Riddles, metaphors, sayings and proverbs

Riddles are a literary genre appreciated by the Tamil people not only for their rich linguistic elements (like alliteration and rhyme), but also for their poetic meaning and humour. Dieter B. Kapp has compiled a list of metaphors relating to the kolam in the form of riddles, sayings and proverbs. Published in the form of a series of booklets, they explore all aspects of Tamil culture, and include a variety of images depicting these ephemeral drawings.

A jumble of images cover the pages: there are floral motifs, a flower garden, a string of pearls, a painted image, a carpet embroidered with floral motifs, an unfurled carpet, and spectacular temple chariots. Some kolams feature female figures: "a woman majestically seated on a doorstep", "the friend of beautiful young girls", "a wealthy'wife", "a women bent with age". Sometimes they take on male forms, like he who "offers his radiance", "set a record during a competition".  Other images highlight qualities, like "flowery", "white in colour", "colourful", "climbing", "possessing tales"(curved lines), "charmer", "attractive", "handmade","woven".

On the threshold, an auspicious woman is blossoming.
Madurai 1982
Akkâl vitaitta muttu, alla mutiyâta muttu.
Pearls sown by the eldest sister, pearls that cannot be picked up.

Cuppiramaniyan¸ 31980, n°11; Cankaran¸41989, n°35 et  n° 281 Muttaiyâ 31991, n°2.

aṉṟāṭam malarum, aṉaivarum kavarum.
Blossoming every day, Delighting one and all.

Cuppiramaniyan¸ ³1980, n°184; Muttaiya ³1991, n°58; Canpakavalli 1998, n°578.

Kai pattu malarum. Kâl pattu maraiyum.
Created by the hands, Erased by the feet.
Janaki Gopalan
Kâlaiyilum mâlaiyilum malarum pûvum alla. Kantavar kânâmal mitittituvâr ceruppum alla. Vâl irukkum vannam tîtti irukum patamum alla. Vayatup penkal nûṟpârkal pinnalum alla.
It blossoms morning and evening but it is not a flower. Passers-by walk on it but they are not sandals.It is curvy and colourful yet it is not a painting. Young girls weave it but it is not a braid.

Cuppiramaniyan 1980, N°1052

cinkârat tankai teruvâcal vantâḷ, caṅkîtam pâtit taraiyil pûp pôttâl, aṅkoru pûkkâttiṉ¸ alaku malarntatu, avaḷ mukattilê puṉṉakai malarntatu.
My pretty young sister appeared on the threshold, singing along, she drew flowers. There, blossomed a beautiful flower garden and on her face blossomed a smile.

Tamilvânam  1991, n°277

Tatukkup pttên, Etukka mutiyavillai
I spread a mat, could not roll it back.
Tannai parikotuttu pirarukku oli kotuppân
Scattering itself, it brightens others.
mârkali mâtam, tinam mântarkal pôtum cittiram, kûr vili kontu atanaik kôtaiyar ninru pârppâr
Every day in the month of Margazhi, (mid-December, mid-January), Women draw these images, Young girls stare at them with curious eyes.
Arunaṉ, utikkum vêlai yâru ceyta vêlai? Attai makal vîttu munnê alaku ratam ôtutu. ôtukira ratattin, mêl utkârntu ôtta âl illai. anti câyum nêrattilê, alaku ratattin, mêlê, attân, vanti êrucci ratattin, mukam mâriccu.
At dawn, who accomplishes this work ? In front of my fiancée’s house, a beautiful chariot is running, Nobody is riding the chariot. At dusk, on this beautiful chariot, my beloved is riding And the vehicle becomes radiant.

Valittunairâman,1993, n°849.

Valaintu nelintaval, vannattil vellaiyavaḷ, vâcalil vîrriruppâl, vantavarai kavarntiluppâl.
She is curves and bends, She is white in colour, She is majestically sitting on the threshold, She is attracting the passer-by.
Vellai tirattâlam, Vâcalil iruppâlâm, Pâvaiyarin tliyâm, Pârpprai illupâlam
It is said that she is wearing white, It is said that she is sitting on the threshold, It is said that she is the friend of young women, It is said that she attracts whoever looks at her.

Thanks to Dieter B. Kapp and Professor Murugaiyan Appasamy for the English translation.