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Classic Poetry Series
- poems -
Publication Date:
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Avvaiyar(1st - 2nd Century CE)
The Avvaiyars (Tamil: ???????) "respectable women" was the title of more than
one poet who was active during different periods of Tamil literature. The Avvaiyar
were some of the most famous and important female poets of the Tamil canon.
Abithana Chintamani states that there were three female poets titled Avvaiyar.
Among them, Avvaiyar I lived during the Sangam period (c. 1st and 2nd century
CE) and had cordial relation with the Tamil chieftains Paari and Athiyaman. She
wrote 59 poems in the Pu?ana?u?u.
Avvaiyar II lived during the period of Kambar and Ottakoothar during the reign of
the Chola dynasty in the 13th 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 now 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 Auvaiyar (also Auvayar)
(Tamil: ???????), a prominent female poets/ethicist/political activist of Sangam
period (Tamil literature), and Naaval Pazham (Jambu) in Tamil Nadu. Auvaiyar,
believing to have achieved everything that is to be achieved, is said to have been
pondering her retirement from Tamil literary work while resting under Naaval
Pazham tree. But she is met with and was wittily jousted by a disguised Lord
Murugan (regarded as one of the guardian deities of Tamil language), who later
revealed himself and made her realize that there was still a lot more to be done
and learnt. Following this awakening, Auvaiyar 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
The name Avvaiyar is a combination of Tamil word avvai with honorific suffix ar.
Avvai refers to respectable elderly woman as the word ammai which means good
woman in general term for a woman of any age. Thus the name Avvaiyar means
a respectable good woman hence a generic title rather than a specific name of a
Sangam age Avvaiyar
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The Avvaiyar who lived during the Sangam period is considered to be
contemporary to poets Paranar, Kabilar and Thiruvalluvar. She is attributed as
the author of 7 verses in Na??i?ai, 15 in Ku?untokai, 4 in Akana?u?u and 33 in
Pu?ana?u?u. 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. The chieftain had also used her as his
ambassador to avert war with another neighbouring chieftain Tontaiman. 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.
Chola age Avvaiyar
The medievaal period Avvaiyar was the court poet of the Chola monarch and was
the contemporary of Kambar and Ottakkuttar. She found great happiness in the
life of small children. Her works, Aathichoodi 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.
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
poetess left the mortal world.
Avvai Vizha
Annual Avvai Vizha is organized & conducted by 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 Govt 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,
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Vedaranyam, Nagappatinam District, in the temple premises of Arulmigu
Visvanathaswamy Thirukovil. Also this place is referred to famous interaction
between Lord Muruga & Avvaiyar "Suttapazham Venduma Sudatha Pazham
Venduma". This temple is under the control of the Hindu Religious and Charitable
Endowments Department.
Legend has it that once the great king Athiyaman gave an eternal amla Nellikani
(gooseberry) fruit to Avvaiyar, 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.
Publication in the U.S.
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, a poet and translator
who discovered Avviyar's work while on a Fulbright scholarship at The American
College in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India.
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Atthi Chudi