Avvaiyār

Tamil is one of the oldest languages of the world with a rich ancient literature. Avvaiyār (also spelt as ‘Auvaiyār’) is one outstanding poetess of the ancient period who is almost as well-known as the other, the most well-known of all, Tiruvaḷḷuvar.

Not much is known about her. According to popular stories she was one of the seven children of Ādi, a lowcaste woman, and Bhagavān, a brāhmaṇa.

Scholars who have studied the poems attributed to Avvaiyār have come to the conclusion that there were two or perhaps more poetesses of the same name living in different periods of history. The first belonged to the Saṅgam period (2nd cent. A.D.). King Ādiyamān had given her a high and honoured place. About 59 poems of this period are available now. Apart from literary grace, these poems stress that it is the character of the people that makes a country great.

The second Avvaiyār, a contemporary of the Śaiva saint Sundaramūrti, might have lived in the last part of the 8th cent. A. D. The third was a contemporary of the famous Kamban (12th cent. A. D.).

Poems of these Avvaiyārs extol the greatness of the householder’s life, of agri-culture, and of acquiring knowledge. For a human being, that māna or honour is the most important acquisition, is also stressed.

Ethical works attributed to Avvaiyār, apart from the songs, are: Mūdurai, Atticcūḍi, Nalvaḷi and Kosaraivendan.