Red Earth and Pouring Rain – Kurunthokai 40


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This is one of my old Blogs. I have added new video clipping. Thanks to Mr.Vijayakumar for letting me know about the song.

I have posted video compilation of 5 Tamil songs(Thanks to readers) which have some similarities in the lyrics, please have a look

The first songs is ‘Narumugaye’ from Iruvar.
The second song is ‘ Sollai Povil’ from Vellai Roja
Third song is  ‘Pattam poochi’ from Chittiram Pesuthadi.
Fourth song is ‘Munbe Vaa’ from Sillunu oru Kadal.
Fifth song is ‘Oru Thanga rathathil’ from Dharma Yudham.

All the five song clearly have same thought process of some rainwater mixing with red soil. Where is this inspiration from ? Answer to this question leads us to one of the most loved poems of Tamil Literature.

This poem is from Sangam anthology Kurunthokai.I have posted two translations here. The first translation is very poetic(A.K.Ramanujan), where as Hart’s translation tries to provide the poetic structure employed by the original poet.

40. குறிஞ்சி

யாயும் ஞாயும் யார் ஆகியரோ?

எந்தையும் நுந்தையும் எம் முறைக் கேளிர்?

யானும் நீயும் எவ் வழி அறிதும்?

செம் புலப் பெயல் நீர் போல

அன்புடை நெஞ்சம் தாம் கலந்தனவே.

– செம்புலப்பெயனீரார்


Kurunthokai 40 – What He said

What could be my mother be

to yours?what kin is my father

to yours anyway?And how

did you and I meet ever?

But in love our hearts are as red

earth and pouring rain:


beyond parting.

Translated by A.K.Ramanujan


My mother and yours,

what were they to each other?

My father and yours ,

how were they kin?

I and you ,

how do we know each other?

and yet

like water that has rained on red fields,

our hearts in their love

have mixed together.

Translated by Gorge L. Hart

Poet:Sembula Peyaneerar

(The poet name means “he of water that has rained on red fields.”)

This poem and its english translation are popular around the world and are displayed in the London Tube.

The London Tube, as the underground metro train service is known, was started in 1863 and now covers 408 km. It is the lifeline of the city. When the transport authorities began paying attention to the interior of the coaches, they instituted prizes for the best advertisement posters. In 1986, encouraged by the Poetry Society, short poems of five or six lines were displayed in a special show. It proved so popular that poetry display has since become a permanent feature in the trains. (Source:HINDU article)

This poem is one of the most loved Tamil poems.And it also has a very important information few so called Tamil society protectors should take a note of.

This poem beautifully describes love as feeling which comes out naturally. One of the most important feature of this poem is that this poem stands in as typical example for ‘Iyarkai Punarchi’ poems. What does Iyarkai Punarchi mean? Iyarkai punarchi when translated to English would give you a meaning Natural Copulation.

Iyarkai Punarchi has been explained by different school of thoughts. One being a very conservative school of thought. Many Scholars like U.V.Swaminathan Iyer describe Iyarkai Punarchi has natural love making process but add an element of super natural to it by saying because they were lovers in previous birth. This school of thought accepts there is pre martial sex in this life but that because of the love the couple had as husband and wife in previous birth.

The other school of thought simply accepts Iyarkai Punarchi as Pre Martial sex when two lovers fall in love.

In this poem we clearly see two strangers who don’t know any thing about each other’s family falling in love. This shows clearly that 2000 years ago there were enough love marriages. Two strangers irrespective of their community status could fall in love and get married.  Often we also see parents opposing these marriages and the lovers elope to get married and live the life of their own. More often than not we see the family gets reunited after the couple have a baby.

We see a beautiful simile of Red earth and rain. The rain which has no relation with red soil , falls from the sky and slowly but steadily mingles with the red soil and becomes a part of it. The rain makes the dry sand into a fertile land suitable for cultivation. This is probably the greatest example in nature to explain mingling of two completely different substance to become more productive and useful product. The poet employs this simile to say that the Thalaivan was a complete stranger in the life of the Thalaivi. Yet he suddenly appeared one day and their heart mingled slowly steadily to become one soul. This process of love reaches its climax with the love making or punarchi, hence making the thalaivi fertile.


If you wondered why I have posted two translations , here is the poetic structure of original Tamil poem, it starts with ‘My’ and ‘yours’ and progresses to ‘I and you’ and ends with ‘Together’. This aspect is brilliantly brought out by George L.Hart.

என் தாய் உன் தாயை எவ்வாறு அறிவாள்?
என் தந்தைக்கும் உன் தந்தைக்கும் என்ன உறவோ ?
நானும் நீயும் ஒருவரை ஒருவர் எவ்வாறு அறிந்துகொண்டோம் ?
இருந்தும் மழை நீர் செம்மையான நிலத்துடன் கலப்பது போல
கலந்து விட்டன அன்பு கொண்ட நம் நெஞ்சங்கள்

இந்த பாடலின் சிறப்பு , என் உன் என்று தொடங்கி , நான் நீ என்று பயணித்து , நாம் என்று முடிகின்றது .


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Walking on a tight rope!- Kurunthokai 7

Every time I come across the visual imagery of the Sangam poems , I am awestruck by the brilliance of the poet. They are able connect the nature and the acts in the day to day life, which we can never think of. The beauty of all these imagery (other than being such delightfully) are situational. Imagery used in each poem has some connection to the mood of the poem.

The poem I am about to discuss has a beautiful visual imagery and also throws light into the custom of the Ancient Tamils.
7. பாலை
வில்லோன் காலன கழலே; தொடியோள்
மெல் அடி மேலவும் சிலம்பே; நல்லோர்
யார்கொல்? அளியர்தாமே-ஆரியர்
கயிறு ஆடு பறையின், கால் பொரக் கலங்கி,
வாகை வெண் நெற்று ஒலிக்கும்
வேய் பயில் அழுவம் முன்னியோரே.
செலவின்கண் இடைச்சுரத்துக் கண்டார் சொல்லியது. – பெரும்பதுமனார்


Kurunthokai 7- What the passers – By Said

This bowman has a warrior’s band

on his ankle;

the girl with the bracelet on her arm

has a virgin’s anklets

on her tender feet.

They look like good people.

In these places

the winds beat

upon the vakai trees

and make the white seedpods rattle

like drums for acrobats

dancing on the tightropes.

poor things,who could they be?

and what makes them walk

with all the others

through these desert ways

so filled with bamboos?

Poet : Perumpatumanar

Translated by A.K.Ramanujan



Thalaivan and Thalaivi are in love. Thalaivi with burning passion shows sign of love sickness and the symptoms are witnessed by her mother and house arrests her. Either at this stage or at stage when her parents see a bride groom for her or a stage where she is very ashamed to confess to her parents she is in love, the lovers decide to elope. This poem is uttered by passers by in the palai region when they see the young lovers eloping.




Description of Thalaivan:

The Thalaivan is having a bow and a warrior anklet, this is to signify that the Thalaivan was a brave man and he is prepared to fight any one trying to stop them eloping.

Its important we look into the actual word for the warrior anklet

கழல் kaḻal

n. < கழல்-. [K. M. kaḻal.] 1. Anklet given as a token of honour to a warrior; வீரக்கழல். ஒண்பொறிக் கழற்கால் (பதிற் றுப். 34, 2).

This shows that the Thalaivan was an accomplished warrior .

Description of Thalaivi:

The young girl is wearing a bracelet and an anklet.

Lets see the two words employed here,

தொடி toṭi (page 2087)

, n. < தொடு²-. 1. Curve, bend; வளைவு. தொடிவளைத் தோளும் (சிலப். 10, 128). 2. Bracelet; கைவளை. (பிங்.) குறுந்தொடி கழித்தகைச் சாபம் பற்றி (புறநா. 77). 3. Armlet;தோள்வளை. நீப்ப நீங்காது வரின்வரை யமைந்து . . . போக்கில் பொலந்தொடி (நற். 136). 4. Armlet, warrior’s armlet; வீரவளை. வலிகெழு தடக்கை தொடியொடுசுடர்வர (மதுரைக். 720).

Thodi is either a bracelet or an armlet worn by the women. Now lets look into the orther ornament ,

சிலம்பு cilampu (page 1435)

2. [M. cilambu.] Tinkling anklets worn by women; மகளிர் காலணிவகை. ஒன்றின வோவவ ளஞ்சிலம் படியே (ஐங்குறு. 389).

This Silambu has special significance. I dont know how many people know this.

Please do not confuse this with the silambu of silapathikaram. Both are different. This silambu had special significance. Like present day metti which is used to signify that the women is married , the silambu in Sangam period was used to signify the women is unmarried(or virgin).

I have to mention about this custom here,

சிலம்புகழிநோன்பு cilampu-kaḻi-nōṉpu :
, n. < சிலம்பு +. Ancient ceremony preliminary to marriage, probably consisting in removing the anklets of a bride; மணவினைக்குமுன் பெண் ணிற்கு நடத்தும் சிலம்புகழற்றுதலாகிய சடங்குவகை. (ஐங்குறு. 399, உரை.)

There are at least 3 to 4 poems which tell about this custom. I am planning to write a detailed blog by next week.

And for now , we can understand that the girl is not married (probably a virgin).


Significance of the description of the lovers:

The description seems to have certain significance here, the on lookers see the kalal the warrior anklet and the silambu the virgin anklet. Onlookers now understand that the man is a Honorable and famed warrior and the young girl is a virgin. They are passing through palai (very dreadful and infertile land). The Thalaivan is prepared for a fight in case any one is there to oppose( with his bow). This makes them understand that these two are lovers , who are eloping to get married. Hence they feel sorry for them and utter the words

‘நல்லோர் யார்கொல்? அளியர்தாமே’

They look like good people.poor things,who could they be?

அளியர் – இரங்கும் இயல்பினர்.

இரங்கு-. 1. Mercy, grace, commiseration; தயை. இரக்கமுடை யிறை யவனூர் (தேவா. 145, 9). 2. Pity, compassion; melting of heart, as of a mother at the sight of her child in distress, or of a cow for her calf;



Visual Imagery:

Now comes my favourite part , the visual imagery.


கயிறு ஆடு பறையின், கால் பொரக் கலங்கி,

வாகை வெண் நெற்று ஒலிக்கும்.

In these places

the winds beat

upon the vakai trees

and make the white seedpods rattle

like drums for acrobats

dancing on the tightropes.



The white seed pods gets swayed by the wind and it creates sound like the drums used while the  Aryan acrobats perform their dance on the tight ropes. If you actually see the visual of the  white seedpods of the vakai tree you will understand visual imagery the poet has infused into it.

Here is the picture of the white seedpods of the vakai tree,

source -

Now just visualize the wind hitting the white seedpods and they start swaying across the branch with the force of the wind. It will be swaying and its only support from being blown away is its attchemnt to the branch of the tree.

Now I have two visuals for you, luckily I could get the exact description of what the poet meant .

See this video,

See the young boy having a drum and Rajesh Khanna performing the tight rope walk and dance. The boy is actually using band drum, so get more authetic here is Vathiyar M.G.R’s clip with nagesh playing the dolak(closest to description given by the poet).

If you have seen it carefully u can visualise the swaying of the white seedpods of the tree while the wind hits it is very very close to the way the rope dancer swing themselves across the ropes. This is very beautifully captured by the poet by his beautiful imagery within his simile.

How this imagery adds to the mood of the poem?

The lovers are now walking a tight rope.The thalaivi has come out of her home, the Thalaivan is taking her away, their life is very unstable and one wrong step can land them in trouble.

I hope I have explained you properly enough to make you imagine the imagery the poet has infused into his beautiful poem.

Some words for your knowledge,

கால்³ kāl
, n. < கால்-. [T. gāli.] 1. Wind, air, any of the vital airs; காற்று. கால்கடிப் பாகக் கடலொலித் தாங்கு (பதிற்றுப். 68, வேய்² vēy

வேய்¹-. 1. Bamboo. See மூங்கில், 1. வேய்ப்பெயல் விளையுட் டேக்கட் டேறல் (மலைபடு. 171). 2. Bamboo rod; மூங்கிற்கோல்.

பொரு -தல் poru-4. To blow, as the wind; வீசுதல். குரூஉப்புகை பிசிரக் கால்பொர (பதிற்றுப். 15, 6).-




Literary conventions of akam poetry by Kamil Zvelebil

Kuruntholai Urai- U.V.Swaminathan Iyer

Interior landscapes – A.K.Ramanujan

Tamil Lexicon



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