Sunday, November 07, 2010

Austere Avvaiyar - Part 1

"Avvaiyar",  the venerated name that reverberates throughout Tamil Literature  The name and the works of Avvaiyar have permeated in the minds of the Tamil people at all ages. Avvaiyar is seen as an icon representing the female poets in Tamil literature because Avvaiyar comes first when the question of naming the female poets in Tamil literature arises. This post and the subsequent posts are about this magnificent, magnanimous, literary eloquent, venerated and a motherly person - Avvaiyar, who is respected by people in all walks of life.

Avvaiyar is envisioned by many as one person who was a female ascetic and a wise crone. But, in reality, there were more than one with the name Avvaiyar. Abithana Chintamani identifies that there were 3 female poets who had the name Avvaiyar. The first one lived during the Sangam age, over 2000 years ago. The second one during the period of Kambar and Ottakoothar (11th and 12th). The third during the 14th century. Some researchers even say that there were at least 7 persons with the name Avvaiyar. One such reference to another Avvaiyar is during the time of Sage/Siddhar Agasthiar, where it says that Avvaiyar recommended another Siddhar Theraiyar - author of Padhartha Guna Chinthamani
- to become the disciple of Agasthiar. The time of Agasthiar was about 5200 BC to 4000 BC.

Though there were many Avvaiyars in different periods of time, their works exhibit the nature of the poets - simplicity, austerity and truth.

Avvaiyars' works are being recited and researched by students right from kindergarten to doctorates. Their works include Aathichudi, Kondrai Vaendhan, Nall vazhi, Moodhurai, Vinayagar Agaval, some songs in Puranaanooru, Aganaanooru. Many songs are just collections of single songs sung over various periods of time and they don't fall under a group or common title. These works have stood the test of time and still inculcate the moral values, virtues and stand as a beacon to lead a good life.

There are lot of interesting legends and songs that support those legends about Avvaiyar that we are going to see in the upcoming posts. I'll try to provide information on which Avvaiyar sangs those songs, in cases where I could not find such information, we will just enjoy those legends, the meaning and the literary eloquence those songs convey. For simplicity, here-in-after we will refer Avvaiyar as a single person, though we know that there were more than one Avvaiyar.

Many verses, single lines from Avvaiyar's songs are quoted even today as a moral to represent virtue, humility and truth. For example, her words

"கற்றது கைமண் அளவு, கல்லாதது உலகளவு"

"Katradhu Kai Mann Alavu, Kalladhadhu Ulagalavu"

meaning, "What we have learned, is like a handful of earth; What we have yet to learn, is like the whole world" is exhibited in NASA

Avvaiyar was very much respected by the Kings and Emperors of South India, even the Emperors of the three great kingdoms - Chera, Chola and the Pandya - had high regard for Avvaiyar. Avvaiyar is venerated so much in Tamil Nadu, that she is even worshipped as a God. People have even built a temple for her. In Thovalai Taluk of Kanyakumari district, there is an old temple that was built during the 11th century for Avvaiyar. The deity is called Avvaiyar amman. Women in that locality, prepare kolukattai (a steamed cake made out of rice flour) and offer it to Avvaiyar amman during the Tamil month of Aadi. Women worship Avvaiyar amman to get good husband and for betterment of the standard of living.

This itself is a proof, that Tamil Nadu held Avvaiyar, and women in general, in high respect. In the upcoming posts, we will explore more about these legendary Avvaiyars and their works that makes us proud of having such great people in our ancestry

To be continued...

More to come, until then...