Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the tag “Kurunthokai”

Kurunthokai – 371

My friend! I too do not want bangles to slip out of my arms
Or my skin to become pale, thinking of my lover,
In whose cloudy hills wild rice is harvested with water from falls;
My passion though, is immense.

கை வளை நெகிழ்தலும் மெய் பசப்பு ஊர்தலும்,
மை படு சிலம்பின் ஐவனம் வித்தி
அருவியின் விளைக்கும் நாடனொடு,
மருவேன்-தோழி-அது காமமோ பெரிதே.

Her lover from the hills hasn’t come to ask her hand in marriage as he promised. So she is pining for him and is becoming sickly. Her friend says “Get out of this funk”. She replies to her friend “I too do not want my arms to be so weak that bangles slip out of it. Or pallor to spread across my skin. In my lovers hills people notice clouds encircling the hills and sow wild rice, as they are sure that water from rainfed water falls will help them to harvest rice. Similarly I trusted him and fell inove with him. I still trust him. My anemic state is not because of him too. It is because of the passion in my heart, that is too immense to keep in check”

நெகிழ்தல் – weaken (and slip out)

மெய் – body

பசப்பு – pallor

மை படு சிலம்பு – cloud covered hill slope

ஐவனம் – mountain rice

வித்தி – sow

விளைக்கும் – grow

மருவேன் – மருவ மாட்டேன் – do not want to be

பெரிதே – immense

Kurunthokai – 163

Like herds of small headed white goats
that roam in Poozhi country,
the grove fringed water front
is filled with fish hunting egrets;
At this water front, even at midnight,
-when white screw-pine flower shrubs are swayed by waves-
Your plaintive cry is still heard;
Oh’ Sea! For whom do you pine and suffer?

யார் அணங்குற்றனை-கடலே! பூழியர்
சிறு தலை வெள்ளைத் தோடு பரந்தன்ன
மீன் ஆர் குருகின் கானல்அம் பெருந்துறை.
வெள் வீத் தாழை திரை அலை
நள்ளென் கங்குலும் கேட்கும், நின் குரலே?

She is pining for him. She misses his love and passion, and is awake at midnight. Every one else is asleep. The roar of the sea is her only companion. She asks the sea “Your water front is overrun by white egrets hunting for fish. They look like the white goats found everywhere in Poozhi country. In this water front, where high tide brings the waves to sway white screw pine flower shrubs in shore, you are still awake and I can hear you plaintive cry. I am awake because I miss my lover and suffer on his behalf. On whose account to you suffer, Oh’ Sea?”

Poozhi Country is thought to be present day Kozhikode in Kerala coast. There is another Poozhi country in areas around Tirunelveli, but that is not close to the coast.

அணங்கு – suffer
பூழியர் – Poozhi country
சிறு தலை வெள்ளைத் தோடு – herd of small headed white goats
பரந்து – widespread
மீன் ஆர் குருகு – fish hunting egrets
கானல் – grove
பெருந்துறை – wide water front
வெள் வீத் தாழை – white screw pine flower shrubs
திரை – waves
அலை – அலைக்கின்ற – shake / sway
நள் – mid
கங்குல் – night

Kurunthokai – 325

He kept repeating “I’ll leave, I’ll leave”
Thinking it was his age-old hogwash to leave,
‘Leave my side and go away forever’ I said;
Oh my God! I wonder where my faultless Lord is now?
Like the wide pond inhabited by black legged white Egret,
Valley of my bosom is filled with tears of regret.

‘சேறும் சேறும்’ என்றலின், பண்டைத் தம்
மாயச் செலவாச் செத்து, ‘மருங்கு அற்று
மன்னிக் கழிக’ என்றேனே; அன்னோ!
ஆசு ஆகு எந்தை யாண்டு உளன்கொல்லோ?
கருங் கால் வெண் குருகு மேயும்
பெருங் குளம் ஆயிற்று, என் இடைமுலை நிறைந்தே.

They have had a fight and he has left her. She regrets her actions now and pines for him. She says “He kept repeating that he will leave me. I thought it was nothing but his age-old tactic and said ‘Leave me and go away’. Oh my God, what have I done? I wonder where he is now. It wasn’t his fault. Thinking of him I shed tears that collect in the valley of my bosom like a wide pond where dark legged white egret roams”

சேறும் – Will leave
பண்டை – age old
மாயம் – lie / hogwash
செலவு – leave
செத்து – thinking
மருங்கு – side
அற்று – leave
மன் – permanently / forever
கழிக – go away
ஆசு – fault
எந்தை – my lord
யாண்டு – now
உளன் – (where) is there
கருங் கால் – black legged
வெண் குருகு – white egret
மேயும் – roaming
பெருங் குளம் – wide pond
இடைமுலை – valley between breasts / cleavage

Kurunthokai – 99

He answers her friend who asks him “did you think of her when you were away?”

Did I not think of her? Thinking,
Did I not reminisce? Reminiscing,
Was I not flustered by society’s coventions?
Like the copious flood that wetted branches of the tallest tree
Thinning to a rivulet one scoops out water from, and drying out,
My unbounded passion is slaked once I’m here.

உள்ளினென் அல்லெனோ யானே? உள்ளி,
நினைந்தனென் அல்லெனோ பெரிதே நினைந்து,
மருண்டனென் அல்லெனோ, உலகத்துப் பண்பே?
நீடிய மராஅத்த கோடு தோய் மலிர் நிறை
இறைத்து உணச் சென்று அற்றாங்கு,
அனைப் பெருங் காமம் ஈண்டு கடைக்கொளவே.

He has come back after a long time spent earning wealth. Her friend asks him “Did you think of her when you were away?” He answers her “Was there a moment I did not think of her? No. Thinking of her did I not remember the pleasant times we spent together? I did. Did I not despair of the world’s convention that a man has to go away from his near and dear ones to earn wealth? I did. My unbounded passion was like a copious flood that touches the branches of the tallest tree. Like how the same flood dwindles down to rivulet you can drink from and then ceases to exist, my passion is satiated now that I am one with her again.”

“Flood thinning out into a rivulet and drying out” is a remarkable simile for how passion is satiated once one is with his loved one. When he is away from her, the only thing that keeps him going is his passion towards her. As that is satiated after hecomes home, he is content, and looks back at that burning passion, perplexed.

உள்ளுதல் – thinking
நினைத்தல் – remember
மருளுதல் – bewildered / flustered
உலகத்துப் பண்பு – world’s rules / conventions
நீடிய மரம்  – tall tree
கோடு – branch
தோய் – soak / wet
மலிர்நிறை – huge flood
இறைத்து உ(ண்)ண -scoop out and drink
அற்று – cease to exist / dry out
அனைய – like
பெருங்காமம் – unbounded passion
ஈண்டு – here
கடைக்கொளல் -reaches its end

Kurunthokai – 95

Clamor of pristine white water falls from lofty hills
echo inside caves in the slope dotted with many a flower;
Her dad is chief of a hamlet in those slopes;
His broad shouldered young daughter’s
water like grace doused my fire like vigor.

மால் வரை இழிதரும் தூ வெள் அருவி
கல் முகைத் ததும்பும் பல் மலர்ச் சாரற்
சிறுகுடிக் குறவன் பெருந் தோட் குறுமகள்
நீர் ஓரன்ன சாயல்
தீ ஓரன்ன என் உரன் அவித்தன்றே.

His friend finds him listless and asks him the reason. He says “See that hill slope dotted with many hued flowers.  Pristine white water falls from those hills and sounds noisily inside the caves. I have fallen in love with the daughter of a hill chieftain from that hilly slope. She is graceful and gentle, just like the water that flows in her hills. I was full of vigor before I met her. Her gentleness has doused my vigor. I am besotted with her now and feeling listless”

Description of nature is inherent part of Sangam poetry. He mentions those flower dotted hill slope and caves to indicate that is where they had made love.

The last two lines make this poem. Read them out loud and relish them.
நீர் ஓரன்ன சாயல்
தீ ஓரன்ன என் உரன் அவித்தன்றே

Her water like grace
doused my fire like vigor.

மால் வரை – Lofty hill
இழிதரும் – falls down
தூ வெள் அருவி – pure white water falls
கல் முகை – crack in rocks / caves
ததும்பும் – sounds / echoes
பல் மலர் – many flowers
சாரல் – hill slope
சிறுகுடி – small hamlet
குறவன் – chief
பெருந் தோட் குறுமகள் – broad shouldered young daughter
நீர் ஓரன்ன சாயல் – water like grace
தீ ஓரன்ன என் உரன் – my fire like strength / vigor
அவித்தன்றே – quenched / doused

Kurunthokai – 168

Like dew covered buds of monsoon jasmine
kept inside broad green palm fronds
blossoming at incessant rainy dawn,
pleasant and fragrant is her glorious figure;
Her coracle like round supple shoulders –
to hug them and let go is beyond me;
If I leave her, to live is even more impossible.

மாரிப் பித்திகத்து நீர்வார் கொழுமுகை
இரும்பனம் பசுங்குடைப் பலவுடன் பொதிந்து
பெரும்பெயல் விடியல் விரித்துவிட் டன்ன
நறுந்தண் ணியளே நன்மா மேனி
புனற்புணை யன்ன சாயிறைப் பணைத்தோள்
மணத்தலுந் தணத்தலு மிலமே
பிரியின் வாழ்த லதனினு மிலமே.

He is in two minds, whether to go away to earn wealth or stay with her. He is arguing with his heart. He says, “Jasmine blooms in monsoon season. The dew covered buds are plucked and kept covered by broad green palm fronds. As it rains during daybreak, the buds blossom into beautiful flowers. My girl is fresh and fragrant like those just blossomed jasmine buds. Her round supple shoulders are like curved coracles. To hug them and let go is beyond me. If I leave her, to be alive is even more difficult for me”

Tamil movie goers might remember the first two lines from மண்வாசனை movie song. “பொத்தி வச்ச மல்லிகை மொட்டு, பூத்திருச்சு வெக்கத்த விட்டு”

Relish the Tamil phrases – ”பெரும்பெயல் விடியல் விரித்து விட்டன்ன நறுந்தண்ணியளே நன் மா மேனி”, ”மணத்தலுந் தணத்தலும் இலமே பிரியின் வாழ்தல் அதனினும் இலமே” , pronounce them out loud.

மாரி – Monsoon
பித்தி – பிச்சிப் பூ – Jasmine
நீர்வார் – dew dripping
கொழு முகை – plump bud
இரும் பனம் – big palm frond
பசுங் குடை – green covering
பொதிந்து – பொத்தி – kept
பெரும்பெயல் – rains
விடியல் – dawn / day break
விரித்து விட்டன்ன – blossoming like
நறும் – fragrant
தண் – cool / pleasant
நன் மா மேனி – beautiful body / figure
புனற்புணை – புனல் + புணை – river going coracle
சாயிறை – சாய் + இறை – curved joints – rounded
பணைத் தோள் – bamboo shoulder / supple shoulder
மணத்தல் – to embrace / hug
தணத்தல் – to leave
இலம் – not possible
பிரியின் – பிரிந்தேன் ஆயின் – if I leave
வாழ்தல் – to live
அதனினும் – even more / definitely

Kurunthokai – 37

He has much love for you; will take care of you too;
Male elephant with its long trunk
strips the bark off toddy palm tree
to quench the hunger of its female;
such tender scenes dot the road he took, my friend!

நசை பெரிது உடையர்; நல்கலும் நல்குவர்;
பிடி பசி களைஇய பெருங் கை வேழம்
மென் சினை யாஅம் பொளிக்கும்
அன்பின-தோழி!-அவர் சென்ற ஆறே.

She is pining for him. Her friend consoles her saying “Don’t worry. He has much love for you. He will definitely come back and take care of you. When a female elephant suffers from hunger in the parched way, male elephant strips the bark off toddy palm tree with thin branches and lets the sap flow and quench its partner’s hunger. Such tender scenes dot the road in which he traveled. They will remind him of his duty to you. So he will definitely be back and take care of you”

Toddy Palm Tree / Wine Palm tree (கூந்தப்பனை in Tamil) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caryota_urens is a flowering palm tree.

kithul tree

நசை – love
நல்கல் – protect / care
நல்குவர் – will give
பிடி – female elephant
களைஇய – remove / satiate / quench
பெருங்கை – long trunk
வேழம் – male elephant
மென் சினை – thin branch
யாஅம் – யா மரம் – Toddy Palm Tree / Wine Palm Tree
பொளி – strip
அன்பின – affectionate / tender
ஆறு – way / road

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

Kurunthokai – 313

Whiskered tern in his vast seashore
picks and f
eeds on fish from flooded inky estuary,
then dwells in nearby fragrant grove; 
With him have I bonded;
this bond won’t be undone;

it’s hard to unravel, fastened forever.

பெருங் கடற் கரையது சிறுவெண் காக்கை
நீத்து நீர் இருங் கழி இரை தேர்ந்து உண்டு,
பூக் கமழ் பொதும்பர்ச் சேக்கும் துறைவனொடு
யாத்தேம்; யாத்தன்று நட்பே;
அவிழ்த்தற்கு அரிது; அது முடிந்து அமைந்தன்றே.

He hasn’t come to meet her for long. Her friend disparages him for making her grieve. She talks to her friend in support of him. “It is true that he hasn’t come to meet me. Doesn’t mean that he has forgotten me. Whiskered terns in his vast seashore come to the flooded inky black estuary to hunt for fish. After picking up the fish and eating it, they go back and dwell in nearby fragrant groves. With him have I hooked up. Our love is strong and won’t unravel easily. It is set forever, a permanent bond. Will be hard for others to undo it”

‘Tern hunting fish and going back to the grove’ is a metaphor. They have met secretly near the estuary at night. But she is sure, like how the tern goes back to the grove, he too will take her to his home as wedded wife. Tern doesn’t hunt indiscriminately. It picks and chooses. Likewise he too chose only her.

‘Hard to unravel’ is a veiled warning to her friend. “Don’t badmouth him to me. You won’t be able to change my mind about him”

Whiskered_tern_(Chlidonias_hybridus)_winter_plumage

Whiskered Tern (from Wikimedia)

சிறுவெண் காக்கை – Whiskered Tern
நீத்து நீர் – Excess Water (flooded)
இருங் கழி – dark sanded estuary
பூக் கமழ் – flower smelling (fragrant)
பொதும்பை – grove
சேக்கும் – dwells
யாத்தல் – tied / bonded
முடிந்து – tied / fastened
அமைந்து – settled / permanent / forever

Kurunthokai – 25

There was no one else but the crook himself;
if he refutes his words, what can I do?
A Kurugu*, with greenish legs like millet stalks,
too was there watching the water to hunt slippery eels,
when he made love to me.

*Kurugu – Yellow bittern, a reclusive egret kind of bird that resides in reed beds.

யாரும் இல்லை; தானே கள்வன்;
தான் அது பொய்ப்பின், யான் எவன் செய்கோ?
தினை தாள் அன்ன சிறு பசுங் கால
ஒழுகு நீர் ஆரல் பார்க்கும்
குருகும் உண்டு, தான் மணந்த ஞான்றே.

Screenshot_2018-06-02-21-47-36-832_com.instagram.android

They have consummated their love. But he is delaying the commitment of marriage. She is afraid that he may go back on his word and confides her anxiety to her friend, as all of us do: There was no witness to the passion and the promises shared – unless you count the Kurugu who was hunting eels in the river nearby.

Sangam poetry takes its cues and metaphors and also implications from nature. Hence the mention of the Kurugu has different layers of meaning.

First, it is indicative of setting. The Kurugu is reclusive and stays among bushes or river brush. It signifies the place where the couple made love – an isolated riverbank.
Second, it underlines her helplessness, since the bird after all, cannot speak – and so cannot speak for her.

Third, the bird waiting to hunt eels is a metaphor, for him, the lover, waiting to hunt her, make her his ‘conquest’. In separation, she remembers how he charmed her and begins to doubt his intentions – hence calling him a crook.

But as we know, these feelings of anxiety and doubt are quickly followed by lovers’ hope, and assurances to the self.

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