Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Later works”

Pattinaththaar – 12

Wife and kids and fame and wealth will come only till your doorway;
clansmen and kin upto cremation ground; Who’ll come further?
Even if grain sized or seed sized, good that you did earlier
will accompany and ensure your heavenly abode, I swear.

மனையாளும் மக்களும் வாழ்வும் தனமும் தன் வாயில்மட்டே
இனமான சுற்றம் மயானம் மட்டே வழிக்கேது துணை?
தினையா மளவு எள்ளளவாகிலும் முன்பு செய்ததவம்
தனையாள என்றும் பரலோகம் சித்திக்கும் சத்தியமே.

This Pattinaththaar (14th century?) poem talks about the futility of worldly attachments. Your wife, kids, fame and wealth will come only upto your doorstep when you die. Your clansmen and kin will take your body upto the crematorium. Who will accompany you on further journey? No one. Only the good that you did earlier, even if it was negligible, will accompany you and ensure that you reach your heavenly abode. This is the truth. So do good deeds and don’t hanker after fame and wealth.

Pattinathaar is amongst the most popular Siddhars (religious iconoclasts) in Tamil literature. His poems are commonly quoted even today. This particular poem received further fillip when Lyricist Kannadasan reworked the first two lines into a film song.

“வீடு வரை உறவு, வீதி வரை மனைவி, காடு வரை பிள்ளை, கடைசி வரை யாரோ, கடைசி வரை யாரோ~

மனையாள் – wife
மக்கள் – kids
வாழ்வு – life (fame)
தனம் – wealth
சுற்றம் – relatives
தினை – millet (grain)
எள் – sesame seed

Thanippadal – Kamban

Are you the only Ruler? Is yours the only fertile country?
Did I learn Tamil counting on your patronage?
Is there a Ruler who won’t rush to patronize me?
Is there a branch that doesn’t accept a monkey?

மன்னவனும் நீயோ வளநாடும் உன்னதோ
உன்னையறிந் தோதமிழை ஓதினேன் – என்னை
விரைந்துஏற்றுக் கொள்ளாத வேந்துண்டோ உண்டோ
குரங்குஏற்றுக் கொள்ளாத கொம்பு

This is one of the popular stand alone poems about Kamban, the preeminent Tamil Poet who wrote Kamba Ramayanam. Kamban’s period is generally accepted to be 12th century CE. This poem is supposed to have been his response to the Chola King who belittled him, but most probably an apocryphal story. This poem however is part of Tamil consciousness as a declaration of scholar’s pride against those in authority. In modern day, you can read it as a writer’s retort to his publisher 🙂

The Chola King Kulothunga Chola – I once belittled Kamban with harsh words. Kamban got angry, spoke this poem in the court and walked out of Chola country. He says “Do you think you are the only Ruler in this world and this country is the only prosperous country? Do you think I learnt Tamil just depending on your patronage only? This world has enough Rulers who will rush to patronise me. Is there any branch in any tree that will not accept a monkey? Like that my poetic skills and my Tamil knowledge will make many a ruler rush to patronise me”

Moodhurai – 12

Thazhai‘s* petals are bigger, yet Magizh‘s** scent is sweeter;
Don’t dismiss any one because they are physically smaller-
The ocean is vast, yet its water isn’t good to even cleanse,
A nearby small spring’s water though is good enough to drink.

*Thazhai – Screw Pine flower / Kewra flower
**Magizh – Bakul (Hindi) / Spanish Cherry / Bullet wood tree flower with small petals

மடல்பெரிது தாழை மகிழினிது கந்தம்
உடல்சிறிய ரென்றிருக்க வேண்டா-கடல்பெரிது
மண்ணீரு மாகா ததனருகே சிற்றூறல்
உண்ணீரு மாகி விடும்.

This is a straight forward poem. Don’t dismiss anyone because they are smaller in stature. To explain this the poet uses two examples. Though the petals of screw pine flower (Thazhai) are bigger , the scent from smaller Bullet wood tree flower (Maghizam poo) are sweeter. Similarly, though the ocean is vast, its water cannot be used even to wash oneself. It will be salty and sticky. But a small spring near the ocean might have water that is good enough to drink.

Moodhurai (literal meaning – Elder’s words) written by Avvayar (the 3rd) is generally dated to around 12th Century AD.

கந்தம் – scent / fragrance
மண்ணீர் – கழுவும் நீர் – water to cleanse
உண்ணீர் – உண்ணும் நீர் – drinking water


Screw Pine Flower / தாழம் பூ

Bakula, Bullet WoodFlower

Bakul / Bullet Wood tree flower / மகிழம் பூ







Moodhurai – 15

Like a venom remover who cures a striped tiger
becoming its fodder then and there –
help offered to petty minded ingrates
is a mud pot hitting a rock.

வேங்கை வரிப்புலிநோய் தீர்த்த விடகாரி
ஆங்கதனுக் காகார மானாற்போல்-பாங்கறியாப்
புல்லறி வாளர்க்குச் செய்த உபகாரங்
கல்லின்மே லிட்ட கலம்.

When a tiger was bit by a snake and poisoned, it fell sick. A physician felt sorry for it and removed the poison. Once the tiger was back on its feet, it ate the venom remover then and there. Such is the help rendered to the ungrateful who are petty minded. It will be like a mud pot thrown on a rock breaking into splinters and hurting the one who threw it. So when you offer help, make sure it is to the deserving.

The second simile – ‘help to ingrates is like a vessel hitting rock’ is a little awkward. Why equate ‘help rendered’ to ‘throwing a pot’? கலம் is like English ‘vessel’, can mean both a bowl and a boat. If we take it as a boat, then the last line will read ‘is a boat hitting a rock’ which too makes the simile convoluted.

Moodhurai (literal meaning – Elder’s words) written by Avvayar (the 3rd) is generally dated to around 12th Century AD.

வேங்கை – cheettah
வரிப் புலி – striped tiger
விட காரி – poison remover
ஆங்கு – there
ஆகாரம் – food
பாங்கறியா – பாங்கு + அறியா – manner less / ingrates
புல்லறிவாளர் – petty minded
கலம் – vessel

Thanippadal – Avvaiyaar – 66

To the generous minded, gold is a trifle;
to the valorous, waiting death is a trifle;
to the wise, affection of women is a trifle;
to the ascetic, King is a trifle.

போந்த உதாரனுக்குப் பொன்துரும்பு சூரனுக்குச்
சேர்ந்த மரணம் சிறுதுரும்பு – ஆய்ந்த
அறிவோர்க்கு நாரிய ரும்துரும்பாம் இல்லத்
துறவியர்க்கு வேந்தன் துரும்பு

One who is generous will not put much value on gold. He looks at it as something to be given away. A brave warrior doesn’t fear death waiting for him. He treats it contemptuously. The wise men will not put much value on women’s affection. Similarly, those who have renounced worldly life will treat a King as just another person.

This poem is attributed to one of the later day Avvaiyars, dated between 12th and 15th Century CE. Various versions of this poem can be found in later day anthologies.

போந்த – perfect
உதாரன் – benefactor
துரும்பு – small bit, a trifling
சூரன் – brave, valorous
ஆய்ந்த – well read
நாரி – woman
துறவி – ascetic / monk

Azhagar KillaiVidu Thoothu – 153-157

As Sun rose in the horizon
and Azhagar mounted his horse,
glittering Silver canopies and Golden flags
rose rapidly like crores of suns and moons ,
bright flags were raised towards the sky
wiping the sweat of celestials,
ambling elephants with sonorous drums on top
moved like dark clouds and accompanying thunder,
River Vaigai which throws up schools of fish
was overrun by a flood of humans

உம்பரில் வெய்யோ னுதயஞ் செயக்குதிரை
நம்பிரா னேறி நடந்தருளி-அம்பரத்திற்
கோடி கதிரோனும் கோடி பனிமதியும்
ஓடி நிரையா உதித்தவென-நீடிய
பொற்கொடியும் வெள்ளிக் குடையும் பொலிந்திலங்க
விற்கொடிகள் விண்ணோர் வெயர் துடைப்பச்-சொற்கத்
தியலுங் கரியுமதி லெற்று முரசும்
புயலும் உருமேறும் போலக் கயலினத்தை
அள்ளுந் திரைவையை யாறுட் பரந்துநர
வெள்ளங் கரைகடந்து மீதூர

Today is the festival of Lord Azhagar (Thirumal) entering the River Vaigai in Madurai, Tamil Nadu’s ancient city. This festival has been celebrated for milleniums  centuries, with slight changes in myths. The above verses are from a comparatively new work, Azhagar Killai Vidu Thoothu (Sending a parrot as messenger to Azhagar), written around 1700 CE. In this long poem the heroine falls in love with Lord Azhagar and sends her parrot as her messenger to him. The poem describes in detail the festival of Azhagar entering the river.

Muththollayiram – 37

My heart, reserve and virtue, all of them
the Ruler of river country* has seized;
My friend with flared waist like a snake’s hood!
isn’t just one-sixth of produce owed to the King?

* Ruler of River Country – Cholas in whose country River Cauvery flowed.

என்னெஞ்சு நாணு நலனும் இவையெல்லாம்
மன்னன் புனனாடன் வௌவினான் – என்னே
அரவகல் அல்குலாய் ஆறில் ஒன் றன்றோ
புரவலர் கொள்ளும் பொருள்.

Muththollayiram (Three times Nine Hundred) is an anthology of poems sung in praise of the Three Royal dynasties of Tamil Country – the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas. Only 108 of the poems are available now. It is generally dated to around 5th Century CE.

In this poem, a girl pines for the Chola King. She says to her friend, I am so much in love with him that he has seized my heart, reserve and virtue. He owns me completely now. This is unfair. Isn’t just one sixth of the produce owed to the King. How can he seize them all?

The third line is simple in Tamil அரவு அகல் அல்குலாய் – snake hood flared waisted girl. English readers will find it odd though. The curve of the snake hood is equated the curves of the girl. அல்குல் means either ‘mound of venus’ or ‘waist’ based on context. It is one of the most contested words in Tamil. Tamil readers can read this post http://madhavipanthal.blogspot.in/2011/10/alkul.html to know more about the word அல்குல்.

Once we move beyond waist / mound of venus, we also realise that the tax rated 1500 years ago was just sixteen percent.

River Cauvery flows through the Chola Kingdom, so the Chola Kings are mentioned by the river. (Tamil readers, remember Ponniyin Selvan? Ponni is another name for Cauvery).

NalVazhi – 11

If I ask you to give up a day’s food, you won’t;
if I ask you to eat two days’ food, you won’t;
never will you understand my torment;
it’s hard to live with you, my dreaded appetite.

ஒருநாள் உணவை ஒழியென்றால் ஒழியாய்
இருநாளுக்கு ஏலென்றால் ஏலாய்-ஒருநாளும்
என்னோ வறியாய் இடும்பைகூர் என்வயிறே
உன்னோடு வாழ்தல் அரிது.

This poem by Avvaiyar (the 3rd, of 12th Century AD) talks about the unforgiving nature of hunger. “If no food is available, you won’t give it up for a day. When excess food is available and I ask you to eat two days worth of food, you again will not. You will never understand my struggles to feed you. It is hard to live with you, my dreaded stomach”

I have used “appetite” in translation instead of “stomach” as in the original, because I felt it read better.

Moodhurai – 26

If one compares a Ruler and a flawless Scholar,
the Scholar is regarded higher than the Ruler –
Ruler is not regarded high outside the country he rules,
Scholar is regarded high wherever he goes.

மன்னனு மாசறக் கற்றோனுஞ் சீர்தூக்கின்
மன்னனிற் கற்றோன் சிறப்புடையன்-மன்னற்குத்
தன்தேச மல்லாற் சிறப்பில்லை கற்றோற்குச்
சென்றஇட மெல்லாம் சிறப்பு.

This poem by Avvayar  (the 3rd) categorically states that a scholar / poet is to be valued more than a ruler. One has to appreciate the temerity of the poet to make such statements in a monarchy.

Moodhurai – 17

Those who vanish at the sign of distress,
like birds that abandon a dry pond, aren’t kin;
those who stay back and suffer with us,
like water lilies in that pond, they’re kin.

அற்ற குளத்தின் அறுநீர்ப் பறவைபோல்
உற்றுழித் தீர்வார் உறவல்லர்-அக்குளத்திற்
கொட்டியும் ஆம்பலும் நெய்தலும் போலவே
ஒட்டி யுறுவார் உறவு.

Poet Avvayar (the 12th century one), in Moodhurai (literal meaning – Elder’s words) defines who are our real kith and kin. Those who abandon us at the first sign of distress aren’t our kin. They are like birds that abandon a pond once it dries up. Those who stay with us and share  our suffering, like flowers and weeds in that pond, are our real kin.

There are three types of water lilies mentioned in the verse. கொட்டி, ஆம்பல், நெய்தல் – I could not identify their English names. So used generic ‘water lilies’.

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