How many Auvaiyars?


Auvaiyar is one of the most famous poet in Tamil Literature. But has there been only one Auvaiyar ?

I still remember when I went to cast my first vote for election in Chepauk, I saw two candidates with identical names, and the name was M.Karunanidhi. I also heard there were several people named Vijayakanth standing in the constituency where Vijayakanth was standing. So if some one is popular there are surely going to be impersonators with the same name. This trend can be found in Tamil Literature too.

So let’s list down things we know about Auvaiyar,

  • She is famous Sangam poet who sang the praise of Adiyaman who in turn gave her the rare Nelli fruit to prolong her life.
  • She is very famous for her work Aathicuvadi.
  • She is also famous for her religious works like Vinayagar Agaval.
  • She is also part of lot of legends involving -Murugan, Kapilar, Kamban, Pukalenthi, Ottakuthar and other folk tales.

Dr. Kamil Zvelebil has given a detailed essay explaining why there could have been more than one Auvaiyar in Tamil literature. I will present you his views below,

There are at least 3 Auvaiyars if not more in Tamil Literature.

The first Auvaiyar was Sangam poet . She was supported by a king Adiyaman Neduman Anci of Takatur. She is author of many classical Sangam poems both in Akam and Puram genre. She is the poet who was gifted Nelli fruit by Adiyaman to prolong her life.

Below is the poem which Auvaiyar sings after receiving the Nelli fruit.

91. எமக்கு ஈத்தனையே!

பாடியவர்: ஔவையார்.

பாடப்பட்டோன்: அதியமான் நெடுமான் அஞ்சி.

திணை : தும்பை. துறை: வாழ்த்தியல்.

வலம்படு வாய்வாள் ஏந்தி, ஒன்னார்

களம்படக் கடந்த கழல்தொடி தடக்கை,

ஆர்கலி நறவின், அதியர் கோமான்

போர்அடு திருவின் பொலந்தார் அஞ்சி!

பால் புரை பிறைநுதல் பொலிந்த சென்னி

நீல மணிமிடற்று ஒருவன் போல

மன்னுக, பெரும! நீயே தொன்னிலைப்

பெருமலை விடரகத்து அருமிசை கொண்ட

சிறியிலை நெல்லித் தீங்கனி குறியாது,

ஆதல் நின்னகத்து அடக்கிச்,

சாதல் நீங்க, எமக்கு ஈத்தனையே.

Purananuru 91

Kings in the line of Atiyans!You who pour out the toddy that makes men roar!

You whose powerful hand with its sliding bracelets triumphs and brandishes

an infallible sword that brings you victory, cutting your enemies down

on the field! Anci of the golden garland, rich in murderous battle!

May you live as long as he lives on whose head the crescent moon

glows, whose neck is as a dark blue as sapphires! Oh greatness!

Without considering how difficult it is to obtain the sweet fruit

Of Nelli plant with its tiny leaves , which has to be plucked

from a crevice on the summit of an ancient mountain hard to climb,

you kept silence in your heart about it powers,

and so that you might rescue me form death, you gave that fruit !

Poet : Auvaiyar

Translated by George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz

The second Auvaiyar is of the period of 9-10 century. Kamil Zvelebil attributes the following works as work of the second Auvaiyar,

Aathicuvadi

Konraiventan

Muturai

Nalvali

All these works are ‘crisp sayings,full of ripe wisdom and gentle irony, have much in common in their thought content ,diction and form.’ according to Dr.Zvelebil. The dating of second Auvaiyar is due to the following reasons

40 th poem of Nalvali quotes Thirumular , Tevaram and Thiruvasagam, this puts this poet not earlier then 9th century and the Konraiventan is cited as the example for vencenturai in a commentary to Yaaparunkalam 63 and hence the second Auvaiyar may be no later than 12th century. Since Ilampuranar refers Muturai poem 4 in his commentary to Tolkapiyam Porulatikaram verse 72 , the age of second Auvaiyar is considered any where between 9- 10 th century.

The third Auvaiyar was probably a contemporary of Kamban, Ottakuthar and Pukalenti. The dating of the third Auvaiyar is around 12-14th century. Dr. Zvelebil attributes the following works to the third Auvaiyar

Nanakkural

Vinayakar Akaval

Pantanantati

Attankayokakkural

Vakkuntam

Kalviyolukkam

Acatikkovai

Aruntamilantati

Nannurkovau

Nanmanikkovai

Nanmanimalai

Taricanappatu

All these works ‘are in a very different – more philosophical, religious, yoga oriented, and much less poetic and gnomic – tone’ according to Dr.Zvelebil.

In addition, lot of later works are ascribed to the composite Avvaiyar , the “Old Lady” (Avvai – “mother , old woman, woman ascetic”). The legend that Avvaiyar was an old women might be due to the fact that she probably belonged to the wandering minstrel class , the paanars and that term paatti(female Paanars) with paatti the grandmother.

Lot of legends were spun around this old women Avvaiyar , including bed time story for children that the old women in moon is Avvaiyar.

So next time when you think about Auvaiyar don’t think of K.B. Sundrambal style old women!

——————————————————————————————————————-

Reference:

Tamil Literature by Kamil Zvelebil.

Please post your comments.

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8 thoughts on “How many Auvaiyars?

  1. Probably that is true to have more than one Auvaiyar as the historic details range away from a normal human span of life. This is good information to be noted.

    Though it is true, the only known form of ‘Auvaiyar’ to the tamil people is through KB sundaramabal ( who depicts the perfect portray of the lady poet ).In my humble opinition, there is nothing wrong to continue to think of KBS in Auvaiyar’s place as she too was very talented and brave lady.

  2. The surmise that there were atleast three Avvaiyars is correct.
    A book published by Sahitya Academy on Avvaiyar also mentions this.
    Tha Sangam Avvaiyar who repeatedly sings in praise of offeing ‘Kal'(toddy) to guests couls not be the Avvaiyar of Neethinoolgal.
    In Gemini’s Avvaiyar film the Avvaiyar is an amalgam of all the three.
    I think that K B Sundarambal personified Avvvaiyar in a way acceptable to all. It is not possible to think of an emaciated, servile image of Avvaiyar who defied even her friend Athiyaman. Sundarambal with her figure and voice gave an ideal image.

  3. but athichudi, vinayar agaval some one wrote in the name of avvaiyar.hindu god ganesh worship was started pallava period.king narasimha pallava victroy north indian part Vatapi.after his victory he brought hindu god ganesh idol in to tamil nadu.so sangam period hindu god genesh worsip not in tamil nadu.avvaiyar not write aathichudi ,vinayagar agaval.

  4. History is a social sciences, not in any historica field there are bound to be multiple historians with different opinions. Yes a lot of history is opinion unlike maths where 2+2 is the same no matter who you ask. So too much shouldn’t be read into one historian’s view. It very well could’ve been the same person who adapted the style of her poetry according to the audience she sang to.Only those people will say Hinduism is from North India who have not looked closely into tamil literature. All sanga poems including thirukkural has hinduism in it – abundantly.

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