Karaikkal Ammaiyar (tamil: காைரக்கால் அம்ைமயார், which means the mother from Karaikkal), one of the few females amongst the sixty three Nayanmars, is one of the greatest figures of early Tamil literature. Her birth name was Punithavathi, born at Karaikkal, South India, and lived during the 6th century. She was a great devotee of Lord Shiva.
Punithavathy was born in Karaikkal, a maritime trading city in Chola nadu to Danathathan, a famous merchant. From childhood Punithavathy grew up in a religious atmosphere and worshipped Lord Siva diligently. She enchanted the five letter mantra Namasivaya and also attended to the needs of Saiva devotees.
When she grew up as a charming young girl she was wedded to Paramathathan, the son of a rich merchant in Nagapattinam. Even after marriage she continued her chosen religious life. Saiva devotees who visited her home were lavishly fed and were given clothes and jewels according to their needs.
A Hungry Saiva devotee came to her residence one day. As the full meal was not ready at that time, she gave the devotee one of the two mangoes that her husband had sent home to be kept for him. Later, when her husband came home she served him the other mango that she had. The mango was very delicious and hence her husband requested for the other mango also to be served. Punithavathy was in a dilemma now. She prayed to Lord Siva and astonishingly by God's grace a mango appeared in her palm which she served to her husband.
As this fruit was extremely sweet and delicious compared to the previous one, her husband inquired as to how she obtained this mango. When punithavathy told the truth, her husband could not believe her and hence he asked her to produce another mango with divine help. She entreated to Lord Siva, obtained another similar mango and gave it to her husband. On receiving the mango, the husband was shocked to find it disappear, realising the divine nature of the wife and his arrogance. Paramathathan shivered in fear understanding now that she is worthy of worship and he deserted her unannounced.
Irrefutable evidences adduced clearly establish that Karaikkal Ammaiyar has a distinctive place of eminence by any criteria, be it antiquity of time, elegance of composition, depth of meaning, spread of philosophy or inspirer of new excellence. Compared to great musical exponents who had been given appropriate titles as "Sangeetha Mummoorthigal", "Aadhi Mummoorthigal", "Sirpy of Padams", "Sangeethaa Pithamagar", "Chanthap paavala peruman" and "Thevaara Moovar" and are being remembered today, Karaikal Ammaiyar is the sole exception who has not been given adequate and meaningful recognition. Judged by the criterion of time, Karaikal Ammaiyar is by far the oldest in this great galaxy of musical exponents and can therefore rightly lay claim as the "Mother of South Indian Music"