Avvaiyaar – The First Lady who averted war

Avvaiyyar was more than a poet, she was active in the regional politics, matters of governance, war and peace, of her time
Keywords: Avvaiyaar, Tamizh, Heritage, Civilisation, Language, Society, History, Poetry, Wisdom
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There is no female poet-saint in the history of Tamizh canon, who is as well known and revered,  as Avvaiyaar. Avvai means a respectable wise elderly woman, yaar – an honorable suffix.

Avvaiyyar was wedded to Tamizh language and its civilizational heritage. She was bestowed with the boon of  old age when she was a beautiful young woman to avoid the travails of  marriage, in order to fulfill the real purpose of her blessed life. She led a life of a wandering minstrel, travelling from one place to another giving sage counsel even to mighty monarchs, uplifting the kingdoms and society, including children! Her songs and sayings are learnt and appreciated even today.

Annals of Tamizh history state atleast 3 distinguished poetesses who had the title of Avvaiyaar. These incredible inspiring women left indelible marks in Southern India through their knowledge, poems and power of their words!

  1. Avvaiyaar I — Legendary Avvaiyar, whose conversations with Lord Muruga  (Commander – in – Chief of the army of Gods & who became a Guru to his father  Lord Shiva Himself, while explaining the secret of OM) is still a part of traditional teachings in Tamizh Nadu.

Here is a Brief Summary of the Conversation :-

“Muruga: What is Rare?

Avvaiyaar: ‘Rare’ is to be born as a human being. Rarer is to take birth without disabilities; Even if  born with it, rarer still is to obtain knowledge and education. Much rarer is to do charity and devotion.  If one does charity and devotion, the gates of heaven will be open for such noble beings.

Muruga: What is Worst?

Avvaiyaar: Suffering with Poverty is the worst.  Even worse is the childhood poverty; Much worse is an incurable disease; Worse than that is a wife without love; Much worse than that is to eat willfully the food given by her.”

2. Avvaiyaar II – the Sangam poet (300 BC E – 300 ACE ). Friend & envoy of King Adhiyamaan.  

Adhiyamaan Nedumaan Anji was one of the most powerful kings of the Sangam Era belonging to the great Chera/Velir dynasty, who ruled from his capital Thagadhur which is today’s Dharmapuri in Tamizh Nadu.

Avvaiyyaar giving counsel to King Adhiyamaan

He trusted and greatly respected Avvaiyaar not only for her poetry, but also for her wisdom and judgment. She was the King’s envoy, to the court of the ruler Tondaiman at Kanchipuram, to tactfully avoid war.

The story goes that Tondaiman took her to his well stocked armory and boasts about his sharp, brand new weapons! Avvaiyaar sings praises of his collection of weapons and compares them to King Adhiyamaan’s, that are not guarded in palace but in a blacksmith’s shed – worn out , under repair, blunted and blood studded. Suddenly Thondaiman realises that Avvaiyaar through her weaponry of words is indicating that Athiyaman was an expert in war because of his experience and frequent usage of weapons whereas Thondiaman’s weapons sparkled because it has not seen wars! He begs forgiveness and promises friendship with Athiyaman. Thus bloodshed is averted!

Adhiyamaan was a magnanimous king, a philanthropist and very fond of Avvaiyaar. He gifted Avvaiyaar with a special gooseberry from  the crevices of a rare mountain which enhanced a healthy life span. Instead of consuming it himself he requests Avvaiyaar to taste it,  reasoning that she deserves to live longer than him for the benefit of Tamizh heritage!

King Adhiyamaan gifting Avvaiyaar the special fruit for long life

Avvaiyyar was more than a poet, she was active in the regional politics, matters of governance, war and peace, of her time.

In the Purananuru – the last of the 8 anthologies of Sangam literature  that describe the South India under Chera, Chola & Pandya dynasty, consisting of 400 poem; Avvaiyyar  contributes around 59 poems on heroism, king, chieftains, battles, hardships, weaknesses in society, welfare of the subjects etc.

Sadly in the famous battle of Thogadur which followed later, the King was defeated and killed by Chera King Peruncheral Irumporai.


As a tribute to the fallen hero, and her close friend Atdhiyamaan, Avvaiyaar wrote a number of elegies in Purananuru. Athiyaman’s greatness will thus be always remembered through her immortal, moving poetic works.

3. Avvaiyaar III- 12th century  poet  who wrote Aathichoodi – a classic, and many other  inspirational compositions of songs & poems.

Most scholars, philosophers, poets display their skills that can be understood only by a certain section of the society who have proficiency in appreciating the finer points. Sometimes for a common man, the understanding seems like closed chapter, unfortunately.

But Avvaiyaar  chose to ignite universal values in the minds of children in their preliminary level of education itself through excellent one liners called Aathichudi

The single line quotations arranged in alphabetical order are 109 in total. Instead of A for “Apple” & B for “Boy”, the Aathichudi aims to inculcate good deeds, thoughts and actions with each letter of the alphabet. What a great foundation for education and cultured mind Avvaiyaar had envisioned for the young minds!


Famous quotes of Avvaiyyar

Katradhu kaimann alavu, kalladu ulagaalvu

“What you have learned is a mere handful; What you haven’t is the size of the world” is exhibited at NASA!

nandri oruvarukku seithakkaal annandri endru tharungkol enavenda – -nindru thalara valarthengu thaanjanta neerai thalaiyaalae thaan tharuthalal

“A good deed is done without expectation of a pay back, like the coconut tree that receives water from the ground and gives the fruit of sweet water through its head without expecting any rewards”.

It’s rare in the realm of philosophy, literature, spirituality and many other fields of knowledge that a woman gets a high standing and renown as a man. Avvaiyyaar is like the tall coconut tree who has given the fruits of her wisdom and love to humanity for posterity, that engages and elevates right from a child to a king! She is a household name in every part of Tamizh Nadu and continues to remain in the hearts of millions.

It is believed with awe that the legendary Avvaiyaar was transported to Mount Kailasha, Shivaloka , by her choicest Lord Ganesha with his trunk on completion of her purposeful journey of life, where in her yogic vision she merges with the Supreme.

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Pavithra Srinivasan

Pavithra Srinivasan is a Visiting Fellow of India Foundation. She is an acclaimed Bharatnatyam dancer, and founder of Arsha Kala Bharathi.

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