Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the tag “Kurunthokai”

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.

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

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