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Every Town a Home Town -- Kaniyan Punkunran

Guest poem submitted by Ravi Rajagopalan:
(Poem #1459) Every Town a Home Town
 Every town our home town,
 Every man a kinsman.

 Good and evil do not come
 from others.
 Pain and relief of pain
 come of themselves.
 Dying is nothing new.
 We do not rejoice
 that life is sweet
 nor in anger
 call it bitter.

 Our lives, however dear,
 follow their own course,
        rafts drifting
        in the rapids of a great river
        sounding and dashing over the rocks
        after a downpour
        from skies slashed by lightnings-

 we know this
 from the vision
 of men who see.

 So,
 we are not amazed by the great,
 and we do not scorn the little.
-- Kaniyan Punkunran
      from "The Purananuru"
        translated by A. K. Ramanujan.

I am adding to your collection another poem in Tamil - the language
spoken by 50 million Indians and more in Malaysia, Singapore, Guyana,
Mauritius and South Africa - from the ancient collection called
"Purananuru" or "Four Hundred Poems about the Exterior" - an anthology
of 400 poems by more than 150 poets composed between the first and third
centuries in the Christian Era. Written before the penetration of Aryan
influence in South India, it remains a great historical record of life
in pre-Aryan India. Moreover, as George Hart and Hank Heifetz state,
"The Purananuru is one of the few works of classical India that
confronts life without the insulation of a philosophical façade; it
makes no assumptions about karma and the other world; it faces existence
as a great and unsolved mystery". The Purananuru concerns itself with
life outside the self and family - with kings and kingship, war,
statesmanship, greatness and generosity, ethics, death and dying.

The first line of this particular poem is very well known amongst Tamil
speakers - "Yaavum Oore Yavarum Kelir". The poem in itself is work of
remarkable simplicity and existential realism. It makes no pretense to
understand the whys and wherefores of the world. It merely makes a
statement that the world is what it is. The great dualities that concern
us all, and indeed most religions - such as good and evil, joy and
sorrow, happiness and pain, victory and defeat - are a part and parcel
of the great uncertainty that is life. In this sense it resonates with
modern poetry, which is amazing considering that it was probably written
2000 years ago. The universality of life expounded in this poem really
appeals to me.

Again, AK Ramanujan has achieved a lyrical translation from the Tamil
original. Tamil poetry has an alliterative and sometimes dramatic
quality to it that adds to the pleasure of listening to it being
declaimed. This is difficult to reproduce in any other language - but
Prof Ramanujan has managed it.

Those of you interested in reading about early Tamil poetry to
understand its place in world literature would do well to look at George
Hart's "The Poems of Ancient Tamil" The University of California Press,
1975.

Ravi.

60 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Rajagopalan Ravi (Ravi) said...

And how could I forget that Tamil is spoken in Sri Lanka....Jaffna Tamil is supposed to be a very pristine form of the language!

Regards
RR
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