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

Five Ascetics who Entered Fire: Vedavati, Sabhari, Sarabhanga,Kabila, Quetzalcoatl

sabari ram
Tribal Woman Saint Sabhari and Rama.

Five Ascetics who Entered Fire: Vedavati, Sabhari, Sarabhanga,Kabila, Quetzalcoatl

Research Article Written by London Swaminathan
Post No. 1168; Dated 12th July 2014.

Hindu epic Ramayana is unique in many ways. One of the unique things about the Ramyana is “self immolation”. It is very interesting to know that women ascetics existed in the days of Ramayana and they did enter the fire and sacrificed their lives when they thought that the date of their departure had come. This is one the boldest things, we can see only in the Hindu world. Here we see a continuity of Upanishadic age sages like Gargi and Maitreyi. They did not feel any body pain when they entered the fire due to their Yogic practice.

Sita did not fear to enter fire to prove her purity. Kumarila Bhatta, contemporary of Adi Shankara, did not hesitate to burn his body slowly in the middle of husk lighted on all four sides. Tamil poet Kabila did enter fire after fulfilling his noble mission. Aztec saint Quetzalcoatl (may be a Hindu saint) did sacrifice his life in fire.

Goddess Uma did penance by standing in the middle of Five Fires (Panchagni). Many a saints including Bhageeratha did Panchagni penance. Bharata and Angatha tried to enter the fire thinking that they lost their in their mission. This is a Hindu ritual. When one completes something noble, one enters fire. When one failed to achieve to fulfil something, they enter the fire ritually.

There is a big difference between suicide and this ritual sacrifice. Here they enter the fire after announcing to the whole wide world that on such and such day they would do it for a particular noble cause. It is not because of depression or agitated mind. There is another type known as Sati, where in the women who lost their husbands climb the funeral pyre. There is another type of sacrifice where women like Chitoor Rani Padmini along with her friends entered the fire to save their modesty.
Here is a short list of great ascetics who immolated themselves:
sita
Sita Devi in Agni Pareeksha.

Sharabhanga :

Rama, after slaying the demon Viradha, visited the hermitage of Sharabhanga. He told Rama that he rejected Indra’s invitation to visit Brahmaloka, knowing that Rama was visiting the place. He also directed Rama to Sutikshna’s dwelling. He requested Rama to stay with him till he casts off his body as a snake casts off its slough. Then Sharabhanga prepared a fire and poured clarified butter therein. The sage entered the flames and assumed a youthful form and ascended to Brahma’s abode (Source: Aranya Kanda, Chapter 5)

Sabhari:

She was waiting to see Rama. When Rama went to her in the middle of the forest; she gave him berry fruits and roots which were bitten by her. She did this to give the sweetest ones to Rama. Since Rama knew her motherly love, he did not reject it. She belonged to the caste of hunters. That tribal woman guided Rama and Lakshmana to lake Pampa an Rishyamuka mountain.
“Having received permission from Rama to depart, Sabhari, wearing matted locks, robes of bark and a black antelope skin, cast herself into the fire, thereafter rising into the air like a bright flame. (Chapter 74, Aranya Kanda).
ram sabari
Rama and Sabhari

Vedavati:

Vedavati was the daughter of Rishi Kusadhwaja. When Ravana was passing through the forests in the Himalaya he met Vedavati, a damsel of great beauty dressed in acetic garb. When Ravana wanted to marry her she told him that she would marry only Vishnu. But Ravana boasted to her about his heroic deeds and touched her hair with a bad intention. Enraged by this, she cursed him that he would be destroyed by her in her next birth (as Sita) and entered fire before him. When she entered the fire celestial flowers fell around her (Uttara Kanda, Ramayana)

Tamil Poet Kabilar:

Kabilar, a Brahmin poet of great character, who lived in the Sangam Age ( First three centuries CE) was a good friend of a generous chieftain Pari. When the mighty Tamil kingdoms laid a siege around his kingdom Kabilar boldly supported Pari. The three Tamil kings of Sera, Choaza, Pandya kingdoms killed him by deceit. Then Kabilar took his two daughters to all the chieftains begging them to marry them. No one dared to earn the enmity of the powerful Tamil kings. At last, one chieftain took care of those girls and Kabilar, having fulfilled his mission, entered the fire. There was a memorial stone in the place known as Kabilar Stone near Tirukoyilur on the banks of River Pennai. There is an inscription with this story in verse (Source Dr R Nagasamy’s Tamil book ‘Paamaalai’).

Bharatha, Rama’s brother, was desperate to see Rama after his 14 year banishment. When he did not arrive on the appointed day Bharat was about to jump in to ceremonial fire. But Rama arrived by his divine Supersonic jet from Sri Lanka and saved his life. When Angathan and other monkeys could not find Sita in their search mission, they contemplated sacrificing themselves in fire. This is a typical Hindu approach.

Quetzalcoatl_magliabechiano
Aztec Deity
Aztec Saint’s Self Immolation

Aztec civilization (750 CE to 1500 CE) in South and Central America had a mysterious person with the name Quetzalcoatl. There were two people with the same name which resulted in lot of confusion. He was a demiurge, priest, ruler conceived by virginal birth years after his father’s death. He was ruler of Toltecs for twenty two years. He lived in Tula, lost a civil war, fled with a good sized Toltec force. He set sail into the open sea on a particular date Aztec calendar with a prophecy that he would come back on the recurrence of that date.

Centuries after this date, Spanish man Herman Cortes landed on the coast of Mexico on 4th March 1519. Aztec king Montezuma believed that god and saint Quetzalcoatl had come back in the form of a white man. He was given royal welcome. But Cortes, Columbus and his band of explorers brought disease, death and destruction to the wonderful Mayan, Aztec and Inca civilizations. They plundered the whole of South America and took tons of gold to Spain and Portugal.

Quetzalcoatl_Ehecatl
Quetzalcoatl means ‘feathered serpent’ or ‘precious twin’. He is one of the most important Aztec deities, although he has origins in pre Aztec cultures. There was a historical king in the same name that was expelled from Tula, the Toltec capital in 987 CE. According to one version he reached the Gulf of Mexico and immolated himself, to be reborn as the planet Venus. He predicted that he would come back. He may be a Hindu saint who practised such rituals in ancient India.

sita2
Sita Devi in Fire Test.

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