Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Kurunthokai – 61

Like kids who derive joy from pulling
a toy horse chariot made by the carpenter
even if they cannot derive joy of riding it,
We derive joy by imagining the intimacy of our lord
from the town of blossoms and majestic chariots
even if we cannot derive joy by embracing him; Hence bangles stay.

தச்சன் செய்த சிறுமா வையம்
ஊர்ந்தின் புறாஅ ராயினுங் கையின்
ஈர்த்தின் புறூஉ மிளையோர்
உற்றின் புேறெ மாயினு நற்றேர்ப்
பொய்கை யூரன் கேண்மை
செய்தின் புற்றனெஞ் செறிந்தன வளையே.

He has been to his courtesan’s place and hasn’t come home to his wife in a while. Before going home he sends his bard to placate her. Her friend stops the bard at the door and tells him “Kids playing with carpenter made toy horse chariots cannot derive joy by riding it. It is just a toy. Still they derive joy from pulling it around. Similarly even if she cannot be with him physically and derive pleasure in his presence, she still derives pleasure by imagining the intimacy she shared with him. She doesn’t miss him. So, her arms haven’t thinned down and the bangles stay on them instead of falling out”

When women miss their lover, their arms thin down and bangles become loose and fall off. This is a common motif in Sangam poetry.

தச்சன் – carpenter
சிறு மா – small horse
வையம் – chariot
ஊர்ந்து – ride
இன்புற்று – derive pleasure
கையின் ஈர்த்து – pull by hand
இளையோர் – kids
உற்று – touch / embrace
இன்புறேம் – இன்பம் உறேம் – i don’t derive pleasure
நற்றேர் – நல் + தேர் – good chariot
பொய்கை – pond
ஊரன் – man from the town
கேண்மை – intimacy
செய்து – make (in my mind) – imagine
இன்புற்றனன் – I derive pleasure
செறிந்தன – close fitting / stay
வளை – bangles

Naaladiyaar – 116

Even if they learn books of wisdom in detail,
Restless ones will never cease to be restless;
O’ beautiful eyed lass!
Even if cooked with salt and ghee, or milk, or curd, or spices,
Wild gourd will never lose its bitterness.

இடம் பட மெய்ஞ்ஞானம் கற்பினும் என்றும்,
அடங்காதார் என்றும் அடங்கார்;-தடங் கண்ணாய்!-
உப்பொடு நெய், பால், தயிர், காயம், பெய்து அடினும்,
கைப்பு அறா, பேய்ச் சுரையின் காய்.

Some people are by nature restless and are not in control of their senses. Even if they learn scriptures and books of wisdom in detail, still they will not learn to control their senses. This is like cooking wild bottle gourd. It smells and is extremely bitter. Even if it is cooked with ghee and salt or marinated in milk or curd or cooked with spices, its inherent bitterness will never go away. Similarly people’s inherent qualities will not change.

இடம் பட – expansive / in detail
மெய்ஞ்ஞானம் – true wisdom
அடங்காதார் – ones who aren’t under control / restless
தடங் கண்ணாய் – big eyed woman
காயம் – spices / condiments
அடினும் – சமைத்தாலும் – even if cooked
கைப்பு – bitterness
அறா – will not lose
பேய்ச் சுரையின் காய் – wild bottle gourd (?)

Thirukkural – 766

Valour, Honour, Marching on the path of virtue, Ruler’s confidence,
These four are the army’s defence.

மறமான மாண்ட வழிச்செலவுதேற்றம்
எனநான்கே யேமம் படைக்கு.

An army is protected by these four qualities – Valour of its troops, Honourable conduct, Following the virtuous path of its predecessors and being completely trusted by the ruler.

மறம் – bravery / valour
மானம் – honour
மாண்ட வழி – glorious path (of predecessors)
செலவு – to go / march
தேற்றம் – assurance / trust
ஏமம் – protection / defence
படை – Army

Ainkurunooru – 63

My lord! Your town’s fresh water otter
Smells of sea fish that it gets to eat daily;
Though I might wane away, its fine!
I won’t embrace the chest that hugged others.

பொய்கைப் பள்ளிப் புலவுநாறு நீர்நாய்
 வாளை நாளிரை பெறூஉ மூர
 எந்நலந் தொலைவ தாயினும்
 துன்னலம் பெருமபிறர்த் தோய்ந்த மார்பே
.

He comes back home after days with his courtesan. As he tries to placate her, she refuses to engage with him. She says “You are from the town where otters born in fresh water smell of the sea fish that they get to eat daily. Similarly you have come back from the courtesan with whom you frolicked . I might whither away by not being with you. That fine. Still I won’t get close and hug your chest that was embraced by other women”

Fresh water otter smelling of sea fish is as striking metaphor. Till I read this poem I didn’t know Fresh Water Otters (நீர் நாய்) were present in Tamil Nadu. Today I learned that Asian Small Clawed Otters have their habitat in Palani Hills of Tamil Nadu. Two thousand year old ancestors taught me about my land 🙂

பொய்கை – Natural Spring
புலவு நாறும் – smells of meat
நீர்நாய் – otter
வாளை – silver scabbard fish / sea fish
நாள இரை – daily food
பெறூஉம் – gets
ஊர – man from that town
என் நலம் – my health
தொலைவது ஆயினும் – eventhough wanes
துன்னுதல் – embrace
பெரும – my lord
பிறர் – other
தோய் – hug / embrace
மார்பு – chest

Thirukkural – 567

Thirukkural – 567.

Harsh words and punishment far exceeding the crime
Are files that wear down the Ruler’s conquering might.

கடு மொழியும், கையிகந்த தண்டமும், வேந்தன்
அடு முரண் தேய்க்கும் அரம்
.

A Ruler should not use harsh words nor give punishments that far exceed the crime. These are like metal files that wear down toughened steels. Citizens anger will similarly wear down the all conquering strength of the ruler.

கை – fault / crime
இக – beyond
தண்டம் – punishment
அடு – conquering
முரண் – strength / might
தேய்க்கும் – wear down
அரம் – file

Thirukkural – 1211

To this dream that brought my lover’s message,
What feast shall I treat it to?

காதலர் தூதொடு வந்த கனவினுக்
கியாதுசெய் வேன்கொல் விருந்து.

He has gone away to earn wealth and she is pining for him. She hasn’t heard from him for long. She dreams that he has sent a message. This makes her happy and she wonders what feast to prepare for the dream that acted as a messenger.

Thirukkural – 788

Like swift hands of one whose dress slips,
Rushing to relieve (friend’s) misery is friendship.

உடுக்கை இழந்தவன் கை போல, ஆங்கே
இடுக்கண் களைவது ஆம்-நட்பு.

When one’s dress slips, his hands instinctively rush to rectify it. One should act with the same swiftness to relieve a friend’s misery. That’s what friendship is.

உடுக்கை – dress
இடுக்கண் – misery
களைவது – to remove

Naaladiyaar – 247

If we befriend those who are sensitive enough
To understand our unspoken thoughts, joy will befriend us;
If we leave those who dumbly misconstrue
Even explicit words, grief too will leave us.

உணர உணரும் உணர்வுடை யாரைப்
புணரிற் புணருமாம் இன்பம் – புணரின்;
தெரியத் தெரியுந் தெரிவிலா தாரைப்
பிரியப் பிரியுமாம் நோய்.

We should be careful with our friendship. If we befriend someone, we should become friends with those who are sensitive to understand our unspoken thoughts. Then the friendship will bring us joy. On the other hand, if we befriend some one who misunderstands even things we state explicitly, it will end in grief. If we move away from such persons, grief too will move away from us.

It us impossible to translate the wordplay and rhyme in the original. So I have gone for detailed explanatory translation.

உணர – thoughts

உணர்வு – sensitive

புணர்ச்சி – join / befriend

தெரிவு – clear

தெரிவு இல்லாதார் – one who lacks clarity / dumb

Thirukkural – 370

If one gives up insatiable desire, that itself
Will give him a state of eternal bliss.

ஆரா இயற்கை அவா நீப்பின், அந் நிலையே
பேரா இயற்கை தரும்.

Desire by nature is insatiable. If one gives it up, the act of giving up desire will lead him to a state of unchanging bliss in this life itself.

This couplet is under the chapter “Giving up desire”.

ஆர் – fill ஆரா – unfillable / insatiable
இயற்கை – nature
அவா – desire
நீத்தல் – give up
பேர் – to change பேரா – unchanging / eternal

Manimekalai – 26 : 228 -230

If you ask what is virtue, listen carefully –
To provide food, clothes and shelter to all living beings
Is virtue; I haven’t known any other definition

அறம்எனப் படுவது யாதுஎனக் கேட்பின்
மறவாது இதுகேள் மன்உயிர்க்கு எல்லாம் 
உண்டியும் உடையும் உறையுளும் அல்லது 
கண்டது இல்

Manimekalai is a Buddhist Epic and is counted among the 5 great epics of Tamil literature. In this verse Manimekalai advices Aputra, the ruler of Manipallavam Island to rule his country in a righteous manner. “If you ask me what is the virtue of a ruler, I’ll tell you this. Listen carefully. To ensure food, clothes and shelter of all living beings is the virtue of a ruler. I haven’t found any other definition for virtue of a ruler”

அறம் – righteousness / virtue

மறவாது – without fail / carefully

மன் உயிர் – all living beings / humanity

உண்டி – food

உடை – dress

உறை – shelter

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