TAMIL POETESSES AVVAI, ANGAVAI AND SANGAVAI (Post No.7350)

Written by London Swaminathan

swami_48@yahoo.com

Date: 16 December 2019

Time in London – 18-10

Post No. 7350

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Tamil women are great poetesses, temple builders and social reformers. Andal ,a devotee of Vishnu, and Karaikkal Ammaiyar, a devotee of Shiva are known to many. Avvaiyar is a household name in Tamil Nadu; but many Avvais existed in various ages. Probably the word AVVAI was used for an old woman completely devoted to God; that is a full timer on public service, widowed OR not married . Scholars think that six women known as Avvai lived in Tamil Nadu. But linguistically speaking, we can see at least four Avvais clearly. One belong to Sangam age , another belongs to middle age and the third one is from our times. The language of the poems draws a clear cut line. Fourth one is in between them.

The most famous Avvai existed during Sangam age i.e. 2000 years ago. She was well versed in Tamil and bold enough to challenge and advise the mighty Tamil kings. But she was respected by one and all. The Tamils were fighting among themselves from the very beginning of history. The longest infighting race in the world. Avvai was bold enough to advise them to stop fighting.

A great Chola king Peru Narkilli did a Rajasuya Yagam like Yuthisthiraa of Mahabharata. Chera king and the Pandya king attended the Hindu fire ceremony. Grand old lady of Tamil country Avvaiyar came there and blessed them. She sang that they must be united like this for ever and live longer in years than the number of stars in the sky and the number of drops in the rain. She advised them to give a lot of gold to worthy Brahmins (See Purananuru verse 366).

She went to another inexperienced king and advised him not to fight with his enemy. She used very subtle language and said to him “your weapons are brand new and shining like silver whereas your enemy’s weapons are blunt, rusty and bloody. The message she hinted was ‘Oh, you idiot, you don’t know what a battle is like, where as your enemy is an experienced fighter.”

She was in the court of Neduman Anji, the Adigamaan Chief of Tagadur (Dharmapuri). He held her in high esteem and even gave her the Nelli (amla) with rare medical properties. He entrusted her an embassy to the Chief of Tondaimandalam. She composed many poems on the generosity of Adigaman. For vigour and depth of feeling her odes to Adigaman are second to none in the Purananuru collections.

After the death of Adigaman she visited several places in Tamil Nadu. Avvai took her themes from life in the palace and in the country farm. The simple pleasures and the daily cares of the lowly appealed to her even more than the chivalry of heroes and the magnificence of princes. Her odes which are included in the   Sangam collections Akananuru, Purananuu, Natrinai and Kuruntokai, are a true mirror of contemporary Tamil life.   With a rare economy of words she creates marvellous pen pictures , and some poetic imagery; she adds choice moral precepts. She is a great exponent of morality.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

                                                                                   

We see one Avvai as most famous Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar’s sister (probably around fourth or fifth century CE) and another Avvai with Sundarar and Cheraman Perumal (probably ninth century) and another Avvai who composed Athichudi and other poems in simple Tamil during modern times. She is the one devoted to Lord Skanda/Muruga and author of Vinayakar Akaval. So one can easily see four different Avvais. Pithy aphorisms of later Avvai are lisped by Tamil children even today as introduction to Tamil poetry and a guide to a moral life.

Tradition ascribes to Avvai a strange parentage- a Brahmana father and a low caste mother brought up in a Brahmana family. She has six siblings along with Tiru Valluvar. This story is found in all books that were published 75 years ago. This Avvai came after Sangam age. Her poetic talents were first discovered by Buuda, a petty chieftain of Pulveluur on the River Pennaaru.

( Tamils killed each other continuously for 1200 years and then invited Muslim invaders to kill all the Tamils. For 150 years Tamils were ruled by Muslim invaders and then Telugus saved Tamil Nadu, Tamil Culture, Tamil temples and Hinduism. Kumara Kampannan came with his wife Ganga Devi to Madurai and sounded the death knell to Muslim Rule. Tamils are ever grateful to the Telugus. Without them Tamil Pakistan would have emerged 500 years before the actual Pakistan.)

Angavai and Sangavai


One of the great Tamil philanthropists is Chieftain Vel Pari. He had two daughters named Angavai and Sangavai. They were well educated and could compose poems. Paari was ruling a small area called Parampunaadu. Three great Tamil kings of Chera, Chola and Pandya wanted to marry those girls. When Pari refused they laid a siege around his small kingdom. Kabilar, a brahmin poet was his close friend . He helped him to break the siege by training thousands of parrots to bring grains from around the kingdom. But at the end Chieftain Pari was killed . Since Kabilar took care of Pari’s daughters, the three kings could not touch them . Kabilar contributed highest number poems to the Sangam corpus . He was the only poet sung and praised by other poets. He was praised as a  Brahmin of spotless character . He was a revolutionary who broke the barriers of caste 2000 years ago. He got them married and then entered fire like several Hindu saints. That place is called Kabilar Rock near Tirukkovalur in Tamil Nadu.

One of the Purananuru collections is sung by these two daughters.
An unconquerable hero, he fell a victim to foul treachery and his orphaned girls were exiled from their home . The hymn is an exquisite pen picture of their sufferings in exile, presented in sharp contrast to their past life of affluence and luxury in their palace at Parambu Naadu.
See Puram verse 112.

Xxx subham xxx

AVVAIYAR
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2 Comments

  1. R Nanjappa

     /  December 17, 2019

    This article covers two important themes: 1. The poems of Avvaiyar, especially the one belonging to the Sangam period. Many years ago, Prof. N, Sanjivi had written about the poems of Avvaiyar in Purananooru .[ ந. சஞ்சீவி: சங்ககாலச் சான்றோர்கள்]. But I do not think there has been a book covering all her poems in the Sangam corpus. It would be a nice idea if all such poems can be brought out in one volume.2. The political history of Tamil Nadu in later days.. The kind of Tamil chauvinism that has been spread as state cult has obscured the real history of how Tamil kings fought among themselves ceaselessly, weakening Tamil Nadu. The Pandyan king defeated and killed the last Chola king. And the last Pandya king himself ran away from Madurai when Muslims attacked it. Madurai fell to Muslims, and for over 40 years the famous temple there was kept closed. It was Kumara Kampannan of Vijaynagara who restored the Hindu rule in Madurai after defeating the Muslims, but this is not celebrated as it deserves to be due to linguistic politics. But for Vijayanagara empire, temples in Tamil Nadu would have met the fate of thousands of North Indian temples. This fact too is not sufficiently appreciated. I wish some historian writes about these developments without bias or jingoism.

  2. Yes. It will be a good contribution to Tamil Studies, if someone brings out a book with all her Sangam poems. Even Rajaji’s Avvaiar covers more popular poems than Sangam verses.

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