Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the tag “Kambaramayanam”

Kambaramayanam – 1053

Celestials from skies and nymphs from magical realms
cannot match the form of these mortal women;
when these women, whose eyes outdoes the doe’s,
partook toddy in their mouth,
it was like honey flowing into a honeyed flower.

 மீனுடைய விசும்பினார். விஞ்சை நாட்டவர்
ஊனுடை உடம்பினார் உருவம் ஒப்பு இலார்மா
மானுடை நோக்கினார் வாயின் மாந்தினார்-
தேனுடைய மலரிடைத் தேன் பெய்தென்னவே.

Kamban praises the women of Kosala accompanying Dasaratha as they go to Rama’s wedding. This chapter of revelry (உண்டாட்டுப் படலம்) has verses about women drinking toddy and losing their reserve.

In this verse, he says even the celestials or nymphs or no match to the shape and form of these mortal women. These doe eyed women’s mouths are already sweet like honey. Pouring toddy into their mouth was like honey flowing into an already honeyed flower.

மீன் – விண்மீன் – stars
விசும்பு – space
விஞ்சை – magical
ஊன் – flesh / mortal
மாந்துதல் – drink

Kambaramayanam – 2873

“To declare their lust in words of their own,
is not done by women from clans of renown;
but what shall I do, I long for you miserably, 
I’ve no one for me, save me from grief caused by Kama*”, said she.

‘தாம் உறு காமத் தன்மை தாங்களே 
     உரைப்பது என்பது 
ஆம் எனல் ஆவது அன்றால், அருங் குல   
    மகளிர்க்கு அம்மா! 
ஏமுறும் உயிர்க்கு நோவேன்; என் செய்கேன்?   
    யாரும் இல்லேன்;
காமன் என்று ஒருவன் செய்யும் வன்மையைக்
    காத்தி’ என்றாள்.

Surpanakai sees Rama in the forest and falls in love with him. She thinks he might not like the Asura form and changes herself to a human beauty and appears in front of Rama and professes her love for him.

Kambaramayanam – 1109

Kumkumam* dropped down; tresses unraveled;
bangles jangled; clothes slipped off;
anklets rattled up and down clamorously –
as young men partook pleasures of women.

* Kumkumam – Red powder applied as a dot in the forehead

குங்குமம் உதிர்ந்தன; கோதை சோர்ந்தன;
சங்கினம் முரன்றன; கலையும் சாறின;
பொங்கின சிலம்புகள் பூசல் இட்டன;
மங்கையர் இள நலம் மைந்தர் உண்ணவே.

This poem is in Revelry chapter (உண்டாட்டுப் படலம்) in Kamba Ramayanam written in 12th century. These set of poems detail the drunken revelry of women who accompanied Dasaratha as he went to Mithila for the wedding of his son Rama.

Kamban details the dishevelment that happens when a couple makes love. Red mark on her forehead drops off. Braided hair comes unraveled. Her bangles jangled and anklets rattle. Her clothes slip off.

கோதை – Braided hair / tresses
சங்கினம் – சங்கு + இனம் – shell bangles
கலை – clothes

Kambaramayanam – 10181

She leaped into the fire as if reaching for her abode
of lotus that rose above hard-to-swim floods*;
as she leapt in, the fire was burnt to a cinder
like white cotton, by the fieriness of her chastity.

நீந்த அரும் புனலிடை நிவந்த தாமரை
ஏய்ந்த தன் கோயிலே எய்துவாள் எனப்
பாய்ந்தனள்; பாய்தலும் பாலின் பஞ்சு எனத்
தீய்ந்தது அவ் எரி அவள் கற்பின் தீயினால்.

* Legend of Lakshmi – She rose from the milky ocean, seated on a lotus, when it was churned.

Trial by fire is one of the dramatic peaks in Kamba Ramayanam. After Rama has killed Ravana, Sita comes to see him in the battlefield. She is overwhelmed with joy at being rescued by her husband. But Rama chides her and says she should have taken her life when she was kidnapped. He accuses her of enjoying the comforts of Lanka and not killing herself.

Sita is shocked. She says, “I kept myself alive in hopes of seeing you. Now that you yourself doubt me, what is the point of me living. Let me end my life by entering the fire.”

Sita is incarnate of Goddess Lakshmi. Kamban says “She leaps into the fire as if she is reaching her abode of lotus that floats above the immense flood”. One of the legends of Lakshmi is she rose seated on a lotus when the milky ocean was churned. So Sita entering the fire gladly is like she going to her abode of Lotus from where she originally came.The fieriness of her chastity is such that it burns the fire itself to a cinder, like how a white ball of cotton is burnt by fire.

நீந்த அரும் – difficult to swim
புனல் – flood
நிவத்தல் – rise
ஏய்ந்தல் – suitable
கோயில் – abode
பாலின் – like milk (white)

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 consumed my soul.

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.

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