Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the tag “Manimekalai”

Manimekalai – 26 : 228 -230

If you ask what is virtue, listen carefully –
To provide food, clothes and shelter to all living beings
Is virtue; I haven’t known any other definition

அறம்எனப் படுவது யாதுஎனக் கேட்பின்
மறவாது இதுகேள் மன்உயிர்க்கு எல்லாம் 
உண்டியும் உடையும் உறையுளும் அல்லது 
கண்டது இல்

Manimekalai is a Buddhist Epic and is counted among the 5 great epics of Tamil literature. In this verse Manimekalai advices Aputra, the ruler of Manipallavam Island to rule his country in a righteous manner. “If you ask me what is the virtue of a ruler, I’ll tell you this. Listen carefully. To ensure food, clothes and shelter of all living beings is the virtue of a ruler. I haven’t found any other definition for virtue of a ruler”

அறம் – righteousness / virtue

மறவாது – without fail / carefully

மன் உயிர் – all living beings / humanity

உண்டி – food

உடை – dress

உறை – shelter

Manimekalai – 11.61-72

O’ Gallant conqueror of Lust,
Eliminator of hateful doctrines,
Great one who strives to do right to men,
Ancient one who doesn’t yearn for heaven,
One who is unperturbed by others thoughts,
Wise One who helps others obtain wisdom,
One whose ears block hateful words,
One whose tongue utters only truth,
One who went to hell to redeem the sinners,
One who eradicates the misery of Nagas,
To praise thy hallowed feet, instead of worshiping,
will be impertinent of my tongue to do,
said the beautiful damsel..

மாரனை வெல்லும் வீர நின்அடி
தீநெறிக் கடும்பகை கடிந்தோய் நின்அடி
பிறர்க்குஅறம் முயலும் பெரியோய் நின்அடி
துறக்கம் வேண்டாத் தொல்லோய் நின்அடி
எண்பிறக்கு ஒழிய இறந்தோய் நின்அடி
கண்பிறர்க்கு அளிக்கும் கண்ணோய் நின்அடி
தீமொழிக்கு அடைத்த செவியோய் நின்அடி
வாய்மொழி சிறந்த நாவோய் நின்னடி
நரகர் துயர்கெட நடப்போய் நின்அடி
உரகர் துயரம் ஒழிப்போய் நின்அடி
வணங்குதல் அல்லது வாழ்த்தல்என் நாவிற்கு
அடங்காது என்ற ஆயிழை …,

Manimekalai is a Tamil Buddhist epic, generally dated around 5th Century CE. It follows the life of Manimekalai, who is the daughter of Madhavi from Silappathikaram (the premier epic in Tamil literature). Goddess Deeva Thilakai takes her to the Gomukhi pond on the auspicious day of Vaikasi Visakha (Buddha Poornima?). They pray to Buddha and go around the pond. Manimekalai is given the ‘Amudha Surabhi’ (never empty food bowl) which will satiate the hunger of all living beings.

On receiving the bowl, she is happy and praises Buddha. “You conquered the God of Lust (who tried to disturb Buddha’s meditation under the Bodhi tree). You eliminate the hateful doctrines and show us the true path. You try to do right to all men. You are beyond hell and heaven, having attained true Nirvana. So you don’t yearn for heaven. Others thoughts don’t reach and disturb you. You are the wise one who gives wisdom to others. Your ears close to hateful speech. Your tongue utters only the truth. You visited hell to redeeem sinners there. (Buddha is supposed to have visited Hell in one of his births to redeem the sufferers there). You’ve walked the country of Nagas (South India?) to eradicate their misery. It will be impertinent of my tongue to praise your hallowed feet. I should only bow down and worship you”

In the Tamil verse, every line ends with ‘Hallowed feet’. I have used it only once, to read easy in English. Na.Mu.Venkatasamy Naattar in his commentary helpfully says “Since Manimekalai was overcome with joy, she kept repeating hallowed feet in every line. We can take it at the end of her felicitations”.

வாழ்த்த வயதில்லை வணங்குகிறேன் – ‘I’m not old enough to praise you, so I worship you’ is a cliched sentence in Tamil Nadu political oratory in the last decade. So when I found that this phrase had its origin in an epic written 1500 years ago, I was extremely pleased. One keeps finding such nuggets as one explores Tamil literature.

மாரன் – God of Love / Lust
தீநெறி – தீய நெறி – hateful doctrines
கடும்பகை – strong enmity
நின் அடி – your (hallowed) feet
கடிந்தோய் – கடிதல் – removal / elimination
துறக்கம் – heaven
எண்பிறக்கு ஒழிய – பிறரது எண்ணங்கள் தீண்ட முடியாத உயரத்தில் – not touched by others thoughts
இறந்தோய் – one who has given up
கண் பிறர்க்கு – wisdom to others
கண்ணோய் – கண்ணோட்டம் உடையவன் – One who is wise
தீமொழி – hateful words
செவி – ear
வாய்மொழி – வாய்மை + மொழி – true words
நாவோய் – நா + உடையவன் – tongue
நரகர் – sinners
உரகர் – Nagas
வணங்குதல் – Bow / Worship
வாழ்த்தல் – Praise / Bless
நாவிற்கு அடங்காது – my tongue should not do
ஆயிழை -girl wearing beautiful jewels / damsel / woman

Manimekalai 11.(lines 92-96)

Benefactors to the able are just traders in virtue;
Those who satiate the hunger of the feeble
are who embody virtuous life in this world;
Of all those who live in this densely packed world –
One who gives food is one who gives life.

ஆற்றுநர்க்கு அளிப்போர் அறவிலை பகர்வோர்
ஆற்றா மாக்கள் அரும்பசி களைவோர்
மேற்றே உலகின் மெய்ந்நெறி வாழ்க்கை
மண்திணி ஞாலத்து வாழ்வோர்க்கு எல்லாம்
உண்டி கொடுத்தோர் உயிர்கொடுத் தோரே.

Manimekalai is a Buddist epic, generally dated around 5th Century CE. It follows the life of Manimekalai, who is the daughter of Madhavi from Silappathikaram (the premier epic in Tamil literature). She is given the ‘Amudha Surabhi’ (never empty food bowl) which will satiate the hunger of all living beings. While giving her the Amudha Surabhi, the goddess Deeva Thilakai explains to her the virtue of feeding the hungry.

The Goddess says “Those who give to able men who can do something back for them are just traders in virtue. They do virtuous deeds expecting something in return. Those who remove the hunger of the feeble ones embody virtuous life in this world. There are in this atom packed world. In this world one who provides food to the needy is one who gives life to them”. Feeding the hungry was considered the highest form of virtue.

The phrase “உண்டி கொடுத்தோர் உயிர்கொடுத் தோரே” – ‘One who feeds is one who gives life’ is very popular in Tamil Nadu. It is derived from Puranaanooru poem number 18. Similarly the phrase ‘அறவிலை பகர்வோர்’ – ‘traders in virtue’ is from Puranaanooru poem no. 134.

ஆற்றுநர் – those who are able (to do some thing in return)
அறம் – virtue
விலை பகர்வோர் – who tell price (trader)
ஆற்றா – unable / feeble
மாக்கள் – people
மேற்றே – follows
மெய்ந்நெறி – true path (virtuous)
மண் திணி – atom packed
ஞாலம் – world
உண்டி – food

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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