Ve.Somasundaranar in his commentary interprets it as “next birth”. I decided to stick to the dictionary meaning.

நிலை – permanent
வைகல் – daily
உள – there (foerever)
செல்கதி – salvation
விளைநிலம் – farmland
வித்து – seed

Kambaramayanam – 5387

If sandal and perfume smeared
broad shouldered God’s red mouth
is compared to blooming lotus, lotus will blush;
how can we equate it to coral,
that neither utters sweet pleasant words
nor smiles with sparkling white teeth?

ஆரமும் அகிலும் நீவி
      அகன்ற தோள் அமலன் செவ்வாய்
நாரம் உண்டு அலர்ந்த செங்கேழ்
      நளினம் ‘என்று உரைக்க நாணும்;
ஈரமுண்டு அமுதம் ஊறும் இன்னுரை
      இயம்பாதேனும்,
மூரல் வெண்முறுவல் பூவாப்
     பவழமோ மொழியற்பாற்றே?

This verse from Kamba Ramayanam occurs when Hanuman meets Sita in Lanka. She doubts whether he is one of Ravana’s demons in disguise. She asks him to describe Rama. Hanuman describes Rama in detail, starting from his foot. In this verse he describes luscious red mouth of Rama.

“The faultless one’s shoulders are smeared with Sandal paste and perfume from agar wood. If his red mouth is compared to a blooming lotus in a pond, the lotus will feel inadequate and blush. Then how can we compare it coral? Coral does not utter pleasant words or smile with sparkling white teeth.” If a smiling (blooming) lotus can’t be compared to his red mouth, how can unsmiling coral be compared?

This is an adjective packed verse. I haven’t been able to do full justice to Kamban’s adjectives, just approximately translated to the limit of my abilities.

ஆரம் – Sandal
அகில் – incense/ perfume of Agarwood tree
அமலன் – faultless one / God
செவ்வாய் – செம்மை + வாய் – Red mouth
நாரம் – water
அலர்ந்த – flowered / bloomed
செங்கேழ் – செம்மை + கேழ் – Red colour
நளினம் – Lotus
நாணும் – Ashamed / blushed
இன்னுரை – இனிய + உரை – pleasant words
இயம்பு – speak
மூரல் – teeth
வெண்முறுவல் – white (sparkling) smile
பூவா – doesn’t produce
பவளம் – Coral
மொழி – tell (equate it to)

Post Navigation