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Shrine for the Tamil poetess



Devotees preparing Kozhukattai at the Avvaiyaramman temple.

IN THOVALAI taluk of Kanyakumari District the worship of Avvai locally known as Avvai Nonbu or Avvai Viratham has been common. Tuesdays, especially during the Tamil month of Adi, are considered to be the most auspicious for the worship of Avvai. Kurathiyarai near Alagiapandipuram has a rock-cut shrine facing south. Although the presiding deity is Mahavishnu, the temple is locally called Avvaiyaarammankoil and the image on the left side of Lord Vishnu is believed to be that of Avvai.

During the Tamil month of Adi women come to the temple on Tuesdays and prepare Kozhukkattai (a round shaped cake of rice flour) as an offering to Avvaiyaaramman. As per palm leaf records and a stone inscription of 1077 A.D. found in Melkarai, Alagiapandipuram was once called Adiganur.

The National Highway No. 47, which connects Naanchilnaadu and Kongunaadu gives a clue that Aay Naadu was a long and narrow strip of hilly land from Idalakudy (Idar Ay Kudy) in Naanchilnaadu to Thakadur in Kongunaadu. Much folklore is woven around the name of Avvaiyaar in the area.

Presumably, the shrine of Avvaiyaar was erected by Naanchil Porunan, who ruled this land with Kurathiyarai as his capital, or Thakadur Porunan (Adigan) who had close relations with Naanchil Porunan. The word Kurathi also denotes a Jain nun. On this basis some scholars claim that Avvaiyaar was a Jain.



The image of Avvaiyar at Muppandal.

About 10 km. south of Kurathiyarai on the way from Bhuthapaandi to Aaralvaaimozhi is a hamlet called Avvaiyaarammankoil, which takes its name from the shrine dedicated to the poetess. The presiding deity Avvai is enshrined under an Amla tree and is hence known as Nelliyadi Avvai. The belief is that it was here that the great poetess left this mortal world.

There is a traditional story that Avvaiyaar had arranged for a marriage near Aaralvaaimozhi to which she invited the sovereigns of the Chera, Chola and Pandya kingdoms. The kings erected pandals in the respective places allotted to them and this event led to the place being called Muppandal. There are remnants of three separate mandapams and a shrine of Avvaiyaar in their midst.

One can see two images of Avvaiyaar in sitting posture inside the temples of Esakkiamman nearby. There is also a separate shrine of Avvaiyaar near the Esakkiamman temples where she is in standing pose, with a stick.

In some parts of Kanyakumari district women prepare saltless Kolukkattai during mid-night and observe Avvai Nonbu. They do not reveal the details of the Nonbu to the male members and don't serve the kolukkattai to them either. But they have no restriction on visiting the temples of Avvaiyaar.

Unlike in other parts of Tamil Nadu the name Avvaiyaar is very common among the members of both sexes in Thovalai Taluk (Avvaiyaar Ammal for female members and Avvaiyaar Pillai for male members).

S. PADMANABHAN

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