A Kali Yuga woman saint
The general belief among devotees is that Adi Sankara of Kaladi was an incarnation of Lord Siva and Goddess Parvati was born as Avadayakkal - Senkottai, apparently to prove that women, too, could attain self-realisation even in this Kali Yuga.
Avadayakkal was born to a pious Saiva Vadama couple of Senkottai. She had to be prompted to do everything... She would eat only what was given to her and wear only whatever dress was handed to her. She would go where she was asked to go, and do whatever she was told to do. She was married to a Brahmin boy when she was a little girl.
When Avadayakkal came of age, her parents fixed a date for the nuptials. Avadayakkal was decked up and led into the bridal chamber by her relatives who shut the door and came away. Her husband was sitting on the bed and watching her. She would not move from the spot where she was left by her relatives as she had always needed prompting. The boy picked up a garland of flowers that was lying on the bed and smelt it. There was a venomous cobra in the garland and it bit him and he fell unconscious. Before long, he was dead.
The next morning, in accordance with the prevailing custom, the women of the house came to the bridal chamber. To their astonishment,
Avudai stood where she had been left the previous night.
When they asked her why she merely stood there, she asked in reply, "Why! You asked me to stand here!" They looked at her husband with suspicion and were shocked to find him dead. They attributed this to the girl's evil stars and took the corpse out of the room.
The obsequies were performed and the girl's head was shaved, ornaments removed and she was given a white cloth. But
Avudai did not seem disturbed by the death of her young husband or that the world had declared a widow, a situation synonymous with inauspiciousness, forbidding her to come out of her room or to attend any festivities.
would get up very early in the morning and go to the river for bath, she had to return to the house before the other people woke up! One morning, she went to the river as usual. Before before having her bath, she picked up a mango leaf from the riverbed to clean her teeth. The moment she put the leaf to her teeth. she had a strange transcendental experience.
It so happened that just that morning sage Ayyaval (Gurubhai of the world-renowned sage Sadasiva Brahmam) was there, meditating underneath a peepul tree. He had cleansed his teeth on the banks of the same river and thrown away the mango leaf he had used.
Avudai had used the same leaf and the moment she swallowed the sage's 'ucchishta' or 'sacred remnant' (echil), the little dirt that covered the atmajyoti in her was washed away. She at once realised the 'atman' within. Instinctively, she walked towards the feet of the sage under the peepul tree.
prostrated before Ayyaval. Placing his hand (hasta diksha) on her head, the sage pronounced: "Brahma Satyam".
Avudai's heart was illumined. She entered into samadhi or that indescribable superconscious state. A little while later, Ayyaval gave her a Linga for worship and went away.
That very moment Saraswati took her abode on
Avudai's tongue and Avudai's transcendental experience flowed through her tongue in the shape of divine, inspiring songs. She astounded one and all in the town by her extraordinary wisdom. Whatever she said, whatever she sang, portrayed her inner illumination. People, however, considered that
Avudai had gone mad and merely confined her to her room!
In the meantime, Avudai's parents died. This gave
Avudai a great independence of movement. She at once opened the door of her room and went out into the wide world - her own home! She went alone from place to place - a young woman, singing wisdom, radiating wisdom, transmitting wisdom to one and all who came near her.
reached Thiruvananthapuram. As usual she had her bath in a tank and wanted to do Linga pooja. The king, who had heard of her and of her regular worship of Linga with bael (vilvam) leaves, had sent her a basketful of golden bael leaves for her worship.
Avudai bathed in the tank and set about on the bank to perform the worship with the golden bael leaves. As soon as pooja was over,
Avudai collected the bael leaves and threw them into the tank as nirmalya (offered flowers), as is the custom.
The king was astonished to hear this. He understood the great renunciation of
Avudai and her 'para vairagya'. To Avudai, gold and leaf were the same.
From Thiruvananthapuram, Avudai
went to a conference of heads of religious sects. She thrilled the audience with her supreme wisdom and established the unity of all sects. They spoke derisively of her, at first, referring to her shaven head, and calling her, "You
mottai!" Avudai quickly retorted, "Who is mottai? Is it my body? Is it my mind? Is it my prana? Is it my jiva or, is it my atma? Who am I? How can I be mottai?" In the end they all eulogised her greatly for her divine wisdom and prostrated before her.
On another occasion, the king of a state called
Avudai to his durbar and offered to marry her. "Someone so young and beautiful should not wander about like this. Become my wife and remain in the palace as my queen with all powers."
Avudai said she would agree to this proposal provided the king answered some questions. And the questions were so grand and sublime that the king felt ashamed of himself and got initiated into jnana by her!
again met her gurudev, Ayyaval, and joined his group of disciples. She was the only woman member of the group. The other disciples greatly ill-treated her. She was treated more as a 'dog' who was fed the remnants of the ashram food than as an inmate. Ayyaval wanted to teach them all a lesson.
One day, all the disciples of Ayyaval rowed to a sand-mound in the middle of river Cauvery. They all meditated there. Ayyaval was on the banks of the river. Suddenly, the disciples felt the water level rising. They quickly perceived danger and wanted to return.
Avudai, however was deep in samadhi. They wanted to test her and so left her there and came away.
The water rose at great speed. Soon it looked as though
Avudai would drown. She had got up from her samadhi and found that the others had gone away. She looked towards her guru. He merely held up his arm to signal to her: "Just stand there."
Avudai obeyed and what a great miracle happened! Avudai stood there three days till the rising flood left and returned only after that.
By this and other similar incidents, everyone in the ashram realised the greatness of this woman saint. Later, Ayyaval too made no secret of her glory. People began to flock to her for her blessings. She sang and sang and through her songs run the current of the divine wisdom of the Upanishads.
L Krishnan has brought out a cassette of her songs rendered by Bombay sisters Saroja and Lalitha. Paranur Krishna Premi released the cassette recently at a programme where the Bombay sisters sang her songs and Krishna Premi gave a discourse on the life of both the saints.
A book, Senkottai Sri Avudai Akkal - Padal Tirattu, has been published by Swami Nityananda Giri, Sri Gnanananda Niketan, Tapovanam, Post-605756. (Price Rs 60.)
The cassette (Rs 40) can be ordered from Abirami Recording Company,
70, Second Floor,