In the first century AD, in the South Indian Tamil Land, there was a Woman Saint known as “Avvai”, or Avvaiyar, where “yar” is a Tamil term used for a respected person. The meaning of Avvai is said to be “a noble woman”.
Due to pressing circumstances, she was abandoned by her parents at birth. A poet took her as his own and brought her up as “Avvai”. The poet was a great devotee of Lord Ganesha, also known as Vinaayaka – meaning one who removes obstacles.
At the age of four, while playing with other children, she heard some poet tell her father that he had the first two lines for a poem, but was looking for two more lines. Though a child, Avvai sat down and listened to all the poets discussing various options for the last two lines. In the current times, such a child would certainly be called a Genius or a Prodigy.
The first two lines of the poem were constructed with the meaning, ‘If you do a good deed, when will the result for the deed come?‘. But the poets, even though they tried hard, could not come up with two more suitable, meaningful lines. After a lot of struggle, they decided to give up.
Then the child Avvai spoke. She said that it is very simple for her to come up with the next two lines. The poets were furious. They mockingly said ‘What does a four year old know ?’. But the undaunted child quickly came up with the next two lines, that contained the meaning, ‘Undoubtedly result will come, just like the water placed at the foot of a cocunut tree gives result through its head‘.
The poets were astonished. Not only was the verse poetically sound, it included profound spiritual meaning. The verse elucidated the law of karma. “As you sow, so shall you reap“. When you offer water at the foot of a cocunut tree, eventually you will get coconuts at the head of the tree. Likewise, if you do a good deed, you will enjoy the consequences, sooner or later; and similarly, if you do a bad deed you will suffer from it. Such was the brilliance of this wonderful girl.
Avvai was spiritually inclined from childhood. Even as a three year old child, she used to meditate on the mantra, ” OM Vinaayaka Siddhi Vinaayaka “. Since her father was a great poet, she aspired to become a great poet too. Daily, early in the morning, she used to worship Vinaayaka with four things: milk, honey, pudding and nuts. She used to pray, ‘I give you four things, please give me the three basic aspects of Tamil Literature (poetry, music and drama).‘
Her foster father understood that she was no ordinary child. The young woman was called with respect as “Avvaiyar” by everyone. She began wandering the temples of South India and met several saints including the King Cheraman and the famous Sundaramurthi Nayanar.
There are countless anecdotes about this great Saint’s wisdom, sense of humor and poetic prowess. Here are a few examples.
One a king asked her where was she from and who her parents are. She replied, ‘I have wandered so many places, and my legs are hurting from that. But where am I from ? I am from God and no one else.’
Someone gave a special gooseberry fruit to a king called Atiyaman, so that he can live long by eating it. But the king gave it to ‘Avvaiyar’ so that she could live long and shower her wisdom on everyone.
During her visit to a Siva temple, she lay down due to tiresomeness. But she did not see that her legs were pointing to the Siva Linga, the symbolic idol of Lord Siva. The priest saw this and became angry. He asked Avvaiyar to move her legs away. Avviyar replied, ‘Please show me a direction in which Siva does not exist and I will point my legs in that direction.’
These are just a few examples of her greatness.
Avvaiyar’s works are numerous. She wrote a lot of poetry filled with spiritual and pragmatic teachings and guidance that are suitable to be followed by anyone in the world, belonging to any culture, religion, age or gender. She wrote in a very simple manner, that can be easily understood by anyone. That was one of her unique talents – giving out profound truths in a simple fashion. One of her great works is an amazing poem of one line each for each letter of the Tamil alphabet, each line containing excellent advice to live a wholesome and righteous life.
As can be imagined, the reputation of Avvaiyar spread everywhere. She was known everywhere for her poetry and songs, her tremendous wisdom and her devotion to God. To this day, her teachings are taken seriously and followed by people in India. Her teachings are a treasure that should be followed and benefited by every human being in this world.