Avvai is a saint-poetess of ancient Tamil land. She is traditionally believed to belong to ” Panar ” community, a community well versed in music, dance and poetry. She was born of a low cast woman and a brahmin father and brought up by a brahmin family.
Divine grace was showered on her even while very young. She developed aversion to worldly pleasures. Wehn her parents started seeking alliance for her marriage she deeply prayed to Lord Vinayaka to transform her form to that of an old woman and Vinayaka blessed her with an aged form. She then commenced the journey to various places- houses, palaces and king’s courts and spread the message of moral living and spirituality through pithy aphorisms and sayings with rare economy of words. She is a great exponent of morality. She was well versed in Kundalini Yoga and was considered a yogini.
She lived for many years in the court of Nedumaran Anji, the chief of Tagadur ( Dharmapuri ). He held her in such esteem that he entrusted her to an embassy as the chief of Tondaimandalam ( Chola Kingdom ) He once got a rare amla fruit ( Gooseberry ) by eating which a person can live for several hundred years. He held the life of Avvai which was much more beneficial to humanity than his own. Hence he gave away the fruit to her. Consequently, Avvai is believed to have lived for over twelve hundred years.
After the death of her patron Nedumaran Anji she continued to live in Tagadur for some more time to console his son, Elini. Thereafter she wandered through the Chera country, honoured alike by prince and peasant. She attended the Rajasuya sacrifice performed by the Chola King Perunarkilli. The sacrifice drew a large assemblage of crowded heads including the Chera and Pandya Kings. They paid their homeage to Avvai. She advised all of them to uphold charity, succour to the needy and protection of the people. She then visited important places in the Chola County and went to Tirukkoyilur where she persuaded the local to wed the orphaned daughters, Angavai and Sangavai of Vel Pari, a chieftain and great warrior.
Avvai took her themes from the life in palace, and in the country farm. She revelled at the marvels of nature and drawing lessons from nature she brought out rich poetry containing moral stories and philosophical truths. A few of her works in simple poetry which children read even today are Aathi Chudi, Kontrai Vendan, Nalvazhi and Mudurai. This is apart from the Sangam Literature containing Natrinai, the Kurunthogai, the Nedunthogai and the Pura-Nanuru. The psecial feature of Avvai’s poetry is that it contains the highest truths and philosophy which can be easily understood by ordinary people, in easy and elegant form of poetry.
There is an image of Avvai in a temple in Tirutturaipundi Taluk of the Tanjore district. But more abiding than this are her verses which the Tamil race will continue to cherish.
– Courtesy ” Great Women of India ” published by Shri Ramakrishna Math.