Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Sangam”

Ainkurunooru – 492

As a peacock dances like you,
As jasmines bloom fragrant
like the scent of your forehead,
As a doe gazes timidly like you,
I rush home thinking of you,
My girl, swifter than a monsoon cloud.

நின்னே போலு மஞ்ஞை யாலநின்
நன்னுத னாறு முல்லை மலர
நின்னே போல மாமருண்டு நோக்க
நின்னே யுள்ளி வந்தனென்
நன்னுத லரிவை காரினும் விரைந்தே

நின்னே போலும் மஞ்ஞை ஆல, நின்
நல் நுதல் நாறும் முல்லை மலர,
நின்னே போல மா மருண்டு நோக்க,
நின்னே உள்ளி வந்தனென்
நல் நுதல் அரிவை! காரினும் விரைந்தே.

He has gone away to earn wealth. As he is coming back just before the rainy season, he crosses a forest. Everything in that forest reminds him of her. A peacock is dancing to welcome the rains. Its grace reminds him of her. Jasmine buds are blooming as rains arrive. Their fragrance reminds him of the scent of her forehead. A female deer looks at him with a nervous look, just like how she looks at him. He rushes home, swifter than the approaching monsoon cloud.

This 2500 year old poem stays relevant today. Anyone who has been in a long distance relationship knows the rush one feels as the plane lands / train arrives and the heart beats faster saying a few more hours to meet your love. Everything one looks reminds them of their love.

All these Tamil words can be easily understood today. And the poem can be used as a movie lyric with slight modifications.

உன்னப் போலொரு மயிலாட
உன் நெத்தி வாசம் போலப் பிச்சிப் பூப் பூக்க
உன்னப் போல மானொன்னு பாக்க
உன்ன எண்ணி வந்தேனடி அழகியே
உறுமும் மழை மேகத்த முந்தியே

மஞ்ஞை – Peacock
நுதல் – forehead
நாறும் – smells (Fragrantly)
முல்லை – jasmine
மா – deer
மருண்டு – nervously / timidly
உள்ளி – thinking of
அரிவை – girl
கார் – monsoon cloud

MalaiPadu Kadaam – lines 340-344

Cracking noise as sugar cane nodes are broken
And crushed in crushers covered by clouds of smoke,
Work song of women husking millet grains,
Drums sounded by farmers guarding Yam and Turmeric
To chase away foraging wild boars,
All these sounds echo in the mountains


மழை கண்டன்ன ஆலைதொறும், ஞெரேரெனக்
கழை கண் உடைக்கும் கரும்பின் ஏத்தமும்;
தினை குறு மகளிர் இசை படு வள்ளையும்,
சேம்பும் மஞ்சளும் ஓம்பினர் காப்போர்
பன்றிப் பறையும்; குன்றகச் சிலம்பும்;

Malaipadu Kadaam is a 583 line long poem, one of the ten long poems (பத்துப் பாட்டு) in Sangam canon. Written by Perunkunrur Perunkaucikanar, it is sung in praise of the hill country ruled by King Nannan. Tamil scholar Kamil Zvelebil dates it to 210 CE. This poem is known for its vivid imagery of hill country, thought to be current day Javadhu hills in northern Tamil Nadu.

Lines 290-350 list the various sounds heard in the hills. In the above lines the following sounds are described. Cane crushing units are engulfed in smoke from the crushers. These look like clouds hovering around the crushers. In these units cracking noise of sugar cane nodes breaking at a fast pace is heard. Near by women are husking millet grains. To overcome the tedium, they sing rhythmic songs (வள்ளைப் பாட்டு). Farmers guarding yam and turmeric in their fields sound drums to scare away wild boars that forage these root vegetables. All these sounds mingle together and echo in the mountains.

மழை – cloud
ஆலை – factory / sugar cane crushing units
ஞெரேர் – sound
கழை – sugar cane
கண் – கணு – node (of sugar cane)
ஏத்தம் – sound of pouring liquid
தினை – millet
குறு – pound / husk
வள்ளை – A type of rhythmic work song
சேம்பு – Yam
மஞ்சள் – Turmeric
ஓம்பினர் – those who nourish / farmers
காப்போர் – those who guard
பன்றி – (wild) boar
பறை – drum
குன்று – hill / mountain
சிலம்பு – Echo

Kurunthokai – 130

(Her friend consoles her)

He can’t have dug up the earth and vanished inside,
Nor can he have climbed up to the sky,
Or walked across the seas;
Country by country, town by town,
House by house if we search,
Can our lover evade us?

நிலந்தொட்டுப் புகாஅர் வான மேறார்
விலங்கிரு முந்நீர் காலிற் செல்லார்
நாட்டி னாட்டி னூரி னூரிற்
குடிமுறை குடிமுறை தேரிற்
கெடுநரு முளரோநங் காத லோரே.

This is a poem by poet Velliveethiyar. He hasn’t come for long. She is pining for him. Her friend consoles her saying “Our lover could not have dug up the earth and vanished inside nor can he have climbed up to the sky. He could not have walked across the ocean that bounds our land. So he must be here in this land only. If we search each country, town and village is there any which way he can evade us? So don’t worry, I will find him for you”

It is the convention in Sangam poetry for the friend to associate herself with the heroine and say “Our lover”.

புகார் – புக மாட்டார் – can’t enter
மேறார் – மேல் ஏறார் – can’t climb
விலங்கு இரு – that lies athwart / on the way
முந்நீர் – Sea (முந்நீர் – மூன்று நீர் – three waters (rain water, spring water, river water) that enter the sea
குடிமுறை – household
கெடு – run away / evade

Pattinap Palai – 126-132

Like the monsoon season
When water scooped up by the clouds
Pours down the mountain
And water from the mountain
Flows back to the sea,
Countless variety of goods
In limitless quantities
Are offloaded from sea to land
And loaded from land to sea..

வான் முகந்த நீர் மலைப் பொழியவும்,
மலைப் பொழிந்த நீர் கடல் பரப்பவும்,
மாரி பெய்யும் பருவம் போல
நீரினின்றும் நிலத்து ஏற்றவும்,
நிலத்தினின்று நீர்ப் பரப்பவும்,
அளந்து அறியாப் பல பண்டம்
வரம்பு அறியாமை வந்து ஈண்டி,

These lines are from Pattinap Palai, a long poem written in praise of Chola King Karikala Cholan, generally dated to the beginning of Common Era. Pattinap Palai is one of the ten long poems (பத்துப்பாட்டு) that are part of Sangam literature.

These lines talk about the flourishing trade and wealth of Karikala’s kingdom. Water cycle is the simile used for import and export of goods. Water from sea evaporates, rises up as clouds and pours as rain down the mountain during rainy season. Rain pouring down the mountains runs back as river to the sea and completes the cycle. Similarly in Karikala’s customs house, goods from the ships offloaded to land (import) and goods from land to be loaded on ships are gathered in countless quantities under the hawk eye of the customs officials.

If you can read Tamil, you will realize that these lines written 2000 years ago are as fresh as those written yesterday. All the words used then are still in use now. I chose these lines to show the continuity of Tamil, the biggest strength of our language.

வான் – cloud
முகந்த – scooped
மாரி பெய்யும் பருவம் – rain pouring season / monsoon
பண்டம் – goods
வரம்பு – limit
ஈண்டி – gathered

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)

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