Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sri Andal Nachiyar

Andal is one of the most extraordinary personalities in religious history. She is known in her native tongue of Tamil as an Alwar, one who is "immersed" in the depths of enjoyment of God, the omnipresent mysterious One. Tradition reckons 12 Alwars, of which Andal is the only female. Between the fifth and ninth centuries, in the Tamil-speaking region of South India, these saints revitalized the Indian religious milieu, sparking a renewal of devotional worship throughout the subcontinent. Traveling from place to place, from temple to temple, from holy site to holy site, they composed exceedingly beautiful poetry to their Divine Beloved, Vishnu, as an expression of their love for Him. Anyone can see why their poetry was so attractive; at once both impassioned and philosophical, their words cut across all barriers of caste and class, attracting all to their faith. In doing so, they sculpted a new religious heritage of intensely emotional bhakti, or love of the Divine, whose impact is still felt today in the Indian religious life. Andal, whose life and poetry are celebrated every December-January, is the most visible contributor to this heritage.

Life of Andal

The life of Andal is remarkable in its romantic simplicity. A devout brahmin named Vishnucitta lived in Villiputtur, a town near Madurai. His daily duties included procuring

flowers for the worship of the Lord at the local temple. One morning, as he went about his business, he discovered a baby girl lying under a tulasi plant in his flower garden. Having no family of his own, Vishnucitta felt it was God's grace that gave him this child and named her Godai, or "gift of Mother Earth." Filled with joy, he took her home and raised her as his own.
"arcA’ or vigraham or pratimA, for the Sri Vaishnava, is the sentimentally satisfying and self-sufficient proof, and manifestation of the Deity; this is the case in every one of our 108 ‘divya-dESam’. The Lord beckons to each of us and admits us to His epiphany in a ‘divya-dESam’ of his choice; the entireity of ‘aruLic-cheyal’/’divya-prabandham’ is but a luminiscent record and testament of each Alvar’s experiences during such ecstatic visitations. Just to gaze (‘sadA paSyanti) at Andal at Srivilliputtur is indeed such transport; one verily is reminded of Periyalvar’s remembrance (8:1) of Andal:

oru-makaL tannai-yuDaiyEn, ulakam niRAinda pukazhAl tirumakaL pOl vaLarttEn, SenkaN-mAl tAn konDu pOnAn!

Periyalvar is consistent in the memory of his precious child Andal. His initial book Tiruppallandu declares that he had ‘no want’, being in the service of the Lord:

ennAL, emperumAn! un-tanakku aDiyom enRu ezhuttuppaTT annALE aDiyOngaL aDik-kudil vIDu-petru uindadu kAN!

Andal having attained mystic union with ‘periya-perumAL’ in SrIrangam, Periyalvar returned all by himself; nevertheless, he exclaims (in his final decad) in fulfilment, “Who in this world but me can be so blessed as my being yours?”:

“ninnuLEnAip-peRRa nanmai ivvulakinil Ar peRuvAr?”

Godai grew up in an atmosphere of love and devotion. Vishnucitta doted on her in every respect, singing songs to her about his Beloved Krishna, teaching her all the stories and philosophy he knew, and sharing with her his love of Tamil poetry. The love Vishnucitta had for his Beloved Lord intensified further in his daughter, and before long she was passionately in love with Lord Krishna. Even as a child, Godai made up her mind to marry none but the Lord of Brindavana, and refused to think of any human being in similar terms.

She imagined what it would be like to be His bride, playing the role of His beloved, enjoying His presence. Unknown to her father, she adorned herself daily with the flower garland he prepared for the Lord at the temple. After admiring her reflection and thinking of herself as His ideal bride, she would put the garland back for her father to take to the temple and offer to the Lord.

One day, Vishnucitta noticed a strand of Godai's hair on one of the garlands. Shocked and saddened by this desecration of what was meant only for the Lord, he scolded Godai for her misuse of the garland and discarded it. He carefully prepared a new one and offered it to the Lord, begging His pardon all the while.

That night, the Lord appeared to Vishnucitta in his dream and asked him why he discarded Godai's garland instead of offering it to Him. He told Vishnucitta that He missed the scent of Godai's body in the flowers, and that He preferred them that way. Would he please continue to give the garlands once worn by Godai? Overcome with emotion, Vishnucitta awoke and cried tears of both joy and remorse. It dawned on him that his daughter was someone whose love of God was so intense and pure that even he had not comprehended its extent. Her spiritual greatness was such that the Lord Himself wished to share her presence. From this day on, she became known as "Andal", the girl who "ruled" over the Lord.

Andal blossomed into a beautiful young woman as she came of marriageable age. When asked to marry, however, she stubbornly refused, saying that she would only agree to marry Sri Ranganatha, the Lord at the great temple town of Srirangam. Vishnucitta despaired, wondering what was to become of his daughter. One night, Lord Ranganatha appeared in his dream and asked that Andal be sent to Him in all her wedding finery. Simultaneously, the Lord appeared before the priests at Srirangam and asked them to prepare for the coming of Andal. Vishnucitta once again was filled with both joy and sadness; joy that his beloved daughter would attain her goal, but sadness at losing her at the same time. He made all the wedding preparations and arranged for Andal's journey in a palanquin to Srirangam.

Andal waited with excited anticipation as the wedding party approached Lord Ranganatha's shrine. As they entered the temple, she jumped out of the palanquin, unable to restrain herself any longer. Running into the temple sanctum, she embraced Lord Ranganatha and disappeared in a blaze of glory, having joined her Lord. She was only fifteen at the time.

Andal is now one of the best loved poet-saints of the Tamils. Pious tradition reckons her to be the veritable descent of Bhumi Devi (Mother Earth) in bodily form to show humanity the way to His lotus feet. She is present in all Sri Vaishnava temples, in India and elsewhere, next to her Lord, as she always desired.


The hagiography of Andal as presented above is undoubtedly historically true in most important respects. Today, the tulasi garden in which she was found is preserved in Srivilliputtur. Vishnucitta's house, adjacent to Lord Vishnu's temple, has been converted into a temple in honor of Andal and contains the well in which she admired her reflection while wearing the Lord's garlands.

Most of all, however, Andal is remembered for her poetry, in which she often strikes autobiographical notes about her love for her Lord. She describes herself as a young girl, still not fully mature, pining away for Him. She beseeches her friends, the god of love, and even animals for help in her quest to attain Him. Finally, she describes her good fortune of being the daughter of Vishnucitta, the best of the devout, who lives in Srivilliputtur and adores the Lord.
Andal's Poetry

Andal composed two works in her short life. Both are in Tamil and are unique in their literary, philosophical, religious, and artistic content. Her contribution is even more remarkable considering that she was a teenage girl when she composed these poems, at a time when there is no other record of Tamil women composing poetry [2]. Far from being the prattlings of a youngster, Andal's verses display a literary and religious maturity far beyond her years.

Her first work is the Tiruppavai, a poem of thirty verses in which Andal imagines herself to be a cowherd girl during the incarnation of Lord Krishna. She yearns to serve Him and achieve happiness not just in this birth, but for all eternity, and describes the religious vow (pavai) that she and her fellow cowgirls will take for this purpose.

The second is the Nacciyar Tirumoli, a poem of 143 verses. Tirumoli, literally meaning "sacred sayings", is a Tamil poetic style in which the work is composed. "Nacciyar" means goddess, so the title means "sacred sayings of our Goddess." This poem fully reveals Andal's intense longing for Vishnu, the Divine Beloved. Utilizing classical Tamil poetic conventions and intermixing stories from the Sanskrit Vedas and Puranas, Andal creates imagery that is quite possibly unparalleled in the whole gamut of Indian religious literature.

The impact of these works on the daily religious life of the South Indian has been tremendous. Just like the Ramayana, people are never tired of listening to the Tiruppavai. The poem itself is recited with great religious fervor by women, men, and children of all ages, particularly in Tamil Nadu. The daily services in most Vaishnava temples and households include its recitation.

Both of these works, particularly the Tiruppavai, have been commented on extensively by innumerable scholars in a number of languages over the centuries. Today, we are fortunate to have many translations of the Tiruppavai in Western languages which make these poems available to an even wider audience.

During the month of Margali (December-January), discourses on the Tiruppavai in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and English take place all over India.

kōdai and gōdâ

‘kOdai’ was the first name Periyalvar gave to Andal. This Tamil word stands for ‘a string of flowers’. In the golden quadrangle of Tirukkurungudi, Vanamamalai, Alvar Tirunagari and Srivilliputtur, girl-children were commonly named ‘mAlA-nAcciyAr’. When the Tamil name was Sanskritised as ‘gOdA’, it yielded a rainbow of meanings. In Sanskrit, the root ‘gAuh’ means, inter alia, the ‘vEdam’; hence, ‘gOdA’ signifies one who gives of the ‘vEdam’.

Andal Book is scripture

“vēdam anaittukkuṁ vittâkuṁ kōdai tamiḻ” is how Sri Vedappiran Bhattar affirmed Tiruppâvai’s scriptural status. As Sri Parasara Bhattar perceives it, Andal in her Book seems to instruct Isvara Himself on his majesty, on the several proofs of the Sruti, in his being One without a second: “kṛshṇaṁ pârârthyaṁ svaṁ śruti-śata-śiras-siddham adhyâpayantî”. This was no parochial or denominational boast.

It was given to Sri Kanchi (prativAdi-bhayankaram aNNA) Svami of blessed memory, to identify the several Vedic sources of not only Tiruppâvai but of Nacciyar Tirumozhi as well. In the best of poets’ traditions in all climes and languages, the Andal Book registers many an echo of revelations in the smRti as well. The well- known line “acalâṁ śriyam âpnōti” (in the ‘sahasranAma phalaSruti’) reads as “nîngâda celvaṁ niṛaindu” (in the ‘ōngi ulakaḷanda…’ Tiruppâvai).

सखेति मत्वा प्रसभं यद-उक्तम् …
अजानता महिमानं तवेदम् … तत् क्षामये…

(from Srimad Bhagavad Gita 11:41–42) reads as

அறியாத பிள்ளைகளோம், அன்பினால் உந்தன்னை
சிறு-பேர் அழைத்தனவும் சீறி அருளாதே, இறைவா!

in the kaṛavaikaḷ Tiruppâvai.

The dear and auspicious ‘rukmiNI-pariNayam’ chapter of Srimad Bhagavatam contains Rukmini Devi’s heart-rending appeal to Sri Krishna to rescue her from being forced in marriage to Sisupala. She urges that a lowly character like Sisupala be not allowed to appropriate the offering (that is, herself) already dedicated to Sri Krishna.

मा वीरभागम् अभिमर्शतु छैद्य आराद्
गोमायुवन-मृगपते: बलिम् अम्बुजाक्ष!

These charged lines, we know, translate into Nacciyar Tirumozhi (1:5) as

vAniDai vAzhum avvAnavarkku maRaiyavar vELviyil vakutta avi kAnidait-tirivadOr nari pukundu kaDappadum mOppadum Seivadoppa…

One could stray outside of Sri Vaishnavam and discover in the Bible books of Solomon’s Song and the Psalms several parallelisms (of lyrical expression, sentiment, episodic situation and even doctrine) with texts from Nacciyar Book, and from the entire run of aruLiccheyal. Thus, the following texts read like translations of each other:

• “the smell of thy garments…” (SSong 4:11)

• “peNNin varuttam aRiyAda perumAn araiyil pItaka- vaNNa-vADai…” (Nacciyar 13:1);

• “his lips like lilies, dropping sweet-smelling myrrh” (SSong 5:13)

• “karuppUram nARumO, kamalap-pU nARumO? tirup-pavaLac-chevvAi tAn..” (Nacciyar 7:1)

The ‘aruLiccheyal’ occasionally brings up to an episode or two which are not traceable in the popular Sanskrit canon. I for one could not guess the source of “Amai-yAi gangai-yAi” of Periyalvar (4:9:5) till I came across a ‘rasOkti’ essay of Sri Kanchi Svami tracing it to Harivamsam. Likewise Andal speaks of a fine point of ritual procedure in,

“muLLum illAc-chuLLi eri maDuttu muyanRu unnai nORkinREn kAmadEvA!” (Nacciyar 1:2).

I discovered (and I regarded the discovery as a blessing of Andal) from the relatively less-known ‘vishNu-dharmOttara- purANam’ that the pippala (ficus indicus?) samit (twigs offered in hOmam/oblation) with spiky notches were prescribed for ‘black’ rites (abhisArika yajna) provided for in the (AitarEya?) brAhmaNa; accordingly, in organising the rite for winning over tiruvEnkatam-uDaiyAn, this young prodigy takes care to select for her sAttvika-hOmam the notch-free twigs. These are only a few illustrations of Andal Book as scripture.

Andal in Srirangam

It is important to note that as many as three shrines are dedicated to Andal in Srirangam. It is well-known that to-day’s chitra (originally, mADa) vIthi constitutes the seventh and last of the dedicated enclosures (tiru-vIdi / prAkAram) of periya- perumAL. There is an eighth enclosure, known as ‘aDAiya- vaLAindAn’ (meaning, ‘all-embracing’). [Even though this eighth enclosure is the ‘outer’ one, its name served as a metaphor for a gloss ~ aDAiya-vaLAindAn arum-pada-urai ~ on Tiruvaymozhi, written after the IDu.] At the time when Periyalvar escorted Andal on pilgrimage to Srirangam, the present-day uttara (trivikraman) and chitra (mADa) vIdi were tenanted by only the temple functionaries; accordingly, the Alvar (and, of course, Andal) put up in the south-western part of ‘aDaiya-vaLaindAn’, so as to be within easy reach of the streamlet ‘tirumanjana- kAvEri’. On this site came up the first Andal sannidhi in Srirangam. Here Andal is represented in the ‘seated’ posture and is worshipped only in the ‘mUla’ form; since the sannidhi is on the ‘veLit-tirumuRRam’ [outer yard] of the periya-kOyil, it is referred to as the ‘veLi ANDal sannidhi’, and it could be almost as ancient as the Srivilliputtur ANDAL sannidhi. This sannidhi is administered by SrI kOyil kandADai aNNan tirumALigai.

The second Andal shrine (commonly referred to as the ‘uL ANDAL’) is approached from the ‘ranga-vilAsam’; the ‘utsava mUrti’, also in the seated posture, was moved here from the veLi ANDAL sannidhi. Sri Rama is also worshipped in this sannidhi, and one can notice a replica of Udaiyavar’s ‘tAn-Ana tirumEni’ in a sub-shrine here. It is on this spot that the enchanting episode of “vAraNam Ayiram” is recalled, after namperumAL dismisses the Anai-vAhanam (elephant mount) and pauses to exchange garlands with Andal.

A few steps to the east of chandra-pushkariNI, and across SrI-kOdanDa-rAman sannidhi, is the parama-pada-nAthan sannidhi where all the Alvars are in ‘sAlOkyam’ with perumAL. In this sannidhi, Andal (in standing posture as in Srivilliputtur) is worshipped in a sub-shrine. In simhAchalam (near viSAkhapatnam), uDaiyavar had raised a shrine for Andal (in the same stance) near the SrI varAha-nRsimha sannidhi, to recall the “mAri-malai muzhanchil mannik-kitandu uRangum SIriya Singam…” Tiruppâvai.

Andal’s shrine in Srivilliputtur

We cannot but marvel at the manner in which Andal shrine dominates that of SrI-vaDa-perum-kOyil-uDaiyAn (‘vaTa-patra- SAyI) in Srivilliputtur; just the same with Nammalvar shrine and that of Adip-pirAn in Alvar Tirunagari, of Udaiyavar and of Sri Adi Kesava Perumal in Sriperumbudur.

The vaTa-patra-SAyI ‘gOpuram’ at Srivilliputtur acquired a distinction of recent history when it was adopted as the emblem of the government of Tamil Nadu; the sacred temple’s lofty gOpuram is presently in near-ruin condition nevertheless. Not much is being spoken of the huge and surpassingly beautiful terra-cotta images of lakshmI-nArAyaNa and SrI-nRsimha cresting this gOpuram. The fine-carved wooden images in the courtyard (tirumuRRam) of vaTa-patra-SAyI, like the breathtaking stone friezes on the interior of Tirukkurungudi gOpuram, deserve notice.

We should learn to contemplate a divya-dESam in its entirety. When great souls like Udaiyavar visited any of these, they absorbed everything that was to a place: the streams, the mountain-stretch, the orchards and arbours, the approaches and streets around the temple, et al. In Srivilliputtur, there is a whole street (to the north of the temple) named after the ‘kandADaiyAr’ clan which yielded jewels of AchArya like SrI mudali-ANDAn (uDaiyavar’s nephew), SrI kOyil aNNan, tirumaNi appan svAmi, sholingur (SOzha-singha-puram) doDDAchar who wrote the well-known ‘chanDa-mArutam’ commentary on Svāmi Dēsikan’s ‘SatadUshaNI’.

Srivilliputtur happens to be among the places where Sri Nathamuni’s institution of aRAiyar / viNNappam-seyvAr (reciters of ‘aruLiccheyal’) has survived. Other places are Srirangam, Alvar Tirunagari, Tirukkurungudi and Melkote/Tirunarayanapuram. It is blessed soil, this place named after the wild bowmen tribe of ‘villi’; mutter to yourself the verse of Vedappiran Bhattar if you sought to know how rich it is in vibrations:

kOdai piranda Ur, gOvindan vAzhum Ur, SOdi maNi-mADam tOnRum Ur — nItiyAl nalla pattar vAzhum Ur, nAn-maRaigaL Odum Ur, villiputtUr vEdak-kOn Ur !

While in Srivilliputtur, wait for the bewitching moment when aRAiyar recites Svami Desikan’s hymn-consummate ‘gOdA-stuti’:


साक्षात् क्षमां करुणया कमलाम-इवान्याम्
गोदाम् अनन्य-शरणः शरणं प्रपद्ये

The asterism tiru-âḍi-pūram (which falls in July-August) marks a fragrant day in our calendar, as the tiru-nakshatram of Andal. This blessed day is highlighted by Sri Manavala Mamunigal in the Upadesa Ratnamalai stanza

பெரியாழ்வார் பெண்பிள்ளையாய் ஆண்டாள் பிரந்த
திருவாடிப்-பூரத்தின் சீர்மை, ஒரு நாளைக்கு
உண்டொ? மனமே உணர்ந்து பார், ஆண்டாளுக்கு
உண்டாகில் ஒப்பு இதற்கும் உண்டு

On this day, the rathōtsavam/tiruttēr (car) festival is celebrated in Srivilliputtur, when Andal in her bridal finery and her winsome consort Sri Rangamannar mount the imposing ratham (the loftiest in the country), to course through their domain. This is verily a heavenly celebration of the profoundest of mystical and literary traditions of the country.
Andal is venerated as divinity per se. The great hagiographer Pinbaḻagiya Perumâḷ Jiyar affirms this by citing the sloka

देवस्य महिषीं दिव्याम् आदौ गोदाम् उपास्महे ।
यन् मौलिमालिकां प्रीत्या स्वीकरोति स्वयं प्रभुः ॥

It is said that for the mental peace of a disciple who confessed to restlessness, Sri Paraśara Bhaṭṭar composed two slokas: the first one, “bhūtaṁ sarashcha mahadâhvaya…” naming the ten divya sūri (Alvars) and Sri Udaiyavar [Ramanuja], and the second one, “nîḷâ-tunga- stana-giri-taṭî-suptam…” exclusively devoted to the ‘daivatam’ (Andal). These two slokas constitute important ‘taniyan’ to ‘aruLic-cheyal anusandhAnam’ (recitation of ‘divya-prabandham’).

ஆழ்வார் எம்பெருமானார் ஆண்டாள் நாச்சியார் திருவடிகளே சரணம்....!!!

1 comment: