It is well believed in Hindu religion that Sri Jagadguru Adi Sankaracharya of Kaladi was the incarnation of Lord Shiva while Sri Avadayakkal of Shenkottai was the incarnation of goddess Parvati. As mentioned in many scriptures, the goddess took the form of Sri Avadayakkal to make all realize that even women in the Kali Yuga could achieve Self-realization.
Avadayakkal or Avadai was born at Shenkottai in South India to a pious Saiva Vadama couple. As a child Avadai showed signs of her being god’s special child. She was extremely composed and subservient to her surroundings. She would not perform a single activity (including eating, clothing, sleeping) unless given command by somebody. As per the yesteryear tradition, she got married at a very tender age. However, to the amazement of all, the marriage abruptly ended on the same night.
There is an interesting story related to the marriage of Avadai. As Avadai came of age, her parents fixed her marriage which took place ceremoniously in typical South Indian tradition. On the marriage night, Avadai was taken to her husband’s room. When her relatives left her with her husband, a strange incident took place the same night which changed Avadai’s life for good.
As the relatives took her to the room and shut the room from outside, Avadai would not move from her spot and remained standing near the door like a cold stone. Her husband was watching everything from the bed full of flowers. Shockingly, when he took a garland from his bed to smell it, a coiled venomous cobra bit him which led to his death on the same night. As per the Indian custom, the very next day, when the relatives came to the newly-wed couple’s room, they were utterly shocked to see the groom lying dead on the bed while the bride standing on the same spot where she was left last night. The relatives and the whole town attributed this ill-fated incident to Avadai’s evil stars. The incident brought many adversities in her life and she was forced to lead a life of destitute. She was barred from meeting anyone and attending any festivity. She would get up before sunrise and perform her bathing rituals at the riverside before others get up at sunrise.
One day, Avadai woke up before sunrise and proceeded towards the river to perform her bathing rituals. Just before bathing, Avadai took a mango leaf to clean her teeth. The moment the leaf touched her teeth, she got a transcendental experience.
It so happened that the same morning Sage Ayyaval had come to the same place for performing his bathing rituals. Sage Ayyaval was an ardent disciple of Sage Sadasiva Brahman and was a saint of the highest stature. Before bathing, the sage had also used the same mango leaf for cleansing his teeth and the moment Ayyaval’s sacred remnant (Ucchishta) was swallowed by Avadai, it cleansed whatever little filth present inside her and purified her Atma Jyoti. As soon as Avadai got her transcendental experience, she at once realized the atman within and rushed to her guru Ayyaval who was meditating beneath a Peepul tree. Upon reaching her guru, she bowed down to him. That very moment, the sage initiated Avadai. Placing his hands on her head he pronounced ‘Brahma Satyam’ and this made Avadai enter her first Samadhi (the highest state of meditation, at which complete unity is reached). Sage Ayyaval also presented Avadai a Linga for daily worship and left the place.
It is believed that the moment Avadai attained Samadhi, goddess Saraswati took abode on her tongue and she kept uttering aloud her divine experience in the form of inspiring songs. A new and radiant form of Avadai stunned people in the town. Unfortunately, nobody could understand Avadai’s symbolic expression and people considered her eccentric and compelled her to confinement.
Freedom from confinement
After Avadai’s parents left this world, Avadai decided to leave her confinement and make the whole world her holy abode. She began wandering as a young woman singing in divine tunes, radiating and transmitting her wisdom to everyone around her.
An interesting incident took place when Avadai reached Tiruvananthapuram. The king of the place sent her special golden Bael leaves for performing Linga puja. As per the ritual, Avadai offered puja to the Linga and threw the Bael leaves into the tank for nirmalya (offering flowers) to the Lord. This gesture of Avadai astonished the king and he learnt the great renunciation of this young lady.
There was no looking back for Avadai once she was confident of her subliminal presence into this world. Her existence in this world was dedicated to the religious service of others in her surroundings. She was the epitome of womanhood and was an inspiration to the women who were doubtful whether they could walk shoulder-to-shoulder in the male dominant society. Avadai instilled confidence amongst other women and her stature made all believe that in this Kali Yuga, even women can achieve Self-Realization.
Returning to Gurudev
Later in her life, Avadai again met Sri Ayyaval, her Gurudev who initiated her, and sought shelter at his Ashram. However, she was the only woman member/disciple there and hence severely mistreated. All other male disciples of the Ashram condemned her presence in Gurudev’s spiritual abode and looked down upon her all the time. The sober and down-to-earth Avadai though never complained about her ill-treatment and strengthened her tolerance level to stay at peace.
Nevertheless, the situation soon changed after a miraculous incident which played witness to Avadai’s greatness. It occurred when the Gurudev and his disciples decided rowing down to a sand-mound for meditating in the midst of the River Kaveri. It so happened that all the disciples were into deep meditation with their Gurudev guiding them from the banks of the river. Suddenly, the disciples felt the water level rising indicating the risk of upcoming flood. At this moment, Avadai was into deep Samadhi. Other male disciples decided to return leaving the young Avadai in danger. When Avadai got back from Samadhi, she realized the flood was rising at high speed. Her Gurudev, at the very same moment, asked her to stand up on the sand-mound. To everybody’s astonishment, Avadai stood amidst the flood for three days without the water touching her feet area.
Gradually, with other recurrent similar incidents taking place, the greatness of Avadai started spreading across towns and villages. People used to queue up and flock to her to seek her blessings. She transfixed her disciples, with her sweet songs, which ran from her lips, dictating every phrase of Upanishads.