Karaikkal Ammaiyar, a woman from the merchant, or vaishya, community, lived in the town of Karaikkal sometime in the sixth century. She is one of the sixty-three saints of Shiva from Tamil Nadu. When young and beautiful Punitavati beseeched Shiva to divest her of the burden of her flesh and asked only that she watch him dance into eternity, a miracle occurred. In place of the young woman there stood an emaciated hag, known henceforth as Mother of Karaikkal, or Karaikkal Ammaiyar.

Karraikal Ammaiyar wrote poetry in praise of Shiva. Perhaps her description of herself as the "ghoul of Karaikkal" in the final signature verse of some of her poems was partly responsible for the often fearsome imagery resorted to by the artists. This image portrays her not as a fearsome figure but as a once-beautiful woman who has lost her flesh. Her calm, smiling face expresses her inner peace while she blissfully plays her cymbals and sings to the glory of Shiva.

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Seated Saint Karaikkal Ammaiyar

Seated Saint Karaikkal Ammaiyar
India, state of Tamil Nadu, Chola period, 12th century. Bronze. Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Edward J. Gallagher, Jr. Bequest in memory of his father, Edward Joseph Gallagher, his mother, Ann Hay Gallagher, and his son, Edward Joseph Gallagher III, 1982