Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Sangam”

Kurunthokai – 61

Like kids who derive joy from pulling
a toy horse chariot made by the carpenter
even if they cannot derive joy of riding it,
We derive joy by imagining the intimacy of our lord
from the town of blossoms and majestic chariots
even if we cannot derive joy by embracing him; Hence bangles stay.

தச்சன் செய்த சிறுமா வையம்
ஊர்ந்தின் புறாஅ ராயினுங் கையின்
ஈர்த்தின் புறூஉ மிளையோர்
உற்றின் புேறெ மாயினு நற்றேர்ப்
பொய்கை யூரன் கேண்மை
செய்தின் புற்றனெஞ் செறிந்தன வளையே.

He has been to his courtesan’s place and hasn’t come home to his wife in a while. Before going home he sends his bard to placate her. Her friend stops the bard at the door and tells him “Kids playing with carpenter made toy horse chariots cannot derive joy by riding it. It is just a toy. Still they derive joy from pulling it around. Similarly even if she cannot be with him physically and derive pleasure in his presence, she still derives pleasure by imagining the intimacy she shared with him. She doesn’t miss him. So, her arms haven’t thinned down and the bangles stay on them instead of falling out”

When women miss their lover, their arms thin down and bangles become loose and fall off. This is a common motif in Sangam poetry.

தச்சன் – carpenter
சிறு மா – small horse
வையம் – chariot
ஊர்ந்து – ride
இன்புற்று – derive pleasure
கையின் ஈர்த்து – pull by hand
இளையோர் – kids
உற்று – touch / embrace
இன்புறேம் – இன்பம் உறேம் – i don’t derive pleasure
நற்றேர் – நல் + தேர் – good chariot
பொய்கை – pond
ஊரன் – man from the town
கேண்மை – intimacy
செய்து – make (in my mind) – imagine
இன்புற்றனன் – I derive pleasure
செறிந்தன – close fitting / stay
வளை – bangles

Ainkurunooru – 63

My lord! Your town’s fresh water otter
Smells of sea fish that it gets to eat daily;
Though I might wane away, its fine!
I won’t embrace the chest that hugged others.

பொய்கைப் பள்ளிப் புலவுநாறு நீர்நாய்
 வாளை நாளிரை பெறூஉ மூர
 எந்நலந் தொலைவ தாயினும்
 துன்னலம் பெருமபிறர்த் தோய்ந்த மார்பே
.

He comes back home after days with his courtesan. As he tries to placate her, she refuses to engage with him. She says “You are from the town where otters born in fresh water smell of the sea fish that they get to eat daily. Similarly you have come back from the courtesan with whom you frolicked . I might whither away by not being with you. That fine. Still I won’t get close and hug your chest that was embraced by other women”

Fresh water otter smelling of sea fish is as striking metaphor. Till I read this poem I didn’t know Fresh Water Otters (நீர் நாய்) were present in Tamil Nadu. Today I learned that Asian Small Clawed Otters have their habitat in Palani Hills of Tamil Nadu. Two thousand year old ancestors taught me about my land 🙂

பொய்கை – Natural Spring
புலவு நாறும் – smells of meat
நீர்நாய் – otter
வாளை – silver scabbard fish / sea fish
நாள இரை – daily food
பெறூஉம் – gets
ஊர – man from that town
என் நலம் – my health
தொலைவது ஆயினும் – eventhough wanes
துன்னுதல் – embrace
பெரும – my lord
பிறர் – other
தோய் – hug / embrace
மார்பு – chest

Kurunthokai – 133

In hilly tracts, golden millet grain stalks
half eaten by parrots sprout fresh leaves
When the skies open up – My friend! Likewise,
After he partook my charms and abandoned me,
I lost my vigor, yet I live!

புனவன் துடவைப் பொன்போல் சிறுதினை
கிளி குறைத்து உண்ட கூழை இருவி
பெரும் பெயல் உண்மையினே இலை ஒலித்தாங்கு, என்
உரம் செத்தும் உளெனே-தோழி!-என்
நலம் புதிது உண்ட புலம்பினானே.

He has seduced her and they have made love. He promised to come back to marry her. But he hasn’t returned so far. She laments to her friend “Hilly tribes plough the land and grow golden yellow millets. Parrots eat the grains and leave the stalks denuded. Yet, when it starts to rain the half eaten stalks sprout fresh leaves. I am in a similar situation. We made love and he partook my feminine charm and left me. I suffer in loneliness and have lost my vigor. Yet I live in the hope that he will come back as promised. Like the rain reviving the half eaten stalks, his arrival shall revive me”
புனவன்  – hill tribes
துடவை – fields
சிறுதினை – short millet
கூழை  – short
இருவி – stalk
பெயல்  – rains
ஒலித்தாங்கு – like how it grows
உரம்  – vigor
புலம்பினானே – suffer in loneliness
உளெனே – still there (alive)

Ainkurunooru – 448

As resounding war drums sound at daybreak
Fiery ruler gets ready to face battle;
As jasmine buds bloom on the sides of valley,
Monsoon season faces intense raindrops;
Thinking of my beautiful haired girl,
Sleeplessly I face a spiral of misery.

தழங்குரல் முரசம் காலை இயம்ப,
கடுஞ் சின வேந்தன் தொழில் எதிர்ந்தனனே;
மெல் அவல் மருங்கின் முல்லை பூப்பப்
பொங்கு பெயல் கனை துளி கார் எதிர்ந்தன்றே;
அம் சில் ஓதியை உள்ளுதொறும்,
துஞ்சாது அலமரல் நாம் எதிர்ந்தனமே.

He has gone to be part of the chieftain’s army. The Ruler wants to engage in more battles. But the rainy season has started. He had promised his girl that he will be back before the monsoon. So he says to himself “The wardrums have sounded in the monring. My fiery ruler gets ready to face the battle. I can see jasmine flowers blooming along the sides of the valley. It means the monsoon season is here, getting ready to face intense rain drops. I had prromised to my girl that I will come back before it rains. Thinking of my girl, she of beautiful silky hair, I am sleepless here, facing a whirlpool of misery”

தழங்கு – resounding
முரசம் – drum
இயம்ப – sound
கடுஞ் சின – angry / fiery
வேந்தன் – ruler
தொழில் – work / (battle in this case)
எதிர்ந்த – to face
மெல் – tender
அவல் – low land / valley
மருங்கு  – side
முல்லை – jasmine
பெயல் – rain
கனை – intense
துளி – drops
கார் – rainy season
அம் சில் ஓதி – beautiful tressed girl
உள்ளு – to think
துஞ்சாது  – wihout sleeping
அலமரல் – wallow in misery

Ainkurunooru – 214

Leaving your big cool eyes teared up
He goes back to his renowned country,
Where hills are dotted with jackfruit trees
And their fleshy aromatic fruit
Falls down a rocky crevice
Tearing apart the honeycomb there.

சாரற் பலவின் கொழுந்துணர் நறும்பழம்
இருங்கல் விடரளை வீழ்ந்தென வெற்பில்
பெருந்தே னிறாஅல் கீறு நாடன்
பேரமர் மழைக்கண் கலிழத்தன்
சீருடை நன்னாட்டுச் செல்லு மன்னாய்.

He is leaving her to go back to his country. He sends the message through her friend. Her friend tells her, within his hearing, “The man from the storied hills is going back to his country, leaving you all teary eyed. In his hills, jackfruit trees grow along the slopes. A fruit from those trees falls in the gap between rocks and breaks the honeycomb there to pieces. He came and met you making you happy. Now by his going away, he breaks your tender heart like a huge jackfruit falling down and tearing apart a tender honeycomb.”

The idea is that by hearing this he will feel remorse and take steps to marry her at the earliest. Jackfruit tearing apart honeycombs is an arresting metaphor. It is of no use to the jackfruit which itself will break into pieces on falling down, while at the same time the honeycomb too goes waste. In South India it is a common practice to pour honey in jackfruit flesh and eat them together. If you take that into account, this metaphor grows even further.

சாரல் – mountains
பலவின் – பலாவின் – of jack fruit tree
கொழுந்துணர் – fleshy / ripe
நறும் பழம் – aromatic fruit
இருங் கல் – big mountain / rocky
இடர் – in between
அளை – hollow / crevice
வெற்பு – hill
பெருந்தேன் இறால் – honey comb
கீறு – tear apart
பேரமர் – big calm
மழைக் கண் – cool eyes
கழில – suffer / teary eyed
சீருடை – சீர் உடைய – renowned
அன்னாய் – my friend

Kurunthokai – 371

My friend! I too do not want bangles to slip out of my arms
Or my skin to become pale, thinking of my lover,
In whose cloudy hills wild rice is grown with water from falls;
My passion though, is immense.

கை வளை நெகிழ்தலும் மெய் பசப்பு ஊர்தலும்,
மை படு சிலம்பின் ஐவனம் வித்தி
அருவியின் விளைக்கும் நாடனொடு,
மருவேன்-தோழி-அது காமமோ பெரிதே.

Her lover from the hills hasn’t come to ask her hand in marriage as he promised. She is pining for him and is becoming sickly. Her friend says “Get out of this funk”. She replies to her friend “I too do not want my arms to be so weak that bangles slip out of it. Or pallor to spread across my skin. In my lover’s hills when people notice clouds encircling the hills, they sow wild rice, as they are sure that water from rain fed water falls will help them to harvest rice. Similarly I trusted him and fell in love with him. I still trust him. My anemic state is because of the passion in my heart, that is too immense to keep in check”

நெகிழ்தல் – weaken (and slip out)

மெய் – body

பசப்பு – pallor

மை படு சிலம்பு – cloud covered hill slope

ஐவனம் – mountain rice

வித்தி – sow

விளைக்கும் – grow

மருவேன் – மருவ மாட்டேன் – do not want to be

பெரிதே – immense

Kurunthokai – 163

Like herds of small headed white goats
that roam in Poozhi country,
the grove fringed water front
is filled with fish hunting egrets;
At this water front, even at midnight,
-when white screw-pine flower shrubs are swayed by waves-
Your plaintive cry is still heard;
Oh’ Sea! For whom do you pine and suffer?

யார் அணங்குற்றனை-கடலே! பூழியர்
சிறு தலை வெள்ளைத் தோடு பரந்தன்ன
மீன் ஆர் குருகின் கானல்அம் பெருந்துறை.
வெள் வீத் தாழை திரை அலை
நள்ளென் கங்குலும் கேட்கும், நின் குரலே?

She is pining for him. She misses his love and passion, and is awake at midnight. Every one else is asleep. The roar of the sea is her only companion. She asks the sea “Your water front is overrun by white egrets hunting for fish. They look like the white goats found everywhere in Poozhi country. In this water front, where high tide brings the waves to sway white screw pine flower shrubs in shore, you are still awake and I can hear you plaintive cry. I am awake because I miss my lover and suffer on his behalf. On whose account to you suffer, Oh’ Sea?”

Poozhi Country is thought to be present day Kozhikode in Kerala coast. There is another Poozhi country in areas around Tirunelveli, but that is not close to the coast.

அணங்கு – suffer
பூழியர் – Poozhi country
சிறு தலை வெள்ளைத் தோடு – herd of small headed white goats
பரந்து – widespread
மீன் ஆர் குருகு – fish hunting egrets
கானல் – grove
பெருந்துறை – wide water front
வெள் வீத் தாழை – white screw pine flower shrubs
திரை – waves
அலை – அலைக்கின்ற – shake / sway
நள் – mid
கங்குல் – night

Kurunthokai – 325

He kept repeating “I’ll leave, I’ll leave”
Thinking it was his age-old hogwash to leave,
‘Leave my side and go away forever’ I said;
Oh my God! I wonder where my faultless Lord is now?
Like the wide pond inhabited by black legged white Egret,
Valley of my bosom is filled with tears of regret.

‘சேறும் சேறும்’ என்றலின், பண்டைத் தம்
மாயச் செலவாச் செத்து, ‘மருங்கு அற்று
மன்னிக் கழிக’ என்றேனே; அன்னோ!
ஆசு ஆகு எந்தை யாண்டு உளன்கொல்லோ?
கருங் கால் வெண் குருகு மேயும்
பெருங் குளம் ஆயிற்று, என் இடைமுலை நிறைந்தே.

They have had a fight and he has left her. She regrets her actions now and pines for him. She says “He kept repeating that he will leave me. I thought it was nothing but his age-old tactic and said ‘Leave me and go away’. Oh my God, what have I done? I wonder where he is now. It wasn’t his fault. Thinking of him I shed tears that collect in the valley of my bosom like a wide pond where dark legged white egret roams”

சேறும் – Will leave
பண்டை – age old
மாயம் – lie / hogwash
செலவு – leave
செத்து – thinking
மருங்கு – side
அற்று – leave
மன் – permanently / forever
கழிக – go away
ஆசு – fault
எந்தை – my lord
யாண்டு – now
உளன் – (where) is there
கருங் கால் – black legged
வெண் குருகு – white egret
மேயும் – roaming
பெருங் குளம் – wide pond
இடைமுலை – valley between breasts / cleavage

Nattrinai – 34

(When the faith healer says she is afflicted with the spirit of Murugan, her friend who knows the real reason scolds Murugan)

Near the brook where Goddess resides,
His lofty mountain slopes are ablaze
With leafy blossoms of blue lilies
And a sprinkling of red flame lilies;
Divine Maidens sway in trance
To the clamor of waterfalls;
Embracing the chest of the lord of those hills
Is the cause of her malady, Not you, you know;
Yet, because this Kadamba flower wearing faith healer
Looked up and invoked you, you’ve descended on her;
Though you may be a God,
You are surely stupid, Blessed Muruga!

கடவுட் கற்சுனை அடை இறந்து அவிழ்ந்த
பறியாக் குவளை மலரொடு காந்தள்
குருதி ஒண் பூ உரு கெழக் கட்டி,
பெரு வரை அடுக்கம் பொற்பச் சூர்மகள்
அருவி இன் இயத்து ஆடும் நாடன்
மார்பு தர வந்த படர் மலி அரு நோய்
நின் அணங்கு அன்மை அறிந்தும், அண்ணாந்து,
கார் நறுங் கடம்பின் கண்ணி சூடி,
வேலன் வேண்ட, வெறி மனை வந்தோய்!
கடவுள் ஆயினும் ஆக,
மடவை மன்ற, வாழிய முருகே!

Irreverence is the hall mark of Tamils. No one is immune to it, even Murugan, the foremost God of Tamils. Take this 2000 year old poem from Nattrinai for example. She has fallen in love with the man from the hills. Now that she is away from him, she pines for him and is lovesick. Her mother, unaware of this, calls the faith healer to cure her. The healer says she is afflicted with the spirit of Murugan, God of the Hills. Her friend knows the real reason castigates Murugan and hints to her mother about the love affair.

“It is said that near the brook in his hills Goddess resides. Next to that the hill rises loftily. The hill slopes are ablaze with leafy blue lilies interspersed with blood red flame lilies. Divine maidens, who worship the Goddess, sway in trance to the clamor of water falls from the hills. Such is his splendid hill country. Embracing his chest and then being separated from him is the cause for her sickness. You very well know that you are not the reason for her sickness Muruga! Yet, because this Kadamba flower wearing faith healer looked up to the skies and invoked you, you have descended on her and afflicting her. Though you may be a God, you are still stupid, Muruga!”

Through this poem her friend sends message to the man from the hills also. The practice was to promise marriage in front of the Goddess statue and convince the girl. Her friend hints “You promised in front of the goddess. She trusted your word and embraced your chest. Now that you have not kept your word, she is afflicted with this sickness. Though you know the reason, you are yet to formalise your union. You are stupid, Lord of the hills”

கடவுள் – Goddess
கற்சுனை – hilly brook
அடை இறந்து – surrounded by leaves
அவிழ்ந்த – blossomed
பறியாக் குவளை – unplucked / fresh blue lily
காந்தள் – flame lily
குருதி ஒண் பூ – blood red flower
உரு கெழக் கட்டி – beautifully woven garland
பெரு வரை – lofty hills
பொற்ப – shining
சூர்மகளிர் – divine maidens (kind of vestal virgins, in service of Goddess)
படர் மலி  – spreading wide
அரு நோய் – incurable sickness
அணங்கு – affliction
அன்மை – not
அறிந்தும் – (even though) you know
கார் நறுங் கடம்பின் கண்ணி – rainy season’s fragrant Kadamba flower garland
வேலன் – faith healer
வெறி மனை – to afflict
வந்தோய் – you came
மடவை மன்ற – Surely stupid

Ainkurunooru – 229

(Her friend asks her on seeing colour return to her face)

Be blessed, my friend! Did the callous one,
who vanished for days in a row
Leaving us teary eyed, come last night?
Like Gold, gloriously shines your brow.

அம்ம வாழி, தோழி! நாம் அழப்
பல் நாள் பிரிந்த அறனிலாளன்
வந்தனனோ, மற்று இரவில்?
பொன் போல் விறல் கவின் கொள்ளும், நின் நுதலே.

He has been away for long. She pines for him and her colour wanes. Then one day he visits her at night. The joy of seeing him restores her health. She tries to keep it secret. But her friend finds out and asks her “My friend! Did your lover who vanished for many days and left us crying, come to meet you last night? Colour has returned to your forehead and it shines like gold. Though you try to keep it a secret, your ruddiness gives it away”

அறனிலாளன் – அறம் இல்லாதவன் – Uncompassionate / Callous

விறல் – Magnificent / Glorious

கவின் – beauty / shine

நுதல் – forehead / brow

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