Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Sangam”

Puranaanooru – 51

If water surges, there’s no bank that can hold it;
if fire surges, there’s no refuge that can save living beings;
if air surges, there’s nothing stronger to stop it;
like them is the renowned fierce Vazhuthi*;
unable to tolerate the saying that
“Tamil country is equally ruled (by all three kings)”,
he raises an army and demands tribute;
kings who pay up can be without worry,
those who don’t are pitiable, for they fall foul of him;
like winged termites that fly out of mounds
built painstakingly by hordes of white ants,
they flutter about to live for just a day.

* – Pandiyan King Kootakarathu thunchiya Maran Vazhuthi

நீர் மிகின், சிறையும் இல்லை; தீ மிகின்,
மன் உயிர் நிழற்றும் நிழலும் இல்லை;
வளி மிகின், வலியும் இல்லை; ஒளி மிக்கு
அவற்று ஓர் அன்ன சினப் போர் வழுதி,
‘தண் தமிழ் பொது’ எனப் பொறாஅன், போர் எதிர்ந்து,
கொண்டி வேண்டுவன் ஆயின், ‘கொள்க’ எனக்
கொடுத்த மன்னர் நடுக்கு அற்றனரே;
அளியரோ அளியர், அவன் அளி இழந்தோரே
நுண் பல சிதலை அரிது முயன்று எடுத்த
செம் புற்று ஈயல் போல,
ஒரு பகல் வாழ்க்கைக்கு உலமருவோரே!

This poem by Ayoor Mudavanar is about the valour of Pandiyan King Kootakarathu thunchiya Maran Vazhuthi (Maran Vazhuthi who died in Kootakaram battle). He was known for waging war against other rulers of Tamil country and subduing them. Thepoet says like the surge of elements (water, fire and air), fierce Vazhuthi also could not be contained. He could not tolerate when people said Tamil country is common for the three kings – Cheras, Cholas and Pandiyas. So he waged war against them and asked them to pay tributes to him and accept him as their overlord. Those who accepted were without worry. Those who didn’t fell foul of him and their condition was pitiable. Like winged termites that buzz out of termite mounds and die within a day, they rose briefly only to die.

The termite mound simile stands out in this poem. A termite mound is built by the hard work of thousands of termites. Similarly a country attains wealth by the hard work of its citizens. But when winged termites fly out of the mound, their life span is hardly a day. So is the life span of any one who opposes Vazhuthi.

The word play in அளியரோ அளியர், அவன் அளி இழந்தோரே is noteworthy. The poet uses the word அளி thrice, each time with a different meaning.
அளியரோ – அளிக்காதவரோ – those who don’t give
அளியர் – poor/wretched
அளி இழந்தோரே – those who lost his grace / fell foul of him

Puranaanooru – 309

To destroy weapons and conquer foes
in mighty battles is easy for anyone;
but, like the mound where cobra resides,
like the arena where deadly bull roams,
powerful enemies are afraid when they learn
he is in his barracks; such is the fame
of my victorious spear wielding lord.

இரும்புமுகம் சிதைய நூறி ஒன்னார்
இருஞ்சமம் கடத்தல் ஏனோர்க்கும் எளிதே;
நல்அரா உறையும் புற்றம் போலவும்
கொல்ஏறு திரிதரு மன்றம் போலவும்
மாற்றருந் துப்பின் மாற்றோர் பாசறை
உளன்என வெரூஉம் ஓர்ஒளி
வலன்உயர் நெடுவேல் என்னைகண் ணதுவே.

This is a poem singing the praise of a renowned warlord. The poet says, “Any one can fight in the battlefield, destroy the weapons of enemies and conquer them. That is what normal warriors do. But my lord’s fame is much more than that. Enemies are afraid when they learn he is in his barracks. Fear creeps into them, like the fear one has on seeing a mound where Cobra resides; like the fear one has on seeing the arena where the deadly bull roams. Such is his renown.”

‘Mound where cobra resides’ is a metaphor for his barracks where he rests. Even without seeing the cobra, people are afraid. Likewise enemies are afraid just on knowing that he is in his barracks. ‘Arena where the deadly bull roams’ is a metaphor for the fear he instlls in his enemies about his prowess.

Now you know where our propensity to ‘punch dialogues’ come from.

இரும்புமுகம் – iron face – spears, swords
நூறி – நூறுதல் – to destroy
ஒன்னார் – enemy
இருஞ்சமம் – இரு+ சமர் – great battle
கடத்தல் – conquer
ஏனோர் – others
நல்அரா – நல்ல பாம்பு – cobra
கொல்ஏறு – கொல் + ஏறு – deadly bull
மன்றம் – arena
மாற்று – destroy
துப்பு – strength
மாற்றோர் – enemies
பாசறை – barracks
வெரு – fear
ஒளி – fame
வலன் – வலம் – victorious
என்னை – என் + அய் – my lord
கண்ணதுவே – with him

Kurunthokai – 28

Shall I whack them? or clobber them?
I don’t know; shall I intentionally scream
“aaah,Oh”? – at this town that sleeps
unaware of my love sickness,

while I’m tormented by swirls of swaying breeze.

முட்டுவேன்கொல்? தாக்குவேன்கொல்?
ஓரேன், யானும்: ஓர் பெற்றி மேலிட்டு,
‘ஆஅ! ஒல்’ எனக் கூவுவேன்கொல்?-
அலமரல் அசைவளி அலைப்ப, என்
உயவு நோய் அறியாது, துஞ்சும் ஊர்க்கே.

This is another popular poem in Kurunthokai, written by Avvaiyaar. She is pining for him and is unable to sleep at night. The swaying breeze adds to her suffering. The entire town is sleeping peacefully except her. She is irked with the town that doesn’t know her misery. “While I am suffering in love, this town sleeps peacefully. Shall I go and whack them? Or clobber them?. I don’t know. May be I will scream intentionally and wake them up.” The implied meaning is once the townspeople wake up and curse her, then they will start gossiping about her condition and force her lover to come and marry her.

Sangam era Avvaiyaar was most definitely a fiesty young woman, not the old woman we see in Tamil mythical movies.

பெற்றி – reason / intention
அலமரல் – swirling
அசைவளி – அசைவு + அளி – sway + breeze
அலை – tormented / afflicted
உயவு நோய் – love sickness
துஞ்சுதல் – sleep

Kurunthokai – 71

He tells his heart:

If it’s cure I seek, then she’s cure;
if it’s wealth  I seek, then she’s wealth –
this hill chieftain’s young daughter
with beautiful freckled bosom,
strong shoulders and slender waist.

மருந்து எனின் மருந்தே; வைப்பு எனின் வைப்பே-
அரும்பிய சுணங்கின் அம் பகட்டு இள முலை,
பெருந் தோள், நுணுகிய நுசுப்பின்,
கல் கெழு கானவர் நல்குறு மகளே.

She is the daughter of hill chieftain. She is young and freckle bosomed, has strong shoulders and slender waist and he has fallen in love with her. His heart tells him to go away from her to earn wealth. But he argues with his heart saying there is no need for him to go. If he goes away he will fall love sick and the cure for that is this girl. If it is wealth (future savings) he is going in search of, that too is this girl for him. So why should he go away?

The brevity of original poem is difficult to translate. Literal translation of ‘மருந்து எனின் மருந்தே’ is ‘if cure then cure’. The ‘I seek – then she is’ is implied. I had to make it explicit to make the translation easy to read.

வைப்பு – savings (wealth)
அரும்பிய – budding
சுணங்கு – freckle
பகட்டு – atbeautifu
நுணுகிய – narrow
நுசுப்பு – waist
கல் கெழு – rock filled (hills)
கானவர் – ruler of forest
குறு மகள் – young daughter

Puranaanooru – 123

It’s easy for anyone to gift a chariot
if he drinks early and stays tipsy through the day;
gilded chariots gifted by sober Malayan
of lasting fame are innumerable
than fruitful rain drops over Mullur peaks.

நாட்கள் ளுண்டு நாண்மகிழ் மகிழின்
யார்க்கு மெளிதே தேரீ தல்லே
தொலையா நல்லிசை விளங்கு மலையன்
மகிழா தீத்த விழையணி நெடுந்தேர்
பயன்கெழு முள்ளூர் மீமிசைப்
பட்ட மாரி யுறையினும் பலவே.

This is a poem written by Kapilar, the premier Sangam era poet, in praise of Malayan (Malayaman Thirumudik Kaari) who ruled over Mullur hills. He was a famous patron to many poets. Kapilar says “Many patrons bestow chariots as gifts when they are drunk and intoxicated through out the day. Those are tainted by the intoxicated nature of the patron. But Malayaman gifts gilded chariots when he is sober. This makes those chariots more valuable, as they are given in good sense. These chariots are more in number than the rain drops that fall over Mullur hills of Malayaman”

Exaggeration is a poetic virtue. Kapilar too is not immune to that.

மகிழ் – Happy / tipsy
எளிது – easy
ஈதல் – to gift / bestow
தொலையா – un decaying / lasting
நல்லிசை – good name / fame
மகிழாது ஈத்த – given when not tipsy / sober
இழையணி – bedecked / gilded
பயன்கெழு – useful / fruitful
மீமிசை – over (peaks)
மாரி – rain
உறை – drops

Kurunthokai – 113

Her friend says:

Near our hamlet is a pond;
not too far from the pond is a rivulet;
other than white stork in search of prey
nothing else comes to the nearby grove;
we go there to collect clay for our tresses;*
naive girl will come there too.

ஊர்க்கும் அணித்தே, பொய்கை; பொய்கைக்குச்
சேய்த்தும் அன்றே, சிறு கான்யாறே:
இரை தேர் வெண் குருகு அல்லது யாவதும்
துன்னல் போகின்றால், பொழிலே; யாம் எம்
கூழைக்கு எருமண் கொணர்கம் சேறும்;
யாண்டும் வருகுவள் பெரும் பேதையே.

* using clay to wash hair was a prevalent practice till recent times.

He is loitering around their house to meet her. She has decided to change the meeting place. So she asks her friend to convey the message to him. Her friend says “There is a pond near our hamlet. Not far from the pond is a small rivulet that flows from the forest. Near that rivulet is a grove where no one comes except white stork in search of prey. We will come to the banks of that rivulet to collect clay to wash our hair. This naive girl will come there too.”

When she says that ‘we come to the rivulet to collect clay’, she implies others will stay only at the banks of the river, no one else will be in that grove. White stork hunting for fish can be expanded as a metaphor for him trying to meet her. ‘Naive girl’ can be expanded to ‘she is love struck and is naive enough to take such risk to meet you’.

அணித்து – அண்மையில் – near
பொய்கை – natural spring / pond
சிறு கான்யாறு – சிறு கான் ஆறு – small forest river (rivulet)
வெண் – வெண்மை – white
குருகு – stork / crane
துன்னல் – close
பொழில் – grove
கூழை – hair / tress
எருமண் – clay
கொணர்கம் – bring (collect)
சேறும் – செல்வோம் – go there
யாண்டு – there
பேதை – naive (girl)


Maduraik Kanchi – 590-599

On the auspicious day of Onam,
birthday of golden garland wearing *Maayon,
who destroyed groups of Asuras,
in the hamlets of warriors
scarred with sword marks on their faces
and strong arms calloused by riding elephants,
passionate warriors wearing garland of flowers
and wound marks in their foreheads
obtained in fights with other clans,
engage elephants to fight each other;
blue cloth spread over a fence of caltrops
to protect the audience, falls down and pricks them;
people roam around buzzed with pure clarified toddy

*Maayon – Thirumal, Tamil equivalent of Vishnu

கணம் கொள் அவுணர்க் கடந்த பொலந் தார்
மாயோன் மேய ஓண நல் நாள்,
கோணம் தின்ற வடு ஆழ் முகத்த,
சாணம் தின்ற சமம் தாங்கு தடக் கை,    
மறம் கொள் சேரி மாறு பொரு செருவில்,          
மாறாது உற்ற வடுப் படு நெற்றி,    
சுரும்பு ஆர் கண்ணிப் பெரும் புகல் மறவர்  
கடுங் களிறு ஓட்டலின், காணுநர் இட்ட
நெடுங் கரைக் காழகம் நிலம் பரல் உறுப்ப,        
கடுங் கள் தேறல் மகிழ் சிறந்து திரிதர

Onam is today identified solely as the festival of Kerala. It was a festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu too, during th Sangam era and the first millennium. This is a description of Onam celebrated in Madurai during the reign of ‘Thalayalanganathu Cheru Vendra Nedunchezhiyan‘ (Nedunchezhiyan who won the Thalayalanganam battle).

The hamlets around Madurai are getting ready to celebrate the auspicious day of Onam, birthday of Maayon (Thirumal, equivalent of Vishnu). Maayon wears a golden garland and destroyed groups of strong Asuras. In the hamlet of warrior clans, warriors with wound marks on their foreheads and strong calloused arms, wearing flower garlands (that signify that they are ready to battle), engage their elephant to fight each other. The whole town is there to see the spectacle. To protect the audience from elephants, a long fence of spiked caltrops are set up and covered with blue cloth. Due to the rush the fence falls down and the spikes prick the audience. Everyone is pleasantly drunk of pure clarified toddy and happily roaming around.

Nattrinai – 110

Grey haired governesses
carrying golden bowls
of sweet milk mixed with honey
ordered “Eat!” and threatened
to hit her with flowering twigs.
Refusing to eat, she tired them
by running under garden creepers
with her pearl filled golden anklets tinkling,
my playful little girl!
when did she become so mature and wise?
As her husband’s clan fell into poverty,
she doesn’t think of rich food at her dad’s house,
but like finely dispersed sand in running water,
skips a meal and eats, my strong little woman!

பிரசம் கலந்த வெண் சுவைத் தீம்பால்
விரி கதிர்ப் பொற்கலத்து ஒரு கை ஏந்தி,
புடைப்பின் சுற்றும் பூந் தலைச் சிறு கோல்,
”உண்” என்று ஓக்குபு பிழைப்ப, தெண் நீர்
முத்து அரிப் பொற்சிலம்பு ஒலிப்பத் தத்துற்று,
அரி நரைக் கூந்தற் செம் முது செவிலியர்
பரி மெலிந்து ஒழிய, பந்தர் ஓடி,
ஏவல் மறுக்கும் சிறு விளையாட்டி
அறிவும் ஒழுக்கமும் யாண்டு உணர்ந்தனள்கொல்?
கொண்ட கொழுநன் குடி வறன் உற்றென,
கொடுத்த தந்தை கொழுஞ் சோறு உள்ளாள்,
ஒழுகு நீர் நுணங்கு அறல் போல,
பொழுது மறுத்து உண்ணும் சிறு மதுகையளே!

Her governess goes to see her at her in law’s place and finds that they have fallen into poverty. She comes back and tells her mom that her daughter’s household is so poor that they have to skip a meal.

Her mother reminisces about how her daughter was pampered as a young girl. Governesses used to chase her with golden bowls full of milk and honey. She refused to eat and when they threatened to hit her with soft flowering twigs, she used to run under garden creepers with her anklets tinkling. Old governesses were tired by her running around. So playful was she. But now, she has become so mature and wise that she doesn’t think back on her pampered upbringing but has adjusted herself to the new reality of her husband’s place.

Her pampered upbringing is brought out by ‘golden bowls of sweet milk mixed with honey’ and ‘golden anklets filled with pearls’. Finely dispersed sand in running water is a simile for thin gruel, I guess. The previous sentence talks about கொழுஞ் சோறு – thick and rich food, at her father’s house.

If you are a Tamil movie aficionado, you will immediately recall the ‘Idli Upma’ scene from the movie ‘Soorya Vamsam’.

பிரசம் – honey
தீம்பால் – sweet milk
விரிகதிர் – rising sun (shiny)
பொற்கலம் – golden bowl
புடைப்பு – hit
பூந்தலைச் சிறுகோல் – flowering twigs (soft so it won’t hurt the child)
ஓக்குதல் – to raise / throw (threaten)
தெண் நீர் – cool water
முத்து – pearl
பொற்சிலம்பு – golden anklet
அரி நரை – thin grey
கூந்தல் – hair
செவிலியர் – governess
பரி மெலிந்து ஒழிய – tired by running
பந்தர் – (jasmine flower) creeper
ஏவல் – order
யாண்டு – when
கொண்ட – married
கொழுநன் – husband
குடி – clan
வறன் – poverty
கொடுத்த தந்தை – father who gave birth
கொழு – thick
உள்ளாள் – உள்ள (உள்ளுதல்) + மாட்டாள் – does not think
ஒழுகு நீர் – running water
நுணங்கு – fine
அறல் – sand
பொழுது – time
மறுத்து – refuse
மதுகையள் – மதுகை + உடையவள் – Strong girl

Kurunthokai – 387

The day’s over, jasmine blooms,
fiery sun softens; even if I swim across
this forlorn dusk with night as its end,
what’s the point, my friend?
Night’s expanse is vaster than the sea.

எல்லை கழிய முல்லை மலரக்
கதிர்சினந் தணிந்த கையறு மாலையும்
இரவரம் பாக நீந்தின மாயின்
எவன்கொல் வாழி தோழி
கங்குல் வெள்ளங் கடலினும் பெரிதே.

She’s pining for him but he hasn’t come to meet her. She says “The day is over. Jasmines have bloomed. (Jasmines bloom at night time. Their fragrance adds to her grief.) Fieriness of the sun has softened. But he hasn’t come and I miss him a lot. I am forlorn this evening without him. Even if I some how bear my pain and cross this evening holding myself together, there is no point in it. For, at the end of the evening lies the never ending night. It is even more vaster than the sea. I can’t bear this pain through the night.”

“Night’s expanse is vaster than the sea” is a poor imitation of கங்குல் வெள்ளங் கடலினும் பெரிதே. The cadence in that phrase is unmatchable.

எல்லை – Daytime
முல்லை – jasmine
கதிர் – sun
வரம்பு – boundary
நீந்தினம் – we swim
ஆயின் – if
கையறு – helpless (forlorn)
எவன்கொல் – what is the use
கங்குல் – night
வெள்ளம் – excess

Kurunthokai – 231

She refuses him entry  when her friend pleads his case:

Though he lives in the same town,
he doesn’t come to our street;
even if he comes to our street,
he doesn’t hug me tight;
he avoids and ignores me
like a stranger’s cremation ground –
making my shameless foolish passion go waste
like an arrow shot from a bow into the distance.

ஓர் ஊர் வாழினும் சேரி வாரார்;
சேரி வரினும் ஆர முயங்கார்;
ஏதிலாளர் சுடலை போலக்
காணாக் கழிபமன்னே-நாண் அட்டு,
நல் அறிவு இழந்த காமம்
வில் உமிழ் கணையின் சென்று சேண் படவே.

He has been spending time at the courtesan’s house for long. He wants to come back home, so he sends her friend as an emissary to placate her. She refuses to hear her friend’s pleading. She says “Though he lived so long in the same town, he never came to our street. Even if he came to our street, he never came home and spent time with me, hugging me tight. Even if he saw me, he acted as if he didn’t and avoided me, like avoiding a stranger’s cremation ground.Because of this, my foolish and shameless passion went waste like an aimless arrow shot from a bow. I don’t love him anymore. He isn’t welcome here”

ஏதிலாளர் சுடலை – ‘stranger’s cremation ground’ is a simile for ignoring something as irrelevant to one.

சேரி – street
ஆர – fully
முயங்கார் – முயங்க மாட்டார் – does not embrace
ஏதிலாளர் – stranger
சுடலை – cremation ground
காணா – without seeing
கழிப – leaves
நாண் – modesty
உமிழ் – discharge
கணை – arrow
சேண் – distance

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