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Updated: September 5, 2009 11:44 IST

The devoted wife

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Karaiakkal Ammaiyar whose given name was Punithavathi, is one among the 63 nayanmars . Photo: Nagara Gopal
The Hindu Karaiakkal Ammaiyar whose given name was Punithavathi, is one among the 63 nayanmars . Photo: Nagara Gopal

Of the 63 nayanmars, only three are women, one of whom is Karaikkal Ammaiyar, said R. Narayanan, in a lecture. Karaiakkal Ammaiyar’s given name is Punithavathi. She grows up into a beautiful girl. And her father Dhanadathan, a rich merchant, gives her in marriage to Paramadhathan, son of a merchant called Nidhipathi from Nagappattinam. The couple settle down in Karaikkal.

Punithavathi is a devoted wife. One day her husband is given two mangoes by a well wisher. He sends the fruits home to Punithavathi. However, while she awaits Paramadathan to come home for lunch, a devotee of Shiva arrives and asks for food. Not wanting to keep him waiting, Punithavathi, an ardent devotee of Shiva, serves the guest one of the two mangoes.

Shortly after, Paramadhathan arrives and Punithavathi serves him the the remaining mango. He then asks for the other one. She prays to Lord Siva, who gives her a mango. She gives this to Paramadhathan, who finds this tastier than any other fruit he has ever eaten. He asks Punithavathi how she got this fruit. She replies that Lord Siva gave it to her. He doubts her and asks her to request Siva for another fruit. She does so, but the fruit just vanishes from Paramadhathan’s hands. He realizes that his wife is no ordinary woman and decides that he can no longer be her husband. But he tells no one of his decision. He then leaves for the Pandya Kingdom to do business there. There he marries another woman and has a daughter through her. He names his daughter Punithavathi, after his first wife, whom he worships as a Goddess.

Hearing that Paramadhathan is in the Pandya Kingdom, Dhanadathan takes his daughter to her husband. But Paramadhathan comes to receive them and falls at the feet of Puntihavathi, his first wife. Everyone is shocked. He then says he sees Punithavathi as a Goddess, not as his wife, and he can longer live with her. Hearing this, Punithavathi prays to Siva that He give her a skeletal appearance. She reasons that if her husband is no longer interested in living with her, she would rather not be beautiful. Thus Punithavathi, who later came to be known as Karaikkal Ammaiyar, was an exemplary wife.

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