Aravindhavalli’s research is on the music of Thirumangai Alvar, the last of the 12 Alvar saints of south India
At 73, C. Aravindhavalli’s zest for life is infectious. She has just finished her PhD, and is all set to celebrate it with her grandchildren who are in their twenties.
“They are studying in the US. They are coming here to be with me, to celebrate the fact that their paati has a doctorate now,” she laughed.
On Saturday, at the convocation function of the University of Madras, Ms. Aravindhavalli will be one of the few candidates who will receive their PhDs from Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
Ms. Aravindhavalli, a resident of Triplicane, said, “I married when I was in class IX, and was part of a large, joint family. For many years, I was completely immersed in daily chores.”
Six years ago, when she began to think about re-entering the world of academia, it was not easy. She had completed B.A. in music then. “I had grandchildren to look after and I did not know how it would seem if I attended classes at that age. But then my granddaughter sent me notebooks from Mumbai to encourage me, and I decided to go ahead,” she said.
The septuagenarian attended classes regularly at Queen Mary’s College and finished her M.A. in Vaishnavism. Her guide, K. R. Seethalakshmi, principal, Quaid-E- Millath College for Women recalls, “Her husband came and requested me to convince her to start studying again. But it was easy to get her started as she knew she wanted to focus on the music aspect of the Alvars.”
But then in 2008, Ms. Aravindhavalli’s husband, an LIC agent, passed away, just as she was thinking about beginning her PhD. “It was very difficult convincing her to focus on clearing her registration exam — important because she didn’t have an M.Phil. But she is very hardworking and sincere,” said Prof. Seethalakshmi.
Ms. Aravindhavalli’s research is on the music of Thirumangai Alvar, the last of the 12 Alvar saints of south India, who are known for their affiliation to the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism.
“This has not only helped me overcome my husband’s death but has also made me feel closer to god,” she said.
Aravindhavalli had to give veena recitals as practical performances to finish her PhD. “When I was very young, my mother told me once, never to stop playing the Veena. I am glad I listened to her.”
Her PhD, she said, was a tribute to her father who was a Tamil professor. “This year is his 101st birth anniversary. He has guided many students into finishing their studies. He would be proud of me today.”
“He was a very learned person who also had a very interesting, colourful life. Knowing about the Bhakti cult of that time was like meditation as our family believes follows all vaishnavite traditions, and it made me understand my daily rituals better,” she adds.