Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Sangam”

Puranaanooru – 278

The old woman’s stomach is shriveled like lotus leaves;
veins stand out in her weak and withered shoulders;
on hearing many a person say that her son fled
after losing to the enemy, she angrily declared
“if he retreated from the battle field,
I’ll chop off my breasts that fed him”;
with a sword she went and searched the bloody field
from which bodies were yet to be removed;
on seeing her son’s dismembered body,
she felt happier than the day she birthed him.

நரம்பெழுந் துலறிய நிரம்பா மென்றோள்
முளரி மருங்கின் முதியோள் சிறுவன்
படையழிந்து மாறின னென்றுபலர் கூற
மாண்டமர்க் குடைந்தன னாயி னுண்டவென்
முலையறுத் திடுவென் யானெனச் சினைஇக்
கொண்ட வாளொடு படுபிணம் பெயராச்
செங்களந் துழவுவோள் சிதைந்துவே றாகிய
படுமகன் கிடக்கை காணூஉ
ஈன்ற ஞான்றினும் பெரிதுவந் தனளே.

Pura Naanooru is an anthology of 400 poems about external world – wars, kings and warriors. This is one of the popular poems which is used by politicians of all hues to whip up the glorious bravery of Tamils of yesteryears. The old woman has sent her son to battle field. She is reed thin, veins stand out in her shoulders, her stomach is shrivelled like dry lotus leaves. People bringing news from battle field say that her son ran away from the battle field after losing to the enemy. She is incensed on this blot to her clan. She declares angrily, “if it is true that he retreated from the battle field, I will chop of my breasts that fed him. He is no more my son”. She takes a sword in her hand and enters the battlefield to find whether it is true that her son ran away. The bodies are yet to be removed from the battlefield, which is still red with the blood spilt that day. She searches among those bodies. Finally she finds her son’s dismembered body amidst the battlefield. She feels joyful that her son held up her clan prestige and died bravely in the battle field instead of running away. The joy she felt (that he had upheld clan pride) was much more than the joy she felt when she gave birth to him.

“படையழிந்து மாறினன்” – U Ve Saa interprets this as “he retreated after losing”. Avvai Duraisamy Pillai in his commentary interprets it as “he was injured in the back while retreating and killed”. I have followed U Ve Saa’s interpretation as I think it makes more sense. George L Hart too follows U Ve Saa.

The original poem flows in one single sentence. It was difficult to maintain that structure without making the poem clunky. So I have split it into sentences.

நரம்பு – blood vessels / veins
உலறிய – dry
நிரம்பா – not full / withered
மென் தோள் – soft shoulders
முளரி – lotus
மருங்கு – waist
படை அழிந்து மாறினன் – lost to enemy and fled
மாண்டமர் – மாண் + அமர் – great battle
படுபிணம் – dead bodies
செங்களம் – (blood) red field
சிதைந்து வேறாகிய – destroyed and cut into pieces
படுமகன் – dead son
ஈன்ற – birthed
ஞான்று – day
உவத்தல் – happy

Puranaanooru – 185

Wagon of governance that drives the world
with wheel and axle joined together,
will have a smooth path without obstacles
if wagoner is skillful; if he’s inept in driving,
it will get mired in slush of enmity daily,
bringing more and more misery.

கால்பார் கோத்து ஞாலத் தியக்கும்
காவற் சாகா டுகைப்போன் மாணின்
ஊறின் றாகி யாறினிது படுமே
உய்த்த றேற்றா னாயின் வைகலும்
பகைக்கூ ழள்ளற் பட்டு
மிகப்பஃறீநோய் தலைத்தலைத் தருமே.

This poem written by King Thondaiman Ilanthirayan, advises a ruler on how to rule his country with movement of wagons as a metaphor. Movement in the world happens when wheel and axle are joined together. It is similar to how a ruler rules his country. If the ruler who directs his country’s progress is skillful, the path ahead will be smooth with no obstacles. But if he is weak and indecisive in driving the country forward, its progress will get mired in the slush of enmity often and will create much misery to his subjects.

The first part of the poem was tough to translate. Some commentaries explained it as “Like how wheel and axle joined together drive a vehicle, does movement in the world occur. So the king who drives the wagon of governance..” But the source poem doesn’t have the word ‘போல்’ – ‘like’ for it to be treated as a simile. Other commentaries treat it as a metaphor “Wagon of governance that’s driven in the world with wheel and axle together..”. I have followed this. However what do wheel and axle stand for in the metaphor is not clear. Or may be ‘Wagon of governance’ and movement of vehicles is equated in the metaphor with ‘wheel and axle’ treated as they are.

Such ambiguity is what makes it a pleasure to read and interpet the classics.

கால் – Wheel
பார் – Axle
கோத்து – joined
ஞாலம் – world
இயக்கும் – operate
காவல் – guard / governance
சாகாடு – Wagon
உகைப்போன் – driver / wagoner
மாண் – skillful / great
ஊறு – obstacle
இன்றி – without
இனிது – smooth
உய்த்தல் – to drive
தேற்றுதல் – making clear / decisive
வைகல் – daily
பகை – enmity
கூழ் – slush
அள்ளல் – mire
மிகப்பஃறீநோய் – மிக + பல + தீ + நோய் – lots of misery
தலைத்தலை – more and more

Ainkurunooru – 287

In your country, parrot in millet field fears
the short legged goat that grazes in tall hills!
You are adept in trickery;
you are inept too, as you act unfairly.

நெடுவரை மிசையது குறுங்கால் வருடை
தினைபாய் கிள்ளை வெரூஉ நாட
வல்லை மன்ற பொய்த்தல்
வல்லாய் மன்றநீ யல்லது செயலே.

He has promised to come and ask her dad for her hand. But hasn’t turned up as promised. Her friend chides him saying “You are an expert in deceiving us. You lied to us that you will come home and ask her father for her hand. But because you don’t do the right thing, you are “. The first two lines are interesting. The goats aren’t bothered about the parrots and go about their grazing. But the parrot is afraid of the goat unnecessarily. Her friend implies that he is afraid of her relatives unnecessarily and that’s why he has not turned up as promised.

நெடு வரை – tall hills
குறுங்கால் – short legged
வருடை – (mountain) goat
தினை – millet
கிள்ளை – parrot
வெரூ – fear
வல்லை – able / adept
பொய்த்தல் – lie / trickery
வல்லாய் – not able /inept

Kurunthokai – 280

My friend! May you live long, my friend!
this broad shouldered young lass with braided hair
has my heart on leash all the time;
if I can relish her petite body for a day,
I won’t ask to live for even half a day more.

கேளிர்! வாழியோ, கேளிர்! நாளும் என்
நெஞ்சு பிணிக் கொண்ட அம் சில் ஓதிப்
பெருந் தோட் குறுமகள் சிறு மெல் ஆகம்
ஒரு நாள் புணரப் புணரின்,
அரை நாள் வாழ்க்கையும் வேண்டலன் யானே.

His friend is asking him to forget her. He says “It is not possible for me to forget her. That young girl has my heart under her leash. If I can make love and relish her petite body for a day, I will gladly give up my life; will not want to live even half a day more”

கேளிர் – kin / friend
பிணி – bound
அம் சில் ஓதி- beautiful few braids
பெருந் தோள் – big shoulder
குறுமகள் – young lass
சிறு மெல் ஆகம் – small tender body / petite
புணர – make love / relish
புணரின் – if possible

Puranaanooru – 220

Like a sad mahout who lost the majestic elephant
that he fed and cared for years,
shedding tears on seeing the clamorous stable
where it lived now desolate and empty,
do I grieve too, looking at the fabled assembly
in this hoary town that is bereft of
golden garland* wearing skilled warrior Killi**.

பெருஞ் சோறு பயந்து, பல் யாண்டு புரந்த
பெருங் களிறு இழந்த பைதல் பாகன்
அது சேர்ந்து அல்கிய அழுங்கல் ஆலை,
வெளில் பாழாகக் கண்டு கலுழ்ந்தாங்கு,
கலங்கினென் அல்லனோ, யானே பொலந் தார்த்
தேர் வண் கிள்ளி போகிய
பேர் இசை மூதூர் மன்றம் கண்டே?

A little bit of background story of this poem. This poem is about the Chola King KopPerum Cholan, who gave up his life when he found his sons warring against him for the throne. This poem was sung by the poet Pothiaar a close confidant of the King. The poet too wanted to starve and die along with his patron, but the King forbade him since the poet’s wife was pregnant at that time. So he sent the poet back to town.

When Pothiaar reaches the capital city Uraiyur and looks at the desolate assembly bereft of its King, he grieves and wrote this poem. A mahout who has lost his elephant that he fed and cared for years grieves a lot when he sees the empty stable where the elephant lived. The emptiness reminds him of what he has lost and makes him sorrowful. The poet says I grieve like that when I see this fabled assembly bereft of its King.

** Killi – common name for Chola Kings
* Golden garland – garland made of yellow coloured flower (ஆத்திப் பூ), the royal flower of Chola Kings

களிறு – elephant
பைதல் – sad
அல்கிய – lived
அழுங்கல் – clamorous
ஆலை – hall (stable)
வெளி – empty
பாழ் – desolate
கலுழ் – cry
பொலந்தார் – பொன் + தார் – golden garland
தேர் வண் – skilled in chariot warfare
போகிய – bereft
பேர் இசை – highly famed
மூதூர் – ancient town

Kurunthokai – 189

He says to his charioteer : 

We’ll go today itself and return by tomorrow;
let the ivory chariot go fast like waterfalls
that cascades from hills,
let crescent like bright wheels
cut off green stalks like a shooting star does;
travel at the speed of wind to reach, by evening,
the young lass wearing few rows of shell bangles
and unite joyfully with her splendid figure.

இன்றே சென்று வருவது நாளைக்
குன்றிழி யருவியின் வெண்டேர் முடுக
இளம்பிறை யன்ன விளங்குசுடர் நேமி
விசும்புவீழ் கொள்ளியிற் பைம்பயிர் துமிப்பக்
காலியற் செலவின் மாலை யெய்திச்
சின்னிரை வால்வளைக் குறுமகள்
பன்மா ணாக மணந்துவக் குவமே.

This poem is about him wanting to rush back to his woman at the earliest. His ruler has ordered him to go outstation on some work. He doesn’t want to waste time and wants to return back to his woman at the earliest. So he tells his charioteer, “We will start now itself and be back by tomorrow. Let the white chariot made of ivory rush like water that cascades down from the hills. Let crescent like wheels cut off the green stalks in fields like a shooting star scorching the ground. Travel at the speed of wind so we can come back by tomorrow evening and reach this renowned young lass, wearing few rows of shell bangles, and unite with her joyfully”.

Wheels are crescent shaped because a part of the wheel sinks in the soft ground and remaining portion looks like crescent. The wheel moves at such a speed that it cuts down the grains like a shooting start scorching the ground.

குன்று – Hill
இழி – flows
வெண்டேர் – வெண்மை + தேர் – white chariot – chariot made of ivory
முடுகுதல் – hasten
இளம் பிறை – crescent
நேமி – wheel
விசும்பு வீழ் கொள்ளி – space + fall + star – shooting star
பைம்பயிர் – பசுமை + பயிர் – green grains
துமித்தல் – cut / scorch
கால் – wind
செலவு – pace
சின்னிரை – சில+நிரை – few rows
வால்வளை – சங்கு + வளை – shell bangles
குறு மகள் – young girl
பன்மாண் – பலவகையான மாண்பு – many + excellent – splendid
ஆகம் – body
மணந்து – marry / unite
உவக்குவம் – enjoy

Aka Naanooru – 278

Large clouds scoop up water from the eastern sea,
swell like massive elephants of ruler’s noisy army,
move to the right accompanied by lightning
that splits the sky – like a flag rising up a pole –
and thunder that roars noisily,
and encircle the peaks at midnight;
so the silvery waterfalls will swell tomorrow,
flow down forcefully, breaking large bamboo stalks,
knocking down chestnut trees, and arrive
at the vast expanse of our town’s river front;
to make our pale eyes redden,
and to get rid of our midnight’s agony
shall we take a dip in those waters
that cascades from his beautiful hills,
he who made our body lose its gem like shine
and caused us incurable grief?

குண கடல் முகந்த கொள்ளை வானம்
பணை கெழு வேந்தர் பல் படைத் தானைத்
தோல் நிரைத்தனைய ஆகி, வலன் ஏர்பு,
கோல் நிமிர் கொடியின் வசி பட மின்னி,
உரும் உரறு அதிர் குரல் தலைஇ, பானாள்,
பெரு மலை மீமிசை முற்றினஆயின்,
வாள் இலங்கு அருவி தாஅய், நாளை,
இரு வெதிர் அம் கழை ஒசியத் தீண்டி
வருவதுமாதோ, வண் பரி உந்தி,
நனி பெரும் பரப்பின் நம் ஊர் முன்துறை;
பனி பொரு மழைக் கண் சிவப்ப, பானாள்
முனி படர் அகல மூழ்குவம்கொல
மணி மருள் மேனி ஆய்நலம் தொலைய,
தணிவு அருந் துயரம் செய்தோன்
அணி கிளர் நெடு வரை ஆடிய நீரே?

Aka Naanooru (Four hundred poems of Akam, the interior landscape) is part of the eight anthologies that make up Sangam literature. The poems are about love and separation. These poems are longer than other anthologies in the Eight Anthologies.

She lives in plains. He lives in the hills. They have fallen in love and he meets her at night. But today he hasn’t turned up. It is the rainy season. She looks are dark clouds moving towards the hills. She says to her friend, “Look at these clouds. They scoop up water from the eastern sea (Bay of Bengal in current terminology) and look like huge elephants in the Kings army. They are moving towards the right side accompanied by lightning and thunder. They will reach the hills and pour down. This will cause the silvery water falls in the hills to swell and the water will rush to our town tomorrow. On its way it will break down green bamboo stalks and Indian chestnut trees. The waters flow from his hills, he who has caused us so much grief and made our body lose it’s shine. Shall we go and take a dip in those fresh waters tomorrow, so that our pale eyes redden and we can get rid of our midnight’s agony?”

She implies even if I can’t get to embrace him, let me immerse myself in the water that has embraced his hills. At least that will reduce my grief.

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

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