This month’s edition (July 2017) is very special for us in many ways. This month’s edition marks the first lunar year of our ongoing series Siddhar Charithiram on the glorious Siddhar Parambarai (lineage) of India. If that is not enough to call for celebrations, this month’s pournima will be celebrated as Guru Pournima. Now that is something very very special for us. So we have decided to offer a Special Edition of Siddhar Charitharam.
As a tribute to the special edition we have decided to expound on the life and work of Siddha Avvaiyar. There are several reasons for choosing Siddhar Avvaiyar. One is, to emphasis on how our tradition glorifies women Gurus, equal to men. Siddhas never identify themselves with their gender. Yet as disciples, how we relate to them may change based on that. Avvaiyar is held with Motherly respect throughout South of India; Many see her as their our own Grandmother. Isn’t it a fact that sometimes we cherish our Paatti’s (Grandma’s) wisdom? Especially during our later part of life. So, let us also gain some wisdom from our Paatti, Siddhar Avvaiyar.
Secondly, like we always mentioned several times, Pathinen Siddhas (Eighteen Siddhas) do not mean that there are only 18 siddhas in our tradition. It is mentioned just as a custom. So to re-emphasis on that point, in this special edition of Siddhar Charithiram we wanted to show you about a Siddha who is usually not considered part of the eighteen. Third and the most important point is to reiterate that the Siddhas mystical dimensions are always hidden as a treasure among their seemingly simple poetic works. For example, Siddhar Avvaiyar’s many work are taught at school level, even now. Many of her works are well-known such as Aathichuvadi, in which she gives one-line advices to children on discipline, honesty, etc., Or her very famous saying which is even quoted in NASA website:
கற்றது கைமண்ணளவு, கல்லாதது உலகளவு
What we have learned
Is like a handful of grains;
What we have yet to learn
Is like the whole world!
Now, they are not just philosophical musings or sayings on ethics. It is coming from a deep wisdom that Siddhar Avvaiyar gained through her Tapasya, and devotion to Lord Vinakayar, Murugar and Shiva Peruman. So, in this article we will see our Avvai Paati as one of the great Siddhar of our tradition; In this article, we will see the glory of Siddha Avvaiyar.
Siddha Avvaiyar – Charithiram
Avvaiyar is a household name in Tamilnadu where children at a young age learn the works of the great Yogini and Siddha Avvaiyar. Through schooling children are commonly exposed to the ethical epigrams of Siddha Avvaiyar. The devout Saivites also chant the Vinayakar Agaval, a wonderful and precious gem of elevating bakthi and guidance offered by Siddha Avvaiyar.
Like most Siddhas we have seen, the charithiram or life history of Siddha Avvaiyar too is riddled with many mysteries. Based on the literary works of Siddha Avvaiyar and literary references to them, scholars have been confounded by three different time periods emerging through dating by literary references and their time periods.
Literary references point to the works of Avvaiyar in the Sangam period (100 BC to 100 AD), then to Siddha Avvaiyar’s devotional works on Lord Vinayaka Peruman in 800 AD and then to the devotional works on Lord Muruga Peruman and more ethical works to the Chola period of 1125 AD to 1200 AD. Hence many Tamil literary scholars postulate that there could have been 3 great poets in the same name over time.
Very interestingly, one can observe the divine invocation of Lord Vinayaka Peruman in all works of Siddha Avvaiyar. Practitioners of Yoga and followers of the Siddha tradition strongly maintain that Siddha Avvaiyar must be the one and same person. Through yogic practices and Kriya yoga, people in the know have always been aware of great Siddhas with extended life-span. And Siddha Avvaiyar propounds her Siddhis awarded by Lord Vinayaka Peruman in the Vinayakar Agaval. Also there is literary accounts of the medicinal bearing rare fruit presented to Siddha Avvaiyar by chieftain Adiyamaan, that is deemed to extend life span. And so, for these reasons and many, practitioners of yoga and followers of Siddha tradition hold the view that Siddha Avvaiyar should be the one and same person across a wide time span.
Avvaiyar Siddha has composed four ethical works – Aathichudi, Kondrai Vendhan, Vaakkundaam (Moodurai) and Nalvazhi. All these four texts have invocatory songs to Lord Vinayaka. Avvai Siddha’s devotion to Lord Vinayaka Peruman led the Siddha to attain many yogic states and siddhis thereby leading to the composition of Vinayakar Agaval and Avvaikkural. One who reads the Vinayakar Agaval can taste the sweet words and feel the devotional fervor with which our Siddhar Avvai praises our Lord Pillayar. In the beginning of the Vinayakar Agaval, our Siddhar patti delightfully describes the divine personality of Lord Ganesha as she envisioned through her Yogic Dharshana.
சீதக் களபச் செந்தா மரைப்பூம்
பாதச் சிலம்பு பலவிசை பாடப்
பொன்னரை ஞாணும் பூந்துகில் ஆடையும்
வன்னமருங்கில் வளர்ந்தழ கெறிப்பப்
பேழை வயிறும் பெரும்பாரக் கோடும்
வேழ முகமும் விளங்குசிந் தூரமும்
The anklet adorning the red lotus like feet of Lord Vinayaga,
Cool as sandal paste and sings many melodies.
Gold band and flowery cloth,
Around the waist emit radiance and beauty.
Box like bell and big weighty tusk
Elephant face with shining tilak!
குருவடி வாகிக் குவலயந் தன்னில்
திருவடி வைத்துத் திறமிது பொருளென
வாடா வகைதான் மகிழ்ந்தெனக் கருளிக்
கோடா யுதத்தால் கொடுவினை களைந்தே
Placed Your feet to my delight
As my Guru on the Earth, graciously revealing the real essence
Bestowed me graciously with unwithering/eternal knowledge
Removed my karmic bondage with Your Tusk
Like this the devotional poem written in Agaval meter, begins with description of Lord Vinayakar. Following that, Siddha Avvai gets into expounding mystically on how Lord Vinakaya guided her in cleansing her mind- Chiddha Shuddhi, and help her establish herself in the highest state of Yogis and Siddhas, the fourth state of Turiya:
கருவிக ளொடுங்கும் கருத்தினை யறிவித்(து)
இருவினை தன்னை அறுத்திருள் கடிந்து
தலமொரு நான்கும் தந்தெனக் கருளி
மலமொரு மூன்றின் மயக்கம் அறுத்தே
ஒன்பது வாயில் ஒருமந் திரத்தால்
ஐம்புலக் கதவை அடைப்பதும் காட்டி
ஆறா தாரத்(து) அங்குச நிலையும்
You bestowed me with ways of subduing the instruments
Dispelled darkness by removing the two-fold karma
Blessed me with the experience of four-fold states
Severed the illusion of triple impurities
To shut the doors of five-fold subtle elements,
Effecting the closure of nine-fold gates
Then, the Agaval veers off into the domain of the mystical dimensions as she invokes Ganesha as the embodiment of Turiya or “the Sleepless Sleep”! Even today this devotional and highly mystical poem is chanted in temples, pooja shrines and in daily sadhana across the Tamil speaking diaspora.
The relationship she has with Lord Vinayakar is in stark contrast to the relationship she has with his brother Lord Murugar. The relationship between Murugar and Avvaiar truly is that of a granny and her grandson. It is Siddha Avvai who appeased Bala Murugar when Murugar got into a little competition with his Elder Brother. She convinced the Bala Kumaran (he was literally a kid then), with her expertise in Tamil Language and Sweet voice. Again, as a kid Lord Murugar had unending questions ( much like the eager questions in the book Unending Quest ) to his Siddhar Paati. And Avvaiyar answered them with her typical wisdom, sweetness and love. Once Murugar asked Avvai, as to which was the greatest thing in the world. Avvai best knew how to answer to the Tamil God: in the form of poetry:
பெரியது கேட்கின் எரிதவழ் வேலோய்
பெரிது பெரிது புவனம் பெரிது
புவனமோ நான்முகன் படைப்பு
நான்முகன் கரியமால் உதிரத்தில் உதித்தோன்
கரிய மாலோ அலைகடல் துயின்றோன்
அலைகடல் குறுமுனி கலசத்தில் அடக்கம்
கலசமோ புவியிற் சிறுமண்
புவியோ அரவினுக்கு ஒருதலைப் பாரம்
அரவோ உமையவள் ஒருசிறு மோதிரம்
உமையோ இறைவர் பாகத் தொடுக்கம்
இறைவரோ தொண்டர் உள்ளத் தொடுக்கம்
தொண்டர்தம் பெருமை சொல்லவும் பெரிதே.
Oh Lord with the divine and shining Vel !
If you ask me which is great, my reply is as follows:
The universe is great; Since it is the creation of Naanmugan (Bhrama),
He is greater than the universe; Lord Bhrama arose from Lord Vishnu
Lord Vishnu resides in the vast ocean;
Siddhar Agastyamuni sacred container contained the ocean
And the container made of mud is a grain of earth;
The earth is supported by the Divine Serpent
And the Serpent is the little finger ring of Uma Devi
Uma Devi is absorbed in Siva Peruman’s (Iraivan) Body
And Siva Peruman resides in the hearts of his devotees!
To extol the greatness of devotees is the greatest!
Lord Muruga Peruman, then asked what is the rarest thing in this world:
அரியது கேட்கின் வரிவடி வேலோய்
அரிதரிது மானிடர் ஆதல் அரிது
மானிடர் ஆயினும் கூன்குருடு செவிடு
பேடு நீங்கிப் பிறத்தல் அரிது
பேடு நீங்கிப் பிறந்த காலையும்
ஞானமும் கல்வியும் நயத்தல் அரிது
ஞானமும் கல்வியும் நயந்த காலையும்
தானமும் தவமும் தான்செயல் அரிது
தானமும் தவமும் தான்செய்வ ராயின்
வானவர் நாடு வழிதிறந் திடுமே.
Oh Lord with the Sharp Vel!
If you ask me what is rare,
Rare is the human birth; Even rarer is a birth without disabilities,
Such as hump, blindness or deafness; Even if one has a defectless birth,
Attainment of wisdom is still rarer; Even if one attains them,
Rarest it is to perform dhana (can be translated as sincere charity)
and tapa (penance);
If one performs sincerely the two,
The Abode of Divine Beings shall open doors!
Like this, Lord Murugar asked deep questions to our Siddhar Avvai and sure enough, she answers them all with mystical insights and poetic beauty, invoking in the Sadhakas deep devotion and a glimpse of the mystical dimensions..
The elixirs offered by Siddha Avvaiyar are so many. In our efforts we could only bring you a selected few. We invite you to contemplate more on these lines and share with us your insights. We also invite you to share with us lines from Siddhar Padalgal that have deeply touched you. You could write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In absorbing this, may our abhyasa continue, may our shraddha in the Siddha Parampara strengthen and may revelations awaken as we grow within!