Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Later works”

Neethi Neri – 1

Youth is just a bubble, Wealth is rolling waves,
Your body is like a word written on water;
O’brethren, then why do you still not praise
The glory of my Lord of Chidambaram?

நீரிற் குமிழி யிளமை நிறைசெல்வம்
நீரிற் சுருட்டு நெடுந்திரைகள் – நீரில்
எழுத்தாகும் யாக்கை நமரங்கா ளென்னே
வழுத்தாத தெம்பிரான் மன்று

நீரில் குமிழி இளமை நிறை செல்வம்
நீரில் சுருட்டும் நெடுந்திரைகள் – நீரில்
எழுத்து ஆகும் யாக்கை நமரங்காள் என்னே
வழுத்தாதது எம்பிரான் மன்று

This is the invocation poem of Neethi Neri Vilakkam, a 17th century didactic work written by Kumaragurupara Swamigal. In this he says, “The youth that you all treasure is just like a bubble in water. It will burst in seconds. The abundant wealth you chase is like a rolling wave in water. It will disperse soon. Your body that you hold dear, is as stable as a word written in water. When all that you chase is ephemeral then why do you not pray and extol the praise of our eternal Lord Shiva of Chidambaram”

குமிழி – Bubble
நிறை செல்வம் – Abundant Wealth
நெடுந்திரை – Long waves
யாக்கை – Body
நமரங்காள் – நம்மவர்கள் – kin / brethren
வழுத்துதல்- praise
எம்பிரான் – My Lord
மன்று – Chidambaram

Kapilar Agaval – Lines 25-33

Wealth is like a swiftly flowing swollen river;
Youth is like the eroding bank of that river;
Lifetime is like a tree perched on that river bank;
So, do your duty; and do that duty well;
And what you do well, do it today;
And what you have to do today, do now itself;
If you put it off saying I will do it tomorrow,
You never know if it’s your turn or Death’s turn tomorrow.

            ஆவதுமறியீர் நமனுடைமுறைநாள்

These lines are from 15th century long poem கபிலர் அகவல். It is a 142 line long moral aphoristic poem.

Wealth doesn’t stay for long. It swiftly flows through like a river. One’s youth is like the river bank of that river, which is eroded quickly. And one’s lifetime is like a tree growing in that river bank. Once the river bank is completely eroded, the tree loses its roots and falls down. Likewise one’s life span also vanishes quickly.

As life is so fickle, you should not put off doing your duty. And you have to do it to the best of your ability. Do it today and do it now. If you put it off saying you will do it tomorrow, one never knows if tomorrow might be your turn or God of death’s turn

பெருக்காறு – பெருக்கு + ஆறு – swollen river
ஒத்தது – like
இடிகரை – eroding river bank
ஒன்றே – one thing (duty)
நன்று – well
இன்று – today
இன்னே – now itself
என்பீர் ஆகில் – if you say so
முறை நாள் – (your) turn நமன் – எமன் – God of Death

Moodhurai – 29

Affectionate kith and kin, finest of wealth,
handsome looks, nobility of clan – all these
Arrive with Goddess of wealth when she arrives,
And depart with her when she departs

மருவினிய சுற்றமும் வான்பொருளும் நல்ல
உருவும் உயர்குலமு மெல்லாம்-திருமடந்தை
ஆம்போ தவளோடு மாகும் அவள்பிரிந்து
போம்போ தவளொடு போம்.

When Goddess of wealth decides to visit one, the best things of the world will be with him. Like affectionate relatives, finest of things, handsome looks and nobility of clan. But when she leaves one, all these things too leave. So do not think these are permanent.

This is a poem by Avvayar in Moodhurai (மூதுரை) , literally meaning “Old advice”. It is a collection of 30 poems, written around 12th Century CE.

மருவு – affectionate
இனிய – loving
சுற்றம் – relatives
வான் – excellent / finest
பொருள் – wealth
உரு – figure
உயர் குலம் – superior clan
திரு மடந்தை – goddess of wealth
ஆம் போது – ஆகும் போது – when she comes
போம் போது – போகும் போது – when leaves

Nalvazhi 34

Even if one is illiterate, as long as he is wealthy,
Every one will welcome and attend to him;
A pauper is not wanted even by his wife,
Nor by the mother who birthed him;
His words go unheard.

கல்லானே யானாலுங் கைப்பொருளொன் றுண்டாயின்
எல்லாருஞ் சென்றங்கு எதிர்கொள்வர்-இல்லானை
இல்லாளும் வேண்டாள்மற்று ஈன்றெடுத்த தாய்வேணடாள்
செல்லாது அவன்வாயிற் சொல்.

This poem by Avvaiyar (the 3rd, of 12th Century AD) talks about how the world respects the wealthy and discards the pauper. A wealthy man even if he is illiterate, is feted upon by everyone. On the other hand one who doesn’t have money us not wanted even by his wife. Even the mother who birthed him doesn’t want him. Nobody listens to his words and he is treated as useless.

All the words in this poem are still in use in Tamil. இல்லானை இல்லாளும் வேண்டாள் – Even his wife doesn’t want a pauper is a commonly used phrase in Tamil discourse. The wordplay in Tamil doesn’t translate into English.

கல்லான் – illiterate
கைப்பொருள் – wealth (at hand)
இல்லான் – one who doesn’t have / pauper
இல்லாள் – wife
ஈன்று எடுத்த – one who gave birth
செல்லாது – of no use

Moodhurai – 2

Help rendered to a virtuous person
Remains forever, like words carved on stone –
Help rendered to an ungrateful person though,
Is similar to words written on water.

நல்லா ரொருவர்க்குச் செய்த உபகாரம்
கல்மே லெழுத்துப்போற் காணுமே-அல்லாத
ஈரமிலா நெஞ்சத்தார்க் கீந்த உபகாரம்
நீர்மே லெழுத்திற்கு நேர்.

When we help a good person, they remember it forever. It is permanent like words carved on a hard rock. However help rendered to ungrateful lowly person is forgotten by them immediately. Just like words written on water, they vanish as soon as they are done.

This is a poem by Avvayar in Moodhurai (மூதுரை) , literally meaning “Old advice”. It is a collection of 30 poems, written around 12th Century CE.

நல்லார் – good / virtuous person
உபகாரம் – help
கல் மேல் எழுத்து – words on stone
அல்லாத – vile
ஈரமில்லாத நெஞ்சார் – ஈரமில்லாத நெஞ்சமுடையவர் – cold hearted / ungrateful person
ஈந்த – given / rendered
நீர் மேல் எழுத்து – word on water
நேர் – equal / similar

Moodhurai – 24

Like a beautiful swan prefering a pleasant lotus pond
Only the learned desire the company of the learned – 
Unlearned goons like their fellow goons;
Crow in cremation ground hankers after the corpse.

நற்றா மரைக்கயத்தில் நல்லன்னஞ்சேர்ந்தாற்போல்
கற்றாரைக் கற்றாரே காமுறுவர்-கற்பிலா 
மூர்க்கரை மூர்க்கர் முகப்பர் முதுகாட்டிற்
காக்கை உகக்கும் பிணம். 

This verse by Avvayar says that only the learned person appreciates another learned person. Ignorant brutes prefer the company of their fellow brutes. The example she gives is – A swan prefers a pleasant lotus pond, while a crow prefers corpses in cremation ground. She doesn’t hold back her punches.

நற்றாமரைக் கயம் – நல்ல தாமரை கயம் –  good lotus pond
நல்லன்னம் – நல்ல அன்னம் – beautiful swam
காமுறுவர் – will desire
கற்பிலா – Unlearned / Unschooled
மூர்க்கர் – ruffian / goon
முகத்தல் – like
முதுகாடு – cremation ground
உகத்தல் – desire

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

Post Navigation