To the disgust and shock of the people at the agraharam, Akka, left the safety of her home to follow her Master to a secluded mandapam near the river, to be initiated in the path of a Vedantin. In the words of the writer – “As he passed Akka’s house, where the threshold was neither swept clean nor decorated with the 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 begging him to save her from her fate as a widow”.
Needless to say, this sight and the later disappearance to the mandapam closed the gates of the agraharam forever to Akka. But to her good luck, she had a Guru who saw through her and did not only lift her from her state of a miserable life of a widow, in a traditional Tamil family, but gave her the Upanishadic mahavakya which released her soul from the terrestrial bondage of life and death and the horrors of a social order bent on annihilating the very spirit of a woman, with its regressive rules and regulations cast upon women, more so a widow.
Avudai Akkal of Chengottai, was a realized woman Vedantin in the 18th century, whose life is known only through her songs and the Tamil works of Swami Nityanand Giri, who translated some of her songs, as well as the prolific Tamil writer, Gomathi Rajankam. The present English article published in Mountain Path, by Dr Kanchana Natarajan, is part of the oncoming book on the songs of Akka, translated from Tamil to English for the first time.
Avudai Akkal spent her life as a gyani by the side of the Kaveri singing songs of the Divine using language that was common, colloquial language. Her deft reference to daily activities and connecting them to give a deeper understanding of Vedantic notions and realities made her a household name. Even today, in many parts of Tamil Nadu, women sing her songs even as they go about their daily chores of cooking, bathing etc, not to mention, the popularity it enjoys in the “menstruating room” wherever, there is one, where women lock themselves up for all four days of their monthly menstrual circle. The songs although created in the 18th century ridicule men and expose their hypocrisy. Hence, even in the songs of a gyani the pathetic double-faced reality of the male society around is exposed. Savour this:
“Oh men! You lament ecchil-ecchil* But there is no place without ecchil, Paraparame
The forms of Gods are ecchil,
And is not all nourishing mother’s milk also ecchil
The ecchil of the fish is in the holy waters
the holy Brahmins who dive into rivers are ecchil
That space too is covered by ecchil, Paraparame.
the four Vedas of the Brahmins are ecchil
Is not the tongue that chants the Vedas ecchil, Paraparame?
are all withdrawn into ecchil.
Simply washing their feet every now and then
How will they be cleansed, Paraparame?
Only the Lord, the Truth is not ecchil
through language, Paraparame.”
- Ecchil is pollution caused by saliva, anything that is defiled by the contact of the mouth, the refusal of food, left-over, excrement, urine, semen, the residue of sacrificial oblations of pounded rice offered in pots etc.
Paraparame – Title of the song. It is addressed to Paraparam, the Absolute Being, that transcends the duality of both param (Supreme) and Aparam(non-supreme)
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Artist's impression: Ramana Ashram
Mandapam, Present day Chengottai: V Chithra