Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

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A profile in The Hindu Business Line

Shriya Mohan of The Hindu Business Line interviewed me and wrote a profile, as part of their poetry special edition. Here it is. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/cover/tamizh-on-my-timeline/article26542548.ece

Thiruppavai – 28

We are from simple herders clan who follow milch cows
to their grazing lands and eat while they graze;
We are blessed that you were born into our clan,
O’ faultless Govinda! Our bond with you
Cannot be broken, even if we try to;
We, naive young girls, called you by name
and indulged in banter, because of our love;
Don’t be angry with us O’ God, grant us our wish!

கறவைகள் பின்சென்று கானம்சேர்ந்து உண்போம்
அறிவுஒன்றும் இல்லாத ஆய்க்குலத்து உந்தன்னைப்
பிறவி பெறுந்தனைப் புண்ணியம் யாம்உடையோம்
குறைஒன்றும் இல்லாத கோவிந்தா உந்தன்னோடு
உறவேல் நமக்குஇங்கு ஒழிக்க ஒழியாது
அறியாத பிள்ளைகளோம் அன்பினால் உந்தன்னை
சிறுபேர் அழைத்தனமும் சீறி அருளாதே
இறைவாநீ தாராய் பறையேலோர் எம்பாவாய்.

On 27th day of Margazhi, their vows are over and the girls relish a feast. This is the 28th day’s verse. The girls tell Krishna that the simple minded herder clan is blessed that he was born into their clan. Their bond with him is forever. It cannot be broken even if either of them want to.

Then they apologize for calling him by name even though they know that he is a God. They say we called you by your mortal name and indulged in banter only because of our love. So don’t get angry with us. Please grant us our wish (of being one with you).

கறவை – milch cow
கானம் – forest / grazing land
அறிவு ஒன்றும் இல்லாத – guileless / simple
ஆய்க்குலம் – ஆயர் குலம் – herder clan
ஒழிக்க ஒழியாது –  (even if we try to) break, cannot be broken
அறியாத பிள்ளைகள் – naive girls
சிறுபேர் – mortal name
அழைத்தனமும் – called you (and bantered)
சீறி அருளாதே – don’t get angry
பறை – drum (metaphor for wish)

Thagadur Yathirai –

With what can I identify? With what can I identify?
That this is my son, with what can I idenfity?
His eyes are buried under arrows;
Head, garlanded with many a sword, is destroyed;
Mouth, stuffed with sharp arrrows and oozing flesh,
resembles a quiver full of arrows;
Heart, is punctured with sharp arrows;
Thighs, shot with many an arrow, are discolored;
Hence, this youngster, pinned down
like a fully blossomed flower,
like the fragrant prickly pod of a fever nut
(That this is my son, with what can I idenfity?)

*fever nut / nicker nut, pod of Caesalpinia Bonducella
எற் கண்டறிகோ? எற்கண்டறிகோ?
என் மகன் ஆதல் எற்கண்டறிகோ?
கண்ணே கணை மூழ்கினவே; தலையே
வண்ண மாலை வாள் விடக் குறைந்தன;
வாயே, பொருநுனைப் பகழி மூழ்கலிற் புலால் வழிந்து
ஆவ நாழிகை அம்பு செறித் தற்றே;
நெஞ்சே, வெஞ்சரங் கடந்தன; குறங்கே
நிறங்கரந்து பல்சரம் நிறைந்தன; அதனால்
அவிழ்பூ அப்பணைக் கிடந்த காளை
கவிழ் பூங் கழற்றின்காய் போன்றனனே

This is a poem from Thagadur Yathirai, a poetic work about battle between Cheras and Athiyaman (ruler of Thagadur, present day Dharmapuri). This work is lost and only 48 poems, referred to in other poems, are available. Hence its provenance is not very clear.

At the end of the battle, an old woman comes to the battle field in search of her son. She is shown the body of her son, fully pierced with arrows. She cries out in agony. “How shall I identify that this is my son? With what body part shall I identify that this is my son. I can’t identify by the eyes, that are fully buried under arrows. I can’t identify by the head that is severely destroyed having faced multiple swords like accepting garlands. I can’t identify by the mouth which, like a quiver, is shot full of arrows and flesh oozing out. His heart is punctured by million arrows. Thighs, shot with a lot of arrows have lost blood and discolored. He lies on a bed of arrows, open like a fully bloomed flower. He looks like the prickly pod of a nicker nut, with arrows protruding from all parts of his body. With what body part can I identify that this is my son?”

fever nut

Caesalpinia Bonducella – கழற்றிங்காய் – Source : http://senthuherbals.blogspot.com/2014/08/blog-post.html

 

எற் கண்டறிகோ – எதைக் கண்டு அறிவேனோ – with what shall I identify
கணை – arrow
மூழ்கின – covered / buried
வாள் – sword
குறைந்தன – destroyed
பொருநுனை – sharp tipped
பகழி – arrow
புலால் – flesh
ஆவ நாழிகை – quiver
அம்பு – arrow
செறி – full
வெஞ்சரம் – வெம்மை + சரம் – fiery arrow
குறங்கு – thigh
நிறங் கரந்து – lost color
பல் சரம் – many arrows
அவிழ் பூ – open flower
பணை – peg(ged down) / pinned down
காளை – bull / youngster
கமழ் பூ – fragrant flower
கழற்றிங்காய் – fever nut / nicker nut/ prickly pod of the plant

Thirukkural – 1287

Like those who dive into a stream aware that they’ll be washed away,
What’s the use of lover’s tiff when I’m aware it’s a sham.

உய்த்த லறிந்து புனல்பாய் பவரேபோற் 
பொய்த்த லறிந்தென் புலந்து.

She resignedly tells herself, there’s no point in pretending to be angry with him. The moment I see him all my anger will vanish and I will give in. It’s like one who jumps into a river, though they are aware that they will be washed away. I can’t help it.

உய்த்தல் – carried away

புனல் – stream

பொய்த்தல் – false (sham)

புலத்தல் – tiff

Nanmanik Kadigai – 48

Fragrance reveals presence of a flower;
Uttered words reveal one’s ability;
If examined, mind reveals its evils; nothing reveals
thoughts in advance like one’s face.

நாற்றம் உரைக்கும், மலர் உண்மை; கூறிய
மாற்றம் உரைக்கும், வினை நலம்; தூக்கின்,
அகம் பொதிந்த தீமை மனம் உரைக்கும்; முன்னம்
முகம் போல முன் உரைப்பது இல்.

Presence of a flower is known by its fragrance. Similarly one’s ability to do a works is revealed by words he uses. When one looks into his mind and examines closely, his evil thoughts are revealed to himself. Nothing reveals one’s thoughts to the world like his face.

Naan Manik Kadigai – 58

Forever will there be stars and two great lights*;
Forever will there be ailments and toil;
Forever will there be alms givers and seekers;
Forever will there be newborns and the departed.

*Two great lights – Sun and Moon

என்றும் உளவாகும், நாளும், இரு சுடரும்;
என்றும், பிணியும், தொழில், ஒக்கும்; என்றும்
கொடுப்பாரும் கொள்வாரும் அன்னர்; பிறப்பாரும்
சாவாரும் என்றும் உளர்.

This verse is about the unceasing continuity of the world. Each generation thinks it is something new, but the march of time goes on forever. The sun, moon and the stars were there yesterday, are today, will be there in future too. So are the toils of the people and maladies that prevent them from toil. Patrons and alms seekers are always there. So are new borns and the dead.

Keep in mind these poems were written 1500-1800 years ago, before we found black holes.

Thirikadugam – 58

Wealth of one who doesn’t help his kin,
Cultivation of one who doesn’t nurture his green shoots growing,
Lineage of one who spends his youth drinking –
These three appear stable, but are headed to ruin.

கிளைஞர்க்கு உதவாதான் செல்வமும், பைங் கூழ்
விளைவின் கண் போற்றான் உழவும், இளையனாய்க்
கள் உண்டு வாழ்வான் குடிமையும்,-இம் மூன்றும்
உள்ளன போலக் கெடும்.

This is poem no. 58 from Thirikadugam (திரிகடுகம்) written by poet Nalladhanar (நல்லாதனார்) about 1800 years ago. He says the wealth you don’t share with others, the crops that you don’t tend to because you are lazy, youth spent drinking – these three might look to be stable but will definitely be ruined. So take care and not embark on a path to ruin.

கிளைஞர் – Relatives

பைங் கூழ் – growing crops (green shoots)

குடிமை – Lineage

Thirukkural – 397

 

(For the learned) any country is his; any town is his;
Then why be unlearned till one’s death?

யாதானும் நாடு ஆமால்; ஊர் ஆமால்; என், ஒருவன்
சாம் துணையும் கல்லாதவாறு?

In this Kural Thiruvalluvar talks about importance of learning.

A learned person will be respected wherever he goes. So why do people waste their entire life without learning?

Thirukkural 196

One who uses words of inanity
isn’t called a man but chaff of humanity.

பயனில்சொற் பாராட்டு வானை மகனெனல் 
மக்கட் பதடி யெனல்.

 

Kambaramayanam – 10171-10173

Whole world hails my chastity;
Even Brahma can’t derail my conviction;
Yet, if the omniscient Lord doesn’t believe me,
Is there any other God who can convince him otherwise?

Lotus seated Lord, One who herds the bull,
Lord of justice with a conch in his hand-
this trinity sees everything like gooseberry on a palm,
yet, are they capable of fathoming women’s mind?

“So, for whom else should I 
prove my blemish less chastity?
It’s better to give up my life; It’s your command my lord, 
I deserve it; that’s my fate too” said she.

பார்க்கு எலாம் பத்தினி; பதுமத்தானுக்கும் 
பேர்க்கல் ஆம் சிந்தையள் அல்லள், பேதையேன்; 
ஆர்க்கு எலாம் கண்ணவன், ”அன்று” என்றால், அது 
தீர்க்கல் ஆம் தகையது தெய்வம் தேறுமோ?

பங்கயத்து ஒருவனும், விடையின் பாகனும்,
சங்குகைத் தாங்கிய தரும மூர்த்தியும்
அங்கையின் நெல்லிபோல் அனைத்தும் நோக்கினும்,
மங்கையர் மனநிலை உணர வல்லரோ?

ஆதலின் புறத்து இனி யாருக்காக என்
கோது அறுதவத்தினைக் கூறிக் காட்டுகேன்?
சாதலின் சிறந்தது ஒன்று இல்லை; தக்கதே
வேத! நின்பணி; அதுவிதியும் ‘என்றனள்.

This set of three verses are Sita bemoaning her fate when Rama accuses her of not following the Dharma and giving up her life when kidnapped by Ravana. The war is over, Ravana has bee slain; Hanuman and Vibishana go to Ashoka Vanam to bring Sita to see Rama. She is overwhelmed by joy and comes to see Rama. At this point Rama accuses her and doubts her chastity. All her joy becomes a mirage and she is grief stricken.

She says, “The whole world hails my chastity. Even the God of Creation, Brahma (who is seated on a lotus) won’t be able to change my conviction to stick to the righteous path. But what’s the use? You, who can see everything in this world say ‘No’, is there any other God I can turn to to convince you otherwise?

The Lotus seated Lord (Brahma, the creator), Lord who herds the bull (Shiva, the destroyer), Lord of Justice (Vishnu) who carries a conch in his hand – these three are all seeing. They see everything crystal clear like a gooseberry held in a palm. Yet can they understand what is inside a women’s heart?

To whom else should I prove my chastity? What is the use? It is better for me to give up my life as per your command, my Lord; I am fated to do so, and I deserve it too”. After this she walks into the fire and the power of her chastity burns the Lord of Fire himself and he comes out and proclaims her as pure.

பதுமத்தான் – பத்மத்தில் (தாமரையில் ) அமர்ந்தவன் – Brahma
பங்கயம் – பங்கஜம் – Lotus விடை – Bull
அங்கையின் நெல்லி – gooseberry on a palm (crystal clear)
கோது – fault

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