Which Indian Language Poetry will you like to read ?

Indian Poetry

He used the golden bow

Abhirami Bhattar

He used the golden bow
of Mount Meru
to decimate
three great cities

and he slayed the elephant
despatched to annihilate the world

then donned its hide
as his mantle.

But you
you scarred
this warrior’s body

with your breasts,

great Goddess,
you whose golden hands
wielding a bow of sugarcane
and flower-tipped arrows

are lodged
in my heart.

[from Eating God: A Book of Bhakti Poetry, Penguin Ananda 2014]

Abhirami Bhattar was a priest of the Thirukadaiyur temple, on the east coast of Tamil Nadu, and preeminent Tamil poet of the goddess Abhirami. He lived in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and his ferocious bhakti led many to consider him mad. The story goes that he irked the King Serfoji with his goddess-intoxicated proclamation that it was a full moon day (when it was actually a new moon). The king ordered that he be beheaded if the moon did not rise that night. Abhirami Bhattar lit a large fire and erected a platform over it, tied with ropes. He sat on the platform, spontaneously singing verses in praise of Goddess Abhirami. With each verse, he cut off one rope. On completing the 79th hymn, Abhirami appeared and threw her diamond earring skyward so that it shone like the moon. This was the legendary genesis of the Abhirami Antadi, an inspired collection of hundred hymns.

Translated by Arundhathi Subramaniam



Tamil poetry today

Tamil being a classical language , with a two - thousand - year - old tradition of prosody and strict grammar for written verse , it is having a heavy baggage of literary history on it’s back . But for the English and French education , introduced by the colonial rulers of India , it would have been very difficult for the Tamil poetry to get relieved from the one-way-push of the past. The tiring feeling that the poetic excellence was already achieved by the scores of master poets of Sangam period like Tiruvalluvar and Ilango and later poets like Kamban who created Tamil version of Ramayan was haunting the Tamil poets until Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathi

( 1822- 1921) entered the poetic scene of Tamil world. When Subramanya Bharathi , made a bold attempt in verse-libre , it started serving as a spring-board for a latter poet Na.Pichamurthi ( 1900-1976) to introduce first in Tamil , the “free verse”.

When Na.Pitchamurthy, the father of New poetry in Tamil ,tried a new genre Tamil poetry , the literary scene in other Indian languages was very much favorable to experimentation with various literary forms and symbols. Many legendry poets like B.S.Mardhekar in Marathi, Gopala Krishna Adiga in Kannada , and Gajanan Madhav Mukthibodh in Hindi , Ayyappa Paniker in Mlayalam had brought in radical changes in the poetic sensibility and style of expression in their own languages. If we take Tamil language, in thirties, Na.Pitchamurthy, Ku.Pa.Rajagopalan, Pudhumaipithan and Ka.Na. Subramaniam sought to break with the Tamil poetry tradition (Marapu ) of the past , through experimentation with various literary forms and symbols. But strictly speaking , they were not able to break away totally with the past , because the rhythmic beauty of the traditional Tamil verse - making was still lingering on in their poems .

It is interesting to note here that in between , Subramanya Bharathi and Na.Pichamurthy , there was a major poet called Bharathidasan (1891-1964) , a disciple of Bharathy, who was an advocate of the Dravidian political movement. He had many followers and there was a strong popular mass poetry movement for him. So , the New poetry movement in Tamil struggled a lot in establishing itself as a major trend in Tamil literature.

In order to win over the popular mass poetry movement , a group of modernist poets and critics like Ka.Na.Subramanyam and C.S.Chellappa who militantly advocated for “Pudhukavithai” , severely criticized the traditional verse-making as well as the non-modernist academicians . On the other hand , many fine poets like Dharmu Sivaram otherwise known as Premil, Nakulan , Pasuviah, and C.Mani were strengthening the New poetry movement with their poems of rare kind.

At one point of time, an array of poets like Abdul Rahman, Meera, Sirpi, Mu.Mehtha and Tamilanban who were all considered to be the champions of traditional verse-making , with complete knowledge of Tamil traditional prosody , started writing New poetry by relinquishing their “marapu” poetry. By intentionally resorting to free verse , they all tried to achieve a democratic character and contemporary sensibility in their poetry. Among these poets , Abi has written poems standing out for their rare kind of aesthetics of ambivelance.

In 1970s , a band of poets called “vanambadi” , comprising of poets like Sirpi, Puviyarasu, Gnanai, Agniputhran , who described themselves as “ the skylarks singing in praise of humanity” , had started operating actively with free verse style of poetry. Because of the recognition given by the academicians themselves to New poetry -- which was popularly known as “Pudhu kavithai”--it became the dominant mode of poetry of the day.

In 60s and 70s , as it was in other Indian languages like Bengali, Marathi, Hindi , Malayalam and Guajarati , the Little Magazine and Small Press movement emerged in Tamil language as well. Many little magazines like “Ezuthu”, “Nadai” “Vanambadi”, “Ka Cha Da Tha Pa Ra”, “Kanayazhi”, “zha” etc were defining and re-defining the modernity and cultural nationalism structured by the earlier generation of poets . Although there was no well established pan-Indian literary modernism except in Indo – Anglian writings , the radical and experimental changes in other regional languages of sixties somehow influenced Tamil regional poetry through many translations . Poets like Atmanam and Gnanakoothan were writing many poems with a keen sense of modernity and parody .

In 1982 “Meetchi” , a literary quarterly edited by Brammarajan , an important poet in Tamil , introduced many western concepts of poetry like “Anti-poetry” and the magazine created a platform for many wonderful poets like Sukumaran, Padhasari and Vikramadithyan.

In 1983 the Srilankan Tamil ethinic riots started and the Tamil poetry assumed an important responsibility of recording the tragedies and new challenges of the Tamil population in Srilanka. In 1984 a new anthology of Srilankan Tamil poetry titled as “ Maranathul vazhvom “ ( We live amidst death) , compiled by M.A.Nuhman, Cheran and Jesurajah was published by CreA, a publishing house based in Chennai. Srilankan poets Cheran and V.I.S Jayapalan with their authentic voices influenced the diction and style of Tamil poetry produced in Tamilnadu.

In 1982 when Indran released his “Araikul vandha Africa Vanam” (The African sky that came inside my room ) , a translation of African and Afro-American poetry and prose it influenced the style of Tamil poetry of eighties . The poetry of American poets Langston Hughs, Arna Bontemps, the Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka, French poet Leopold Sedar Senghor inspired Tamil poets to try out new diction and style in their poetic expression.

The book was one of the main sources of inspiration for the emergence of the Tamil Dalit poetry movement. During the birth centenary celeberation of Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1991 Dalit Tamil poetry reached new heights and many compilations of Tamil Dalit poetry started appearing in English . “ The Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit writing” ( 2012) edited by Ravikumar and R.Azhagarasan and “ No Alphabet in sight” ( Penguin Books- 2011) edited by K.Satyanarayana& Susie Tharu were released.

In 1982 , to celeberate the birth centenary of Subramanya Bharathy, Annam publication of poet Meera brought out a series of new poetry in the name of “Navakavithai” . Many important Tamil poets like Vikramadityan, Kalyanji, Vannanilavan , Ko.Rajaram and Indran were introduced in this series of Navakavitha poetry.

Another important development in 80s is the emergence of a new generation of Tamil women poets who started writing with Feminist overtones. Malathy Maithrey, Kutti Revathi, Sugirtharani, Salma, Leena Manimekalai and Puthiya Madhavi are the poets whose poetry analyze gender in it’s relation to power, class, social and family relationships. There are another set of women poets like Ilambirai, Thamizhatchi Thangapandian, Thenmozhi Dass, Uma Maheswari and Brindha who deal with motherly love, appreciation of nature, rural life experiences etc.

In 90s , the earlier trend of contextualizing the private experience with the socio-political issues started dissipating slowly and an aesthetics of ambivalence was coming and settling over most of the Tamil poems. Manushya puthiran is an important voice in the new generation of Tamil poets who got Sanskriti National award in 2002 for his poetic contribution as a young writer.

New voices like Yuvan Chndrashekar, Ramesh-Prem, Sankara Ramasubramanian, N.D.Rajkumar and Yavanika Sriram are successfully retaining a place of their own amidst the crowd of attention-grabbing fiction and non-fiction.

A very interesting feature of the Tamil poetry today is the emergence of a global Tamil poetry.

When the Tamils from India migrate as highly skilled professionals to United States, Canada, Europe and South East Asia , they developed a sort of hybrid aesthetics in their Tamil poems.

Similarly because of the Srilankan civil war , many Tamil refugees went out of Srilanka to various European countries and settled in without losing their Tamil cultural identities. Their Tamil poems are getting published in countless Tamil little magazines published from these countries. Many important Tamil poets -- Cheran from Canada, V.I.S.Jeyapalan from Norway, Ki.Pi.Aravindhan from France – are contributing considerably to Tamil poetry today. In these Tamil poems , apart from their nostalgic vociferations about their lost homes and villages , many poetic observations about their life in their new home countries also find a place of prime importance.

As a result of this , in todays in Tamil poetry , we find new symbols and images, new expressions with western nuances, new landscapes and geography wherein we can find descriptions about pine trees in the place of neem trees and palm trees , and new birds and animals in the place of peacocks and parrots .

Today a new era of Tamil poetry is waiting in the horizon with crimson hues to spell out many promising news about the future.


Translated by

Haiku 7

Ramesh Anand

sun bath
an eagle circles
the day moon

rice fields ...
bent woman reaping

winter deepens ...
the lungi shivering on
the beggar's face

summer's end ...
the waterfall thunders into
my laughter

festival wind
the street child relights
a bottle rocket

elevated city
thick fog carries
the morning traffic

first light
last night's rain
cupped in a mushroom

cut off kite
the sound of children
fading with it

of cherry blossoms—
remaining spring

autumn loneliness --
sweeping the highway
withered leaves

சூரியக் குளியல்
பகல் நிலவவை
வட்டமிடும் கழுகு

அரிசி வயல்கள்
வளைந்த பெண்ணீன் அறுவடை
கிசு கிசு

சீர்ப்படும் கார்காலம்
நடுங்கும் லுங்கியின் உள்ளே
இயாசகனின் முகம்

கோடைக்காலத்தின் இறுதி
நீர்வீழ்ச்சியின் பேரொளி முனையில்
என் சிரிப்பொலி

விழா காற்று
புட்டி ராக்கெட்டை ஒளியிட்ட
தெருச் சிறுவன்

உயர்த்தப்பெற்ற நகரம்
காலை போக்குவரத்தை
எடுத்துச்செல்லும் மூடுபனி

முதல் ஒளி
நேற்றைய இரவின் மழை
காளானில் கசிந்தது

அறுப்பட்ட காற்றாடி
மங்கும் குழந்தைகளின்

செரி மலர்கள்
மிஞ்சிய வசந்தம்

இலையுதிர்காலத் தனிமை
நெடுஞ்சாலையைப் பெருக்கிடும்
துவண்ட இலைகள்

Translated by

Belgian mirror

Sirpi Balasubramania

The gild on it’s wooden frame
Had blackened;
It’s face
Of creepers and flowers
Pooled in to a broken web.
Once exquisite birds
Piped in it’s margin
Now they sat
Wings torn,
Beaks broken
They must have been fifty, after all.

Amma used to regale us with stories—
Her visit to Rameswaram
As a young bride
Pregnant with their first,
The Belgian mirror
Was Appa’s early gift.

“The mirror is a God
It better not break”
Was Amma’s refrain.

Once it’s commanding presence
Loomed over the grand hall;
Appa would stand before it,
For a good a half-hour everyday
Shaping the sandal - paste on his forehead
In to a perfect round
With a Nandivattai stem.
“Your idli is getting cold !” –
Pretend to reproach him,
Amma would steal a glance
And drink in the sight.

Long-legged Akka
Would adjust the mirror
To suit her height,
Amma’s sixth sense
Would spring in to action
“ Din’t you leave an oil stain on it!”
Her voice
Would rumble from the kitchen.

She would never allow me
To play ball in the house
“You ‘ll damage the mirror
Go to the street and play!”
In company she ‘d proclaim,
“Original Belgian stuff!
Can’t get it these days....”

After Appa’s death
Shifted the mirror
To the prayer room,
Waxed it every week,
Decorated with Kumkumam
And lost herself in prayer.

Emaciated Amma
Would Mumble
At the slightest sound-
“Take care of the mirror.”

Last midnight –
A crash! In the prayer room
A fat rat stumbled and scurried
On the floor;

The Belgian mirror
Lay in
Glittering shards.

“Ayyo... Amma...”
My wife shrieked,
And rushed in;

Amma’s eyes –
Two lifeless
Pebbles of glass.

Translated by Dr.K.S.Subramnian