Over a span of six years, N. Gopala Sundaram has translated the entire Tiruppugazh.

“When I completed the translation of around 475 verses of Tiruppugazh into English, I approached the nonagenarian writer Chitti, whom I knew closely, with a request to write a foreword for the book. He asked me why I had stopped with 475 songs when there are around 1,300 surviving out of more than 16,000 the saint-poet is said to have composed. I replied that they were the only ones sung in public, the rest bordering on eroticism. Chitti frowned and asked me not to sit in judgment on Arunagirinathar's work and declined to give the foreword unless I completed the translation of all the verses of Tiruppugazh.

“He then threw a challenge to translate the lines ‘Na Veru Pa Manaththa Paadhaarame Ninaindhu' (‘I am thinking only about your feet carrying the fragrance of the flowery poems emanating from my tongue') which he considered were very difficult!” said N. Gopala Sundaram, who has translated the entire Tiruppugazh into English in a span of nearly six years.

“Sadly, however,” continued Gopala Sundaram, “there is no Chitti around to endorse and embrace me!”

A top banker variously posted to the United States, Bahrain and the U.K. for about 30 years, Gopala Sundaram returned to India when he retired from service, in end-2000. He has a passion for Tamil literature and was a close friend of almost all the writers from Thi. Janakiraman to Sundara Ramasamy's son Kannan. “Thanks to Kannan of Kalachuvadu Pathippagam, I could bring out six books, one after another and release them in different places, such as Tiruchendur, Albany, New York, Coimbatore, Kolkata, Morganville, New Jersey, Washington DC and Boston.”

Book-6 was released under the auspices of Bangalore Tamizh Sangam and Tiruppugazh Anbargal of the Karnataka region. According to Sundaram, the 7th and 8th volumes are under print and will soon be released.

It was at the young age of thirteen that Sundaram was introduced to the rendering of Tiruppugazh bhajans by Pithukuli Murugadas in his native Tuticorin.

Childhood interest

Sundaram was later drawn to the discourses of Kripananda Variar. However, it was only in 1970, when he was residing in New York that Sundaram was introduced to group singing of Tiruppugazh under the guidance of his friend T.N. Bala of Philadelphia, who moved the audience of the eastern part of North America and Canada. “At least 35 members across the continent participated in the group singing. I used to interpret the meaning of the verses and give lectures in the U.S., London and Bahrain for the Indian diaspora for about two decades!” said Sundaram. ‘Guruji' Raghavan commended the work and blessed the author for his stupendous effort. ‘Guruji' had already set to tune 475 songs and these are sung all over the globe.

In 2002, after his retirement, on a visit to Philadelphia, Sundaram found Bala teaching Tiruppugazh songs online, in Roman letters for non-Tamils across the U.S. The students experienced difficulty in following the musical and pronunciation parts. They did not know the meaning of what they sang.

Bala threw a challenge to Sundaram to romanise and translate the hymns and even suggested that the latter began with ‘Agaramum Aagi.'

On his marriage anniversary day, June 26, 2002, Sundaram began the Herculean task and has completed his ambitious project.

K.R.A. Narasaiah, Chitti's nephew and one of the best known names in Tamil literature, gave the foreword for the first book (Tiruparankunram and Tiruchendur). M. Srinivasan of Bharathi Tamizh Sangam, Kolkata, wrote the foreword for the second book containing 97 verses (Pazhani). The third contains the preface by Sekkizhar Adipodi Dr. N. Ramachandran (Swamimalai, Thiruthanikai and Pazhamuthir Solai). Book 4 is devoted to Kunruthor Adal Part 1 comprising Kanchipuram, Thiruvaanaika and Tiruvannamalai.

Kunruthor Adal Part 2 is Book 5, covering Chidambaram, Viralimalai, Tiruchi, Vallimalai and other kshetrams.

Book 6 contains Part 3 of Kunruthor Adal in Tiruchengodu, Kadhirgamam, Tirumayilai, Velligaram and other places, such as, Kunrakudi and Kazhugumalai.

Produced by Chuvadi, Chennai, the books are neatly printed, error-free and in readable fonts in both Tamil and English.

Each book contains nearly 400 pages. Appropriate photographs add visual pleasure.

“Since this monumental project is a not-for-profit endeavour, the books are reasonably priced at Rs.200 and I am sure that every lover of the divine verses can afford them!” says Gopala Sundaram, who has now taken up translation of other related works. (Phone: 44-2495 8797/4206 6849)