Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the tag “Naaladiyaar”

Naaladiyaar – 133

Wise men consider salt from saline lands
valuable than paddy from fertile lands;
scholars, even if they are born in low lands,
are placed above those from higher lands.

களர் நிலத்துப் பிறந்த உப்பினைச் சான்றோர்
விளை நிலத்து நெல்லின் விழுமிதாக் கொள்வர்;-
கடை நிலத்தோர் ஆயினும், கற்று அறிந்தோரைத்
தலை நிலத்து வைக்கப்படும்.

This Naaladiyaar poem talks about the value of education. Salt was a precious commodity in those days and wise men valued it much more than paddy sown in fertile lands. Similarly, an educated man, even if he is from lower strata of society, will be placed above those born in higher rungs of society.

Literal meaning: கடை நிலத்து – low lands, தலை நிலத்து – high lands. Thi. Su. Balasundaram Pillai in his commentary interprets it as those born in lower and higher caste respectively.

களர் – saline land
விழுமியம் – value

Naaladiyaar – 332

Like people who go to bathe in the ocean saying
“I’ll bathe after the noise (of waves) subsides completely” –
is the shabby conduct of those who wait saying
“I’ll think of virtuous deeds after completing my domestic duties”

பெருங் கடல் ஆடிய சென்றார், ‘ஒருங்கு உடன்
ஓசை அவிந்தபின் ஆடுதும்’ என்றற்றால்-
‘இல் செய் குறைவினை நீக்கி, அறவினை
மற்று அறிவாம்’ என்று இருப்பார் மாண்பு.

One should not wait to complete all his domestic responsibilities before doing good deeds. Because domestic responsibilities never end. It is like those who go to bathe in the ocean and wait for the noise of waves to completely subside before entering the ocean. Only an ignoramus will wait for something that will never happen.

ஒருங்கு – complete
அவிந்த பின் – after it subsides
இல் – home
செய் – to do
குறைவினை – shortage
அறவினை – virtuous deed
மற்று – later
அறிவாம் – will think
இருப்பார் – wait
மாண்பு – glory (used here in opposite meaning – shabby)

Naaladiyaar – 4

“What’s ours, ours won’t be forever ours” realize this;
noble, noble deeds you wanted to do, do them immediately; –
down and down dwindles one’s life time; wrathfully
comes here, comes here the god of death!

‘நின்றன நின்றன நில்லா’ என உணர்ந்து,
ஒன்றின ஒன்றின வல்லே, செயின், செய்க-
சென்றன சென்றன, வாழ்நாள்; செறுத்து, உடன்
வந்தது வந்தது, கூற்று!

This Naaladiyaar poem talks about the impermanence of wealth. All the wealth that we think is ours won’t remain forever ours. So use your wealth to do all good deeds you wanted to do and do them immediately. Don’t wait. Because one’s life time is dwindling rapidly and God of death is approaching one day by day.

The Tamil poem uses simple words repeated twice to achieve an inherent rhythm. I can’t bring that flow in the translation. Yet I have used repetitive words to give a sense of the original poem.

ஒன்றின – suitable / good / noble
வல் – quick
செறு – angry
கூற்று – death

Naaladiyaar – 335

Though there’s no real reason, if he doesn’t rage
as if there’s a reason, and in his rage,
rant and rave at those beyond his reach,
a dimwit’s tongue will really itch.

பெறுவது ஒன்று இன்றியும், பெற்றானே போலக்
கறுவுகொண்டு, ஏலாதார்மாட்டும், கறுவினால்
கோத்து இன்னா கூறி உரையாக்கால், பேதைக்கு
நாத் தின்னும், நல்ல சுனைத்து

The reason for one to outrage might not exist in reality. Yet a dumb person will act as if there’s a reason to outrage against those who are beyond his reach, justify his rage to himself and utter harsh words against them. If he does not do so, his tongue will itch (he cannot rein his tongue in).

A dumb person cannot hold his words. He will curse and rave at those who are beyond reach even though there is no obvious reason. Beyond his reach implies that his harsh words will have no effect on them, yet he will rant and rave.

பெறுவது – பெறும் காரணம் – reason to get (angry)
கறுவு – anger
ஏலாதார் – (one whom we) cannot reach
கோத்து – justify
இன்னா – harsh
உரையாக்கால் – உரையாமல் போனால் – if he does not tell
சுனை – itch

Naaladiyaar – 71

O’ ruler of hills with garland like cool waterfalls!

Never engage in a conversation with a dimwit –

if you engage, he will distort your words;

better to slip away by any means.


கோதை யருவிக் குளிர்வரை நன்னாட
பேதையோ டியாதும் உரையற்க – பேதை
உரைப்பிற் சிதைந்துரைக்கும் வகையான்
வழுக்கிக் கழிதலே நன்று.


Do not engage in a discussion on any topic with an idiot. If you talk to him he will distort your words. So use any means to avoid him and move away from his presence.

கோதை- garland

பேதை – idiot

சிதைத்தல் – distort

வகையான் any means

வழுக்குதல் – to escape

கழிதல் – leave

Naaladiyaar – 395

Thinking her eyes to be fish, behind her
went a young kingfisher!
though it followed her ready to fish,
it didn’t do so,
for it got to know
that the bend of her eyebrow
is the curve of a bow.

கண் கயல் என்னும் கருத்தினால், காதலி
பின் சென்றது அம்ம, சிறு சிரல்! பின் சென்றும்,
ஊக்கி எழுந்தும், எறிகல்லா-ஒண் புருவம்
கோட்டிய வில் வாக்கு அறிந்து.

A rare love poem in Naaladiyaar. Of the 400 poems in Naaladiyaar, only the last 10 deal with love. In this poem, he exclaims to his friend about his lover. “Her sparkling eyes are like fish. An young kingfisher followed her to fish her eyes out. Though it got ready to dive, it didn’t do so as it realised that the bend of her eyebrow is the curve of a bow. Since it was afraid the bow might shoot an arrow at it, the kingfisher didn’t dive to pluck her eyes.”

‘Fish like eyes’ is a common simile used in Tamil literature. Something like ‘almond eyes’ in English.

I broke up the structure of the poem to make it rhyme in English. Not a scholarly thing to do, but this account is to make Tamil fun to read.

கயல் – fish

சிரல் – kingfisher

ஊக்கி – to act

ஒண் – ஒண்மை – graceful

கோட்டு – curve, bend

வாக்கு – curve, bend

Naaladiyaar – 112

The noble and ignoble both
never vary from their character! –
Whoever eats it, cane sugar is never bitter;
neem fruit is bitter even if Gods eat it.

தக்காரும் தக்கவ ரல்லாரும் தந்நீர்மை
எக்காலுங் குன்றல் இலராவர் ! – அக்காரம்
யாவரே தின்னினும் கையாதாம் கைக்குமாம்
தேவரே தின்னினும் வேம்பு.

Those who are honorable are always like that and never deviate from their character irrespective of the situation . Same goes with dishonorable people. It’s like sugar and neem. Sugar is never bitter, irrespective of who tastes it. Similarly neem is bitter even if Gods taste it.

தக்கார் – noble
நீர்மை – property / inherent quality
குன்றல் – reduce / diminish
அக்காரம் – cane sugar
கைத்தல் – taste bitter
தேவர் – celestials / God / good people
வேம்பு – neem

Naaladiyaar – 115

Calf of a fine cow will fetch a high price even if young;
Words of the rich will be valued even if they’re ignorant;
Words of poor (scholars) will be skimmed over,
like ploughing insufficiently wet fields.

நல் ஆவின் கன்றுஆயின், நாகும் விலை பெறூஉம்;
கல்லாரே ஆயினும், செல்வர் வாய்ச் சொல் செல்லும்.
புல் ஈரப் போழ்தின் உழவேபோல் மீது ஆடி,
செல்லாவாம், நல்கூர்ந்தார் சொல்.

A calf will fetch a high price if it is of a pedigreed cow. Similarly words of the wealthy are valued highly because of their wealth. Words of poor scholars are heard superficially and have no value. It is like ploughing insufficiently wet paddy fields. Only the top surface is ploughed and the required depth is not achieved.

The original poem only implies scholars. The word used – நல்கூர் – means only ‘poor’. The commentaries expand it to poor scholars. Hence I’ve used it in brackets.

நல் – good / fine
ஆ – cow
நாகு – young
புல் – less quantity
மீது – top surface
நல்கூர்தல் – to be poor

Naaladiyaar – 24

In a dead man’s house, funeral drum is sounded once; 
it’s stopped for a while,  and sounded again; notice that  
before it’s sounded thrice, covering the body,lighting a flame,
the to-be-dead carry away the dead! .

சென்றே எறிப ஒருகால்; சிறு வரை
நின்றே எறிப, பறையினை; நன்றேகாண்,
முக் காலைக் கொட்டினுள், மூடி, தீக் கொண்டு எழுவர்,
செத்தாரைச் சாவார் சுமந்து!

The above Naaladiyaar poem is about impermanence of life (யாக்கை நிலையாமை). In a dead man’s house, funeral drums are sounded once. When it is sounded a second time it indicates to all present that the body is about to be lifted. Before it is sounded the third time, they cover his body, light a funeral torch and carry away the body to the cremation ground. When one is dead, there is not much time left for him even in his house. They take him away quickly. Realize this and do good deeds to make this life worthwhile.

The beauty of the poem is in the last line. Those who carry away the dead too will be dead one day. The poet calls them to-be-dead. “செத்தாரைச் சாவார் சுமந்து – The to-be-dead carry away the dead”. Death is the only constant in this world.

ஒருகால் – once
சிறு வரை – a short time
எறிப – strike
பறை – drum
முக்கால் – third time
கொட்டு – beat
நன்றே காண் – notice carefully ( Tamilvu site commentary interprets this as “Think whether it’s good”)

Naaladiyaar – 285

O’Ruler of hills where clamorous waterfall
washes rock surface! Clan pride will erode;
honour will erode; education too will erode
for those embraced by poverty.

பிறந்த குலம் மாயும்; பேர் ஆண்மை மாயும்;
சிறந்த தம் கல்வியும் மாயும்;-கறங்கு அருவி
கல்மேல் கழூஉம் கண மலை நல் நாட!-
இன்மை தழுவப்பட்டார்க்கு.

The poet advises the ruler about the devastating effort of poverty. A man’s pride, honour and education will be washed away in face of abject poverty. Waterfall washing away the top surface of the rocks can be expanded as a metaphor for relentless poverty washing away the qualities of a man.

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