Karaikkal Ammaiyar (Tamil: காரைக்கால் அம்மையார், which means "the revered mother from Karaikkal"), one of the three women amongst the sixty three Nayanmars, is one of the greatest figures of early Tamil literature. She was born at Karaikkal, South India, and probably lived during the 6th century. She was a great devotee of Lord Shiva.
Karaikkal is a maritime trading city in Chola Nadu. Punithavathiyar was born to Dhanathathanar, a merchant. From childhood, she grew up with great love in god.In her childhood ammaiyaar built shivalinga using sand. Ammaiyaar chanted the five letter mantra Namasivaya and attended to the needs of Shaivadevotees.Even in her very young age, Ammaiyaar cared the shaiva devotees like a mother.
Ammaiyaar was wedded to Paramathathan, the son of a rich merchant in Nagapattinam. Shaiva devotees who visited her home were lavishly fed and were given clothes and jewels.
One day her husband, Paramathathan, had sent two mangoes to be kept for him. That day a hungry Shaiva devotee came to her residence. As the luncheon was not yet ready, Ammaiyaar didnt wait for the cooking to complete. Ammaiyaar gave the devotee, curd rice and one of the two mangoes which her husband gave earlier. Later, when her husband came home, she served him the other mango. The mango was very delicious, and her husband requested that the other mango be served. Ammaiyaar went inside kitchen, and she dont know what to do since the Mango is already served to the adiyaar[siva's devotee]. With Lord Siva's grace a Mango appeared in her palm. Ammaiyaar was very happy and she served the Mango to her husband.
As this fruit was divinely sweet and was infinitely delicious compared to the previous one, her husband inquired as to how she obtained this mango. Since the husband is not a proper devottee, Ammaiyaar afraid of revealing the God's grace. The rule is God's grace should not be revealed to non-devotees. But there is one more rule, when a husband is asking something,she need to tell the truth. She worshiped Lord's feet and revealed the truth to her husband. Her husband didn't believe it. He asked her to produce another mango with divine help. She prayed Lord Shiva, that if Lord didnt give another Mango, his name will get affected. Immediately Lord gave similar mango, and gave it to her husband. The mango then disappeared, and Paramathathan realised the divine nature of his wife. Paramathathan understood that she was worthy of worship and she cannot be treated as her wife. He then deserted her, becoming a trader and married the daughter of a merchant who then gave birth to their child. Paramathathan named the child with the real name of ammaiyar. When word reached ammaiyar's family, they decided that they must take her to him. When he saw his former wife, Paramathathan addressed her reverentially, saying that he realised she was no ordinary human being. He worshipped Ammaiyaar with his wife and child. Dismayed, ammaiyar prayed to Shiva asking for a boon - that she may worship Lord Shiva as a disembodied wraith. She received the boon, and leaving all her beauty and her body behind. Then she graciously sang, "Arpudha Thiruvandhaadhi" and "Thiru Irattai Mani Maalai". she traveled to Mount Kailas, climbing it upside down on her head. There Goddess parvathi, wife of shiva, asked about ammaiyar. Lord Shiva told, she is the mother who is taking care of ourselves. Ammaiyar worshiped shiva. shiva greeted her with calling her "ammaiye"(means, 'my mother!'), and Ammaiyar replied "Appa"(father to all). Lord asked her wish to which she replied, "I want endless and delightful love with you. I don't want to be born again. Even if I have any birth, I should not forget you. When you perform your holy dance, I want to be beneath in your feet and I want to sing your praise in joy." The Lord granted the boon and asked Ammaiyar to come to Thiruvalangadu, where He is performing one of the holy dances (oordhuva thandava). Ammaiyar visited Thiruvalangadu, walking on her holy head. She sang 'Thiruaalangaatu mootha thirupathigam 1' and 'Thiruaalangaatu mootha thirupathigam 2'.
Karaikkal Ammaiyar in art
In 1954, A.L. Basham published a photograph in his The Wonder that was India depicting an ascetic or demonic female figure that he called “Kali as Demoness playing Cymbals”, and in 1955, Heinrich Zimmer called this female character “Kali". One year later, this type of figure was identified as the Tamil Nayanar Karaikkal Ammaiyar by Jean Filliozat in Kârâvêlane’s Kâreikkâlammeiyâr: œvres éditées et traduites. In 1956, Kârâvêlane and Jean Filliozat presented a publication that included the first French translation of the verses ascribed to the Tamil saint-poet Karaikkal Ammaiyar, which probably dated to the 6th or 7th century. Karaikkal Ammaiyar was depicted in South Indian art from the 11th century onwards. The publication included several plates depicting the female Nayanar, in bronze, stone, or as being a part of a temple structure. A dancing Shiva on the south wall of the Brihadeeswarar Temple atGangaikonda Cholapuram (c. AD 1025) shows, on Shiva Nataraja’s right side, an emaciated female figure playing the cymbals and displaying ascetic or demonic features. She has wild uncombed hair, pointed shrivelled breasts, and a fierce facial expression. Filliozat identified this figure as Karaikkal Ammaiyar.
This depiction of the squatting female figure was published by Hermann Kulke in 1970 in his analysis of the religious and historical background of Cidambaram in Tamil Nadu based on the Cidambaramahatmya. He also calls the figure Karaikkal Ammaiyar, and states that this emaciated figure strongly resembles the Mother Goddess Chamunda (Kulke 1970:123). In 1976 Mireille Bénisti published an article in which she states that the figure of Karaikkal Ammaiyar is depicted in Khmer art, especially in Cambodia. On a lintel from Vat Baset in Cambodia she found a figure that she interpreted as the emaciated Tamil Nayanar Karaikkal Ammaiyar. However, the study of Peter de Bruijn published in 2007 pointed out that similar emaciated female figures are to be found in Southeast Asia, but cannot be identified as Karaikkal Ammaiyar.