Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Sangam”

Puranaanooru – 82

His pregnant wife needs his assistance;
Village festival too has begun;
Sunlight is fast fading in rainy season;
With all this in mind, sharp needle in the hands
of the lowly cot upholsterer moves swiftly;
Swifter than that moves the golden flower wearing mighty warrior
to fight the enemy who comes to conquer his town.

சாறுதலைக் கொண்டெனப் பெண்ணீற் றுற்றெனப்
பட்ட மாரி ஞான்ற ஞாயிற்றுக்
கட்டி னிணக்கு மிழிசினன் கையது
போழ்தூண் டூசியின் விரைந்தன்று மாதோ
ஊர்கொள வந்த பொருநனொ
டார்புனை தெரிய னெடுந்தகை போரே.

This verse is about the Chola King Porvaikko PeruNarKilli. A local chieftain Aamoor Mallan comes to attack the Chola king’s town. The poet says Killi did not delay going to face his enemy but moved swiftly as if he wanted to finish the job before the sun set. The simile he uses is of the lowly leather worker upholstering a cot. The worker’s wife is pregnant and he needs to be near her to help her. The village festival has begun and he wants to take part in it too. But the job at hand is holding him back. The sun is fading away quickly in the rainy season. If the sun sets, he can’t work further. With all this weighing in his mind, the needle in his hand moves in and out of the leather swiftly as if it has a mind of its own. Even swifter than that moves the Golden yellow flower (the clan flower of Chola Kings) wearing mighty Lord when the enemy is at the gates to conquer his town. He wants to finish him off in a day.

Each of the three Tamil Kings (Chera / Chola / Pandya) had their own clan flowers which they wore as a garland in the battlefield.

சாறு – festival
பெண் – woman (wife)
ஈற்று – pregnant
உற்று – suffering
மாரி – rain
ஞான்று – time of day (Sun set)
ஞாயிறு – sun
கட்டில் – cot
இணக்கு – bind together
இழிசினன் – lowly person (leather worker?)
போழ் – pass through
விரைந்து – swiftly
அன்று – different / more
பொருநன் – enemy combatant
ஆர் – Bauhinia racemosa flower / son patta flower / golden flower
புனை – wearing
நெடுந்தகை – mighty

Kurunthokai – 117

She misses him and her arms wane and bangles fall loose. Her friend tells her:

Your man is from the shores
Where a distressed wet crab fears
The watchful eyes of glistening lily like stork
And rushes to hide in its nest in shrub roots
Like a bull cutting loose of the cowherd’s rope;
If he doesn’t come here, it is fine!
Traders here have even smaller bangles.

மாரி ஆம்பல் அன்ன கொக்கின்
பார்வல் அஞ்சிய பருவரல் ஈர் ஞெண்டு
கண்டல் வேர் அளைச் செலீஇயர், அண்டர்
கயிறு அரி எருத்தின், கதழும் துறைவன்
வாராது அமையினும் அமைக!
சிறியவும் உள ஈண்டு, விலைஞர் கைவளையே.

He meets her on the sly for days but is not proceeding to the next step, asking her parents to wed her. Also he hasn’t come to meet her in a while. All this is making her whither and the bangles in her arm fall loose. So her friend tells her :

Your lover’s from the sea shore where white storks glistening with water droplets like lily flowers in rain look to hunt crabs. Fearing their eyes, the fearful wet crabs rush to hide in their nests in shrub roots. They rush like the bull that cuts loose from cowherd’s rope and running away. Like that you are afraid of the town’s gossip and are pining for him in your house. Don’t worry about the town’s gossip. If he doesn’t come it is fine. Even if your bangles drop loose because you are waning, traders here have smaller bangles that will stay in your arm.

மாரி – Rain
ஆம்பல் – Lily
கொக்கு – Stork
பருவரல் – fearful
ஞெண்டு – நண்டு – crab
கண்டல் – screw pine shrub
வேர் – root
அளை – hole in the ground, nest
அண்டர் – cow herd
கயிறு – rope
அரி – cut
எருது – bull
கதழ் – run fast
துறைவன் – man from the shore
ஈண்டு – here
விலைஞர் – trader
கைவளை – bangle

Puranaanooru – 187

Whether a settlement or a forest,
Whether shallow land or raised ground,
Wherever your men are good,
Blessed land, you are good too.

நாடா கொன்றோ காடா கொன்றோ
அவலா கொன்றோ மிசையா கொன்றோ
எவ்வழி நல்லவ ராடவர்
அவ்வழி நல்லை வாழிய நிலனே.

This poem by Avvayar, written around 2000 years ago, says that a land doesn’t have any innate characteristic of its own. It is as good as its citizens are. She says to the land – You are a settlement (inhabited) at some places, a forest (deserted) at others; depressed at some places, raised at others. You don’t have any defining characteristic. You are as good as the citizens who occupy you are.

நாடு – country / settlement
ஆக –
ஒன்றோ – (used as a conjunction)
காடு – forest
அவல் – shallow
மிசை – raised
ஆடவர் – men
நல்லை – good

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

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