Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Naaladiyaar – 27

Like bubbles that appear in rainwater
And burst again and again is this life
– Wise ones who realise this decide ‘we shall be unflustered’,
Who else is equal to them in this vast world.

படுமழை மொக்குளின் பல்காலும் தோன்றிக்
கெடுமிதோர் யாக்கையென் றெண்ணித் – தடுமாற்றம்
தீர்ப்பேம்யாம் என்றுணரும் திண்ணறி வாளரை
நேர்ப்பார்யார் நீணிலத்தின் மேல்.

This poem is about impermanence of life. Life is nothing but bubbles that appear in rain water and burst again and again. Birth and death repeat in endless cycle. Wise men realise this and do not be overly flustered by the vagaries of life. No one in this whole world is equal to those who realise this impermanence of life.

மொக்கு – bubble

பல்கால் – may times

யாக்கை – life

தடுமாற்றம் – confusion / flustered

தீர்ப்பேம் – we will clear

திண் அறிவாளர் – wise ones

நேர்ப்பார் – equal to

நீணிலம் – vast wide world

Moodhurai – 2

Help rendered to a virtuous person
Remains forever, like words carved on stone –
Help rendered to an ungrateful person though,
Is similar to words written on water.

நல்லா ரொருவர்க்குச் செய்த உபகாரம்
கல்மே லெழுத்துப்போற் காணுமே-அல்லாத
ஈரமிலா நெஞ்சத்தார்க் கீந்த உபகாரம்
நீர்மே லெழுத்திற்கு நேர்.

When we help a good person, they remember it forever. It is permanent like words carved on a hard rock. However help rendered to ungrateful lowly person is forgotten by them immediately. Just like words written on water, they vanish as soon as they are done.

This is a poem by Avvayar in Moodhurai (மூதுரை) , literally meaning “Old advice”. It is a collection of 30 poems, written around 12th Century CE.

நல்லார் – good / virtuous person
உபகாரம் – help
கல் மேல் எழுத்து – words on stone
அல்லாத – vile
ஈரமில்லாத நெஞ்சார் – ஈரமில்லாத நெஞ்சமுடையவர் – cold hearted / ungrateful person
ஈந்த – given / rendered
நீர் மேல் எழுத்து – word on water
நேர் – equal / similar

Kundalakesi – 9

Death of our embryonic stage, death of our childhood,
Death of our adolescence, death of our passionate youth –
Dying repeatedly is the norm; same awaits us at old age too;
As we are dying everyday, why not we cry for ourselves too?

பாளையாம் தன்மை செத்தும்
பாலனாம் தன்மை செத்தும்
காளையாம் தன்மை செத்தும்
காமுறும் இளமை செத்தும்
மீளும்இவ் இயல்பும் இன்னே
மேல்வரு மூப்பும் ஆகி
நாளும் நாள் சாகின்றாமால்
நமக்கு நாம் அழாதது என்னோ!

Kundalakesi is one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. Three of these are Jainism based (Seevaka Sinthamani, Silappathikaaram, Valayaapathi) and two are Buddishm based (Manimekalai and Kundalakesi). Kundalakesi is estimated to have been written before 5th Century AD. Only 19 of the 99 verses of Kundalakesi are available today.

It is about Kundalakesi, daughter of a rich merchant in Puhar, who falls in love with a thief Kaalan about to be beheaded. Her father pleads with the King and saves Kaalan from death. After marriage one day she playfully calls him thief. Enraged by this , he plans to kill her and takes her to a mountain peak to push her down. When he tells this to her, she requests him to let her go around him three times as worship before being killed. He agrees. She goes behind him and pushes him down , killing him. Then she repents and becomes a Buddhist monk. She defeats Jain and Hindu scholars in theological debates.

In this poem, the poet talks about impermanence of life. “We cry for the death of our near and dear ones. But we ourselves are dying every day. Every stage of our life entails death of the previous stage. We are a fetus in our mother’s womb. Once we are born, the fetus dies. Then our childhood dies when we become young adults. Which again dies when we become passion driven youth. That stage too dies. Death repeats itself in our life. That is the norm. What is more, it is death that awaits us in our old age too. As we are dying every day, why do we not cry for ourselves? It is pointless to cry for the death of near and dear ones”

பாளை – embryo / fetus
தன்மை – nature
பாலன் – toddler / child
காளை – young adult
காமுறும் – becoming passionate
இளமை – youth
மீளும் – repeatedly
இயல்பு – nature
இன்னே – இனிமேல் – in future
மூப்பு – old age
சாகின்றாமால் – செத்துக் கொண்டிருக்கிறோம், ஆதலால் – as we are dying
என்னோ – why?

Naaladiyaar – 75

Among two friends who get along with no differences,
If one slides into unseemly vices,
Put up with him till he is tolerable!
If he turns intolerable,
don’t talk ill of him, just move away!

வேற்றுமை இன்றிக் கலந்து, இருவர் நட்டக்கால்,
தேற்றா ஒழுக்கம் ஒருவன்கண் உண்டாயின்,
ஆற்றும் துணையும் பொறுக்க! பொறான் ஆயின்
தூற்றாதே, தூர விடல்!

Two people are close friends with no differences between them. Suddenly one of them starts veering of the straight and narrow path of virtue and turns to vices. The other friend should bear with him till he is bearable. If his behaviour takes a turn for worse and he is intolerable, one should not talk ill of him and abuse him publicly. It is better to disengage from him and make a clean cut of the friendship instead of hurting the one time friend further.

வேற்றுமை – difference
இன்றி – without
கலந்து – mingle
நட்டக்கால் – நட்பு கொண்டிருந்தால் – if they are friends
தேற்றா ஒழுக்கம் – தகுதி இல்லாத ஒழுக்கம் – unacceptable practices – vices
ஆற்றும் – tolerable
துணை – வரை – till
பொறுக்க – tolerate
பொறான் – பொறுக்க முடியாதவன் – untolerable
தூற்றாதே – don’t abuse – don’t talk ill
தூர விடல் – leave (him) far away

Kambaramayanam – 4307

O’ creeper swaying gently in the monsoon winds,
you enter my soul and taunt me with your blooms;
Like the waist of my radiant faced beloved do you sway;
Tell me, are you trying to weaken my soul away?

மழை வாடையொடு ஆடி, வலிந்து, உயிர்மேல்,
நுழைவாய்; மலர்வாய் நொடியாய் – கொடியே! –
இழை வாள் நுதலாள் இடைபோல் இடையே
குழைவாய்; எனது ஆவி குழைக்குதியோ?

After Sita has been kidnapped by Ravana, Rama and Lakshmana go in search of her in the forest. With the arrival of monsoon, everything Rama sees reminds him of Sita. In this set of verses of he laments nature that reminds him of his beloved. Here he looks at the creeper gently swaying in the monsoon wind and that reminds him of her slender waist.

“O’ Creeper! You sway in the rain bearing monsoon winds and that sight enters my parched soul. You taunt me with fresh blooms in your stalks while I pine for Sita. You sway back and forth like the waist of my Sita, she whose forehead is radiant and adorned with jewels. You swing harmoniously this way and that way. Tell me! By reminding me of her, are you trying to torment and weaken my soul, turning it to a pulp?”

“Weaken away” is a poor translation of குழைக்குதியோ which literally means “turning to mush”. I might change this when I get a better phrase. If you can read Tamil, utter this phrase ”குழைவாய்! எனது ஆவி குழைக்குதியோ” and relish the alliteration of your language.

மழை – rain
வாடை – cool northerly wind
வலிந்து – sway
மலர்வாய் – you bloom
நொடியாய் – Tell me
இழை – jewelled
வாள் நுதல் – radiant forehead
இடையே குழைவாய் – swing / sway back and forth
குழைக்குதியோ – turning to mush

Thirukkural – 332

 

Accrual of riches is like crowds thronging theater halls;
It departs too the same way once screen falls.

கூத்தாட்டு அவைக்குழாத் தற்றே பெருஞ்செல்வம் 
போக்கும் அதுவிளிந் தற்று.

This Kural is under the chapter Impermanence. Great wealth accrues to a person like crowds thronging a theater hall. But the crowd is not permanent. It departs once the show is over. Similarly wealth doesn’t stay with one person forever.

கூத்து – drama / theater
அவை – hall
குழாம் – crowd
பெரும் செல்வம் – great wealth
போக்கு – goes away / departs
விளி – over / (screen falls)

Thirukkural – 1196

 

One sided love is misery; if matched evenly
On both sides, like kavadi*, it is blessed.

ஒருதலையான் இன்னாது, காமம்; காப் போல
இருதலையானும் இனிது.

*Kavadi – pole carried on shoulder by devotees with sacrificial offerings on both ends. (Hindi – Kanvar?)

He has gone away to earn wealth. She pines for him. She says “Only I pine for him. He doesn’t think about me. One sided love is nothing but misery. Love is blessed when it is matched evenly on both sides, like the kavadi”

இன்னாது – painful
கா – kavadi

 

 

Kambaramayanam – 5278

Ravana pleading his love to Sita in Asoka Vanam

Many todays have passed; many tomorrows have passed;
Yet this is the mercy you offer me;
Will you become one with me
Only after I pass away
Killed by the misery you cause me?
Tell me, O’ Woman whose reddened eyes cause me grief,
Swinging back and forth to your ear rings.

இன்று இறந்தன நாளை இறந்தன
என் திறம் தரும் தன்மை இதால்; எனைக்
கொன்று இறந்தபின் கூடுதியோ? குழை
சென்று இறங்கி மறம் தரு செங்கணாய்!

After Ravana has carried Sita away to Lanka, he has her imprisoned in Asoka Vanam. Hanuman is sent by Rama to find Sita. After reaching Lanka, Hanuman searches around and finally find Sita in Asoka Vanam. While he is there, Ravana comes to plead his love to Sita. That’s where this verse appears.

Ravana tells Sita, “I have waited for many days thinking today will be the day you will accept my love. I have waited for many days thinking hopefully tomorrow will be the day you will accept me. Yet you haven’t accepted my love. This is the mercy you have shown me. Will you unite with me only after you kill me by the pain caused by your refusal? You have been shedding tears thinking of Rama. Hence your eyes are reddened. Frightened on seeing me, those eyes swing back and forth all the way to your ear rings. This is causing me further grief.”

As you can see, Kamban uses sparse words to capture this emotion. I have had to elaborate in my translation to capture all that brevity.

இறந்தன – passed away / die
திறம் – mercy
கூடு – join / unite
குழை – ear ring
மறம் – pain
செங்கணாய் – red eyed woman

Thirukkural – 151

Like Earth that bears with those who dig her up,
To bear with the scornful is the best of virtue. 

அகழ்வாரைத் தாங்கும் நிலம் போல, தம்மை
இகழ்வார்ப் பொறுத்தல் தலை.

Though people dig earth up, yet earth carries them with patience. Similarly to bear with those who are scornful towards one is the topmost virtue. It is not easy though.

அகழ் – to dig / excavate
தாங்கும் – supports, carries / bear
நிலம் – earth
இகழ் – mock / scorn
பொறுத்தல் – bear

Thirukkural – 1118

 

If you can shine as bright as this girl’s face,
You too shall be my beloved, O’ moon.

மாதர் முகம்போலொளிவிட வல்லையேல்
காதலை வாழி மதி.

O’ Moon, You wax and wane, have spots in your face. If you’re able to shine as bright as this girl’s face, then you too shall become my love. But you can’t. So she’s my only love.

வல் – able

வல்லையேல் – if you’re able

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