Can Sangam poets Avvai and Vallurvar be actually siblings? History suggests that they could be.
My mother and I were having a long pointless chat, the best kind, on a lazy Sunday evening after our evening coffee. We were talking about how different Kanyakumari is from the rest of Tamil Nadu. I don’t know how the topic veered off to Sangam poets Avvaiyar and Thiruvalluvar but suddenly my mom made a statement: “Avvaiyar and Thiruvallur are siblings.”
I knew they were contemporaries and excellent poets Sangam era celebrated and the current Tamil Nadu continues to celebrate. But putting them together as brother and sister was a little difficult to comprehend.
As a Tamil student, I came across Thiruvalluvar when I had to learn kural as young as four. Thirukural that has 1330 verses is considered a bible that tells how we should lead our life. The very first kural I learnt was:
Agaramuthala Ezhuthellam Aadhi; Bhagavan Muthatrey Ulagu
It means everything, including letter, begins from Aadhi and Bhagavan, the first enlightened soul. In effect what Valluvar was doing here was crediting the first of his everything, essentially his work, to Aadhi and Bhagavan.
What does Aadhi and Bhagavan mean here? Aadhi in Tamil means beginning and Bhagavan means the enlightened soul or God itself. There is one other interpretation as well. As you browse through history, you will note that Valluvar was brought up by adoptive parents as his real parents, Aadhi and Bhagavan, who were on a spiritual journey left him in the same place they had him. It is not clear where Valluvar was born though, whether it is Kanyakumari or current Mylapore in Chennai. Aadhi was a harijan or a woman from a lower caste and Bhagavan was a Brahmin and a poet. So his very first poem could be a credit to his parents as well.
Now let us explore the case of Avvaiyar.
She was an orphan and was brought up by a poet. Her parents were said to be Aadhi, a woman from lower caste and Bhagavan, a Brahmin, who were then on a spiritual journey, and decided to leave the child the place she was born in order to resume it. The child was then noticed by a poet passing by the area and was brought up by him though her birthplace is not known. Her extraordinary skill in Tamil poetry was noticeable even at the age of four. A strong devotee of Lord Ganesha, she was blessed with her old age when she was young by Ganesha himself at her request to ward of suitors. Her works include Vinayagar Agaval and was one of the authors of Sangam literature Akananuru, Purananuru and Kurunthogai. Kabilar and Valluvar were her contemporaries. Avvaiyar was said to have cordial relationships with King Adiyaman and we are all familiar with the story of Adiyaman and Nellikani.
Not many know that Kanyakumari is the only place in India to have a temple for Avvaiyar. The 300-year-old temple is in Thazhakudy, 12 km from Nagercoil. Though the origin of the temple is not very clear, it is a sanctuary for the people surrounding the area. Vijayalakshmi, a devotee, said during Tamil month Aadi (falls in mid July and August) thousands of women gather in the temple, make kozhukattai, a South Indian sweet dumpling made from rice flour with grated coconut and jaggery as offering to the goddess and pray for prosperity, marriage and childbirth.
There is also dedicated space for Avvaiyar in Muppandal temple in Kanyakumari where it is said that the poet met the three great kings – Chera, Chola and Pandiya under pandal erected by them. This essentially gave the name Muppandal (three pandals) to the place. The place where the pandal by the three kings were erected still exists. However the Avvai of Chola period and Sangam period are probably different.
As you juxtapose journey of Valluvar and Avvai from birth to the time they existed, between 4 BCE and 1 BCE, you will realise that there is a lot of things that coincide. For instance their parents name – Aadhi and Bhagavan, their profiles. According to a well-read cousin of mine, Aadhi and Bhagavan had a lot of children and left them where they were born as they were wandering poets. These children grew up to be poets in their respective area. Most of them unknown but few like Avvai and Valluvar became famous.
Since we have lost most of the literature of Sangam age, there is no concrete literature to connect these random facts. Probably these connections might not be just a coincidence either.