Avvaiyar: A Beacon of Tamil Poetry and Wisdom
Avvaiyyar was a notable female poet of the Ninth century. She is popular for her amazing poetry, which contains moral instructions. She was also a respectable and noble saint of that time. Her real name is unknown. But her poems still have importance and popularity in Tamil Nadu. Most of the children learn her poetry during their education in the Tamil language. Avvaiya means respectable old lady or Grandmother.
Avvaiyar lived during the time of Kambar and Ottakoothar. Tamil people describe her as an intelligent old lady. She wrote many poems that have moral value and importance till now. Even many of her poems are included in the school textbooks of Tamil Nadu. Maybe children don’t understand every meaning of the poem, but later in their life, they understand how these poems can help them. The textbooks also included a list of what to do and what not to do in life. These morals are arranged in simple, short sentences useful for daily life. At that time, poetry had a special purpose of spreading moral instructions among the ordinary people of villages.
The life of the famous poet was not at all pleasant. Avvaiyar was born in a Tamil Brahmin family. Her father, Bhagavan, was Brahmin, and her mother, Adi, was a member of the untouchables or Dalits. When Avvaiyar was born, her father was on a spiritual journey. Her parents decided to leave the child behind and continue their journey. A poet passed from that place, and he noticed the lone child. He took her with him.
Avvaiyar was interested and showed a deep passion for poetry from an early age. She started writing poetry at the age of four. Even she was able to complete a difficult stanza at that early age. In those days, many highly educated notable people failed to write such stanzas. She has a few collections of poems. But those poems are easily understandable, and people love to remind her poems.
From childhood, Avvaiyar was fond of Lord Ganesha. She always prays for the blessings of poetry, music and drama. She accomplished her education and became highly talented in poetry when she grew up. Her inner qualities increased and complemented her intelligence. But according to Tamil people, she received many marriage proposals and was continuously pressurized for marriage. That time she asked Lord Ganesha to change her and abolish her beauty. God heard her prayer and changed her into an older woman. She was extremely thankful to God for his generosity and greeted him with a song equal to the Vedas.
After this change, she began her journey as a traveler and observed the common man’s life. She used her knowledge, inspiration and social ethics in her poetry. She had lots of love for the common man, and she admired their simple life. She didn’t like the approach of rich people. These all were included in her poems. Her poems tell us about the common people and their life. She also included morals, dos and don’ts, simple ways to live a happy life etc.
It is believed that Avvaiyar did not die normally. She went to the Kailash, the house of Lord Ganesha.
Another belief said that Avvaiyar was the court poet of the Chola monarch, and she was the contemporary of Kamber and Ottakkuttar. She gave happiness to the life of children through her writing. She wrote Atticcuti and Konraiventhan for children. The Atticcuti contains single-line quotations on moral instructions. These 109 lines are expressed in the instructions. It teaches good habits and discipline. Such as “don’t forget gratitude”, “Never degrade learning”, and “intend to do right deeds”. These are very popular among Tamil children. They enjoyed her writing. She wrote Mooturai and Nalvali for older children. These are philosophical, moral instructions that have importance to date.
Most of the information about the poet is unknown. The information about her life needs to be more reliable. She has only these untitled small stanzas of poems and some moral instructions. Her real name was still unknown. The given name Avvaiyar is also common. There was another Tamil female poet who had this name. The only clues of information are her poetry. One can understand the poet by studying her writing. She was sincere and closely attached to the purely natural world. She traveled a lot during her lifetime. She was proud of her work, and sometimes she lost her temperament.
Everyone in Tamil Nadu is aware of her wring and poetry. Children learned the alphabet through her poetry. Then they move to the stanzas. These poetries are unforgettable. Many Tamil adults still can remember a few stanzas of her writing. People don’t remember these stanzas for they had learned these in their childhood with full concentration, but they remember these because of their easily understandable nature and their values in life.
Avvaiyar’s poems are not devotional. These poems are simple, strong and perfect for everyday life. These poems are all about the hardship of life, physical desires and parameters of choosing a real friend. They deal with the common people who are needy and honest. She never tolerates the arrogance of rich people.
The American publication Red Hen Press published a selection of Avvaiyar’s poems in 2009. It was named ‘Give, Eat and Live: Poems by Avvaiyar’. The poems were collected, edited and translated by Thomas Pruiksma. He discovered Avvaiyar’s poems while on the Fulbright Scholarship at The American College in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. It is very upsetting that ‘Give, Eat and Live: poems of Avvaiyar’ is the only translation available in English. Avvaiyar was a poet of World standard besides ‘Tao Te Ching’ and the’ Dhammapada’. This collection is very thin and does not contain the total work of Avvaiyar. If you deduct the opposite Tamil pages, then only twenty pages of poetry are available.
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