Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the tag “Manimekalai”

Manimekalai – 16.84-90

Listen : Clear minded men give up
intoxicating toddy and taking lives;
Death of men born and rebirth of dead
is like going to sleep and waking up;
Knowing that virtuous attaining heaven
and vile men attaining hell is true,
wise men give them up.

மயக்கும் கள்ளும் மன்உயிர் கோறலும்    
கயக்குஅறு மாக்கள் கடிந்தனர் கேளாய்:
பிறந்தவர் சாதலும் இறந்தவர் பிறத்தலும்
உறங்கலும் விழித்தலும் போன்றது உண்மையின்
நல்அறம் செய்வோர் நல்உலகு அடைதலும்
அல்லறம் செய்வோர் அருநரகு அடைதலும்
உண்டுஎன உணர்தலின் உரவோர் களைந்தனர்

These lines are from Manimekalai, a Tamil Buddhist Epic. Of the 5 great Epics in Tamil literature, 3 are Jainism oriented (Seevaka Sinthamani, Silappathikaaram and Valaiyapathi) and 2 are Buddist (Manimekalai and Kundalakesi). Of the Buddisht epics, Manimekalai is the only fully extant text. Manimekalai is dated to around 6th Century AD. You can read more about Manimekalai in Wiki.

Being an epic of an ascetic religion, it propagates giving up things that cause immorality in men. Murder and drunkennes are placed at par. This verse is of a Buddhist merchant Sadhuvan who is stranded in an island with Nagas advising the Naga Chief. When Sadhuvan is castaway in the island, the Chief gives him a woman, food and wine. Sadhuvan refuses and the Naga chides him asking what’s the point of life if you give up women and food? This verse is Sadhuvan’s reply.

“Death and birth are regular occurences like going to sleep and waking up. It is well known that the virtuous attain heaven and the vile attain hell. Since wise men know this, they give up intoxicating wine and taking others lives”

Manimekalai was written to refute other competing religions of that time and hence most of its verses are moralistic. I chose these lines for their beautiful brevity, especially

பிறந்தவர் சாதலும் இறந்தவர் பிறத்தலும்,
உறங்கலும் விழித்தலும் போன்றது

Death of men born and rebirth of dead
is like going to sleep and waking up

Manimekalai – Sirai Vidu Kaathai 73-80

Do you cry for his body or for his soul?
If you cry for his body, who was it (but you)
that consigned your son’s body to cemetery?
If you cry for his soul, where it is headed  
is hard to know as that’s decided by destiny.
If that soul is dear to you, my lady,
you should grieve for all souls.

உடற்குஅழு தனையோ உயிர்க்குஅழு தனையோ     
உடற்குஅழு தனையேல் உன்மகன் தன்னை     
எடுத்துப் புறங்காட்டு இட்டனர் யாரே
உயிர்க்குஅழு தனையேல் உயிர்புகும் புக்கில்     
செயப்பாட்டு வினையால் தெரிந்துஉணர்வு அரியது     
அவ்வுயிர்க்கு அன்பினை ஆயின் ஆய்தொடி     
எவ்வுயிர்க்கு ஆயினும் இரங்கல் வேண்டும்

Manimekalai is one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. It is a Buddhist epic. The protagonist Manimekalai is the daughter of Madhavi, one of the central characters of the epic Silappathikaaram. Hence Silappathikaaram and Manimekalai are considered as twin epics. Manimekalai is dated between 300-600 CE.

The Chola King Udhayakumaran falls madly in love with Manimekalai. But she wants to be a Buddhist nun. To escape his clutches she transforms herself into another woman , Kaayasandikai. When the King realises that it is Manimekalai in another form, the pursues her again. The real Kaayasandikai’s husband Kanchanan  mistakes this and kills the King. The King’s mother wants to take revenge on Manimekalai for her son’s death. She tries to torture Manimekalai, but all her efforts fail. She realises that she has failed and falls at Manimekalai’s feet.

This poem is Manimekalai assuaging the pain of King’s mother. She says, “Do you cry for your son’s body or soul. If you cry for his body, it was you who consigned his dead body to the graveyard, not me. If you cry for his soul, it is hard to know what form his soul will take in next birth as it is decided only by his deeds in previous birth (karma/fate). So my dear lady, if you love your son’s soul, you should grieve and empathise with all souls in this universe”

The last two lines make this poem universal.
அவ்வுயிர்க்கு அன்பினை ஆயின் …எவ்வுயிர்க்கு ஆயினும் இரங்கல் வேண்டும் – If that soul is dear to you, you should grieve for all souls.

This poem also explains the Buddhist philosophy of rebirth. You can read the wiki here

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