Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār

Elaine Craddock

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online April 2012 | | DOI:
Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār


Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār, the “Mother/Woman from Kāraikkāl” in the southeastern Indian state of Tamilnadu, was probably the first poet to write hymns to the god Shiva in the Tamil language, in approximately the mid-6th century. Speaking to god in one’s mother tongue, rather than Sanskrit, was pivotal to the development of Hindu bhakti or devotionalism that arose in response to the religions of Jainism and Buddhism, which reached the apex of their popularity in South India during the 5th and 6th centuries. She is considered the author of 143 poems organized into four works of poetry that are included in the eleventh book of the Tirumuṟai, the Śaiva canon: Aṟputat Tiruvantāti (Sacred Linked Verses of Wonder), with 101 veṇpā verses; Tiruviraṭṭai Maṇimālai (The Sacred Garland of Double Gems), with 20 stanzas alternating in veṇpā and kaṭṭalaik kalittuṟai; and the two patikams called Tiruvālaṅkāṭṭu Mūtta Tiruppatikaṅkaḷ (First Sacred Verses on Tiruvālaṅkāṭu), which are ten-verse poems with an eleventh “signature” verse each and which are set to music (some texts call the first patikam Tiruvālaṅkāṭṭu Mūtta Tiruppatikaṅkaḷ and the second patikam simply Tiruvālaṅkāṭṭu Tiruppatikaṅkaḷ, or Sacred Verses on Tiruvālaṅkāṭu). Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār’s poetry reveals a fascinating portrait of the localization of the pan-Indian god Shiva in the Tamil country and the early formation of a self-conscious community of devotees dedicated to him. In several of her verses, Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār identifies herself as a pēy (demon or ghoul), a member of Shiva’s troupe of ghouls that dance with him in the cremation ground. In the state of Tamilnadu, Śaiva Siddhānta developed over many centuries to become the dominant philosophical, theological, and ritual system associated with the god Shiva. The tradition was systematized between the 12th and 14th centuries but draws its devotional perspectives from the stories and hymns of the Nāyaṉārs (leaders), the sixty-three devotees of Shiva who were canonized as saints in Cēkkiḻār’s 12th-century hagiography, the Periya Purāṇam, and who continue to be venerated in the Tamil Śaiva tradition today; Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār is the only female poet among them. In Cēkkiḻār’s narrative, Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār is a beautiful, devoted wife and ardent Shiva devotee whose husband is frightened by the manifestations of Shiva’s grace she has earned and thus abandons her. Ammaiyār then asks Shiva to take away her earthly beauty and give her a demon form in which she can properly worship him.

Article.  5511 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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