Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Pazhamozhi 400 – 130

You’re graceless my heart! you tell me to act harmfully;
but payback won’t take long; Do realize,
One who causes harm to others in forenoon,
Will face harm himself by afternoon.

நெடியது காண்கலாய்; நீ அளியை;-நெஞ்சே!-
கொடியது கூறினாய் மன்ற;- அடியுளே,
முற்பகல் கண்டான் பிறன் கேடு, தன் கேடு
பிற்பகல் கண்டுவிடும்.

When one’s heart asks him to act maliciously and harm others, he tells that it is stupid. Payback for evil deeds won’t take long. If one hurts others in the forenoon, he will be hurt himself in the afternoon.

This takes off on Thirukkural 319,
பிறர்க்கின்னா முற்பகல் செய்யின் தமக்கின்னா
பிற்பகல் தாமே வரும்.

நெடியது –  long
அளி – civil / graceful அளியை – graceless
கொடியது – harmful

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.

 

Kurunthokai – 57

Magandril* birds entwined together
grieve as if separated for years
even if a flower comes in between;
Like them, if we, destined to be a couple,
are separated and become single,
only way to escape that pain
is to lose our lives together,
as our love’s strong and inseparable.

பூ இடைப்படினும் யாண்டு கழிந்தன்ன
நீர் உறை மகன்றிற் புணர்ச்சி போலப்
பிரிவு அரிது ஆகிய தண்டாக் காமமொடு,
உடன் உயிர் போகுகதில்ல – கடன் அறிந்து,
இருவேம் ஆகிய உலகத்து,
ஒருவேம் ஆகிய புன்மை நாம் உயற்கே.

*Magandril – Ibis(?) like bird that lives near water bodies and rests on flowers

Their affair hase become public and she is forbidden to go out of her home by her parents. She says to her friend “I have been in love with him for long. Now my parents have separated us. This is causing me untold grief. Magandril birds that live in water grieve as if separated for years even in their embrace is interrupted for a short while by a flower coming between them. They give up their life if they are separated. Since we two are inseparable at heart and our love is getting stronger, the only way to escape this grief is for us to lose our lives together”

Tamil Wikipedia says Magandril is King Penguin, which doesn’t make sense considering the geography of Tamil country. Andril is Ibis bird. So I assume Magandril too is a species of Ibis.

P.S.A. Suicide is stupid, even if poets romanticize it. Don’t harbor such ideas.

யாண்டு – year
புணர்ச்சி – embrace
பிரிவு அரிது – hardly separated (inseparable)
தண்டா – not reducing (strong)
காமம் – love
கடன் அறிந்து – know what is to be done (destiny)
இருவேம் – two (couple)
ஒருவேம் – become one (single)
புன்மை – pain
உய் – to be saved / escape

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

Thirukkural – 1048

Will it come today too, like it did yesterday,
poverty that sucked my life away!

இன்றும் வருவது கொல்லோ-நெருநலும்
கொன்றது போலும் நிரப்பு!

For கொன்றது – I have used ‘sucked my life away ‘ instead of literal meaning ‘killed’

கொல் – An affix implying doubt ( Will it)
நெருநல் – Yesterday
நிரப்பு – Poverty

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)

Silappathikaaram – Oor Soozh Vari: 53-58

Are there wise men here? Are there wise men here?
Are there wise men here? Are there wise men here
who nurture and care for others’ child?
Is there a God? Is there a God?
In this *town whose King unjustly killed (my husband)
Is there a God? Is there a God?

*Madurai

சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்? சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்?
ஈன்ற குழவி எடுத்து வளர்க்குறூஉம்
சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்? சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்?
தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்? தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்?
வை வாளின் தப்பிய மன்னவன் கூடலில்
தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்? தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்?’

This is the searing accusation of Kannaki on seeing her husband Kovalan’s body. Kovalan was wrongly accused of stealing the Queen’s anklet and was ordered to be killed by the Pandiya King without an enquiry. Kannaki learns of this and comes and laments over her husband’s dead body and curses the town. She asks “What sort of town is this? Are there wise men here who take care of even others’ children? In this high storeyed town (Madurai), whose King unjustly ordered my husband to be killed is there a God?”

After this she goes to the King’s court and proves with her other anklet that her husband was innocent. When the King learns that he has made a mistake, he dies instantly. Kannaki’s anger does not abate yet. She curses Madurai to be burnt down and Madurai burns.

சான்றோர் – Wise men
ஈன்ற குழவி – Birthed Child – Child born to others
கை வாளின் தப்பிய – cut with sword
கூடல் – நான்மாடக் கூடல் – Town with four towers – Madurai

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