Saturday, 1 October 2011

October 2011 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami--AVVAIYAR

Warm Greetings!

I taught a ten day program at Suddha Weixler's Chicago Yoga Center in
September. There was a two hr talk on Mantras. Then I taught a ten
hour program on the III and IV chapters of Yoga Sutras. There was 25
hour certificate program on “Core Vinyasa Krama Yoga” and then a ten
hour workshop on Asanas, Pranayama, Mantras and Meditation for a
comprehensive daily yoga practice at home. I thought the programs went
well. Many thanks to Suddha and the many talented and dedicated yogis
for their participation in the program.

LMU has confirmed the next TT program(five weeks) in July 2012 after
the July 4 weekend (July 9 to Aug 11). I will be doing a week long
program, “Hata Yoga and Raja Yoga Practicum”, in May 2012 at Esalen
Institute, Big Sur, California. I will also be going to Chicago for
ten days in September 2012 to teach at Chicago Yoga Center. During the
last two years some friends had suggested that I could do some
programs at their stdios/cities/countries but I could not go due to
some constraints. I hope to be able to go to these places in 2012.
Please write to me.

I will be going to Chennai, India mid- October and staying for about
four months. I hope to be able to initiate  meaningful validation
studies regarding some hypothesis on Yoga for Health ( we have made
considerable progress in our book “Yoga for Internal Organs”), and
possibly an album of DVDs ( about  5 dvds)on vinyasakrama asanas some
day in the near future. About 30 years back I did a series of  8
programs on Vinyasakrama over Madras TV, with my students in
Kalakshetra. They came out very well and I hope to locate the video
cassette and may upload a few sequences in You Tube.



Several months back I had written about Thirumular, a Tamil Yogi/saint
said to be a contemporary of Patanjali. Another well known Tamil saint
was Avvaiyar of 13th Century. I thought I could take the liberty to
write about her and one of her outstanding works “aathi chudi”
or “garland of aathi flowers”.

Avvai means a venerable lady and she was one. In the caste ridden
Indian society of yesteryears she was born to a high caste scholar and
another woman and subsequently was abandoned by her parents. She was
brought up by foster-parents. She slowly grew up to be a very
beautiful lass and it was time for her foster-parents to make
arrangements for her marriage. But the divine girl was not interested
in getting married and leading the usual life. She was a great devotee
of Lord Ganesa, the charming elephant headed God. She was also a very
wise woman with an incisive mind and an outstanding poet in Tamil as

When people all around her, including her well meaning parents, urged
her to get married she turned to the Lord and prayed to him to make
her look like an old woman so that no one would be interested in
marrying her. Ganesa answered her prayer and soon she became an old
woman holding a walking stick. Progeria?

Because of her wisdom, debating abilities, and universal compassion
her advice was sought by kings, people in high places and also by
ordinary mortals. She wrote some outstanding works one of which was
called aathi chudi and became a primer for study of the alphabets of
Tamil language and is popular even today. She was credited with
bringing about lasting peace between two neighboring countries by
talking to and reasoning with those kings. She is credited with many
such exploits using her wisdom. persuasive powers, divinity, universal
compassion and poetry

She did not stay in one place as renunciates (sanyasins) do routinely.
However it is said that over a period of time the praise and adoration
for her wisdom went a little bit to her head. She who despised her
physical beauty got a bit attracted to the beauty of her brain. One
day on a hot Indian summer she was walking along a deserted stretch of
land. Hungry and thirsty she saw a naaval tree which had very sweet
juicy fruits. Those delicious fruits she thought could satisfy her
hunger and also quench her thirst. But the black berry like fruits
were way up in the upper regions of the tree and she had no way of
getting to them without climbing the tree which skill she did not
possess. Then she saw a  young rustic boy sitting on one of the top
branches and eating the juicy naaga berries. She shouted at the boy
and asked him if he would get her a few berries to eat. He said he
would be happy to help her but said he would not want to climb down
the tree so he would shake one of the branches and she would have to
pick up the fallen berries from the dirt ground. She agreed but the
boy then asked a strange question-- whether she wanted hot berries or
cold berries. She was bemused by this-- what the wise lady thought as
a foolish question. She wondered how  could there be a hot berry
straight from the tree. Thinking that the boy was nuts she
condescendingly asked him to get her a few cold berries. The boy
smiled and shook a nearby branch and a few rich lush berries dropped
from the tree. Greedily the lady took a berry, held it close to her
mouth and blew at the berry a few times to clear off the dirt. The boy
looking down said with bewitching smile, “Grandma! Is the berry hot?”
Perplexed Avvai said “No, not at all, it is just cold.” The boy asked
then in jest, “Then why are you blowing on the berry if it is not
hot?” She immediately realized that the boy was not an ordinary lad
but the great Lord Subramanya or Muruga Himself who is credited with
imparting the correct knowledge about OM to His father Lord Siva
Himself.  With that her creeping conceit left her without a trace.
Ecstatic on seeing the great Shanmkha in front of her she composed a
prayer at once in praise of Him.

Avvai contributed to Tamil literature and is revered in Tamil Nadu.
Simple and profound, her works are studied in elementary schools even
today. In fact Aathi chudi is written as a primer to learn the Tamil
alphabets. Just as we have A for apple, C for cat, etc., Avvai wrote
Aathi chudi with one saying each for one alphabet. Tamil language has
12 vowels, 18 consonants and with other syllables her aathi chudi is
made up of 108 such sayings.

Here are a few, covering the 12 vowels as the beginning letter

1. 'a' as in that ---Aram seyya Virumbu = Love to be virtuous or Love
to give (charity)
2. 'aa' as in pa or ma.--- Aaruvadu sinam = Simmer down anger
3. 'I' as in is. ---Iyalvadu karavel = Never hoard more than what you
4. 'ii' as in we--- Iivadu vilakkel= Never stop giving
5. 'u' as in put--- 'udayadu vilambale = Keep your secrets (talk
6. 'oo' as in too.--- Ookkamadu kaividel = Never lose enthusiasm/hope
7. 'e' as in men.--- Ennezhuthu ihazhel = Never belittle (learning)
math and language
8. 'ye' as in may. ---Yerpadu ihahchi = Begging  is despicable
9. 'ai' as in my--- aiyamittu unn = (But) Feed the hungry before you
10. 'o' short 'o' as in one- oppura ozhuhu = Follow the tradition
11. 'oo' like in more--- oduvadu ozhiyale = Never stop learning
12. 'ou' as in mouth--- ouviyam pesale = Eschew speaking negative
words of jealousy/anger

Here is an oft quoted saying of the poetess

“katradu kaimannalavu
kalladadu  ulahalavu”

What one has learnt is just handful and what has not been learnt  is
as much as the world itself
A similar idea is contained in one of the Upanishads. (Maybe I have
written this story already, but no harm reading it again)There was a
great sage called Bharadvaja. Does the name ring a bell Yes all yogis
are familiar with Bhardvjasana. Bharadvaja was a great vedic scholar.
In the previous three incarnations he had mastered three vedas and was
with the fourth. It was almost the end of his life and was still
working with the vedas. The Lord, Indra appeared before him and asked
him what he would do in his next birth. Without hesitation Bharadwvaja
said that he would study the scriptures, the vedas. Then the Lord
pointed out three handful  lumps of clay and said that what Bharadvaja
learnt was just equivalent to the three handful of earth whereas what
he had to learn was more than three mountainfuls in front of him. “The
Vedas are infinite” The Lord said that Bharadvaja should concentrate
on the ultimate Truth of this manifest creation which is Brahman the
underlying undecaying consciousness. Bharadvaja is a very common last
name (like Srivatsa) in India and those with that surname could be the
descendents of the sage Bharadvaja. I hope some of the modern
bharadvajas would try to practice the graceful Bharadvajasana.

There are more works attributed to  Avvaiar. I remember I learned this
work aathi chudi, when I was very young and got most of the sayings by
heart even before I had learnt to read and write the letters, which is
common with many kids in the olden days. The grandparents were always
there to teach these to the grandchildren as they sometimes put them
to sleep.

Avvaiyar, it is said towards the end of her life, wanted to have the
vision of Lord Siva. Her beloved personal  deity (ishta devata) Ganesa
is said to have bodily lifted her and transported her to Siva's abode,
the Kailas. Well that is the story.

I am reminded of an incident that took place almost 60 years ago. I
was at that time studying in II or III Form in Ramakrishna Mission
School, Madras. During the lunch hour after lunch some of us used to
play a game called 'pay ball' in the adjoining Panagal Public Park in
which game each one would like to slam another with a tennis ball as
hard as possible. Perhaps it helped to wring  considerable Rajas out
of the system. One day after half an hour of pay ball, in which I
received a few hard blows and returned a few, I rushed back to the
class room. The Sanskrit teacher had just taken his seat and as I
entered the classroom he stopped me at the entrance and sternly told
me to go and meet the headmaster right away. It is usually not a good
message, and so I walked slowly to the headmaster's room where the HM
was talking to a couple of gentlemen. I waited for a few moments and
as soon as the HM saw me he cordially invited me to come in and most
unusually asked me to take a seat. I sat down and, without wasting any
time, the HM introduced me to the two gentlemen who were from a well
known film producing company called the 'Gemini Studios'. The
gentlemen told me that they were embarking on a new movie called
“Avvaiyar” and they would be interested in casting me in the role of
the rustic boy (see story above), Lord Muruga in the movie. They said
it was a small but important role in the movie. I blurted out
immediately that I will not do it as it is not good to act in movies.
They were a bit taken aback but my HM told me not to worry as they
would come and talk to my parents and this could go on only with their
permission. He also said that since he as HM was satisfied that it was
okay  I need not have any objection. But I said no again.  HM asked
them if they would like to look at a couple of other boys. But they
left soon thereafter. After I came home I mentioned it to my parents,
my mother gave an approving smile and my dad as usual maintained a
stony expression. I became a bit of a celebrity among the students and
even among teachers for one day, the one day wonder. I was known as
the boy who turned down an offer from the mighty Gemini Studios. Some
of the teachers told me that it was the correct decision but a few
pointed out how foolish I was.

The movie was released three years later and it was a blockbuster and
ran in crowded theaters for a couple of years I guess. The devotional
music sung by the great musician K B Sundarambal who did the role of
Avvaiyar in the film was exceptional. The song she sings when she sees
the Lord Mruga appearing before her in the divine form was
exceptional, soulful. In Indian movies in those days, one would sing
the heart out when in agony or in ecstasy. I think some portions of
the 60 year old movie are available on You Tube. The scene I did not
act in, though short, was liked by almost everyone. Sometimes I would
wonder: if I had acted in that role  would I have become a big star?
But then according to the Lord in Bhagawat Gita, everyone's life is
predetermined and we act out or parts as per the script for each one
written on our foreheads by the Lord consistent with one's own karma
and things do not happen differently. I am glad it was my good
karma that I met my Guru Sri Krishnamacharya who took charge of me
rather than take the opportunity to act in a movie, even if it be a
divine role.


Here are some of my recent posts in Facebook

  Every country is mine (Citizen of the world) and everyone is my
kinsman. Hurt and happiness are not caused by others, we give
ourselves grief and relief. Death is not new and one need not be
concerned about life. And when in pain, suffer patiently. We need not
be overawed by the greatness by others but more importantly not look
down on those lesser than us---From Purananuru a Tamil classic said to
have been created during Sangam period, between 200BC to 100 AD.

Yoga is a unique subject. It has a unique physical culture, of
asanas,vinyasas, pranayama. Has a unique way of organizing the mind.
Yoga has a unique underlying philosophy, a spirituality. It is a
unique way of life, spartan and yet fulfilling.

My book "Yoga For the Three Stages of Life" (2000) contains a chapter
on the Story of Patanjali (page 21 to 29)

A contented mind is the chemical (alchemy) that makes gold— A Tamil

A dominant parasympathetic nervous system tends to produce Tamaic
subjects, whereas a strong overactive sympathetic system is associated
with Rajas. The satwic Yogi has a strong central nervous system
dominating over the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic and
parasympathetic); debatable?--Read many years back, can't remember
when and where


Please send your comments or suggestions to
My older letters may be accessed by visiting my website
and opening the Newsletter tab

Srivatsa Ramaswami.

From Grimmly : The scene from Avvaiar?

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating and charming. Leave it to Grimmly to give us the whole picture.