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"aiyO!" and the AzhwAr

From: sudarshan madabushi (
Date: Sun Feb 21 1999 - 02:23:35 PST

Dear bhAgavatOttamAs,

When I was a little boy I was told the use of the Tamil expression, 
"aiyO" must be scrupulously avoided in speech… both in private 
conversation and in public audience as well.

"You must never utter "aiyO" ", my mother used to tell me those days, 
"The expression is taboo… it is "apa-sabdam" If you have to use it, 
then, please make sure you suffix it with the blessed name of Rama or 
Narayana…. , "aiyO Rama!" or "aiyO Narayana" is alright… but never utter 
just "aiyO!".

"apa-sabdam" in Sanskrit, I learnt,  meant "inauspicious verbalizing"…. 
in other words, "aiyO" as a phrase was held to possess tonal properties 
displeasing not only to the ear but strongly offensive to some deeply 
held religious sentiment which, at that time, my mother did not think it 
necessary to reveal or explain to a mere boy of my age.

Thus I grew up as a lad to be extremely careful in conversations (and 
indeed in all my dealings with the polite SriVaishnavite society of  3 
decades ago) to completely shun the use of the word "aiyO" in much the 
same punctilious way I have learnt today to exclude from my workaday 
vocabulary all similarly four-lettered epithets!

Since those memorable days of unquestioning boyhood obedience to 
maternal commands, I have however always continued to secretly wonder 
why so reflexive and spontaneous a human expression as "aiyO" should 
have been so vehemently expelled from the society of SriVaishnava 
parlance. After all "aiyO" is the first thing we all involuntarily utter 
when in pain or when we encounter with the smallest of accidents or 
vagary in life, isn't it?

For instance, when I cut my finger while sharpening a pencil I 
instinctively yelp, "aiyO!"!When my wife goes to market and inquires 
about the soaring price of brinjals she throws up her arms and exclaims, 
"aiyO!". When my little daughter closes her eyes and bravely takes her 
small-pox shot in the arm I see her softly but reflexively whimper in 
pain, "aiyO". When we go to condole someone on the death of a dear one 
we hear him lament, "aiyO! I have been widowed! How shall I bear this 
desolation?! aiyO, aiyO!""! When my son brings home a filthy puppy 
picked off the streets and tries in vain to persuade me that we should 
adopt it as our pet, he pleads with me, "aiyO pAvam" this puppy, he has 
no one to look after him! Why can't he stay with us, please appa?!".

Expressions of genuine human pain, of disappointment and disbelief, of 
sorrow and pity… all those profound emotions are indeed so universally 
and spontaneously acknowledged through uttering "aiyO!", I find it 
extremely strange that SriVaishnava orthodoxy should regard the term as 
repugnant and unfit for use in everyday parlance.

*****    *****    ****

It is only very recently I came to learn the real reason why "aiyO" is a 
particularly unfortunate or "inauspicious" expression :

"aiyO", I understand, is actually the name of the spouse of Yama, the 
Lord of Death in the Vedic pantheon of gods!  I am not sure of the 
source of authenticity… or the "pramANam"… of this mythological nugget 
but it is indeed such a revelatory piece of news to me that everything 
hitherto mystifyingly taboo about "aiyO" has at last now become clear to 

I now know that if  "Mrs.Aiyo Yama" is who they say she really is, then, 
she is verily 'Our Lady of Death'! If Yama is the god who brings Death 
then "aiyO", his Consort, must surely be the goddess who brings all with 
her all of Death's kinsmen … pain, grief and affliction.

Thus, whenever we involuntarily invocate "aiyO! aiyO!", if for no 
purpose other than to momentarily vent feelings of pain, we may actually 
be deemed to be also putting out, albeit unwittingly, a standing 
invitation to Death itself ! For if "aiyO" is near can her spouse Yama 
be very far ? 

It's now very clear to me why my mother forbade me in boyhood to cry out 
"aiyO, aiyO!"!

*****           *****            *****

Given the rather dark and unsavory connotations the term "aiyO" has come 
to be rightly or wrongly invested with, I've never ceased to be 
fascinated at "tiruppAnn-AzhwAr's" choice of the term in his  
incomparable hymn, the 10 "pasuram-s" beginning with the celebrated 

In the 7th verse the AzhwAr ends with the expression "aiyO" as follows:

 "kayinAr-surisanganalAzhiyar, neelavarai-pOl-meyyanAr-
thulava-biraiyAr kamazh-neelmudi~yemm~aiyyanAr,
aNi-aranganAr aravin-annai~missai~meyyam~AyanAr
seyya-vAyya-aiyO ! ennai sindhaikavarn~thathu~vE!"

Again, in the exquisitely worded Verse 9 the AzhwAr uses "aiyO!":

"Ala-mA-maruthun~illai-mEl oru bAlagan-Ay
gnyalum-ezhum-unddAn aranga~tharavinn~annaiyAn 
kolamA-mani-Ara~mmUm mutthu-thAma~mUm
mudivilla-thOr-ezhil, neela-mEni aiyO!
neerai-kondatthu en-nenjinayE ! 

In the first of the above 2 verses the AzhwAr witnesses the "bewitching 
smile" ("seyya-vAyya") of his beloved Rangan… is overwhelmed by it …. 
and exclaims "aiyO!".

In the second verse the AzhwAr goes into raptures over Ranga's  
"neela-mEni" … the azure hue of the Lord's person… and cries out 
"aiyO!". Here we must imagine it is the ethereal substance of the Lord's 
corporeality … the "apra-krita-divya-mangala tirumEni" of the Supreme 
One … it is the sheer beauty of His "body" and His "demeanour" which 
simply bowls the AzhwAr over.   

Both these verses, we must remember, are the outpourings of a soul in 
the throes of a heightened mystical consciousness.  They are not 
idolatrous raving.

The question I therefore ask myself sometimes when I reflect on the 
sublime verses of the "amalanAdipirAn" is this :

Does an element of "pain" inherently reside in the consciousness of the 
Supreme One, Sriman-NArAyaNan? Is "pain" a natural concomitant of 
superior consciousness? 

You may wish to qualify it, if you like, as "pleasureable pain" or 
"painful pleasure"… but "pain" it is certainly is, isn't it? Otherwise 
why should the Azhwar have cried out "aiyO! aiyO!" ???

Any comments and views on this matter ?

adiyEn dAsAnu-dAsan,

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