Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the tag “Kurunthokai”

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.

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

Kurunthokai – 383

When she hesitates to elope, her friend says:

Since you agreed, I passed on the message,
to him, the lord from the hills;
he waits at the place we chose;
Now you say “Let today pass by”;
My limbs are tired and weary;
Other than to flutter
like a tender shoot amidst fire,
there’s nothing else I can do.

நீ உடம்படுதலின், யான் தர, வந்து,
குறி நின்றனனே, குன்ற நாடன்;
”இன்றை அளவைச் சென்றைக்க என்றி;
கையும் காலும் ஓய்வன ஒடுங்கத்
தீ உறு தளிரின் நடுங்கி,
யாவதும், இலை, யான் செயற்கு உரியதுவே.

She has decided to elope with him and has sent him message through her friend. They have fixed a point to meet. Now at the last minute, she is having second thoughts and is jittery. Her natural shyness is holding her back. She says to her friend, “Let today pass. I will go tomorrow”. Her friend knows that she needs a push to act upon her decision. So she says, “I am tired, my hands and legs are weary . I tremble like a tender shoot amidst fire. There is nothing I can do”, implying she can’t go and tell him of the change in plans.

குறி – குறிப்பிட்ட இடம் – chosen place
குன்ற நாடன் – man from the hill country
தீ உறு தளிர் – tender shoot in middle of fire
இலை – இல்லை – nothing

Kurunthokai – 29

(He chides his own heart – a common monologue technique in Sangam poetry)

You discard good counsel, follow useless words;
Like an unfired clay vessel catching rain drops
Your flood of passion is beyond what my soul can hold;
You desire what’s beyond reach, my heart!
Worthwhile will be your struggle,
if you find one who holds your words close to heart
like the young one of a monkey in upper branches holding its mother tight.

நல் உரை இகந்து, புல் உரை தாஅய்,
பெயல் நீர்க்கு ஏற்ற பசுங்கலம் போல
உள்ளம் தாங்கா வெள்ளம் நீந்தி,
அரிது அவாவுற்றனை-நெஞ்சே!-நன்றும்
பெரிதால் அம்ம நின் பூசல், உயர் கோட்டு
மகவுடை மந்தி போல
அகன் உறத் தழீஇக் கேட்குநர்ப் பெறினே.

This poem by Avvayar (of Sangam era, 2200 years ago) is a personal favorite. He comes to meet her at night. Her friend refuses him permission to meet and asks him to expedite his marriage proposal. So he is going back forlorn. But his heart is still pining to meet her. He chides his heart. “You don’t listen to good advice, but follow what you want to do. Like an unfired clay vessel held to catch rain drops turning to mush, my soul cannot hold the amount of passion in you. I will break down. You desire what is beyong reach. All your struggles will be worthwhile if you can find someone who hears your grief and holds your words close to her heart, like a monkey up on the tall branch holding its young one tight.”

Two similes make this a stand out poem.

பெயல் நீர்க்கு ஏற்ற பசுங்கலம் போல – Like an unfired clay pot held to catch rain water . The clay vessel is not yet fired and hardened, hence it turns mushy once rain water falls on it. Similarly his soul can’t bear the intensity of passion. This phrase ‘உள்ளம் தாங்கா வெள்ளம் நீந்தி’ – ‘immersed in passion beyond limits of my soul’ , written about 2200 years ago, is timeless. Any Tamil speaking person today will still understand the phrase. Such brevity and beauty.

மகவுடை மந்தி போல – like a monkey carrying its young one. If she hears you and holds your words close to your heart as tight as a monkey carrying its young one. If she values your feelings so much, that she holds them tight. Not normal tight, but as tight as a monkey holding its young one tight as it jumps from tall branches.

பெயல் நீர் – rain water
பசுங்கலம் – fresh (unfired) clay vesselவெள்ளம் – ஆசை வெள்ளம் – flood of passion
அரிது – rare / beyond reach
அவாவுற்றனை – desired
நன்றும் பெரிதால் – lot of good / worthwhile
பூசல் – struggle
உயர் கோட்டு – tall branch
மகவுடை – with kid
மந்தி – monkey
அகன் உற – close to heart
தழீஇ – holds / embraces

Kurunthokai – 280

My friend! May you live long, my friend!
this broad shouldered young lass with braided hair
has my heart on leash all the time;
if I can relish her petite body for a day,
I won’t ask to live for even half a day more.

கேளிர்! வாழியோ, கேளிர்! நாளும் என்
நெஞ்சு பிணிக் கொண்ட அம் சில் ஓதிப்
பெருந் தோட் குறுமகள் சிறு மெல் ஆகம்
ஒரு நாள் புணரப் புணரின்,
அரை நாள் வாழ்க்கையும் வேண்டலன் யானே.

His friend is asking him to forget her. He says “It is not possible for me to forget her. That young girl has my heart under her leash. If I can make love and relish her petite body for a day, I will gladly give up my life; will not want to live even half a day more”

கேளிர் – kin / friend
பிணி – bound
அம் சில் ஓதி- beautiful few braids
பெருந் தோள் – big shoulder
குறுமகள் – young lass
சிறு மெல் ஆகம் – small tender body / petite
புணர – make love / relish
புணரின் – if possible

Kurunthokai – 189

He says to his charioteer : 

We’ll go today itself and return by tomorrow;
let the ivory chariot go fast like waterfalls
that cascades from hills,
let crescent like bright wheels
cut off green stalks like a shooting star does;
travel at the speed of wind to reach, by evening,
the young lass wearing few rows of shell bangles
and unite joyfully with her splendid figure.

இன்றே சென்று வருவது நாளைக்
குன்றிழி யருவியின் வெண்டேர் முடுக
இளம்பிறை யன்ன விளங்குசுடர் நேமி
விசும்புவீழ் கொள்ளியிற் பைம்பயிர் துமிப்பக்
காலியற் செலவின் மாலை யெய்திச்
சின்னிரை வால்வளைக் குறுமகள்
பன்மா ணாக மணந்துவக் குவமே.

This poem is about him wanting to rush back to his woman at the earliest. His ruler has ordered him to go outstation on some work. He doesn’t want to waste time and wants to return back to his woman at the earliest. So he tells his charioteer, “We will start now itself and be back by tomorrow. Let the white chariot made of ivory rush like water that cascades down from the hills. Let crescent like wheels cut off the green stalks in fields like a shooting star scorching the ground. Travel at the speed of wind so we can come back by tomorrow evening and reach this renowned young lass, wearing few rows of shell bangles, and unite with her joyfully”.

Wheels are crescent shaped because a part of the wheel sinks in the soft ground and remaining portion looks like crescent. The wheel moves at such a speed that it cuts down the grains like a shooting start scorching the ground.

குன்று – Hill
இழி – flows
வெண்டேர் – வெண்மை + தேர் – white chariot – chariot made of ivory
முடுகுதல் – hasten
இளம் பிறை – crescent
நேமி – wheel
விசும்பு வீழ் கொள்ளி – space + fall + star – shooting star
பைம்பயிர் – பசுமை + பயிர் – green grains
துமித்தல் – cut / scorch
கால் – wind
செலவு – pace
சின்னிரை – சில+நிரை – few rows
வால்வளை – சங்கு + வளை – shell bangles
குறு மகள் – young girl
பன்மாண் – பலவகையான மாண்பு – many + excellent – splendid
ஆகம் – body
மணந்து – marry / unite
உவக்குவம் – enjoy

Kurunthokai – 28

Shall I whack them? or clobber them?
I don’t know; shall I intentionally scream
“aaah,Oh”? – at this town that sleeps
unaware of my love sickness,

while I’m tormented by swirls of swaying breeze.

முட்டுவேன்கொல்? தாக்குவேன்கொல்?
ஓரேன், யானும்: ஓர் பெற்றி மேலிட்டு,
‘ஆஅ! ஒல்’ எனக் கூவுவேன்கொல்?-
அலமரல் அசைவளி அலைப்ப, என்
உயவு நோய் அறியாது, துஞ்சும் ஊர்க்கே.

This is another popular poem in Kurunthokai, written by Avvaiyaar. She is pining for him and is unable to sleep at night. The swaying breeze adds to her suffering. The entire town is sleeping peacefully except her. She is irked with the town that doesn’t know her misery. “While I am suffering in love, this town sleeps peacefully. Shall I go and whack them? Or clobber them?. I don’t know. May be I will scream intentionally and wake them up.” The implied meaning is once the townspeople wake up and curse her, then they will start gossiping about her condition and force her lover to come and marry her.

Sangam era Avvaiyaar was most definitely a fiesty young woman, not the old woman we see in Tamil mythical movies.

பெற்றி – reason / intention
அலமரல் – swirling
அசைவளி – அசைவு + அளி – sway + breeze
அலை – tormented / afflicted
உயவு நோய் – love sickness
துஞ்சுதல் – sleep

Kurunthokai – 71

He tells his heart:

If it’s cure I seek, then she’s cure;
if it’s wealth  I seek, then she’s wealth –
this hill chieftain’s young daughter
with beautiful freckled bosom,
strong shoulders and slender waist.

மருந்து எனின் மருந்தே; வைப்பு எனின் வைப்பே-
அரும்பிய சுணங்கின் அம் பகட்டு இள முலை,
பெருந் தோள், நுணுகிய நுசுப்பின்,
கல் கெழு கானவர் நல்குறு மகளே.

She is the daughter of hill chieftain. She is young and freckle bosomed, has strong shoulders and slender waist and he has fallen in love with her. His heart tells him to go away from her to earn wealth. But he argues with his heart saying there is no need for him to go. If he goes away he will fall love sick and the cure for that is this girl. If it is wealth (future savings) he is going in search of, that too is this girl for him. So why should he go away?

The brevity of original poem is difficult to translate. Literal translation of ‘மருந்து எனின் மருந்தே’ is ‘if cure then cure’. The ‘I seek – then she is’ is implied. I had to make it explicit to make the translation easy to read.

வைப்பு – savings (wealth)
அரும்பிய – budding
சுணங்கு – freckle
பகட்டு – atbeautifu
நுணுகிய – narrow
நுசுப்பு – waist
கல் கெழு – rock filled (hills)
கானவர் – ruler of forest
குறு மகள் – young daughter

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