Author Topic: Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.  (Read 4410 times)

Subramanian.R

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Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.
« on: May 01, 2013, 10:48:36 AM »
Kanchana Natarajan is the author.

*

It was a cold January afternoon in 1946.  A perturbed questioner, Mr. Joshi, said to Sri Bhagavan, 'I am a beginner. How
should I start?'

Bhagavan replied in His characteristic way, 'Where are you now?  Where is the goal? ...the Self is not somewhere far away
to be reached.  You are always that.....'

This prompted  Lokamma, a lady in the audience, to sing a Tamizh song that Bhagavan immediately recognized a one by
Avudai Ammal. 

Bhagavan then reportedly said, 'Mother used to sing this song very often.  This repeats the very same thing we have been
talking about now.....'

Bhagavan continued.  'Avudai Ammal has composed a great many songs.  They are very popular in those parts [Madurai and
other nearby districts of Southern Tamizh Nadu].  Some of them have been published. Still so many remain unpublished.
They have been handed down orally from generation to generation, mostly through women, who learn  by heart, hearing
them from others, and singing them along with those who already know them.'  (Day by Day, 2002, pp. 95.-97).  Some years
ago, as I randomly browsed through Tamizh books at Sivananada Ashram Library, Rishikesh, reputed for its range of rare books
in English, Tamizh, Sanskrit and various regional languages, by sheer accident -- and to my immense good fortune -- I came
across an old and brittle book of songs composed by Avudai Akka, this great woman Vedantic seer of the eighteenth century.
The text left me electrified.  Never had I come across works by any self realized woman seer so driven to communicate the
powerful Vedantic truths that lead ordinary mortals to the path of liberation.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                 

atmavichar100

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Re: Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.
« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2013, 12:37:20 PM »
Quote
Some years ago, as I randomly browsed through Tamizh books at Sivananada Ashram Library, Rishikesh, reputed for its range of rare books in English, Tamizh, Sanskrit and various regional languages, by sheer accident -- and to my immense good fortune -- I came across an old and brittle book of songs composed by Avudai Akka, this great woman Vedantic seer of the eighteenth century.

Few people find have found some rare books at Sivananda Ashram Library in Rishikesk . For eg. one person who translated the great book "Book of Mirdad" in to Tamil told that he was finding lot of difficulty in finding the Original English version and surprisingly was able to get a copy of the same from the Sivananda Ashram Library in Rishikesh . Of course now that book is available in English print easily .
However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them? - Buddha

Subramanian.R

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Re: Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.
« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2013, 01:15:00 PM »
Dear atmavichar100,


Now some one posted in the Forum (I think it is Krishnan) that the Asramam is selling Auvdai Akka's songs in a book. 
But I am not sure whether this is Asramam publication or the publication of Sivananda Ashram.

Arunachala Siva.
 

Subramanian.R

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Re: Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.
« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2013, 10:35:51 AM »

continues.....

t took me sometime to come to terms with Akka's simple, direct, uncompromising, intense and profound songs.  They are
composed in simple spoken Tamizh, carrying Advaitic message  of sarvatmabhava, Oneness of Beingl  and the eternal bliss
of final liberation.  Anyone familiar with even colloquial Tamizh can access these powerful utterances. Akka's poems are
public songs that address Tamizh women community.  Her song Vedanta Pallandu was published as early as 1896, by
Sarada Vilas Publication in Tamizh Nadu.  In 1910, further attempts were made to publish her work.  In 1953, a major
endeavor was made by A. Venkatarama Sastri to personally collect some songs from widows of Chengkottai (Akka's
birthplace) and print them.  Many more extant songs were later collected by Gomathi Rajankam who sporadically published
them in the Tamizh spiritual journal Sri Ramakrishna Vijayam, Swami Nityananda Giri of Janananda Tapovanam, Tamizh
Nadu, has published most of Akka's songs under the title Chengottai Sri Avudai Akkal Padal Tiratttu (2002).

For over two hundred years, Akka's songs were sung, circulated and preserved for posterity by women, especially widows,
who gained immense solace, comfort and knowledge from lyrical compositions, and from the awareness that the sage had
undergone the grim life of a child-widow prior to initiation by her guru.  Akka explains the terse metaphysical truths of
Vedanta in a simple yet unique way, using familiar motifs rooted in the daily activity of the women of those times.

Who was Avudai Akka?  What took her to the great teaching of Advaita?  Gomathi Rajankam, a prolific Tamizh writer on
spiritual issues, spent an extended period in Chengottai and other nearby villages gathering information about
Akka's life and songs from the local women.  The following brief account of Avudai Akka's life draws upon my conversations
with an erudite scholar and school head master, Mr. Janardhan, a resident of one of the agraharams in Chengottai village.
I have also drawn from Gomathi Rajankam's Introduction to the work Chengottai Sri Avudai Akkal Padal Tiratttu (2002).

continued.....

Arunachala Siva.
 
 
     
     
       
 
     
 
 
   
 

Subramanian.R

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Re: Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2013, 10:38:58 AM »

continues....

The name 'Avudai' is the Tamizh form of Gomathi Amman, the presiding goddess of the temple Sankaran Koil, some 40
kilometers from Chengottai.  This massive temple is dedicated to Siva, His consort Gomathi and Sankaranaryananan. 
Akka was born into an orthodox Brahmin family of Chegottai agraharam and her parents raised her with love and care.
In keeping with the tradition, she was married off at a very young age to a neighbor's son; so young as to not know
who her groom was, her formalized relation to him, or what marriage itself implied,  Soon there was weeping in the house,
and when she asked about the cause of the gloom and tears she was told that the neighbor's child had died.  Her immediate
reaction was, 'Why cry so much for a boy who has died in another's house?'  With her first menstruation she was initiated
into the numbing rites of widowhood, such a tonsure, breaking the bangles, mandatory white sari, and relegation to a dark
interior room, unending chores, and lifelong stigmatization as an inauspicious woman.  She was inconsolable at the thought
that such claustrophobic subjugation was to be her destiny.

The famous scholar Tiruvisai Sridhara Venkatesa Ayyaval, who belonged to the tradition of nama sankirtan, was invited by
the king of Travncore to conduct worship of Siva on Sivaratri day.  The master set out with a group of disciples, walking from
Kumbakonam.  On the way he passed through Chengottai, and was welcomed by the brahmins of the agraharam.  As he
passed Akka's house, customary kolam because of the inauspicious presence of the child widow, his legs became transfixed.
He stood there singing the name of God. Akka flew out of the house like an arrow leaving the bow of a deft archer, fell weeping
at his feet and begged him to save her from her fate as a widow.  Ayyaval compassionately told her not to worry but to come
to the riverside mantapam in the evening to receive initiation. 

The onlookers were outraged at Akka's audacity, and pushed her back into the house.  They confronted Sridhara Ayyaval and
rebuked him for encouraging the child-widow, saying that she was not eligible to receive any initiation from anyone, much less
from a saint.

Ayyaval is supposed to have retorted, 'If she is not eligible, then no one in this village is eligible for anything.  Desire to know the
Truth is the only criterion for knowledge, and not the nature of embodiment, male, female, widowed or married.'


contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                       

Subramanian.R

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Re: Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.
« Reply #5 on: May 04, 2013, 10:22:26 AM »

continues......

Unhappy at this reply, the brahmins of the agraharam threatened Akka's parents with dire consequences if their daughter obeyed
Ayyaval's instructions.  Heedless of all this, Akka managed to escape the house in the evening, went to the mantapam and received
the Upanishadic Mahavakya from her Guru.  Needless to say, she was ostracized from the agraharam, but the Master allowed her to
accompany him to Travancore.  The women of the palace objected to a young  widow being part of all-male retinue.  But Ayyaval
insisted that Akka was a Jnani.  He demonstrated this publicly by making her perform the Sivaratri worship.  The king provided the
ceremonial golden bhilva leaves for the puja that Akka performed with great concentration.  The next morning she collected the golden
leaves along with the faded flowers and cast them all into the flowing waters of the nearby river.  The fact that Akka made no
distinction between ordinary flowers and priceless golden leaves was proclaimed by Ayyaval to be an instance of her absolute
dispassion. 

Akka is supposed to have lived near her master by the holy river Kaveri for many years, experiencing the supreme Advaitic truth.
She began singing songs about this experience of sublimity.  Her state of deep samadhi is legendary.  Once, while meditating on
the Kaveri bank, there was a flash flood.  Many of Ayyaval's disciples ran for their lives.  Akka, however, stayed totally oblivious
to her surroundings; reportedly the surging river piled mud around her in a circular heap, forming an island so she could continue
her meditation uninterrupted.

Akka was an unmattha (one who wanders like mad woman), spiritually intoxicated.  She composed her songs while in this state.
Her lament Anubhoga ratnamalai  (the ruby garland of experience) composed when she heard of the passing away of her Master
Ayyaval, stuns the readers with heart heart wrenching intensity of its pathos.  A few women devotees, probably widows, attended
to her when she was in the state of divine inebriation.  They followed her, learnt her songs and passed this treasure on to the
other women.  Slowly her songs became known in every local brahmin household.  There may have been a time, perhaps, when
the women of all brahmin households in Tirunelveli district sang her songs.

The story about Akka's departure from the world claims that she told her three intimate disciples to accompany her to KuRRAlam.
And when they all climbed off by the Shenbaga aruvi (water falls) she gestured to them not to follow her further.  She walked on,
never to return.  Her disciples waited for a long time and then searched for her, but there was no trace of Akka or her remains.
All that was left was the priceless legacy of her songs, which were taught to younger women and thus kept in circulation.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                 

Subramanian.R

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Re: Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.
« Reply #6 on: May 05, 2013, 09:56:50 AM »

continues.....

I offer here a translated excerpt of Akka's song Parapara KaNNi. 

Worshipping and offering flowers to Him,
Who emerged from the pillar*       (*Narasimha)
I became free from ego and the three impurities
Paraparame!**  (** The Absolute which transcends both param (Supreme) and aparam (non-Supreme)
Adoring my Guru and venerating his lotus feet,
I performed penance to know my Self, Paraparame!  (1)       

Mother, Saraswati, constantly honoring you,
I became Satchitanandam itself, Paraparame!
The restless mind that surged like incessant  waves,
Now rests unmoving in bliss, Paraparame!  (2)

The gigantic tree stump of ignorance uprooted,
And devastated,
I stood as consciousness witness,
As all encompassing space, Paraparame!
With the weapon of Self destroying the ego
I attained the indivisible state, Paraparame!   (3)

Understanding the Truth through tortuous grief of the heart,     
And from the words of the Master,
I lost the mighty force of both sin and merit, Paraparame!
Having annihilated the series of interminable births,
Serving the entanglements
I crossed the city of delusion, Paraparame!    (4)

Swimming across the ever flowing ocean of birth and death,
And ascending the shore,
I became timeless eternity, Paraparame!
Diving deep into the ocean of sorrow, reaching the other shore,
I shunned shame and disgrace,
And abandoned births, Paraparame!     (5)     


continued.....

Arunachala Siva.

Subramanian.R

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Re: Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.
« Reply #7 on: May 06, 2013, 11:04:23 AM »


continues......

The idle gossip, falsity and delusion of the world disappeared
And I became like the sky
Vast, indivisible, Paraparame.
All the scriptures I had read became tattered and
Worn I became shoreless and immeasurable infinity, Paraparame.    (6)

Renouncing the self conceit of 'I am the body',
I understood 'I am That,'*
And I stood forever mute and resolute, Paraparame.
One glimpse was enough to recognize
the treacherous ocean of pravritti, **  as I stood
As the beacon light
To those on the path of nivritti, Paraparame.                                   (7)

* Giving up the false knowledge 'I am this form' gives rise to the knowledge 'I am That', where there is recognition
   or discovery of the true nature of the Self.

**  Pravritti is the path of indulgence, relating to worldly attainments. Nivritti is the path of renunciation
    of worldly pursuits.

     
The idols no more alluring,  the three gunas hammered to nirguna
The desires resolved,
I became forever exultant,  Paraparame.
Those immersed in nada and bindu * and other cosmic details
Will never know this omnipresent Being, Paraparame.     (8)

* Nada is the first movement of Siva-Sakti towards movement.  The term is also used for ovum and sperm. 
Bindu is the undifferentiated point which is ready to manifest as the universe.


While wide awake I slumbered (to the world)
As though in deep sleep,
Thus liberated from pollution and purity, Paraparame .
On arriving There, anger and desire destroyed, I was alone *
No-one to talk to, Paraparame.      (9) 

*  With the attainment of the non dual Absolute Self there is nothing more to be achieved.
There is nothing other than the Self present everywhere.  Hence Akka's declaration:
'I was alone,  none to talk to'.             

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.

Subramanian.R

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Re: Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.
« Reply #8 on: May 08, 2013, 09:50:57 AM »
Paraparai KaNNi - continues,.....

The (three) states and their false support now having perished,
I remain the witness
Ever alone and one, Paraparame.
After the demise of six enemies*
I conquered death, Paraparame.    (10)

(*passion, anger, covetousness, delusion, pride and hatred)

   
Explain how the Infinite goes wandering
As though enclosed in six measures of length*,   Paraparame.
Like celestial beings enjoying sense pleasures**,
I too wandered for a while,
But then seeing the Truth I stood still, Paraparame.      (11)

(* The paradox of the Infinite assuming human embodiment and moving about subject to physical limitations.
** celestial beings like Indra, are believed to be perpetually in search of sensual experience.)

Feeding the hungry, feeling content,
I became satiated,  Paraparame.
Silencing the mind, becoming one with every other,
I now rejoice in the spring of my Being   
Paraparame.                                                                  (12)

Father, Mother, daughters and sons became
A crowd in the market place,
Just like a herd is no more than a number
For the cowherd, Paraparame.
Just as an object slips from the palm of a sleeping man,
despondency slid away from me, Paraparame.                (13)

Ignoring the rivers venerated by the uninformed fools*
I dived deep into the perennial river of the Self, Paraparame.
Did the crazy crab, the bulky whale, frog, tortoise,
All attain liberation thus,**  Paraparame.                         (14)

(* Akka is referring here to the ritual of bathing in holy rivers like Ganga or Kaveri.
** This verse satirizes the religious belief that bathing in holy rivers will bring about
liberation.  Akka points out that if this were indeed the case, all amphibious creatures
would automatically attain moksha.)         

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.

Subramanian.R

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Re: Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.
« Reply #9 on: May 09, 2013, 10:17:55 AM »
ParApara KaNNi - continues....

When the house called the body became
Another object [worthy of rejection],
I forgot the cows, calves, and relatives, Paraparame.
The delusions of jati-linga [caste and gender] gone,
I set my eyes on worshipped
the Jyoti Linga [engulfing light], Paraparame.                            (15)


As the lower doors closed, the middle one opened,
The upper door*
Became great Space, Paraparame.
That Truth became all forms, and all forms became me,
I knew that 'every form is but Your',
So I became compliant, Paraparame.                                        (16)

(* This refers to the three chakras; the mooladhara at the pelvic region,
the anahata at the heart, and sahasrara at the cranium.  The mooladhara
is activated for base sexual propensities, the anahata for the intensification
of exalted emotions like devotion to the Supreme, and sahasrara, for the
final beatitude.  All spiritual explorations are made possible only with the
closing of the lowest chakra and the opening of the middle chakra.  The final
union with the Absolute is enabled through the highest center.)
   
In the center of the upper region I raised the dhvani OM,
Lingering alone, I became the melody OM, Paraparame.
Through worship, at the very core of breath,
I was initiated
Into the sublime by Manonmani,* Paraparame.    (17)

(* Manonmani is the name of Sakti, the consort of Sadasiva in South Indian Saivism.
In the Tamizh Siddha systems, Manonmani is the supreme goddess who reveals
the truth of alchemical transmutation. Hatayoga texts such as Gheranda Samhita
posiit Manonmani as a state of transcendental bliss.  See Rai Bahadur Srisa
Chandra Vasu (trans.), Gheranda Samhita VII, 14-15.  Oriental Books Reprint
Corporation, Delhi.)         

Part I - concluded.

Arunachala Siva..

Subramanian.R

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Re: Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.
« Reply #10 on: May 10, 2013, 11:44:30 AM »
Paraparak KaNNI - Part II:

Oh men!  You lament ecchil, ecchil *
But there is no place without ecchil, Paraparame.
The forms of gods are ecchil,
The honey is the eccchil of the bee,
And is not all nourishing milk also ecchil,
Paraparame.                                                                                  (18)


* Ecchil is pollution caused by saliva, anything defiled by contact with mouth, the refuse of food, leavings, excremenets,
urine, semen, the residue of sacrificial oblations of pounded rice in pots etc.,  The forms of Gods are also ecchil, because
the potter handles the clay with water, stamps the clay with his hands and legs and then prepare the gods' images.
Similarly, the sculptor makes the sculpture of Gods by his thistle which he sharpens it by placing oil, water etc.,
and makes it usable for sculpting.

The ecchil of the fish is in holy waters,
the holy Brahmins who dive into the rivers are ecchil,
Are not pecked fruits the ecchil of parrots, Paraparame?
The ecchil of the insect bores and blights the coconut,
The excreta of little cats* is everywhere, and I know
The space too is covered by the ecchil, Paraparame!    (19)

* a type of cats called Punuku Poonai, civet cats, - their excreta is one of the fragrance called Punuku.

The nadam is ecchil, the bindu is ecchil,
the four Vedas of the Brahmins are ecchil,
Is not the tongue that chants the Vedas, ecchil, Paraparame?
The macrocosm and the microcosm, the worlds,
are all withdrawn into ecchil.
Do the dogmatic, frenzied men now ever dare
To open their mouths to complain, Paraparame!

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                 

Subramanian.R

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Re: Avudai Akka of Chengottai - Mountain Path Jan.-Mar. 2010.
« Reply #11 on: May 11, 2013, 10:12:51 AM »

continues....

The nadam is ecchil, the bindu is ecchil,
the four Vedas of the Brahmins are ecchil,
Is not the tongue that chants the Vedas ecchil,  Paraparame?
The macrocosm and microcosm, the worlds,
are all withdrawn into ecchil,
Do the dogmatic, frenzied religious men now even dare
To open the mouths to complain,  Paraparame?    (20)

While their mouth and body are ecchil,
Simply washing their feet every now and then,
How will they be cleansed, *  Paraparame?
Only the Lord, the Truth is not ecchil,
Because that Light can never be expressed
through language** Paraparame.


*  Akka is satirizing the customary practice of washing the feet before entering
    the house, as the feet might have become polluted by ecchil.

**  The Supreme Self is beyond language, image, and metaphor, beyond the
     realm of symbol, beyond all discourse. 

I thank Smriti Vohra for her editorial help.       


Many of Avudai Akka's songs are found in the personal note books of elderly women.  If any reader is in
possession of Akka's songs or essays, kindly contact the author at the following e mail address.
kanchana237@gmail.com.  This is to enable us to gather and preserve all her songs for posterity.

concluded.

Arunachala Siva.