Avvaiyar

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Avvaiyar Statue in Marina Beach

The Avvaiyars (Tamil: ஔவையார்; 'Respectable Women') was the title of more than one poet who were active during different periods of Tamil literature. The Avvaiyar's were some of the most famous and important female poets of the Tamil canon. Abidhana Chintamani states that there were three female poets titled Avvaiyar.

Among them, the first Avvaiyar lived during the Sangam period (c. 3rd century BCE) and is said to have had cordial relations with the Tamil chieftains Vēl Pāri and Athiyamān. She wrote 59 poems in the Puṟanāṉūṟu.[1]

Avvaiyar II lived during the period of Kambar and Ottakoothar during the reign of the Chola dynasty in the tenth century. She is often imagined as an old and intelligent lady by Tamil people. She wrote many of the poems that remain very popular even today, and are inculcated in school textbooks in Tamil Nadu. These books include a list of dos and don'ts, useful for daily life, arranged in simple and short sentences.

There is a very famous legend that is associated with the first Avvaiyar and the Naaval Pazham or Jambu tree in Tamil Nadu. Avvaiyar, believing she had achieved everything that is to be achieved, was pondering her retirement from Tamil literary work while resting under a Naaval Pazham tree. She was then met by a disguised Murugan (regarded as one of the guardian deities of the Tamil language), who jousted with her wittily. He later revealed himself and made her realise that there was still a lot more to be done and learned. Following this awakening, Avvaiyar is believed to have undertaken a fresh set of literary works, targeted at children. These works, even after a millennium, are often among the very first literature that children are exposed to in Tamil Nadu schools.

Name etymology[edit]

The name Avvaiyar is a combination of Tamil word av vai with honorific suffix ar.[2] Avvai refers to respectable elderly woman as the word ammai which means good woman in general term for a woman of any age.[2] Thus the name Avvaiyar means a respectable good woman hence a generic title rather than a specific name of a person. [3] The word Auvaiyaar could also be a question as in who is that woman? (Avvai-woman and yaar-who).

Sangam age Avvaiyar[edit]

The Avvaiyar who lived during the Sangam period is considered to be contemporary to poets Paranar,[2] Kabilar and Thiruvalluvar.[4] She is attributed as the author of 7 verses in Naṟṟiṇai, 15 in Kuṟuntokai, 4 in Akanaṉūṟu and 33 in Puṟanāṉūṟu.[2] Legend states that she was a court poet of the rulers of the Tamil country. She travelled from one part of the country to another and from one village to another, sharing the gruel of the poor farmers and composing songs for their enjoyment. Most of her songs were about a small-time chieftain Vallal Athiyamaan Nedumaan Anji and his family.[2] The chieftain had also used her as his ambassador to avert war with another neighbouring chieftain Thondaiman.[2] The rest of her songs related to the various aspects of state governance. Although traditions claim that she was a sister of Kabilar, Thiruvalluvar and Athiyamaan, V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar refutes this claim based on his studies that all four of them were most likely of different walks of life, thus from different caste backgrounds and hence impossible to be siblings. Tirukkovilur is an ancient temple town in Tamil Nadu. This is where the demon andhaka was killed by lord Shiva. Sangam epics recount that it was here that avvayar was blessed with a vision of her lord slaying andhaka and she has dedicated verses to the same. At great ancient temple of thillai chidambaram she sang Vinayakar Thiruakaval when lord Ganesha displayed his dancing form to her. Vinayakar Thiruakaval is an extremely esoteric work. [4]

Chola age Avvaiyar[edit]

The medieval period Avvaiyar was the court poet of the Chola monarch and was the contemporary of Kambar and Ottakkuttar.[2] She found great happiness in the life of small children. Her works, Ātticcūṭi and Konraiventhan, written for young children, are even now generally read and enjoyed by them.

Her two other works, Mooturai and Nalvali were written for older children. All the four works are didactic in character – they explain the basic wisdom that should govern mundane life.

Quotes[edit]

The following quotes from Aathichoodi illustrate the simplicity of her style and profoundness of the messages:

Uyir Ezhuthu ஆத்திசூடி English translation
அறம் செய விரும்பு Intend to do right things
ஆறுவது சினம் Anger is momentary; do not take decisions during times of anger (in haste)
இயல்வது கரவேல் Help others based on your capacity
ஈவது விலக்கேல் Never stop aiding
உடையது விளம்பேல் Never boast
ஊக்கமது கைவிடேல் Never give up enthusiasm
எண் எழுத்து இகழேல் Never degrade learning
ஏற்பது இகழ்ச்சி Begging is shameful
ஐயமிட்டு உண் Share what you eat
ஒப்புர வொழுகு Be virtuous
ஓதுவது ஒழியேல் Never stop learning or reading
ஒள ஒளவியம் பேசேல் Never gossip
அஃகஞ் சுருக்கேல் Never compromise in food grains
‘anuvai thulaithezh kadalai pugatti Kuruga tharitha kural’ Thirukkural is as powerful as the energy of the seven large oceans compressed into a divided atom.

"Thol Ulagil Nallaar Oruvar Ularael Avar Poruttu Ellarkum Peiyum Mazhai" – The rain falls on behalf of the virtuous, benefitting everyone in the world.

"Nandri Oruvarukku Seithakkal An Nandri Endru tharum kol ena vaenda nindru Thalara valar thengu Thaanunda Neerai Thalaiyaalae Thaan Tharuthalal" -Don't wait for a return benefit as to when a good deed done will pay back, but be just like that tall and erect coconut tree that drank water from its feet gives the benefit of giving that sweet water by its head."

Her quote "கற்றது கைமண் அளவு, கல்லாதது உலகளவு" has been translated as "What you have learned is a mere handful; What you haven't learned is the size of the world" and exhibited at NASA.[5] Her famous works include:

Shrine[edit]

In Muppandal, a small village in the Kanyakumari District of Tamil Nadu. there is an image of Avvaiyar. By tradition, this is stated to be the spot where the great poet left the mortal world.[6]

Avvai Vizha[edit]

Annual Avvai Vizha is organised and conducted by the Government of Tamil Nadu to commemorate Avvaiyar's contribution to Tamil literature. This festival is celebrated every year in the month of Panguni on Sadhayam star day. Avvai Vizha has been started by local community long time back and still continuing willingly. Now Government of Tamil Nadu is continuing this function and adding more values. Local community, Tamil scholars and scholars from various fields participating with passion on this occasion and deliver their speech. Avvai Vizha is conducted in the temple Avvayar situated at Thulasiyappattinam village, Vedaranyam, Nagappatinam District, in the temple premises of Arulmigu Visvanathaswamy Thirukovil. Also this place is referred to famous interaction between Lord Muruga and Avvaiyar "Suttapazham Venduma Sudatha Pazham Venduma". This temple is under the control of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department.

Legend[edit]

Legend has it that once the great king Athiyaman gave an eternal gooseberry (Nellikani) fruit to Avvaiyar I. This is a special and powerful fruit; whoever eats it will have a healthy and long life. Athiyaman wanted Avvaiyar to eat the eternal fruit as she was the right person who could serve the Tamil community. If she could live forever, so would the Tamil heritage and language.[7]

Legacy[edit]

There is a crater in Venus named after Avvaiyar by NASA.

Publication in the US[edit]

In 2009, Red Hen Press published a selection of Avvaiyar's poetry from the 12th century, entitled Give, Eat, and Live: Poems by Avviyar. The poems were selected and translated into English by Thomas Pruiksma,[8] a poet and translator who discovered Avviyar's work while on a Fulbright scholarship at The American College in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "News Archives: The Hindu".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Datta, Amaresh (2006). The Encyclopaedia of Hindu literature. Sahitya Akademi. p. 295. ISBN 978-81-260-1803-1.
  3. ^ Mukherjee, Sujit (1999). A dictionary of Indian literature. India: Orient Blackswan. p. 32. ISBN 978-81-250-1453-9.
  4. ^ a b Dikshitar, Ramachandra (2007). Studies in Tamil Literature and History. Read Books. pp. 65–70. ISBN 978-1-4067-7245-6.
  5. ^ "Cosmic Questions Exhibit". NASA. Archived from the original on 2 November 2012.
  6. ^ Padmanabhan, S. (5 November 2004). "Shrine for the Tamil poetess". Chennai, India: The Hindu. Retrieved 28 October 2006.
  7. ^ "The Hindu : Guidelines for helping the needy".
  8. ^ "Biography «  The Poet's Magic".


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