Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Kurunthokai – 325

He kept repeating “I’ll leave, I’ll leave”
Thinking it was his age-old hogwash to leave,
‘Leave my side and go away forever’ I said;
Oh my God! I wonder where my faultless Lord is now?
Like the wide pond inhabited by black legged white Egret,
Valley of my bosom is filled with tears of regret.

‘சேறும் சேறும்’ என்றலின், பண்டைத் தம்
மாயச் செலவாச் செத்து, ‘மருங்கு அற்று
மன்னிக் கழிக’ என்றேனே; அன்னோ!
ஆசு ஆகு எந்தை யாண்டு உளன்கொல்லோ?
கருங் கால் வெண் குருகு மேயும்
பெருங் குளம் ஆயிற்று, என் இடைமுலை நிறைந்தே.

They have had a fight and he has left her. She regrets her actions now and pines for him. She says “He kept repeating that he will leave me. I thought it was nothing but his age-old tactic and said ‘Leave me and go away’. Oh my God, what have I done? I wonder where he is now. It wasn’t his fault. Thinking of him I shed tears that collect in the valley of my bosom like a wide pond where dark legged white egret roams”

சேறும் – Will leave
பண்டை – age old
மாயம் – lie / hogwash
செலவு – leave
செத்து – thinking
மருங்கு – side
அற்று – leave
மன் – permanently / forever
கழிக – go away
ஆசு – fault
எந்தை – my lord
யாண்டு – now
உளன் – (where) is there
கருங் கால் – black legged
வெண் குருகு – white egret
மேயும் – roaming
பெருங் குளம் – wide pond
இடைமுலை – valley between breasts / cleavage

Thirukkural – 158

Those who arrogantly harm you,
thou shall win over with thy virtue.

மிகுதியான் மிக்கவை செய்தாரைத் தாம் தம்
தகுதியான் வென்று விடல்.

When an adversary arrogantly harms you, you should bear it with patience and win him over with your righteous ways.

மிகுதி – excess (arrogance)
மிக்கவை – harm
தகுதி – righteousness / virtue
வென்று விடல் – win over

 

Thirukkural – 864

One who is always angry and agitated is easy prey
For any one at any place on any day.

நீங்கான் வெகுளி; நிறை இலன்;- எஞ்ஞான்றும்,
யாங்கணும், யார்க்கும், எளிது.

A person who is always boiling with rage and lacks composure is not in his senses. He can be easily defeated any day any place by anybody. Those who want to succeed should learn to control their anger and be composed at all times.

நீங்கான் வெகுளி நிறையில னெஞ்ஞான்றும்
யாங்கணும் யார்க்கு மெளிது.

 

நீங்கான் – Never gives up (Always)
வெகுளி – Anger
நிறை Reserve / composed
இலன் – One who does not
எஞ்ஞான்று – any day
யாங்கண் – any place
யார்க்கும் – for anyone
எளிது – easy

Nattrinai – 34

(When the faith healer says she is afflicted with the spirit of Murugan, her friend who knows the real reason scolds Murugan)

Near the brook where Goddess resides,
His lofty mountain slopes are ablaze
With leafy blossoms of blue lilies
And a sprinkling of red flame lilies;
Divine Maidens sway in trance
To the clamor of waterfalls;
Embracing the chest of the lord of those hills
Is the cause of her malady, Not you, you know;
Yet, because this Kadamba flower wearing faith healer
Looked up and invoked you, you’ve descended on her;
Though you may be a God,
You are surely stupid, Blessed Muruga!

கடவுட் கற்சுனை அடை இறந்து அவிழ்ந்த
பறியாக் குவளை மலரொடு காந்தள்
குருதி ஒண் பூ உரு கெழக் கட்டி,
பெரு வரை அடுக்கம் பொற்பச் சூர்மகள்
அருவி இன் இயத்து ஆடும் நாடன்
மார்பு தர வந்த படர் மலி அரு நோய்
நின் அணங்கு அன்மை அறிந்தும், அண்ணாந்து,
கார் நறுங் கடம்பின் கண்ணி சூடி,
வேலன் வேண்ட, வெறி மனை வந்தோய்!
கடவுள் ஆயினும் ஆக,
மடவை மன்ற, வாழிய முருகே!

Irreverence is the hall mark of Tamils. No one is immune to it, even Murugan, the foremost God of Tamils. Take this 2000 year old poem from Nattrinai for example. She has fallen in love with the man from the hills. Now that she is away from him, she pines for him and is lovesick. Her mother, unaware of this, calls the faith healer to cure her. The healer says she is afflicted with the spirit of Murugan, God of the Hills. Her friend knows the real reason castigates Murugan and hints to her mother about the love affair.

“It is said that near the brook in his hills Goddess resides. Next to that the hill rises loftily. The hill slopes are ablaze with leafy blue lilies interspersed with blood red flame lilies. Divine maidens, who worship the Goddess, sway in trance to the clamor of water falls from the hills. Such is his splendid hill country. Embracing his chest and then being separated from him is the cause for her sickness. You very well know that you are not the reason for her sickness Muruga! Yet, because this Kadamba flower wearing faith healer looked up to the skies and invoked you, you have descended on her and afflicting her. Though you may be a God, you are still stupid, Muruga!”

Through this poem her friend sends message to the man from the hills also. The practice was to promise marriage in front of the Goddess statue and convince the girl. Her friend hints “You promised in front of the goddess. She trusted your word and embraced your chest. Now that you have not kept your word, she is afflicted with this sickness. Though you know the reason, you are yet to formalise your union. You are stupid, Lord of the hills”

கடவுள் – Goddess
கற்சுனை – hilly brook
அடை இறந்து – surrounded by leaves
அவிழ்ந்த – blossomed
பறியாக் குவளை – unplucked / fresh blue lily
காந்தள் – flame lily
குருதி ஒண் பூ – blood red flower
உரு கெழக் கட்டி – beautifully woven garland
பெரு வரை – lofty hills
பொற்ப – shining
சூர்மகளிர் – divine maidens (kind of vestal virgins, in service of Goddess)
படர் மலி  – spreading wide
அரு நோய் – incurable sickness
அணங்கு – affliction
அன்மை – not
அறிந்தும் – (even though) you know
கார் நறுங் கடம்பின் கண்ணி – rainy season’s fragrant Kadamba flower garland
வேலன் – faith healer
வெறி மனை – to afflict
வந்தோய் – you came
மடவை மன்ற – Surely stupid

Ainkurunooru – 229

(Her friend asks her on seeing colour return to her face)

Be blessed, my friend! Did the callous one,
who vanished for days in a row
Leaving us teary eyed, come last night?
Like Gold, gloriously shines your brow.

அம்ம வாழி, தோழி! நாம் அழப்
பல் நாள் பிரிந்த அறனிலாளன்
வந்தனனோ, மற்று இரவில்?
பொன் போல் விறல் கவின் கொள்ளும், நின் நுதலே.

He has been away for long. She pines for him and her colour wanes. Then one day he visits her at night. The joy of seeing him restores her health. She tries to keep it secret. But her friend finds out and asks her “My friend! Did your lover who vanished for many days and left us crying, come to meet you last night? Colour has returned to your forehead and it shines like gold. Though you try to keep it a secret, your ruddiness gives it away”

அறனிலாளன் – அறம் இல்லாதவன் – Uncompassionate / Callous

விறல் – Magnificent / Glorious

கவின் – beauty / shine

நுதல் – forehead / brow

Thirukkural – 194

Uttering useless, uncivil words to the multitude
Is unfair and distances one away from virtue.

நயன் சாரா நன்மையின் நீக்கும்-பயன் சாராப்
பண்பு இல் சொல் பல்லாரகத்து.

When one utters impolite and useless words in public to many people, he is being unfair and he distances himself away from the path of virtue.

நயன் – நேர்மை – honest / fair

நன்மை – goodness / virtue

பயன் – use

பண்பு – courteous / civil

பல்லார் – many people

Thirukkural – 1273

Like the thread that gleams through gems strung,
something gleams in this girl’s beauty, unsung.

மணியுள் திகழ்தரும் நூல்போல், மடந்தை
அணியுள் திகழ்வது ஒன்று உண்டு.

The thread through which the gems are strung is not directly visible to the eye, but it shines through the light of the gems. Similarly there is something that radiates through this girls beauty (which cannot be explained).

‘Unsung’ is not explicit in the original Kural. I have made it explicit in the translation.

Devaneya Paavaanar interprets அணி – post coital glow. That adds an extra layer to the Kural.

மணி – gem / necklace of gems strung together
திகழ் – shine / glimmer
மடந்தை – girl
அணி – beauty
ஒன்று உண்டு  – Something there

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

Naaladiyaar – 223

Even if a friend causes us much grief,
To put up with them is worth it; My Lord!
Bees buzz around bright flowers in your country’s tall peaks;
Patience of one saves friendship of two.

இறப்பவே தீய செயினும், தன் நட்டார்
பொறுத்தல் தகுவது ஒன்று அன்றோ?-நிறக் கோங்கு
உருவ வண்டு ஆர்க்கும் உயர் வரை நாட!-
ஒருவர் பொறை இருவர் நட்பு.

This verse is under the chapter நட்பிற் பிழைபொறுத்தல் – Bearing with faults in friendship. The poet says “One whom we have chosen as friend, even if they causes us much grief, it is worth to put up with them. If one person is patient, he saves the friendship between the two.”

The third  line is interesting. It is a description of the ruler’s country. It also means ‘though the flowers are at a height, bees go to them and buzz around. Similarly though a friend is at fault, we have to bear with them for the sake of friendship’.

இறப்பு – much / lot
தீய – grief
நட்டார் – நட்பு உடையவர் – friend
தகுவது – worth
நிறக் கோங்கு – colourful flowers of kOngu tree (Red cotton tree)
உருவ வண்டு – beautiful bee
ஆர் – noise (buzz)
உயர் வரை – tall peaks
பொறை – Patience

Thiruvasagam – 10.2

If the Lord of the celestials had not in his compassion conquered me, 
What would have I been? What would my heart or knowledge be?
Who would’ve known me?
The Ruler of the world, who accepts alms in a broken skull – 
Go to his honeyed lotus like feet and hum his praise, O’ Royal Bee!

நானார்என் உள்ளமார் ஞானங்க ளார்என்னை யாரறிவார்
வானோர் பிரான்என்னை ஆண்டிலனேல் மதிமயங்கி
ஊனார் உடைதலையில் உண்பலிதேர் அம்பலவன்
தேனார் கமலமே சென்றூதாய் கோத்தும்பீ.

திருக்கோத்தும்பி  – ThirukkOthumbi is a set of 20 verses in Thiruvasagam, where Manickavasagar sings the praise of Lord Shiva in Chidambaram. In these verses he hails Lord Shiva and asks the Royal Bee to hum around the Lord.

In this verse he says “If Shiva, Lord of the celestials, had not taken pity on me and conquered my soul, what would I have been? What would my heart or knowledge be? Nothing. Who would have known me? No one. It is because of Lord Shiva I am all that I am. He is the Ruler of the world. He uses a broken human skull as begging bowl and accepts alms in it to eat.  O’ Royal bee, go to his feet and hum his praise like you hum around honeyed lotus flowers”

வானோர் பிரான் – Lord of the Celestials
ஆண்டிலனேல் – if he hadn’t conquered
மதிமயங்கி- Yield (his) head – become compassionate
ஊனார் உடைதலை – Broken skull with flesh sticking
உண்பலிதேர் – Food + Alms + Accept
அம்பலவன் – Ruler of the World
தேனார் கமலம் – honeyed Lotus
கோத்தும்பி – Royal Bee

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