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The Pioneering Female Poets of Ancient Tamils Enriched Our Cultural Heritage And Spiritual Life Through Their Literature
In the literary history of the Indian subcontinent, it appears that only the Tamil Sangam corpus has the pioneering assembly of secular Lady Bards. Those bards, from various walks of life, produced unparalleled secular works in the entire history of mankind.
Prem Senthil Shanmugam
Associate Professor
Australia
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In the literary history of the Indian subcontinent, it appears that only the Tamil Sangam corpus has the pioneering assembly of  secular Lady Bards. Those bards belonging to various walks of life  produced unparalleled secular work in the entire history of mankind. I firmly believe that what we have now is the tip of the iceberg and what we have lost is vastly unknown.

The only other language which had the contemporary lady bards were in the pali language. The ladybirds in the Pali language group were mostly Buddhist nuns. Their works were collectively called "Therikatha". The word “Theri” is the femine gender word for the monks and you all know the word “Therar” denotes the male counterpart. In English, there is no feminine gender word that exists for Monk and the equivalent word is Nun. Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, Urdu, Bengali and Hindi lady bards appear in history only after 1200 to 1500 years later than the Tamil lady bards. Their works were mostly religious in nature.

Tamil sangam corpus is a wide body of literary work done by various bards of different walks of life belonging to the era of the third sangam period (500BC to 300AD). All of them are secular in nature documenting ethnolinguistic, sociocultural aspects of the day to day life of the people in the ancient Tamil country. Even in the Bhakthi literature pioneering and unparallelled works were done by the Tamil lady poet-saints.

Kaaraikkal ammaiyaar was the first to start singing the glory of Lord Siva in the medieval times and all the rest followed her tradition. She signs her work with the assumed name Kaaraik kaattu Peyaar meaning Ghost from the woods rich in the shrubs of kaarai (Canthium parviflorum). She denounced her personal life and devoted herself to Lord Siva. She was fond of witnessing the dancing of Lord Siva at the crematoriums, often depicted as a ghoulish woman sitting down in a crouched squat with a pair of symbols in her hand. Her presence is known in the southeast as Ammai. She is known in Cambodia as Ammai of Banteay Srei, in a 10the century temple-citadel complex.

No one is clear about how many lady bards would have lived and contributed in the ancient Tamil country, as the number of lady bards varies with different sources available in the world wide web ranging from 26 to 57. I have enlisted 26 of them in the table below from a known source named: Sangatamizh Pulavar Varisai -5 சங்கத்தமிழ் புலவர் வரிசை -5. By Pulavar Ka. Govindan, MA. Thirunalveli Saiva Singantha kazhagam.

Sangam Carpus Lady Bards (poets) List

SNO

பெயர் 

Name

Interpretation

1

அஞ்சி அத்தை  மகள் நகையார் 

Anji Athai Magal

Naagaiyaar

Naagai, Daughter of Anji Athai

2

அள்ளுர் நன்முல்லையர் 

Alloor Nanmullaiyaar

Nanmullai from Alloor

3

ஆதி மந்தியார் 

Aadhi Manthiyaar

Aadhi Manthi Daughter of Karikaal Chozhan

4

ஊண்பித்தியார்  


 

Voon Piththiyaar

Piththi means crazy about Something, in her case she sang about the craziness of the materialistic world over Love.

5

ஓக்கூர் மாசாத்தியார்

Maasaaththi from Okkoor

Maasaaththi is the feminine gender of Maasaathan. Maa is great and saathan means Godly like Aiyyappan or Aiiyanaar.

6

கச்சிப்பேட்டு நன்னாகையார்

Katchipettu Nannaagaiyaar

Nan Naagai from Katchippedu

7

கழார் கீரன் எயிற்றியார் 

Kazhaar keeran Eyittriyaar

Eyirtri, The lady of Keeran from Kazhaar

8

காக்கைப்பாடினி நச்செள்ளையார் 

.Kaakkai Padini

Nachellaiyaar

Nachellai, Who sang about Crow

9

காமக்கணி பசலையார் 

Kamakkani Pasalaiyaar

Kamakani, Who sang about the Love sickness

10

காவற்பெண்டு 

Kaavarpendu

Protecting Women

11

குமுழி ஞாழல் நப்பலைசையார்

Kumuzhi Gnazhal

Nappasalaiyaar

Unable to interpret her name, her song describes in great detail about the life cycle of tortoises, might have been a biologist

12

குறமகள் இளவெயினி

Kuramagal Ilaveyini

Eyini the Younger, belongs to the Kuravar tribe, not to be confused with the modern day gypsies.

13

குறமகள் குறிஎயினி

Kuramagal Kurieyini

Kuri Eyini from Kuravar tribe not to be confused with the modern day Gypsies

14

தாயங்கண்ணியார்

Thayangkanniyaar

Kanniyaar, Who owned her own Taxfree Land.

15

பாரிமகளிர் 

Paari Magalir

Parry’s Daughters

16

பூங்கனுத்திரையார்

Poonganuthiraiyaar

Eyes like a Flower from the seafaring merchant family

17

பெருங்கோப்பெண்டு

Perunkoppendu

Queen of Pandiya king

18

நக்கண்ணையார்

Nakkanniyaar

Good eyed person

19

பேய்மகள் இளவெயினி

Peimagal Ilaveyini

Eyini, The younger. Daughter of the Ghoul

 

20

பொன்முடியார்

Ponmudiyaar

Golden Braided, probably one of the war strategists, advised Adhiyamaan.

21

போந்தலைப் பசலையார்

Ponthalai Pasalaiyaar

The one who sang about love sickness from Ponthalai

22

மாற்பித்தியார்

Maarpiththiyaar

Crazy who lived a secluded life 

23

மாறோக்கத்து நாப்பசலையார்

Maarokkaththu

Nappasalaiyaar

The one who sang about Love sickness from Maarokam

24

வெண்ணிக் குயத்தியார்

Venni Kuyathiyaar

Potter form Vennni

26

வெள்ளி வீதியார்

Velli Veethiyaar

Lady from Silversmith street.

27

வெறிபாடிய காமக்கண்ணியர்

Veripaadiya

Kaamakkanniyaar

Kaama Kanni, Who sang about hysterical dance in a trance.

 
The photo displayed in this article is taken from the glorioustamils website and presented here for education purposes only. In this photograph, Kaarakkaal Ammaiyaar is seen seated with symbols on the left hand, bottom corner. This sculpture is found in the Ammai of Banteay Srei, in a 10th century Cambodian temple-citadel complex.
 
Hopefully, with this piece, I have done justice to the pioneering Tamil sangam lady bards and the poet-saints of Medeveal Tamil country who enriched our cultural heritage and spiritual life.

 

 

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Created By
Prem Senthil Shanmugam
Associate Professor
Australia
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