Avvaiyar, the Grand Old Tamil Poetess and her Alphabetical Garland to Children

Statue of Avvaiyaar

It is a common belief that there were several Avvaiyars belonging to several periods contributing to Tamil literature. But essentially two Avvaiyars are well known.

Avvaiyar I: Belonged to Sangam period (1st to 3rd century A.D) who lived at the time of the famous kings Pari and Athikaman.

King Pari was a noted philanthropist ranked among seven such charitable kings.

Athikaman, was the Tirukovilur king. The story goes that he gave a nectar like Amla fruit which he got, to the poetess so that she should live for ever. She contributed for the recognition of Tirukkural by poets of SANGAM (Association of learned poets) of Madurai.

Avvaiyar II: In 13th century there were two great Tamil poets Kambar who wrote Ramayana in Tamil and Ottakkuthar. Avvaiyar was a contemporary to them. Her contributions were various poems in the form of sermons to children.
Contemporary

Tamil scholars who popularised Avvaiyar’s works include,

Shri T.K.Shanmugam, (a male actor aged 40 at that time), a doyen of Tamil drama enacted story of Avvaiyar who himself acted as avvaiyar and got laurels for his attempt. He was given the title Avvai Shanmugham after the play.

Shri S.S.Vasan, Moghul of Tamil cinema, produced the magnum opus “Avvaiyar” spending huge money in 1953. Though it was a commercial film, it was rich in literal values and was a money spinner.

The great Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi (Bharathiyar) was an ardent lover of Avvaiyar and followed her teachings in his poems for children.

There are several learned professors and Tamil scholars who have done extensive research on Avvai literature.

Sri Krishnan, well known as Vempattur Krishnan, named out of his village, has authored hundreds of books on Tamil Literature. One such book is “Encyclopaedia of Avvayar’s Tamil” in which a thorough research has been made about works of Avvaiyars, and articles from several doyens of Tamil Literature are published. Here below, a list of various works of Avvaiyar were consolidated and written as ‘Avvaiyar Tamil Literature’.

Her contribution to Tamil Literature:

1 Devotional poems, which are mainly on Lord Ganesa, the elephant God who removes all the hurdles in any attempt, if prayed. Secondly poems on Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning. Thirdly poems on Lord Siva, who is the ultimate authority controlling all actions. By virtue these devotional poems, a moral character is inculcated in school children. Hence most of the schools invariably contain these songs in curriculum.

2 Contribution to Sangam Literature::

i. Poems in ‘Aha nanooru’ which means four hundred songs on personal and family life.

ii. Poems in ‘Pura Nanooru”which means four hundred songs on adventure life in a kingdom.

iii. Narrinai which means guidance for good life

iv. Kurunthokai which means short verses.

3. Several moral teachings including,

Neethi Ozukkam: Moral justice
Nalvazhi: moral path of living
Moothurai: teachings of elders
Ulaka Nithi: rightful living laws on Earth
Kalvi ozukkam: morality of education.

And several moral teachings meant for students but applicable to elders as well.

What are Aththi soodi and Konrai vendhan?

Special mention may be made of about Aththi soodi’ and ‘Konrai Vendhan’ which are masterpieces of Avvaiyar Tamil Literature which the students start learning from kindergarten and which they teach their children in later age, and the teaching is continued for generations. Thus teachings of Avvaiyar Tamil is beyond chronological age and goes on for ever.

Aththisoodi means garland made up of ‘Aththi’ flower and Lord Siva is sitting under the tree ‘konrai’ wearing the garland.

Several English translations are also available. Rev Dr John, Rev Biiset and author Sudgen have translated both these teachings in English. ‘Moothurai’ had been translated by Robinson. These translations have been widely appreciated mainly by Rev Fr G.U.Pope who was a doyen of Tamil Literature.

Here is an attempt to redefine Aththisoodi by this author in his own words. It may be noted that it is not translation, but coining own instructions in English.

ATHTHISOODI, an alphabetical garland of instructions;
“Do’s and don’ts mainly to children, a trial in English:
(In author’s own words)

A: Abide by moral laws.
B: Be honest in all your duties.
C: Care for the weak and elders
D: Don’t delay good acts.
E: Eat minimum, live long.
F: Follow the right path.
G: Give only whatever you can spare.
H: Have a helping tendency.
I: Impart the knowledge you learnt to others
J: Judge not people by mere appearance.
K: Keep quiet in August audience.
L: Love thy neighbour as thyself (Christ teaching)
M: Mind your words.
N: Never stop learning.
O: Obey elders’ advice
P: Pardon others’ ignorance.
Q: Quest for enlightenment.
R: Respect the feelings of others.
S: Speak Truth always.
T: See good things, Hear good things, do good things. (Mahatma Gandhi)
U: use not hurting language.
V: Verify before believing.
W: Waste not your valuable time and energy.
X: Xerox not others’ actions.
Y: yearn for noble things.
Z: zeal to achieve.

Consonants with vowels:
In the same manner phrases can be formed for other combined letters like BA, BE, BU, BI and BU and so on. A guidance has been given in this article and readers may take the cue and form their commands.

The commands may appear simple, but the effect of moral teachings through these simple commands to children is tremendous. Instead of teaching only A for apple, B for bat and so on, if it is taught A: Always respect the elders and B: Be honest in all your duties, it will have a strong impression in growing minds, because it is Avvaiyar’s teaching that “CATCH’EM YOUNG’..


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