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A clever messenger

Chennai: While women have had to fight for many of their rights, they didn't always have to do so. There were times when they were not discriminated against and were given the same status as men, said M. Elangovan, in a lecture.

Avvaiyar was a poetess who belonged to the Sangam period and was a friend of King Adhiyaman. Her loyalty to her friend was so great she sang the maximum number of verses about Adhiyaman. And when war seemed likely to break out between Adhiyaman, and King Tondaiman of Kanchipuram, it was Avvaiyar, who went to Kanchipuram, to try to stop the war. She was anxious to prevent the loss of life.

Poets in those days felt they had a social duty to perform, apart from merely composing verses. In many instances poets would advise kings. The poets of the Sangam period may be said to be the ancient equivalent of the present-day media, inasmuch as they saw themselves as having a social duty.

The distance between Tagadur, where Adhiyaman ruled, and Kanchipuram, where Tondaiman ruled, was considerable, and in days when transport facilities could not have been good, for a woman to travel such a long distance, was proof of Avvaiyar's courage.

Tondaiman welcomed her and then decided to show her his military might. He took her around and showed her the preparedness of his army and its many weapons. His idea was to impress Avvaiyar so much that she would take back a warning to her friend Adhiyaman, so that the latter would be scared of fighting Tondaiman.

But Avvaiyarcleverly turned the tables on Tondaiman. She said she could see that his weapons were glossy with the newly applied oil, and that his spears and swords were sharp. This was in contrast to the weapons of Adhiyaman's army. These had been blunted by cutting down enemies. They were broken because of constant use and were in the process of being repaired. She subtly conveyed that while Tondaiman was inexperienced in battle, Adhiyaman was very experienced. The warning was that Tondaiman had better not wage war against Adhiyaman. Thus she cleverly thwarted war between the two kings.

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