Avvai refers to a wise old woman. But who was Avvaiyar? Was it one person or many? Contrary to general belief, Avvaiyar is not just one person.
There have been at least three Avvaiyars at various periods of Tamil history. The earliest Avvaiyar is believed to have lived in the Sangam. The second Avvaiyar lived in the 12th Century and was a contemporary of Kambar. The third Avvaiyar is the most widely known for her 'Vinayagar Agaval' and other works.
According to legend, Vinayaka bestowed young Avvai with the looks of an old woman, as she did not want to be entangled in marriage.
Thiaman Neduman Anji, the ruler of Thagadoor (Dharmapuri) was particularly fond of Avvaiyar. Once, he got a rare gooseberry that when consumed would give the eater a long life. Instead of eating it himself, he offered the fruit to Avvaiyar because he felt she would be of greater use to society. People attribute this to Avvaiyar’s presence across the centuries.