Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the category “Siddhar Songs”

Sivavakkiyar – 53

Like trapping a tiger using a goat as bait,
Is it fair for you to enthrall me showing riches?
Oh’ lord who killed and skinned the elephant demon*,
Show me the path to freedom and liberate me.

*Lord Shiva killed Gajasura the elephant demon and skinned it.

ஆடுகாட்டி வேங்கையை அகப்படுத்து மாறுபோல்
மாடுகாட்டி என்னைநீ மதிமயக்க லாகுமோ
கோடுகாட்டி யானையைக் கொன்றுரித்த கொற்றவா
வீடுகாட்டி என்னைநீ வெளிப்படுத்த வேணுமே.

In this verse Sivavakkiyar says “People trap leopards using a goat tied to a tree as bait. Similarly you are showing me all these riches and enthralling me in this pointless world. All these riches are just illusory. Oh’ lord you broke the tusks of the elephant (Elephant demon Gajasura) and skinned him. Show me too the path to Moksha (emancipation?) and deliver me from this illusory world”

The alliteration in Tamil adds to the beauty of the verse.

The legend of killing the elephant demon, Gajasura : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gajasurasamhara


Gajasurasamhara, Belur Temple sculpture. Source : Wikipedia


ஆடு – goat
வேங்கை – tiger
அகப்படுத்துதல் – trap
மாடு – cow (metaphor for wealth)
மதி மயக்கம் – mesmerize / enthrall
கோடு – tusk
கொன்று உரித்த – kill and skin
கொற்றவன் – Lord / king
வீடு – emancipation / freedom
வெளிப்படுத்தல் – take (me) out /  liberation

Sivavakkiyar – 26

O’ humans, you believe in illusions, build a house, offer sacrifices due,
and live with your women, kids, kinsfolk and cattle;
When your palm-leaf* turns up at the impartial judge’s** hand and he calls you,
this body of yours won’t be worth even the price of a begging bowl.

* Palm-leaf in which one’s fate is written
** Impartial judge – Lord of death who doesn’t differentiate between people

வீடெடுத்து வேள்வி செய்து மெய்யினோடுபொய்யுமாய்
மாடு மக்கள் பெண்டீர் சுற்றம் என்றிருக்கும் மாந்தர்காள்
நாடு பெற்ற நடுவர் கையில் ஓலை வந்து அழைத்திடில்
ஓடு பெற்ற அவ்விளை பெறாது காண் இவ்வுடலமே. 

In this poem Sivavakkiyar talks about impermanence of material aspects of life. Human beings spend their time building houses, offering sacrifices to God and live surrounded by near and dear ones thinking it is forever. They believe in this illusion. But once their time is up and palm-leaf in which their fate is written turns up in the hands of God of death, this body becomes useless. It will not be worth even the price of a begging bowl.

Siddhar poems don’t have any established commentaries. So some times it becomes difficult to interpret the hidden meaning. ‘House’ here can be read as ‘Human body’ too. Then the poem becomes you take care of this body and work for its pleasures thinking this illusion is true, but once your time is up this body is worth nothing.

வேள்வி – Religious sacrifice / Housewarming (in this context)?
மெய் – truth
நாடு பெற்ற நடுவர் – Impartial judge who rules over every one
ஓடு – திருவோடு – Clay begging bowl
உடலம் – Body


Siddhar – Sivavakkiyar – 133

Are there two Gods, yours and mine?
Will there be two Gods, here and there?
Primordial God, who is everywhere, isn’t he one?
Those who say otherwise, will die of rotting mouth.

எங்கள்தேவர் உங்கள்தேவர் என்றிரண்டு தேவரோ
இங்குமங்கு மாய் இரண்டு தேவரே இருப்பரோ
அங்குமிங்கு மாகிநின்ற ஆதிமூர்த்தி ஒன்றலோ
வங்கவாரஞ் சொன்னபேர்கள் வாய்புழுத்து மாள்வரே.

Sivavakkiyar, in this verse, curses those who try to split people in the name of God. He doesn’t pull back his punches. He says “If God is all powerful how can there be two Gods, yours and mine. He who was at the beginning, is one. Those who say otherwise, their tongues will rot and they’d die.”

Siddhar Sivavakkiyar, dated to around 10th Century CE (?) was one of the leading rebel poets in Tamil literature. Siddhars were iconoclastic rebels whose thoughts were against the organised Vedic religion. Their main idea was one had to find God within oneself and not rely on temples and rituals.

I’m not able to find the meaning of வங்கவாரம் . From the context of the verse, I assume it is “otherwise” or “divisive tales”

Siddhar – SivaVakkiyar – 80

When a clay vessel falls , they still save the shards;
When a bronze vessel falls, they save it for future;
When this mortal vessel falls, they discard it saying it smells;
In such a worthless body that measures just eight hand spans, 
what an illusion of life you created, my Lord!

மண்கலம் கவிழ்ந்த போது வைத்து வைத்து அடுக்குவார்
வெண்கலம் கவிழ்ந்த போது வேணும் என்று பேணுவார்
நண்கலம் கவிழ்ந்த போது நாறும் என்று போடுவார்
எண்கலந்து நின்ற மாயம்என்ன மாயம் ஈசனே.

In this poem Siva Vakkiyar talks about the impermanence of human body. When a clay vessel falls and breaks, people still save the shards saying it might be useful some day. When a bronze vessel falls and is dented, they save it carefully for the future. But when this human body falls and dies, they immediately discard it saying it smells. In such a worthless body that measures just eight hand spans, what an illusion of life you created, My lord.

In the fourth line he uses just ‘எண் – eight’ to mean this body that measures eight spans. Each human body measures eight hand spans of its own hand. In Tamil this word எண் சாண் – eight hand spans is understood easily. But in English translation I had to make it a separate sentence to explain.

மண்கலம் – mud vessel
வெண்கலம் – bronze
நண்கலம் – நன் கலம் – good vessel / human body (This is no dictionary meaning. I’m extrapolating)
எண் – eight (for eight hand spans)

Sivavakkiyar – 35

 What are temples? What are holy tanks?
You misers worshipping in temples and tanks,
temples and holy tanks are within one’s mind;
Nothing, nothing, nothing is created or destroyed.

கோயிலாவது ஏதடா குளங்களாவது ஏதடா 
கோயிலும் குளங்களும் கும்பிடும் குலாமரே 
கோயிலும் மனத்துளே குளங்களும் மனத்துளே 
ஆவதும் அழிவதும் இல்லைஇல்லை இல்லையே.

Siddhar Sivavakkiyar, dated to around 10th Century CE was one of the leading rebel poets in Tamil literature. Siddhars were iconoclastic rebels whose thoughts were against the organised Vedic religion. Their main idea was one had to find God within oneself and not rely on temples and rituals.

In these verses he chides those who go to temples and sacred tanks for salvation. He says find God within you and not in these temples and tanks.  God can neither be created or destroyed by mortals. The last line I interpret it as “all that in this world only transforms into another form. There is nothing that is created new nor destroyed”.

/Joke/Simply put, The first law of thermodynamics 🙂

குலாமர் – miser.

Siddhar – SivaVakkiyar – 13

What am I? What are you? What’s that between(us two)?
O’ materialists who answer what’s a ruler and what’s a guru –
(do you know)What’s created? What’s destroyed? What’s the place
that is beyond the beyond? It’s the name of Rama Rama Rama.

நானதேது நீயதேது நடுவில் நின்றது ஏதடா
கோனதேது குருவதேது கூறிடுங் குலாமரே
ஆனதேது அழிவதேது அப்புறத்தில் அப்புறம்
ஈனதேது ராமராம ராமஎன்ற நாமமே.

What is this thing called you and that is called me? What is that thing between us two. You materialists can answer who is a Guru or who is a King. But can you answer What is created, what is destroyed or what is this place that is beyond the beyond? You can’t. The answer is the name of Rama, who is everything in this world.

I am always worried about interpreting theological verses (especially Siddhar songs) as I do not know much of the philosophy behind these. So regular disclaimer applies. My interpretation might be wrong.

கோன் – King / Chief
குலாமர் – materialists / those who desire wealth
ஈன் – this place


Siddhar – Pattinaththaar – 17

Life’s false, death is real; so don’t wish
anyone harm, my heart! – while we think
our paunch is ours, dogs,foxes, ghouls and vultures
wait thinking it’s theirs.

இருப்பதுபொய் போவதுமெய் என்றெண்ணி நெஞ்சே
ஒருத்தருக்கும் தீங்கினை உன்னாதே – பருத்ததொந்தி
நம்மதென்று நாமிருப்ப நாய்நரிகள் பேய்கழுகு
தம்மதென்று தாமிருக்கும் தான் !

“Life in this world is false, death is the only constant. Keep this in mind my hear and do not think of harming others. Because we think our paunch is ours. But the dogs, foxes, ghouls and vultures in the graveyard wait for us thinking that it is to be food for them after we die.”

Pattinathaar was one of the prominent Siddhars (ascetic rebels) in Tamil nadu. There have been atleast 3 people named Pattinathaar, living in 10th, 14th and 17th centuries. This poem is thought to have been written by the second one, from 14th Century. I have not been able to conclusively decide which one of the three wrote the above poem. All their poems are clubbed together as Pattinathaar Paadal in texts. The leitmotif of all their poems is despairing of human life and praying to become one with God. The poems range from self flagellations to pleading to Lord Shiva. A set of soulful poems sung by Pattinathaar the first while cremating his mother is still recited by some communities during cremation.

Sivavakkiyar 159-160

Vedic priests never ate fish, neither then nor now,
isn’t fish inhabited water what they drink and bathe in?
Vedic priests never ate deer meat, neither then nor now,
isn’t sacred thread worn over deer skin*?

Vedic priests never ate goat meat, neither then nor now,
isn’t goat meat offered in your worship though?
Vedic priests never ate cow meat, neither then nor now,
isn’t cow meat the manure in which vegetables grow.**?

மீனிறைச்சி தின்றதில்லை அன்றுமின்றும் வேதியர்
மீனிருக்கும் நீரலோ மூழ்வதுங் குடிப்பதும்
மானிறைச்சி தின்றதில்லை அன்றுமின்றும் வேதியர்
மானுரித்த தோலலோ மார்புநூல் அணிவதும்.    
ஆட்டிறைச்சி தின்றதில்லை அன்றுமின்றும் வேதியர்
ஆட்டிறைச்சி அல்லவோ யாகம்நீங்கள் ஆற்றலே
மாட்டிறைச்சி தின்றதில்லை அன்றுமின்றும் வேதியர்
மாட்டிறைச்சி அல்லவோ மரக்கறிக் கிடுவது.

Siddhar Sivavakkiyar, dated to around 10th Century CE was one of the leading rebel poets in Tamil literature. Siddhars were iconoclastic rebels whose thoughts were against the organized Vedic religion. In these two verses he mocks the Vedic priests who abhor meat. He says they abhor meat and flesh, but isn’t it part of their daily lives.

Siddhar songs are written in simple words but no commentary is available. So it is up to individuals to interpret it. The words themselves aren’t difficult and are still in use even now.  But interpretation might vary.

*Krishnajina –  deer skin over which sacred thread is worn.
**My interpretation – Dead cows were buried in the farms in which they were raised. Hence they became manure for vegetables that vegetarians eat.

Sivavakkiyar – 434

A solid stone you choose and break it into parts two;
the stone at entrance, you tread on till it’s worn smooth;
the stone at the sanctum, with flowers and water you shower ;
Tell me, which one of these is fit for the Supreme power.

ஓசையுள்ள கல்லைநீ உடைத்திரண்டாய் செய்துமே
வாசலிற் பதித்தகல்லை மழுங்கவே மிதிக்கின்றீர்
பூசனைக்கு வைத்த கல்லில் பூவும் நீரும் சாத்து கிறீர்
ஈசனுக்குகந்த கல்லெந்தக் கல்லு சொல்லுமே.

Sivavakkiyar, one of the prominent Siddhars (iconoclastic rebels), is known for his fiery denunciation of idol worship. He is said to have lived around 10th Century AD.

In this poem he asks which of these stones is God? There is no difference between these stones as they are from the same rock.One part of it is laid at the entrance and another worshiped as deity. So God is not in these stones, but in your heart. This iconoclasm is the leit motif of his poems.

Siddhar – Sivavakkiyar – 40

When you say a Paraichi or a Panathi – what does it mean?
Is it marked in their flesh, skin and bone?
Conjugal pleasure of a Paraichi or a Panathi, does it differ?
Paraichi and a Panathi differ in your mind alone.

* Paraichi  – Pariah woman, Panathi – Brahmin woman (Paarpanathi)

பறைச்சியாவது ஏதடா பணத்தியாவது ஏதடா
இறைச்சிதோல் எலும்பினும் இலக்கம்இட் டிருக்குதோ
பறைச்சி போகம் வேறதோ பணத்திபோகம் வேறதோ
பறைச்சியும் பணத்தியும் பகுத்துபாரும் உம்முளே.

Sivavakkiyar is ruthless when tackling the issue of caste. Being an iconoclast, he is particularly scathing on the priests and those who talk about upper and lower caste. In this poem he asks is there any marking in bones and flesh of a woman to show whether she is a Paraiah or a Brahmin? Isn’t the pleasure you derive from them same? So look inside you, the difference between a Pariah and a Brahmin is in your mind.

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