From when I can remember, my extended family (my mother has 11 siblings!) would gather everyday of the Navrathri pooja, and sing a set of 30 songs composed by Akka Paati. From the youngest toddler to the oldest thaatha and paatti, everyone knows and sings these songs even today. I never knew anything about Akka Paati until a few days ago, when my mother narrated her story to me, all choked up.
Akka Paatti was my maternal grandfather’s mother’s elder sister. Since my great grandmother called her ‘Akka’ (elder sister), my mother, aunts and uncles called her ‘Akka Paatti’ (elder sister – grandma). Since my grandfather’s mother died at a young age, he and his siblings were all brought up by her.
Akka Paatti lived an ordinary life of a traditional housewife. But it seems like she lived an extraordinary life of a bhakta (devotee). At nights, my mother would hear her sing devotional songs, which she would ask my mother or my grandmother to write down the following morning. In her lifetime, Akka Paatti composed close to 500 songs in Tamil and Kannada in different ragas and talas, out of which only about 100 remain in print. The rest have been forgotten.
One day last week, I was there to be part of the ritualistic group singing. As we came to the 29th song in Madyamavathi ragam, I choked.
“poruthharuLvaai ippo, en thaaye poruthharuLvaai ippo
alatchiyamaaga seida abaraadatthai mannitthu,
ariyaa chiruvargalai anbudan kaakka vendum (poruththaruLvaai)
siriyOr seitha pizhayay sinandu nee koLLaamal
naan pandu pol aaraadikka paangudan veetriruppai (poruththaruLvaai)”
Mother, Please bear with them.
Forgive them for their ignorant mistakes, and protect them.
Love and forgive these children who know not what they are doing.
Don’t leave in anger.
Stay here with all your grace for me to worship you everyday.
Akka Paatti knew about her death exactly 15 days before it, and asked for her son to take her to spend her last days with him. But while on her death bed, her daughter in law abused her endlessly. Akka Paatti composed this song (her very last) asking for forgiveness for her. Such extreme compassion that she was capable of speaks volumes of her goldliness! I am getting ready to learn some of her other compositions where she talks about the madness of the material world, the illusion created by the mind, and pleads God to help her dissolve her ego and its arrogance and simply surrender!
When I was young, singing Akka Paatti’s songs along with my cousins used to be nothing more than a fun ritual. As I grew up, singing her songs took on newer meanings for me. This time, it was a deeply devotion-filled experience. I really felt like I bathed in her divine energy!