Old Tamil Poetry

Translations of Tamil Poetic works that span 2000 years

Archive for the tag “Silappathikaaram”

Silappathikaaram – 2.3.184-188

As if long stemmed purple lilies and lotus
knew for sure the misery of separation
that awaited the lady and her husband,
bees wailed mournfully shedding tears
and the flowers quivered in sorrow

கருநெடுங் குவளையும் ஆம்பலும் கமலமும்
தையலும் கணவனும் தனித்துறு துயரம்
ஐய மின்றி அறிந்தன போலப்
பண்ணீர் வண்டு பரிந்தினைந் தேங்கிக்
கண்ணீர் கொண்டு காலுற நடுங்கப்

Kovalan and Kannagi have walked all the way from KaveripPoomPattinam to Madurai, planning to restart their lives. They have crossed the Vaigai River and are at the outskirts of Madurai. They are walking around the moat before the city. Gentle breeze sways the lilies and lotus flowers in water. Bees are buzzing around the flowers. Dew drops cover the petals.

Ilango adikal the poet uses this imagery to foretell the fate that awaits them in the city. Something disastrous is going to happen to them and they will be separated forever. (Kovalan will be mistaken for a thief and ordered to be killed by the King). So he says the flowers seemed to know the disastrous fate that awaited the innocent couple. Bees felt sorry for them and sand in mournful tunes. Dew drops were like tears shed by the bees. Knowing the fate that awaited the couple, the flowers swayed in sorrow.

I am not sure of numbering of the lines. This verse occurs in Maduraik Kaandam (2nd Part), Purancheri Irutha Kaadhai (3rd Chapter), lines 184-188. Hence I numbered with that in mind.

கருங்குவளை – purple lily
நெடு – long (stemmed)
ஆம்பல் – water lily
கமலம் – lotus
தையல் – woman / lady
தனித்து – separated
உறு துயரம் – feel misery
ஐயமின்றி – ஐயம் + இன்றி – without doubt
பண் – tune
வண்டு – water bees
பரிந்து – felt sorry
இனை – grief
ஏங்கி – cry
கண்ணீர் – tears

Silappathikaaram – Vanji-k-Kaandam – Kundrak Kuravai

There’s no reason I see , to be miffed
with the fresh waters that have caressed his hills;
But my heart aches my friend, if others frolic
in the fresh waters that have caressed his hills;

There’s no reason I see, to be miffed
with the fresh waters that carry pollen from his hills;
But my heart aches my friend, if others frolic before I do
in the fresh waters that carry pollen from his hills;

There’s no reason I see, to be miffed
with the fresh waters that carry flowers from his hills;
But my heart aches my friend, if others frolic
in the fresh waters that carry flowers from his hills.

எற்றொன்றும் காணேம் புலத்தல் அவர்மலைக்
கற்றீண்டி வந்த புதுப்புனல்
கற்றீண்டி வந்த புதுப்புனல் மற்றையார்
உற்றாடி னோம்தோழி நெஞ்சன்றே ;

என்னொன்றும் காணேம் புலத்தல் அவர்மலைப்
பொன்னாடி வந்த புதுப்புனல்
பொன்னாடி வந்த புதுப்புனல் மற்றையார்
முன்னாடி னோம்தோழி நெஞ்சன்றே;

யாதொன்றுங் காணேம் புலத்தல் அவர்மலைப்
போதாடி வந்த புதுப்புனல்
போதாடி வந்த புதுப்புனல் மற்றையார்
மீதாடி னோம்தோழி நெஞ்சன்றே;

This set of verses are in Vanji-k-Kaandam, the third part of Silappathikaaram. A girl’s lover hasn’t come to see her in a long while. He is from the hills. She goes along with her friend to bathe in the water falls. In the previous verse, she says though he has forsaken me, I have come shamelessly to bathe in the water falls that flows from his hills. In these verses she says she doesn’t have reason to be miffed with the water falls. Her tiff is only with him who has not come to see her.She is possessive about the waters from his hills and thinks they are meant only for her.

“I don’t have any reason to be angry with the fresh waters that come here having caressed his hills. But if other girls frolic in these waters, my heart aches. I don’t have any reason to be angry with the fresh waters that come bearing pollen from his hills. But if other girls frolic in these waters before I do, my heart aches. I don’t have any reason to be angry with the fresh waters that come bearing flowers from his hills. But if other girls frolic in these waters, my heart aches.”

Ilango uses multiple words for ‘any reason’ – எற்றொன்றும் / என்னொன்றும் / யாதொன்றும் in order to maintain the rhyme of each verse. Similarly கற்றீண்டி / உற்றாடி , பொன்னாடி / முன்னாடி , போதாடி / மீதாடி rhymes make it a joy to read out loud in Tamil. I haven’t been able to bring that out in translation.

எற்றொன்றும் – எது ஒன்றும் – any reason
காணேம் – காண மாட்டேன் – I don’t see
புலத்தல் – tiff / be miffed
கற்றீண்டி – கல் + தீண்டி – rock caress
புதுப்புனல் – புது + புனல் – fresh water
மற்றையார் – other (girls)
உற்று – reach
ஆடின் – if  (they) frolic
நோம் – நோகும் – pains
நெஞ்சன்றே – நெஞ்சு+அன்றே – but (my) heart
என்னொன்றும் – எது ஒன்றும் – any reason
பொன் – பொன் தூள் – மகரந்தம் (?) – golden colored powder – (pollen?)
முன் – before
யாதொன்றும் – யாது + ஒன்றும் – any reason
போது – flower
மீது – on

Silappathikaaram – Kanal Vari – 37-44

Clamour of farmers, clamour of sluice gates,
Clamour of water breaking river banks, clamour of revellers
Celebrating fresh floods – escorted by this cacophony
You march majestically; may You live long Cauvery;
Your march amidst the clamour of revellers
celebrating fresh floods, defines the wealth of Valavan,
whose clamorous soldiers needn’t guard the city doors*;
May You live long, Cauvery!

* – His reputation is such that enemies are afraid to attack him. Hence his soldiers need not guard the city doors.

உழவர் ஓதை, மதகு ஓதை,
உடை நீர் ஓதை, தண்பதம் கொள்
விழவர் ஓதை, சிறந்து ஆர்ப்ப,
நடந்தாய்; வாழி, காவேரி!
விழவர் ஓதை சிறந்து ஆர்ப்ப
நடந்த எல்லாம் வாய் காவா
மழவர் ஓதை வளவன்-தன்
வளனே; வாழி, காவேரி!-

This verse is sung in praise of River Cauvery as she flows into Chola country. After the monsoon, Cauvery flows into Chola country with fresh waters. Arrival of floods is a joyous occasion, making the farmers hail the river. The noise as she flows to canals through sluice gates adds to the ruckus. Since river is overflowing, it breaks the river banks noisily. Revelers assemble at riverfronts to celebrate the fresh floods. Amidst such noise, Cauvery marches in majestically. All such noises indicate her bounty to the country of Valavan (Chola King). The boisterous soliders of Valavan have no need to guard the city gates as enemies are afraid of their king’s reputation and are afraid to attack. May you live long Cauvery, who has brought such wealth to our country.

Today is Aadi-p-Perukku (literally Bounty during Aadi month). This is celebrated on the 18th day of Tamil month Aadi, thanking the river for her bounty. River flow was minimal in the last few years due to vagaries of Politics and Nature. This year’s monsoon has been good and the river is brimming. May all of us be blessed by Nature.

உழவர் – farmer
ஓதை – noise / clamor
மதகு – sluice gates
உடை நீர் – உடைத்துக் கொண்டு ஓடும் நீர் – water that breaks river banks
தண்பதம் – தண்மை + பதம் – fresh / cool + water
விழவர் – விழா கொண்டாடுபவர்கள் – revelers
ஆர் – big noise / cacophony
வாய் காவா – வாயில் + காக்காத – not guarding the gates
மழவர் – solider
வளவன் – Chola King Valavan
வளன் – wealth

Silappathikaaram – Oor Soozh Vari: 53-58

Are there wise men here? Are there wise men here?
Are there wise men here? Are there wise men here
who nurture and care for others’ child?
Is there a God? Is there a God?
In this *town whose King unjustly killed (my husband)
Is there a God? Is there a God?


சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்? சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்?
ஈன்ற குழவி எடுத்து வளர்க்குறூஉம்
சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்? சான்றோரும் உண்டுகொல்?
தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்? தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்?
வை வாளின் தப்பிய மன்னவன் கூடலில்
தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்? தெய்வமும் உண்டுகொல்?’

This is the searing accusation of Kannaki on seeing her husband Kovalan’s body. Kovalan was wrongly accused of stealing the Queen’s anklet and was ordered to be killed by the Pandiya King without an enquiry. Kannaki learns of this and comes and laments over her husband’s dead body and curses the town. She asks “What sort of town is this? Are there wise men here who take care of even others’ children? In this high storeyed town (Madurai), whose King unjustly ordered my husband to be killed is there a God?”

After this she goes to the King’s court and proves with her other anklet that her husband was innocent. When the King learns that he has made a mistake, he dies instantly. Kannaki’s anger does not abate yet. She curses Madurai to be burnt down and Madurai burns.

சான்றோர் – Wise men
ஈன்ற குழவி – Birthed Child – Child born to others
கை வாளின் தப்பிய – cut with sword
கூடல் – நான்மாடக் கூடல் – Town with four towers – Madurai

Silappathikaaram – Indira Vizhavu 68-75

Offering steamed lentils, sesame seed balls, rice mixed with meat,
flowers, incense and freshly cooked rice
women hold hands together and dance in a trance
as old elegant women bless and proclaim
“In this great land ruled by our ruler
may hunger, disease and enmity leave;
may rains and wealth spring forth;”

புழுக்கலும், நோலையும், விழுக்கு உடை மடையும்,

பூவும், புகையும், பொங்கலும், சொரிந்து;

துணங்கையர், குரவையர், அணங்கு எழுந்து ஆடி;
‘பெரு நில மன்னன் இரு நிலம் அடங்கலும்
பசியும், பிணியும், பகையும், நீங்கி;
வசியும், வளனும், சுரக்க’ என வாழ்த்தி;
மாதர்க் கோலத்து, வலவையின் உரைக்கும்,
மூதில் பெண்டிர்

Today is the first day of Chittirai month in Tamil Calendar, considered an auspicious day. The above verse detailing the celebration during the month of Chittirai is from the epic Silappathikaaram, written in 2nd Century AD.

Women get together and offer steamed lentil snacks, sesame seed balls, rice mixed with meat, flowers and incense and Pongal (interpreting it as rice cooked in front of the temple, I have used freshly cooked rice) to the Protecting deity (காவல் பூதம்) at a grove in between two parts (Maruvoorp Paakkam and Pattinap Paakkam) of the town of Kaveri Poompattinam. The young women are in a trance as the Goddess enters them (அணங்கு ஏறி ஆடுதல்)  and dance traditional folk dances of Thunangai and Kuravai. Old women from their clan prays to the deity and proclaims may this great land ruled by our ruler amidst two kingdoms, may hunger, disease and enmity leave; may rains and wealth springforth”

The prayer ritual is almost the same as it is practiced in Tamil Nadu today. Most of the Tamil words in the above lines are still in use today. I never tire to repeat the saying “Glory of Tamil language is not in its antiquity, but its continuity” (தமிழின் மேன்மை அதன் தொன்மையில் இல்லை, தொடர்ச்சியில் உள்ளது)

Silappathikaaram – Kaanal Vari 86-97

Fish shaped eyes, bow shaped eyebrows, dark cloud tresses,
making men ache, her flawless face is a moon, you see!
A moon, you see – that lives in fishermen’s hamlet,
afraid of being gobbled by the snake* in the sky!
Afraid of the conch’s roar, her reddened spear like eyes
swing this way and that – she’s death, you see!
Death, you see – that lives as a tender lass
in this village by the sea.
Chasing away birds that steal dried fish,
causing distress to onlookers – she’s a misery you see!
A misery, you see – in the form of a plaited girl
in this flower adorned backwaters. 

* Eclipse is explained as snakes swallowing the Sun and the Moon.

கயல் எழுதி, வில் எழுதி, கார் எழுதி, காமன்
செயல் எழுதி, தீர்த்த முகம் திங்களோ, காணீர்!
திங்களோ, காணீர்-திமில் வாழ்நர் சீறூர்க்கே
அம் கண் ஏர் வானத்து அரவு அஞ்சி வாழ்வதுவே!
எறி வளைகள் ஆர்ப்ப, இரு மருங்கும் ஓடும்,
கறை கெழு வேல் கண்ணோ கடுங் கூற்றம், காணீர்!
கடுங் கூற்றம், காணீர்-கடல் வாழ்நர் சீறூர்க்கே
மடம் கெழு மென் சாயல் மகள் ஆயதுவே!

புலவு மீன் வெள் உணங்கல் புள் ஓப்பி, கண்டார்க்கு
அலவ நோய் செய்யும் அணங்கு இதுவோ, காணீர்!
அணங்கு இதுவோ, காணீர்-அடும்பு அமர் தண் கானல்
பிணங்கு நேர் ஐம்பால் ஓர் பெண் கொண்டதுவே!

This is from the greatest Tamil epic Silappathikaaram. Silappathikaaram is dated to 2nd Century CE. It’s themes and characters are part of public discourse in Tamil Nadu. These three verses are sung by Kovalan when he visits the beach with his courtesan, Madhavi. These verses cause them to bicker with each other and makes him leave her to go back to his wife Kannaki.

During Indira Vizha (festival of Indra), Kovalan and Madhavi go to the beach at Kaveri Poompattinam (current day Poompuhar).  River Cauvery joins the sea here. He takes the harp and starts singing. These three poems are him singing in praise of an imaginary girl at the beach. Madhavi thinks that he is in love with another girl and has a tiff with him.

First verse – Her eyes are fish shaped, brow is like a curved bow and tresses are dark like clouds. Her face makes men yearn for her. Her face is a moon, that now lives in the fisherman’s hamlet because it was afraid of snakes in the sky swallowing it. Solar and Lunar eclipses were explained as a snake in the sky swallowing the moon. So Kovalan says this girl’s face is like a moon. But why did the moon come down to earth. It must have been to escape the snakes.

Second verse – The sea is throwing up conch shells which roar with noise of the sea. Hearing that she is afraid and her eyes swing either way. Her eyes are reddened. Those red eyes look like blood stained spears that take the life of him. He says her eyes are the weapons with which she kills him. She is death incarnate living like a soft spoken tender girl in this sea side village.

Third verse – She is chasing away birds that come to steal dried fish that are white in color. Seeing her move about causes distress to him. She is misery incarnate in the form of a girl wearing plaits in the flower filled backwaters.

Silappathikaaram – Aichiar Kuravai – KoLu

One who jumps in unafraid of the furious black bull,
him does this fragrant flower tressed girl covet;
To him who tames the crimson foreheaded bull,
do arms of this golden bangled girl belong;
To him who rides the strong young bull,
does this jasmine tressed girl belong;
To him who tames the spotted white bull,
do arms of this slender girl belong;
To him who tames the freckled white bull,
does soft bosom of this slim girl belong;
To him who tames the triumphant young bull,
does this yellow flowered tressed girl belong;
To him who tames the pristine white bull,
does this dark and dusky beauty belong.

காரி கதன் அஞ்சான் பாய்ந்தானைக் காமுறும், இவ்
வேரி மலர்க் கோதையாள்; சுட்டு,
நெற்றிச் செகிலை அடர்த்தாற்கு உரிய, இப்
பொன் தொடி மாதராள் தோள்.
மல்லல் மழ விடை ஊர்ந்தாற்கு உரியள், இம்
முல்லை அம் பூங் குழல்-தான்.
நுண் பொறி வெள்ளை அடர்த்தாற்கே ஆகும், இப்
பெண் கொடி மாதர்-தன் தோள்.     
பொன் பொறி வெள்ளை அடர்த்தாற்கே ஆகும்: இந்
நன் கொடி மென்முலை-தான்.
வென்றி மழ விடை ஊர்ந்தாற்கு உரியவள், இக்
கொன்றை அம் பூங் குழலாள்.
தூ நிற வெள்ளை அடர்த்தாற்கு உரியள், இப்
பூவைப் புது மலராள்.

Bull taming (or) Jalli Kattu is one of the centuries old tradition of Tamils who lived in pastoral tracts. It was called Eru thaluvudhal, literally hugging the bull, in Sangam era. Taming a bull was a mark of bravery and women were enamored with successful bull tamers. It was a dangerous sport for the participants as being gored by the bull was regular occurrence. Unlike Spanish bull fights where the bulls are killed, here the emphasis is only on controlling the bulls.

These lines are just one of the literary evidences that talk about Eru thaluvudhal 2000 years ago. There are 7 long poems in Kaliththokai, which is earlier than Silappathikaaram, listing in detail the ritualistic bull taming.

This poem is in the Aichiar Kuravai section of the 2nd Century epic Silappathikaaram. The protagonists of the epic, Kovalan and Kannaki leave their native town of Kaveri Poom pattinam in Chola country and come to Madurai, the capital of Pandya country. Kovalan leaves Kannaki with the pastoral people in the outskirts of Madurai and goes to the city to sell Kannaki’s anklet and make money. He is wrongly accused of stealing the Queen’s anklet and is killed.

The pastoral women see bad omens in their settlement. The elder among them, Madhari, says let us sing and dance the Kuravai, which was originally sung by Nappinnai along with Lord Krishna in his youth. Seven young women hold hands together and dance around singing the praise of Krishna.

Silappathikaaram – Kanal Vari – 17

Your elders live by entering the ocean and killing life;
you too live by entering a human body and killing my life;
heavy are your breasts, pushing against their confines;
let them rest against me, lest you lose your slender waist.

கடல் புக்கு, உயிர் கொன்று, வாழ்வர் நின் ஐயர்;
உடல் புக்கு, உயிர் கொன்று, வாழ்வைமன் நீயும்;
மிடல் புக்கு அடங்காத வெம் முலையோ பாரம்;
இடர் புக்கு இடுகும் இடை இழவல் கண்டாய்!

This poem is from SilapPathikaram, the earliest and greatest epic in Tamil literature. The epic is dated to 2nd Century CE.  It describes the Tamil society of that era in detail.

This poem is sung by the protagonist, Kovalan when he visits the beach with the courtesan Madhavi. He sings of an imaginary fisherwoman. Madhavi is piqued and in return she sings about River Kaveri as a woman pining for her lord. This creates a rift between Kovalan and Madhavi and leads to their separation.

“You are from the fishing community. Your father and your brothers enter the ocean to kill fish and live by that. Similarly you have entered a human form and kill my life and live by that. Your breasts are heavy and struggle to be contained in their confines. So don’t lose your slender waist unable to carry the burden of your breasts. Rest them against me”

Rest them against me is implied and not explicit in the original. I have included it in the translation for better comprehension.


We praise the sun! we praise the sun!-
as he circles the golden peak of Mount Meru
like the Royal Signet of the rulers of Cauvery.

ஞாயிறு போற்றுதும்! ஞாயிறு போற்றுதும்!-
காவிரி நாடன் திகிரிபோல், பொன் கோட்டு
மேரு வலம் திரிதலான்

These lines are from the foreword of Tamil epic Silappathikaaram. Mount Meru is the mythical sacred mountain of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, considered to be the center of the Universe. bit.ly/1sqA0AN.

The Sun is the source of energy for life in this world. The Rulers of Cauvery (Cholas) are like the sun, enriching this life. It can also mean that Chola Royal Signet rules the whole world, like the Sun does..

Silappathikaaram – ManaiAram Padutha Kaathai 73-80

O’ blemishless Gold! O’ pristine Pearl!
O’ faultless Incense! O’ sugar! O’ honey!
Hard to acquire woman! elixir of life!
Noble merchant’s dazzling daughter!
– Ruby not born in the mountain?
– Nectar not born in the ocean?
– Melody not born in the harp?
How shall I extol thee, long dark tressed woman!

மாசறு பொன்னே! வலம்புரி முத்தே!
காசறு விரையே! கரும்பே! தேனே!
அரும்பெறல் பாவாய்! ஆருயிர் மருந்தே!
பெருங்குடி வாணிகன் பெரு மட மகளே!
மலையிடைப் பிறவா மணியே என்கோ?
அலையிடைப் பிறவா அமிழ்தே என்கோ?
யாழிடைப் பிறவா இசையே என்கோ?
தாழிருங் கூந்தல் தையால்! நின்னை

This is one of the more popular poems of the epic Silappathikaaram. Even the Tamils who haven’t read Silappathikaram would have heard the first two lines.

This is Kovalan praising his wife Kannaki on their first night. Five things he calls her are equated to five senses. Gold (sight), Pearl (touch), Incense (smell), Sugar cane (taste), Honey dripping voice (hearing). More romantic of the commentary writers expand it as “He calls her blemishless gold. She smiles a little, opening her mouth. Her teeth are like pearls. As he comes near her she smells divine. He kisses her and tastes her sweetness. She sheds her inhibition and starts talking. Her voice is like honey”

Kovalan and Kannaki are from the merchant caste. Her father MaaSaathuvan was the leading merchant of Pukar (Poompuhar) town. Kovalan praises her family and then goes on to extol her virtues. “You are like a rare ruby, but you weren’t born in the mountains. You are like the hard to get nectar, but you weren’t born in the ocean (remember the nectar Devas and Asuras found by churning the ocean). You are like melodious music, but you were not born in the harp”

In the first line the literal translation for pearl is வலம்புரி முத்தே – pearl found in the right hand conch. The right hand conch (சங்கு) is rare to find and the pearl formed in it is of better quality. I have used ‘pristine’ instead of unwieldy ‘right hand conch’. In the second line the word விரை (virai) is given in Tamil dictionary as an aromatic substance made of five ingredients. I have used ‘incense’ for easy reading. In the last four lines I have slightly altered the structure for better readability in English.

Post Navigation