Poem of the week – July 12

About 10 years ago, I came across a story about a famous Tamil poetess and saint called Avvaiyar. The famous Indian writer and Tamilian R.K. Narayan wrote an essay The Cold Fruit in a collection called A Story-Teller’s world , in which he shares a story about Avvaiyar that he had heard in his childhood days.

In the story, Avvaiyar is resting, tired form her travels, under a tree containing the Jambu fruit. A young boy on the branches of the tree engages in wordplay with her on “hot” fruits and “cold” fruits. Avvaiyar, herself an adept at wordplay, finds that the child gets the better of her. In an instant, she recognizes him as the lord Subramanya Himself and bows with humility. The boy, continuing the fun, asks her

“Granny, I will ask you a question. Will you answer it?”
“I will try,” replied Avvaiyar with trepidation, wondering if he were going to lay a trap for her again.
“Which is bigger than the biggest?”, asked the boy.
Avaiyar recited a song.

The universe is biggest,
Bigger than that is the four faced Brahma

Brahma’s support is Vishnu
Vishnu rests on the wavy ocean

The wavy ocean is but a little water
on the palm of the microcosmic sage Agastya

Agastya came out of a pot
The pot is but a handful of mud out of the earth

The earth is but a load on one of
the thousand heads of the mighty snake

The mighty snake is a ring adorning
the little finger of Parvati

Parvati is just half of her spouse Shiva
who resides in the heart of the true devotee.

Is there anything to measure the expanse
of a devotee’s heart?

(From The Cold Fruit, by R.K. Narayan)

More on Avvaiyar here
Avvaiyar – A great Tamil poet saint


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