Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Sangam”

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

Ainkuru Nooru – 172

The woman with shiny bangles seized my heart!
Like unceasing clamorous waves
of Thondi’s* cool shores where bees hum,
I cannot sleep even at night!

* Thondi – Major port of Chera kings, near modern day Kozhikode, Kerala.

ஒண் தொடி அரிவை கொண்டனள், நெஞ்சே!
வண்டு இமிர் பனித் துறைத் தொண்டி ஆங்கண்
உரவுக் கடல் ஒலித் திரை போல,
இரவினானும் துயில் அறியேனே!

His friend asks him why he is not sleeping. He says the girl I saw in the sea shore, wearing shining bangles, has taken away my heart. Like the unceasing noisy waves of Thondi shore, where bees buzz around, I too am not able to sleep even at night.

The rolling waves never sleep. He likens himself to those waves. Bees buzz around as they circle lily flowers in backwaters. Similarly his heart is roaming around the backwaters after the girl he saw there.

ஒண் – ஒண்மை – shining, bright
தொடி – bracelet / bangle
அரிவை – woman
இமிர் – hum
உரவு – to be in constant motion
திரை – wave
துயில் – sleep

Pura Naanooru – 312

To give birth and nurture is my duty;
to make him wise is his father’s duty;
to forge a spear for him is blacksmith’s duty;
to impart virtue is Ruler’s duty;
to destroy enemies in battle with dazzling sword,
kill war elephants and return is youth’s duty.

ஈன்று புறந்தருதல் என் தலைக் கடனே;
சான்றோன் ஆக்குதல் தந்தைக்குக் கடனே;
வேல் வடித்துக் கொடுத்தல் கொல்லற்குக் கடனே;
நன்னடை நல்கல் வேந்தற்குக் கடனே,
ஒளிறு வாள் அருஞ் சமம் முருக்கி,
களிறு எறிந்து பெயர்தல் காளைக்குக் கடனே.

This is a stirring poem written from the point of view of a woman from a martial clan. She says, “To bring forth a son and nurture him is my duty. To teach him skills and make him knowledgeable is his father’s duty. To provide him with weapons is the blacksmith’s duty. It is the duty of our ruler to point him in the path of virtue. The bull like strong youth’s duty is to engage in war, destroy the enemies, kill their elephants and return back”.

As is clear, these poems drum up martial feelings and ignite the passion for warfare, which was a necessity in those times.

I think that this poem has shades of ‘Protagoras’, Plato’s dialogue about a debate between Protagoras and Socrates. Or may be I am reading too much into a straight forward poem.

ஈன்று – Give birth
புறம் தருதல் – bring to world (nurture)
வடித்தல் – forge
நன்னடை – நல்ல + நடை – right path / good conduct / virtue
நல்குதல் – give / grant / impart
ஒளிறுதல் – to shine brightly
வாள் – sword
அருமை – good / great
சமம் – battle
முருக்குதல் – destroy
களிறு – elephant
எறிதல் – knock down
பெயர்தல் – return
காளை – youth

Kurunthokai – 75

Did you see yourself? Or heard from those who saw?
from whom did you hear of my lord’s arrival?
I’d like to know for sure; please tell me!
You’ll receive the golden city of Patali
where elephants with white tusks play in river Son.

நீ கண்டனையோ? கண்டார்க் கேட்டனையோ?-
ஒன்று தெளிய நசையினம்; மொழிமோ!
வெண் கோட்டு யானை சோணை படியும்
பொன் மலி பாடலி பெறீஇயர்!-
யார்வாய்க் கேட்டனை, காதலர் வரவே?

She is desperately waiting for her lover’s arrival. The bard comes to her and says that her lover has come to town. She asks the bard “Did you see yourself o just heard from some one who saw him? If so who? I would like to know for sure, please tell me. If what you say is true, you will receive the wealth of the golden city of Pataliputra where elephants with white tusks play in river Son”

The poem brings out her desperation for good news. It also talks about the wealthy city of Pataliputra built in 3rd century BC as capital of Magadha empire. That might help to date this poem. Of course, Pataliputra was a flourishing city till 9th century AD. Pataliputra was situated at the confluence of three rivers – Ganges, Gandaki and Son.


நசை – desire / wish
மொழி – tell
வெண் கோடு – white tusk
சோணை – river Son
மலி – abound


Kurunthokai – 30

Listen to me my friend! At midnight,
as an almost true false dream
of that expert liar hugging me tight
deceived and woke me up,
I caressed the bed;
Like a lily flower swarmed by bees
I wilt all alone; surely pitiable am I.

கேட்டிசின் வாழி-தோழி!-அல்கல்,
பொய்வலாளன் மெய் உற மரீஇய
வாய்த் தகைப் பொய்க் கனா மருட்ட, ஏற்று எழுந்து,
அமளி தைவந்தனனே; குவளை
வண்டு படு மலரின் சாஅய்த்”
தமியென்; மன்ற அளியென் யானே!

He has gone away to earn wealth. She pines for him and suffers. When her friend asks why she is so, she replies with this poem. “Listen to me my friend! At midnight I had a dream that he, the master liar was hugging me. It was so real that I believed it to be true, woke up and caressed the empty bed thinking it is him. But then I realised I am pitifully all alone. Like a lily flower swarmed by bees, I wilt and fade”

He is called a master liar, because he hasn’t come home as he had promised. After the bees have sucked honey off the flower and flown away, the flower wilts. His thoughts have sucked life out of her and when she wakes up and realises that it was a dream, she suffers similarly.

அல்கல் – night
பொய் வலாளன் – expert liar
மெய் – body
உறுதல் – embrace
வாய்த் தகை – truth like
மருள் – confuse / deceive
அமளி – bed
குவளை – lily flower
படு – to swarm
சாய்தல் – to grow thin / wilt
தமி – alone
மன்ற – surely / certainly
அளி – pitiable / wretched
யான் – I

Pura Naanooru – 358

This worthy world ringed by the sun
will have seven chiefs a day, such is its nature;
If material and spiritual realms are weighed,
material is not even mustard sized
compared to spiritual, so (spiritually) desirous let it go;
Thiru* doesn’t let go those who let it go;
those who don’t let it go, are whom she lets go.

*Thiru – Goddess of Wealth

பருதி சூழ்ந்த இப் பயம் கெழு மா நிலம்
ஒரு பகல் எழுவர் எய்தியற்றே;
வையமும் தவமும் தூக்கின், தவத்துக்கு
ஐயவி அனைத்தும் ஆற்றாது ஆகலின்,
கைவிட்டனரே காதலர்; அதனால்
விட்டோரை விடாஅள், திருவே;
விடாஅதோர் இவள் விடப்பட்டோரே.

“This world is fickle. No one rules it for long, it will have seven people lead it in a day. Such is its nature. If we compare the material world and spiritual world, the material world is not even mustard seed sized when compared to the spiritual world. So those who want to attain spirituality, let go of the material world. Thiru, the gooddess of wealth holds on to those who are not desirous of material world. Those who are desirous of material world, she gives up on them. So don’t hanker behind wealth. It will be elusive. If you take a distant attitude towards it, wealth will come to you by itself”

Wordplay of the last two lines stand out in this poem. I have tried to translate that as close to the original as possible.

பருதி – பரிதி – Sun
பயம் – பயனுடைய – Worthy / useful
கெழு – bright
மா நிலம் – Big land – world
வையம் – (Material) world
தவம் – spiritual
ஐயவி – mustard
காதலர் – desirous one

Nattrinai – 10

Her friend says :

Even when her perky breasts sag down
and long dark hair draped over
her lustrous body turns white,
never leave her,
Lord of colourful flower adorned town!
Your word is as trusted by her
as the spears of Chief Palayan
– with an army of tuskers – 
was trusted by sweet toddy carrying,
decorated chariot riding
Chola Kings to subdue Kongars*.

*Kongars – Rulers of Kongu Nadu, Western part of present day Tamil Nadu

அண்ணாந்து ஏந்திய வன முலை தளரினும்
பொன் நேர் மேனி மணியின் தாழ்ந்த
நல் நெடுங் கூந்தல் நரையொடு முடிப்பினும்
நீத்தல் ஓம்புமதி பூக் கேழ் ஊர !
இன் கடுங் கள்ளின் இழை அணி நெடுந் தேர்க்
கொற்றச் சோழர் கொங்கர்ப் பணீஇயர்
வெண்கோட்டு யானைப் போஒர் கிழவோன்
பழையன் வேல் வாய்த்தன்ன நின்
பிழையா நல் மொழி தேறிய இவட்கே.

They are eloping at early hours of the day. Her friend has accompanied her to send her off. Friend says to him “She’s abandoning all her relatives and coming with you. You must not leave her even when she grows old, her perky breasts sag and her dark hair turns white. She trusts your word completely, like how the Chola Kings trusted the spears of their allied chieftain (with an army of tuskers) to subdue Kongars*. So keep your promise even when the initial flush of love is gone”

Kongars* may mean Chera Kings who were ruling Kongu Nadu (the area around present day Coimbatore) then. Chola Kings must have used the services of a local Chieftain Palayan to help them in subduing Kongars*

தளர் – sag
மணி – gem / dark color
ஓம்புதல் – to leave
கேழ் – color
இழை – jewel
கொற்றவன் – King
பணித்தல் – subdue
வெண்கோட்டு – white tusk
கிழவோன் – Chief
பிழையா – not false – true – promise
தேறுதல் – believe

Kurunthokai – 312

He tells his heart:

Two faced charlatan, our lover is:
one who comes to us at midnight
like fragrant breeze from the forests
of mighty spear wielding Malayan;
The other, who at day break
gets rid of flowers in her tresses
and plaits her hair with fragrant oil,
goes to her kin and becomes a stranger.

இரண்டு அறி கள்வி நம் காதலோளே:
முரண் கொள் துப்பின் செவ் வேல் மலையன்
முள்ளூர்க் கானம் நாற வந்து,
நள்ளென் கங்குல் நம் ஓரன்னள்;
கூந்தல் வேய்ந்த விரவுமலர் உதிர்த்து,
சாந்து உளர் நறுங் கதுப்பு எண்ணெய் நீவி,
அமரா முகத்தள் ஆகித்
தமர் ஓரன்னள், வைகறையானே.

This is a popular poem in Kurunthokai. She leaves his after their nightly rendezvous. He tells his heart, “This girl, our lover, is a two faced charlatan. She comes like fragrant breeze from the forests of Malayaman and brings joy to us. At day break she gets rid of flowers strewn in her tresses, applies oil to her hair and plaits it like goody two shoes and goes to her relatives. Then she becomes a stranger to us”

Puranaanooru – 195

O’ learned wise men, learned wise men!
O’ learned wise men of futile seniority
and wrinkled cheeks with fish bone like grey hairs!
When the mighty one* with sharp battle axe
throws his noose, you’ll feel sorry;
even if you aren’t able to good,
avoid doing bad;
that’s what pleases every one;
also, that’s path of righteousness.

*God of death

பல் சான்றீரே! பல் சான்றீரே!
கயல் முள் அன்ன நரை முதிர் திரை கவுள்,
பயன் இல் மூப்பின், பல் சான்றீரே!
கணிச்சிக் கூர்ம் படைக் கடுந் திறல் ஒருவன்
பிணிக்கும் காலை, இரங்குவிர் மாதோ;
நல்லது செய்தல் ஆற்றீர் ஆயினும்,
அல்லது செய்தல் ஓம்புமின்; அதுதான்
எல்லாரும் உவப்பது; அன்றியும்,
நல் ஆற்றுப் படூஉம் நெறியும்மார் அதுவே.

The poet admonishes the old learned men who advise the ruler. They mislead the ruler on a path of ruin. The poet says to them “O’ learned wise men, of useless old age (with fish bone like grey hair in wrinkled cheeks) and experience! You will feel sorry when the God of death appears with his weapons and throws a noose at you. Even if you aren’t able to do good, at least don’t do bad. That’s what will keep everyone peaceful and happy. Also, that’s the path to righteousness”

கயல் – fish
திரை – wrinkle
கவுள் – cheek
கணிச்சி – battle axe
கூர்ம் படை – sharp weapon
கடுந் திறல் – mighty
பிணி – tie / catch
இரங்கு – sorry
ஆற்றீர் – not able to
ஓம்புமின் – avoid
உவப்பது – pleases
நல் ஆற்று – right way
நெறி – path

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