Aathichudi, the First Tamil Lesson in Schools
A Timeless Classic
Aathichudi is a collection of verses written by the great Tamil Poetess Avvaiyar. It is believed that there were three poets by the same name in three different time periods. This particular contribution is however done by the Avvaiyar who lived during the Chola dynasty. Avvai means 'respected woman'. Her songs are the first introduction to the Tamil language when a child starts school. The meaning of the verses are suitable to any time period which is exactly the reason why even after a millennium, children read her poetry with great interest. Among all her other literary works, aathichudi is the most widely read work. Another specialty of this great work is that it teaches the Tamil alphabet along with moral values. In other languages, alphabets are associated with things. (For example: A for apple) but this poem emphasizes on the alphabet through values for life.
Images: Wikipedia Commons
Avvaiyar as a baby was adopted by a childless Brahmin couple. She was brought up with much care. Even from a young age she had a keen interest on poetry. She strongly believed in Lord Ganesh. Her poems were simple with a deep meaning. In her later years , she did not stay at on place. She never married as her aim was to spread the knowledge of divinity and Tamil far and wide. She explored a lot of villages and associated with the poor folk getting to know their lifestyle and needs. Her devotion to the Tamil language was extra-ordinary that even Adhiaman (the then ruler of the kingdom) is said to have given her the Indian gooseberry which was deemed to make a person immortal. Legend says that she did not die but was bodily transported to heaven by Lord Shiva.
In her honor an award is named after her which recognizes women’s contribution to language, arts, science, culture, media and management. Woman who have done great service in terms of social reforms and communal harmony are also recognized for this award.
Though we call it aathichudi, there are different versions depending on the usage of alphabets. So far nine different versions have been found. But the most popular versions are the uyir ezhuthu version , which follows 12 set of alphabets and the urirmei ezhuthu version , which follows 18 set of alphabets. As is the practice of every Tamil poem, this poem too starts with an invocation to the blessings of the Almighty.
Aathichudi with translation
1. Desire to walk on the righteous path
2. Learn to master your anger
3. Help people in way you can
4. Always be charitable
5. Do not brag about your riches
6. Do not give up hope whatever the circumstance is.
7. Respect what you learn
8. Begging is despicable
9. Give food to a starving man before eating
10. Be virtuous
11. Do not quit education
12. Gossiping is not a good virtue
13. Never cheat on food
1. The movie Avvaiyar based on the great Tamil poet was released by Gemini picture in 1953. It had great historical and moral value and was planned to be released even at the US with English subtitles.
2. Avvaiyar at her old age wanted to end her literary career. But history says that Lord Muruga intervened and changed her mind. Since then, it is believed that she started writing especially for kids.
3. She single-handedly averted a war between two kings (Adhiaman and Tondaiman) by a single poem.
4. The name Aathichudi is named after Lord Shiva and Lord Ganesha who wears the Aathi flowers.
NASA quotes Avvaiyar
What we have learned
Is like a handful of earth;
What we have yet to learn
Is like the whole world
- Auvaiyar, 4th C poet, India
Athichudi is a moral code of conduct which considers a valueless life meaningless. Physical and mental health along with righteous path is covered in this verse. It was specifically meant for children In schools today, this particular poem is a poem that has to be memorized. Sometimes, it has made me wonder whether the child at such an young age can understand the uniqueness and the magnitude of this poem. Maybe the child does not understand it completely but what happens it, the verses are ingrained at such a young age that you can get it clarified at any age. Since the language is simple, it is very easy to communicate the meaning to the child. One has to be careful in teaching one complete poem on one style. Since there are so many versions, it is easy to get confused over it and meddle the lines or the context. Parents should take efforts to follow one particular (either old or new athichudi). The other versions can be taught side by side once the child grows up or when the child is inquisitive.
The moral code prescribed here are easy to implement when we take the verse to our heart. It is on par with the Thirukkural by Thiruvalluvar.
Uyir Mei Athichudi
Don't exaggerate what you see
Bend to Befriend
Bath regularly with oil.
Speak in a good manner
Judiciously space your living place.
Befriend good people.
Look after your parents well.
Do not procrastinate.
Never occupy another person's land.
Turn away from demeaning deeds.
Don't play with snakes.
Cotton bed is best for sleeping.
Vengeance is bad.
Never do bad things.
Learning when young is important.
Sleeping for prolonged hours is unhealthy
Aathichudi has been converted into android app. It contain 108 verses with simple translations in English for easy understanding.
Quotes of Avvaiyar
Don’t wait for a return benefit as to when a good deed done will pay back, but be just like that tall and erect coconut tree that drank water from its feet gives the benefit of giving that sweet water by its head.
The rain falls on behalf of the virtuous, benefiting everyone in the world.
What you have learned is a mere handful; What you haven’t learned is the size of the world.
Known is a drop. Unknown is an ocean.
Pudhiya Aathichudi is yet another version written by the national poet mahakavi subramaniya bharathiar. He was an Indian independence activist who took inspiration from the original poem and modified it to the then generation of youth. He wanted to trigger their patriotism through his new poem. Like the previous version, this poem too is suitable for all time periods.