Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the tag “Kambaramayanam”

Kambaramayanam – 619

Not his sapphire like dark hued mane,
full moon face, long arms,
or beautiful dark boulder like shoulders – but,
it was his smile that first seized my heart.

இந்திர நீலம் ஒத்து இருண்ட குஞ்சியும்
சந்திர வதனமும் தாழ்ந்த கைகளும்
சுந்தர மணி வரைத் தோளுமே அல
முந்தி என் உயிரை அம் முறுவல் உண்டதே.

After Sita and Rama eye each other for the first time, he goes away. She is struck by love at first sight and pines for him. She loses her composure and is overcome by her emotions. She says, “His hair is dark like the blue sapphire. His face is round and bright like the full moon. His arms are long and hang low. His dark shoulders are like mountains. But it wasn’t all these features that captivated me first. Before all these, I lost my heart looking at his smile.”

Long arms – arms that hang below the knees were considered as a sign of well formed man.
Dark mountain like shoulders – Though the current day TV serials show Rama almost as white as a caucasian, in the epic he is a dark hued person. Hence dark shoulders.

இந்திர நீலம் – Blue sapphire
குஞ்சி – hair
வதனம் – face
சுந்தர – beautiful
மணி – sapphire (dark)
வரை – mountain (I’ve used boulder)
அல – not
முறுவல் – smile

Kambaramayanam – 5387

If sandal and perfume smeared
broad shouldered God’s red mouth
is compared to blooming lotus, lotus will blush;
how can we equate it to coral,
that neither utters sweet pleasant words
nor smiles with sparkling white teeth?

ஆரமும் அகிலும் நீவி
      அகன்ற தோள் அமலன் செவ்வாய்
நாரம் உண்டு அலர்ந்த செங்கேழ்
      நளினம் ‘என்று உரைக்க நாணும்;
ஈரமுண்டு அமுதம் ஊறும் இன்னுரை
      இயம்பாதேனும்,
மூரல் வெண்முறுவல் பூவாப்
     பவழமோ மொழியற்பாற்றே?

This verse from Kamba Ramayanam occurs when Hanuman meets Sita in Lanka. She doubts whether he is one of Ravana’s demons in disguise. She asks him to describe Rama. Hanuman describes Rama in detail, starting from his foot. In this verse he describes luscious red mouth of Rama.

“The faultless one’s shoulders are smeared with Sandal paste and perfume from agar wood. If his red mouth is compared to a blooming lotus in a pond, the lotus will feel inadequate and blush. Then how can we compare it coral? Coral does not utter pleasant words or smile with sparkling white teeth.” If a smiling (blooming) lotus can’t be compared to his red mouth, how can unsmiling coral be compared?

This is an adjective packed verse. I haven’t been able to do full justice to Kamban’s adjectives, just approximately translated to the limit of my abilities.

ஆரம் – Sandal
அகில் – incense/ perfume of Agarwood tree
அமலன் – faultless one / God
செவ்வாய் – செம்மை + வாய் – Red mouth
நாரம் – water
அலர்ந்த – flowered / bloomed
செங்கேழ் – செம்மை + கேழ் – Red colour
நளினம் – Lotus
நாணும் – Ashamed / blushed
இன்னுரை – இனிய + உரை – pleasant words
இயம்பு – speak
மூரல் – teeth
வெண்முறுவல் – white (sparkling) smile
பூவா – doesn’t produce
பவளம் – Coral
மொழி – tell (equate it to)

Kambaramayanam – 6186

If you say he’s one, he’s one;
if you say he’s many, he’s many;
if you say he’s not so, he’s not so;
if you say he’s so, he’s so;
if you say he’s not there, he’s not there;
if you say he’s there, he’s there;
Immense is God’s presence!
How do we achieve salvation from this world?

‘ஒன்றே’ என்னின், ஒன்றே ஆம்;
‘பல’ என்று உரைக்கின், பலவே ஆம்;
‘அன்றே’ என்னின், அன்றே ஆம்;
‘ஆமே’ என்னின், ஆமே ஆம்;
‘இன்றே’ என்னின், இன்றே ஆம்;
‘உளது’ என்று உரைக்கின், உளதே ஆம்;
நன்றே, நம்பி குடி வாழ்க்கை!
நமக்கு இங்கு என்னோ பிழைப்பு? அம்மா!

The above poem is the Invocation to God at the beginning of Yuddha Kaanda (War chapter) in Kambaramayanam. It fits in with the concept of God is everything in this world. Mere mortals can’t realise him except by surrendering to him.

If you say God is one, that’s true because he is one that created this world. If you say he is many, that is true, because everything in nature – air, sea, water, fire, space – are manifestations of him. If you ask if he is like the sun or the moon or things visible, no he is not so. If you say he is the warmth of the sun or coolness of the moon, yes, he is so. If you say he is not there, it is true, because he is invisible. If you say he is there, it is true, because his presence is felt by believers. So immense is the nature of God. How can we lowly humans ever grow out of our ignorance and realise him in this world and achieve salvation (other than by surrendering to him)?

As I repeatedly say, I am not an expert in religious interpretations. My interpretations are based on existing commentaries and the language itself. If there’s any mistake, do point it out. ‘You’ in every sentence is implied. I have made it explicit in the translation.

This verse is reminiscent of Nammalvar Paasuram

உளன் எனில் உளன் அவன் உருவம் இவ் உருவுகள்
உளன் அலன் எனில் அவன் அருவம் இவ் அருவுகள்
உளன் என இலன் என இவை குணம் உடைமையில்
உளன் இரு தகைமையொடு ஒழிவு இலன் பரந்தே (2907)

அன்று – Not
ஆம் – Yes
இன்று – No
உளது – that which is
நன்று – immense / great
நம்பி – God
குடி வாழ்க்கை – nature / characteristic
பிழைப்பு – escape / deliverance

Kambaramayanam – 44

Pink legged swans roam around like fish eyed women,
leaving their swanlings on blessed lotus flowers in the fields;
mud legged buffaloes think of their calves and secrete milk,
feeding swanlings which then sleep to the lullaby of green toads.

சேல் உண்ட ஒண் கணாரில் திரிகின்ற செங்கால் அன்னம்
மால் உண்ட நளினப் பள்ளி வளர்த்திய மழலைப் பிள்ளை
கால் உண்ட சேற்று மேதி கன்று உள்ளிக், கனைப்பச் சோர்ந்த
பால் உண்டு துயிலப் பச்சைத் தேரை தாலாட்டும் பண்ணை.

In this poem Kamban describes the bounty and beauty of farm lands of Kosala country. Pink legged swans place their young ones on lotus flowers and roam around like fish eyed women imitating their walk. The buffalos in the fields think of the calves they left behind in the cow shed and start secreting milk spontaneously. This overflowing milk feeds the young swanlings which then sleep to the lullaby of toads. The fields of the country are so fertile and their cattle so well fed, that they spontaneously secrete milk.

  1. Lotus flowers are blessed because Goddess Lakshmi resides in them.
  2. In Indian tradition fish shaped eyes mean beautiful long eyes. The western equivalent is ‘almond eyes’

Kambaramayanam – 34

Rushing water’s sound; cane crushers’ noise;
cane juice’s gurgle; fresh water snails’ squeak;
bull fighting bustle; crash of buffaloes jumping in water;
All these mingle to create a heady buzz in the farm lands.

ஆறு பாய் அரவம்; மள்ளர் ஆலை பாய் அமலை; ஆலைச்
சாறு பாய் ஒதை; வேலைச் சங்கின் வாய் பொங்கும் ஓசை;
ஏறு பாய் தமரம்; நீரில் எருமை பாய் துழனி; இன்ன
மாறு மாறு ஆகி தம்மின் மயங்கும் மா மருத வேலி.

Kamban uses various synonyms of “sound” in Tamil – அரவம், அமலை, ஒதை, ஓசை, தமரம், துழனி. I have tried to do the same in the English translation.

Describing various sounds of a city or land is an age old technique in Tamil literature. Similar lines can be found in Sangam poetry (Malai Padu Kadaam – lines 291 – 345, Madurai Kanchi line 260-270).

Kambaramayanam – 5293

She took it; hugged it to her bosom;  
placed on her head; pressed to her eyes;  
her shoulders lifted; she sagged;
she was at peace; she longed feverishly; sighed;
is it possible to describe her state  of mind?

வாங்கினள் : முலைக்குவையில்
    வைத்தனள் : சிரத்தால்
தாங்கினள் : மலர்க்கண் மிசை
    ஒத்தினள் : தடம்தோள்
வீங்கினள், மெலிந்தனள் :
    குளிர்ந்தனள், வெதுப்போடு
ஏங்கினள் : உயிர்த்தனள் :
    இது இன்னது எனல் ஆமே?

This poem describes Sita’s reaction when Hanuman meets her in Lanka and gives her Rama’s ring (கணையாழி) to identify himself. Sita had given up hope that Rama will come to save her and is on the verge of killing herself. So when Hanuman comes bearing news from Rama, she is overcome by emotion. That ring becomes Rama for her. She takes the ring, hugs it in her bosom, places it in her head, presses it to her eyes. Her shoulders lift up. She sags. She is at peace . She longs feverishly. Sighs. All at the same time. Kamban, the poet, wonders can one define her state?

Tol Kappiyam (தொல்காப்பியம் – Old Tome), the defining book of Tamil Grammar, lists 8 types of physical display of one’s mental state. (எண் வகை மெய்ப்பாடு). These are – laughter, crying, wretchedness, surprise, fear, pride, anger, delight.

நகையே அழுகை இளிவரல் மருட்கை
அச்சம் பெருமிதம் வெகுளி உவகையென்று
அப்பால் எட்டாம் மெய்ப்பா டென்ப

Sita’s overwhelming reaction was across the spectrum that one cannot decide from her reaction what she was going through.

Kambaramayanam – 3237

Her forehead’s like a bow, eyes are like spears,
teeth are like pearl and coral are her lips – ,
if I say so, words may match; meaning doesn’t;
Is there anything to compare her with?
To say Paddy is like grass, doesn’t convey it right.

வில் ஒக்கும் நுதல் என்றாலும், வேல் ஒக்கும் விழி என்றாலும்,
பல் ஒக்கும் முத்து என்றாலும், பவளத்தை இதழ் என்றாலும்,
சொல் ஒக்கும்; பொருள் ஒவ்வாதால்; சொல்லல் ஆம் உவமை உண்டோ?
“நெல் ஒக்கும் புல்” என்றாலும், நேர் உரைத்து ஆகவற்றோ

In Ramayana, after Lakshaman cuts her nose off, Surpanaka rushes to Lanka and provokes her brother Ravana to avenge her. Ravana asks who did this to her and what did you do to provoke them? She replies “I wanted the beautiful Sita with them to be your consort”. And proceeds to describe Sita’s beauty.

“I can say Sita’s forehead is curved beautifully like a bow, her eyes are sharp like spears and her teeth are even and white like pearls. Coral is her lips. But all these similes do not convey the full beauty of Sita. There’s nothing in the world to compare her with. It is like saying Paddy is like grass. Though technically right, it does not convey the riches of Paddy”

Kamban’s poems are meant to be read out loud. The cadence is a joy in itself. If you can read Tamil, read this out loud. I wasn’t able to match Kamban’s brevity, hence had to make it five lines instead of the original four lines.

Kambaramayanam – 4

Like a cat trying to lick dry
the glorious milky ocean*,
did I desire to tell this story
of blemish less King Rama.

ஓசை பெற்று உயர் பால் கடல் உற்று ஒரு
பூசை முற்றவும் நக்குபு புக்கு என
ஆசை பற்றி அறையல் உற்றேன்; மற்று இக்
காசு இல் கொற்றத்து அத்து இராமன் கதை அரோ.

*Ocean of milk that was churned by Devas and Asuras together to obtain the nectar of immortality.

Kamban in his foreword to Kambaramayanam says that the task before him is vast. He is trying to write the glorious story of King Rama, which is already a popular myth.

He compares himself to a small cat which on seeing the milky ocean (பாற்கடல், which contains the nectar of immortality) tries to lick it dry. It knows it cannot drink the ocean completely, yet attempts to do so. “The task before me is vast,as it is not possible for a human being to completely extol the virtues of Rama. Yet I have set out to do this because of my love for Rama. So please bear with my mistakes” he says.

Kambaramayanam – 604

As passion flooded, her body and soul waned
like her thread thin waist; love that entered
through her lengthy eyes, spread all over her,
like a drop of buttermilk that enters milk.

மால் உற வருதலும்,  மனமும் மெய்யும் தன்
நூல் உறு மருங்குல்போல்  நுடங்குவாள், நெடும்
கால் உறு கண் வழிப்  புகுந்த காதல் நோய்,
பால் உறு பிரை எனப், பரந்தது எங்குமே.

In Kamban’s Ramayanam, Sita and Rama meet the day before the Swayamvaram. As he walks through Mithila, he sees her standing in her palace. It is love at first sight. He walks away after that, without a word being spoken. She is love sick and suffers from his thought. This is one of the poems in that situation.

Due to immense passion her body and soul weakened and waned like her slender waist. Love that entered through her lengthy eyes spread through out her soul and consumed her. Love destroys her reserve and pervades her completely. It was like a drop of buttermilk that enters a pot of milk and spreads everywhere fermenting the milk.

This simile, like a drop of buttermilk in milk (பால் உறு பிரை என) is commonly used in Tamil literature. It is found 2000 year old Puranaanooru 276 (like a drop of buttermilk curdling the milk he destroyed the enemies), 1200 year old Manikkavasagar’s Thiruvasagam 21.5 (Siva is hidden like butter in fermented milk) and in Kambaramayanam itself again (as a simile for Lakshmana destroying the enemy formation in war.)

Kambaramayanam – 4182

அரசியல் பாரம் பூரித்து, அயர்ந்தனை இகழாது, ஐயன்
மரை மலர்ப் பாதம் நீங்கா வாழுதி; மன்னர் என்பார்
எரி எனற்கு உரியர் என்றே எண்ணுதி; எண்ணம் யாவும்
புரிதி; சிற்றடிமை குற்றம் பொறுப்பர் என்று எண்ண வேண்டா.

Don’t get powerdrunk and mock others foolishly,
but live without leaving the Lord’s lotus feet;
Think that a Ruler is like a bright flame and act so;
Don’t think that subjects will bear with your faults.

In Kamba Ramayanam, the monkey kings and brothers, Vali and Sugreeva fight each other. Rama, who is on Sugreeva’s side, hides behind a tree and shoots an arrow to kill Vali. Vali, in his death bed, accuses Rama of unethical warfare. Rama explains to him why he had to do so and says that Vali brought it upon himself with his acts against Sugreeva. Vali sees the light and accepts his fate. This poem is his advice to his brother Sugreeva before dying.

“Now that you have power don’t let it get to your head and mock others foolishly. Hold on to Lord Rama’s feet and live as per his advice. A ruler is like a flame. He should provide warmth to his subjects but must not singe them. Don’t think your subjects will bear with whatever you do” . Sound advice to everyone who wins an election.

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