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Avvaiyar Of Sangam Age

Avvaiyar was a grand old poetess of the Sangam Age before whom crowned heads bowed in reverence. The life sketches of the poetess found in later works are full of legends. One of them connects her with the Shaivite saint Sundaramurti, while another depicts her as a devotee of Murugan and so on.

Avvaiyar of the Sangam age was patronized by Atiyaman, a chieftain of Tamil Nadu. Most of the poems pertain to him. She expresses her staunch belief in the karma theory when she says that the fruit of good deeds will stand in good stead in trying times (Purananuru – 367).

She was a great devotee of Shiva. In one of the poems, she refers to the legendary event of Shiva ensuring that gods got the ambrosia. She records in it the generosity of Atiyaman in offering her a rare nelli fruit (gooseberry), which could extend her lifespan. Though the king got it from the inaccessible hills, he did not wish to eat it himself and instead offered it to Avvaiyar. Avvaiyar praises him in the poem and wishes that he lives forever like Shiva, the supreme being.

One of the rare references in Sangam literature to Vedic sacrifice is made by Avvaiyar. Her reference to the ‘festival of lights’ is corroborated by many other Sangam poets. The occasion falls in the month of Kartika (November – December) when women would light a series of lamps in the streets and the people would gather in a special place to celebrate the festival (Akananuru: 11). This popular festival continues to be celebrated to this day, and is now called Karthigai Deepam. The same festival is known as Deepavali in North India, and has other associations. This goes to show the antiquity of the festival. The underlying principle is the omnipresence of God in the form of jyoti (light).