Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Thirukkural – 276

Those who haven’t renounced genuinely, but deceive as if they have –
there’s none more evil than them.

நெஞ்சின் துறவார், துறந்தார்போல் வஞ்சித்து,
வாழ்வாரின் வன்கணார் இல்.

There are some God men who haven’t really renounced material life from their heart. They only deceive people and act as if they have renounced everything. There is nobody more evil that such people, for they betray the trust of general public who revere them.

நெஞ்சின் – heartfelt / genuine
துறவார் – haven’t renounced / aren’t ascetic
துறந்தார் – has renounced
வஞ்சித்து – deceive
வன்கண் – evil

Kulasekara Alwar – 693

Even if a fiery blaze singes and makes its life hell,
Lotus doesn’t bloom but to the warm intimacy of the Sun;
O lord of Vittuvacode, even if you do not save me from my burning ordeal,
My heart will yield to no one else but to your infinite essence.

செந்தழலே வந்தழலைச் செய்திடினும் செங்கமலம்
அந்தரஞ்சேர்வெங்கதிரோற் கல்லா லலராவால்
வெந்துயர்வீட் டாவிடினும் விற்றுவக்கோட் டம்மாஉன்
அந்தமில்சீர்க் கல்லா லகங்குழைய மாட்டேனே.

In this poem Kulasekara Alwar sings to Lord of Thiruvittuvacode (present day Thirumittacode in Kerala). Though a fire singes it and causes it grief, a lotus does not bloom to its heat but only to the warmth of the sun it is intimate with. Likewise, even if you do not relieve my suffering (that is in my destiny), my heart won’t yield to any other God but only to your limitless presence, you who is forever in my heart.

This is a motif seen in many devotional poems. “I will pray to no God but you”. We find it in Buddhist , Jain, Saivite and Vaishnavite Tamil poems. But each poet expresses it differently, with different metaphors and similes. This particular poem stood out to me because of the “Lotus blooming only to Sun” metaphor. Also the phrase அந்தரஞ்சேர் செங்கதிரோன் – Warmth of the Sun that percolates intimately. If you can read Tamil, roll your tongue around that phrase.

செந்தழல் – Fiery blaze
அழல் – grief
செங்கமலம் – Red Lotus
அந்தரம் – initmate
செங்கதிரோன் – Sun
அலராவால் – அலரமாட்டாதால் – won’t bloom
வெந்துயர் – வெம்மை + துயர் – burning ordeal
வீட்டாவிடினும் – even if not saved
அந்தமில் – அந்தம் + இல் – endless /infinite
சீர் – nature / essence
அகம் – heart
குழைய – soften / yield

Iniyavai Narpathu – 11

To not live as a wayward tramp is much admirable;
Wisdom to not earn immorally is admirable;
To not take the food of hungry, even when one’s dying – 
there’s nothing more admirable than that.

அதர் சென்று வாழாமை ஆற்ற இனிதே;
குதர் சென்று கொள்ளாத கூர்மை இனிதே;
உயிர் சென்று தாம் படினும், உண்ணார் கைத்து உண்ணாப்
பெருமைபோல் பீடு உடையது இல்.

It is a much admirable quality for a man to not wander about and roam like a tramp for his living. To have the wisdom to not go down the wrong path to earn is also admirable. But there is nothing more admirable than not stealing the food of the hungry, even one is starving.

அதர் – way (wayward / tramp)
குதர் – perverse / immoral
கூர்மை – wisdom
உண்ணார் – those who haven’t had food (hungry)
பீடு – similarity

Thirukkural – 1071

The despicable appear like any other human, they do;
We haven’t seen such similarity as between these two.

மக்களே போல்வர், கயவர்; அவர் அன்ன
ஒப்பாரி யாம் கண்டது இல்.

Despicable people look just like any other humans externally. There is nothing that differentiates them in physical appearance. It is so remarkable that no where else have we found such similarity between two different beings.

கயவர் – despicable person
ஒப்பார் – equivalence / similarity

 

Kurunthokai – 2

O’ exquisitely winged bee,
You judiciously suck honey!
Tell me not what I wish to hear,
But truth as you know crystal clear:
This girl who I’m rightfully in love with,
– She of peacock’s grace, and perfect teeth –
Do you know of flowers more fragrant than her tresses.

கொங்கு தேர் வாழ்க்கை அஞ்சிறைத் தும்பி!
காமம் செப்பாது, கண்டது மொழிமோ:
பயிலியது கெழீஇய நட்பின், மயில் இயல்,
செறி எயிற்று, அரிவை கூந்தலின்
நறியவும் உளவோ, நீ அறியும் பூவே?

They are meeting secretly. She is shy, he is desperate. He gets close to her and smells her hair. He sees a bee buzzing around the flower string in her hair. He asks the bee “O’ bee with beautiful wings! You are selective in choosing honey flowers to suck. I have a doubt. Tell me the truth as you’ve known. Don’t tell me what I want to hear because you are in my country. This girl whom I am in love with is grace ful like a peacock. Her teeth are even and perfect. Is there any flower that you have seen that is more fragrant than the hair of this girl?”

I have taken some liberties in translation and sacrificed form to make the poem read fluently in English. There is no ‘crystal clear’ in the original poem.

Most of the Tamils would have heard this beautiful poem, but in a different context. In Thiruvilayadal Puranam, written in 16th century, this poem is imagined as the one given by Shiva to poet Dharumi to present in Pandiyan’s court to clear his doubt. Which is opposed by Pandiyan’s minister Nakkeeran; since he questioned the poem penned by Shiva himself, Nakkeeran was burnt to ashes by Shiva. All I can say is it was a product of fertile imagination. The 1965 ‘Thiruvilayadal’ movie further cemented this story.

கொங்கு – honey
தேர் – select
அஞ்சிறை – அம் + சிறை – beautiful wing
காமம் – desire
செப்பாது – don’t tell
மொழிமோ – tell
பயிலியது – to get to know
கெழுமை – rightful
நட்பு – love
இயல் – style / nature
செறி – close
எயிறு – teeth
அரிவை – Girl
நறியவும் – more fragrant

Thirumangai Alwar – 2016

Like inky sea and sapphire-laden hills and dark clouds,
Like attractive water lily and dark kaya* flowers,
is dark Meyyaan^, in the hill of Meyyam^^, holding a conch in his hand;
Hands that don’t worship him, we know, aren’t hands at all.

மையார் கடலும் மணிவரையும் மாமுகிலும்,
கொய்யார் குவளையும் காயாவும் போன்றிருண்ட
மெய்யானை, மெய்ய மலையானைச் சங்கேந்தும்
கையானை, கைதொழா கையல்ல கண்டாமே.

*Kaya flower – Flowers of Ironwood tree
^Meyyaan – Thiru Meyyan – Lord of Thirumayam temple
^Meyyam – Thirumayam (town near Pudukkottai)

This verse by Thirumangai Alwar sings the praise of Perumal, the lord of Thirumayam temple. He is called Thiru Meyyar there. The lord is dark hued – like the inky sea, sapphire-laden hills, dark clouds, water lilies and kaya flowers. Hands that don’t pray to him are not hands at all, they are just waste

Kayamboo

Kaya flower (Ironwood tree flower)

SONY DSC

Bluewater lily

Thirukkural – 995

Mockery hurts, even if done in jest; considerate people
behave courteously. even to their foes.

நகையுள்ளும் இன்னாது, இகழ்ச்சி; பகையுள்ளும்
பண்பு உள, பாடு அறிவார் மாட்டு.

Mocking a person hurts them, even if it is done in jest. So those who are considerate of other people behave courteously even to their foes.

நகை – laughter / joke
இன்னாது – grief
இகழ்ச்சி – mockery
பகை – enemy / foe
பாடு அறிவார் – those who know the right way (considerate)

Siddhar – Pattinaththaar – Thiruvekamba Malai – 7

When we’re born we bring nothing,
When we die we take nothing;
Wealth made in between is a gift of Shiva
They don’t realise, and hoard it till they die;
What shall I tell these misers, Kanchi Ekambara?

பிறக்கும்பொழுது கொடுவந்ததில்லைப் பிறந்துமண்மேல் 
இறக்கும்பொழுது கொடுபோவதில்லை இடைநடுவில் 
குறிக்கும்இச் செல்வம் சிவன்தந்த தென்று கொடுக்கறியாது 
இறக்குங் குலாமருக்கென் சொல்லுவேன்கச்சி ஏகம்பனே.

This Pattinaththaar poem is part of a collection sung in praise of the deity of Kanchi Ekambara Nathar temple. He says “We bring nothing when we are born. We take nothing when we die. All that we make in between is a gift of Lord Shiva. But these misers don’t realise and do not give their wealth away. What shall I tell them?”

குலாமர் – Miser (slave to wealth, probably from Arabic word Gulam – Slave)

கச்சி – காஞ்சிபுரம் – Kanchipuram

ஏகம்பன் – ஏகாம்பர நாதர் – Ekambara Nathar (Name of Shiva in Kanchipuram temple)

Naaladiyaar – 259

Though a flower overflows with honey and is fragrant,
A fly doesn’t go for it but desires lowly stuff; like that,
For those whose heart is full of base thoughts,
What’s the use of honeyed words of advice uttered by the wise?

பொழிந்து இனிது நாறினும், பூ மிசைதல் செல்லாது,
இழிந்தவை காமுறூஉம் ஈப்போல், இழிந்தவை-
தாம் கலந்த நெஞ்சினார்க்கு என் ஆகும், தக்கார் வாய்த்
தேன் கலந்த தேற்றச் சொல் தேர்வு?

Ainthinai Ezhupathu – 23

Dark clouds have started pouring, monsoon is here;
Riding his horse whose bells sound like noisy toads,
Won’t my lover come today to alleviate my sickness?
Not a bangle stays in my arms.

தேரைத் தழங்குரல் தார் மணி வாய் அதிர்ப்ப,
ஆர்கலி வானம் பெயல் தொடங்கி, கார் கொள,
இன்று ஆற்ற வாரா விடுவார்கொல், காதலர்?
ஒன்றாலும் நில்லா, வளை.

He has gone away in summer to earn money, promising that he will come back by the time monsoon starts. Now the clouds have darkened it has started pouring. Monsoon is here. He hasn’t come yet. She is pining for him. She asks her friend, “The monsoon is here. Won’t he come today to alleviate my sickness? I’m so weak that not a single bangle stays in my arm, they are all falling down”

The first line in the Tamil poem (which I have made second line in translation) is packed with description. She wants him to ride fast and reach her. As he rides fast, sleigh bells in his horse’s neck sound noisily, like toads croaking in monsoon season. It isn’t specified in the poem whether he is riding a chariot or a horse. Earlier commentators have taken in as horse driven chariot. I couldn’t work it into the translation.

தேரை – toad
தழங்குரல் – தழங்கு + குரல் – sounding noise
தார்மணி – bells worn by horse
வாய் அதிர்ப்ப – sounding
ஆர்கலி வானம் – rainy clouds
பெயல் – to pour
கார் – monsoon
ஆற்ற – to alleviate

 

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