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Story of Avvaiyar

Avvaiyar was a great devotional poetess of Tamil Nadu. Her life story is very interesting as she asked for old age to escape from marriage so that she can lead a hassle free spiritual life. The most popular legend is that Avvai was the daughter of Athy, a low caste woman, and a Brahmin named Pagavan.

Unreconciled to his marriage with a low-caste woman, Pagavan unwillingly made Athy promise to abandon her children.

Avvai, the first of seven children, was adopted by a family of traditional singers known as Panars. The adopted child surprised her parents by completing an unfinished song.

When her marriage was being considered, she appealed to Lord Ganesha to extricate her from this travail, and she was transformed into an old woman.

She then led a life of wandering minstrel and her songs and sayings are popular even today.

She is believed to have had darshan of Lord Muruga.

Muruga Gives Darshan to Avvaiyar

Legend has it that once Avvaiyar stopped to rest in a forest during her travel. A tired Avvaiyar was happy to see a fruit tree nearby. She asked a boy who was sitting on the tree to shake down some Jamun (Naaval or njaval Pazhams).

To the surprise of grandmother Avvaiyar, the boy asked whether she wanted cold or hot fruit – in some stories it is Sutta Pazham (cooked fruit) or Sudadha Pazham (uncooked fruit).

Avvaiyar was amused by the question. She did not understand what the boy meant. So she asked the boy to give her some hot fruits.

The boy shook down the fruits.

Avvaiyar picked up the fruits and blew them to remove the dust.

The boy then asked her whether it was too hot that she was blowing them.

Avvaiyar now realized that the boy had earlier meant ripe fruits to hot fruits and unripe one to cold fruits.

When Avvaiyar looked up, the boy was missing. She then realized it was Muruga who was testing her.

Muruga then gave darshan to Avvaiyar.

Pazhamudircholai Murugan Temple – One of the Six Shrines of Muruga in the Arupadaiveedu Temples in Tamil Nadu – is believed to be the spot where Lord Muruga Gave Darshan to Avvaiyar.

The conversation between Muruga and Avvaiyar is pregnant with meaning and is part of traditional Hindu teachings in the Tamil world. Here are a few examples


Murugan and Avvaiyar Conversation


Murugan asks: Oh Avvai, what is Great? 

Avvaiyar: The greatest is the glory of the Shiva`s devotees. 

Murugan asks: Oh Avvai, what is Sweeter? 

Avvaiyar: Sweeter is Solitude; Sweeter than that is praying; Sweeter than that is to be in the company of knowledgeable people.

Teachings from the Poems of Avvaiyar

What we know is the size of a handful of sand while what we don’t know is the size of the entire earth itself...

A good deed will pay back, as the coconut tree that gives the benefit holding on its head, for the water you pour in its feet.

Don't give up perseverance.

Don't despise learning.

Big is the frond of the palm but scentless; sweet scented is the tiny magizha flower. Judge not men therefore from size merely. The vast ocean has water not fit for a bath; the tiny spring by its side has good drinking water.

A popular temple associated with Avvaiyar is the Avvaiyar Amman Temple at Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu.

Aathichudi is a Tamil Classic text credited to Avvaiyar