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Andal – women’s mystical Poet from South India.

A brief biography of Andal and the significance of Andal’s Thiruppavai

Thiruppavai is a delightful flower- a garland of thirty Pasurams (thirty chapters) created by Godadevi who is referred to as Andal a pious reverence of Vatapatrasayi of Srivilliputtur temple which is located in Tamil Nadu. Andal is said to be found in a garden who was generally called as an adopted daughter of Vishnuchitta, also well-known as Bhattanatha and distinguished as Peri – Alwar of Dravidian Vaishnava sect.  “Andal” is the title conferred by the Peri – Alwar signifies as “our reigning force.”  Pasurams (the hymns) are chanted by Andal who visualized herself as a Nandavraja milkmaid.  Gopikas in Repalle with Andal at the forefront to carry on from door to door at the sunrise singing the hymns to wake up other gopikas asleep to go to Nanda’s mansion to carry out services to Lord Krishna. Thereupon it has developed into a popular ritual to perform the Pasurams (the hymns) in Margasira month as ‘Dhanurmasa-Snana-Vrata-Sankirtan’ just preceding Pongal (Sankranti) festival.

Andal’s THIRUPPAVAI is a special poetical work that interlinks ecstatic devotional fervor with the pleasant lyrics in a fine blend. Andal transcreates the anguish and longing of a lovelorn Gopika in a dream-like vision and gets captivated by the music played on the moon lightened banks of the Yamuna. Dhanurmasa Vrata also known as Margasira Snana Vrata is a holy ritual observed by Sri Vaishnavites from the hoary past. “It is incumbent on the participants to recite the Tiruppavai consisting of thirty Pasurams or hymns, every day and understand and implement in practice the spiritual truths gathered therein. Andal, whose intense devotion found spontaneous expression in this garland of hymns, has enshrined in them a way of spiritual discipline which leads the aspirants to their highest end”. 

Though a Brahmin, Vishnuchitta was not trained in the disciplines of Vedic lore; yet he was engrossed fully in devoted services to the Deity, such as offering flower – garlands at the time of worship.  While Vishnuchitta was engrossed in loosening the earth in the Tulasi garden, he found a female child among the plants, in the same way as Janaka found Sita while plowing the earth for his sacrificial rite (Yajna).  As Vishnuchitta has no children, he brought up this little child with great fondness and love, naming her “Kodai” (flower – garland).  And here Kodai and Godadevi referred to as other names of Andal. In the same way, as Tulasi has its natural fragrance, Kodai has spread from her birth the knowledge, devotion, and renunciation,  and displayed an enthusiastic interest in things divine. As Kodai grew up into adolescence, she passionately desired the hand of Lord Krishna in marriage. Having heard from elders that, in the past, gopikas performed Katyayani Vrata to realize a similar ambition, Kodai undertook to go through the same discipline, which consisted of the daily ritual of taking an early morning bath throughout the month of Margasirsa. 

The transmission of Andal into a spiritual discipline

Andal transmitted this spiritual discipline to succeeding generations in the form of a sacred book of songs called Tiruppavai. Between the worldlings who identify the body with the true self and the seers (Rsis) who attain to self – realization by the practice of a course of spiritual discipline (Yoga), there is as much difference as there is between an atom and a mountain.  The same difference separates the seers from the great saints (maha bhaktas) who, without any effort on their part and by the pure grace of God, get completely engrossed in God – Consciousness. Among the great devotees, Vishnuchitta or Peri – Alwar occupies the pre-eminent place.  The Supreme Being showered grace on this devotee and made Vishnuchitta establish in the Court of Vallabhadeva, the Pandyan King, that Sriman Narayana was the  Supreme and the Absolute. Then the treasure, demarcated as a prize and intended for the establisher of truth in this religion controversy, fell, of its own accord, at his feet. 

The  King and the assembly felt delighted and honored the victor by taking him on an elephant – ride in a  procession.  Sriman Narayana accompanied by consorts, Lakshmi and Bhudevi,  came down to the earth,  riding on  Garuda,  to witness this grand reception.  When Peri – Alwar saw this vision,  he was overpowered by his love for the Lord;  and apprehending evil – eye  (drsti dosa)  and to avert it,  he recited the  Pallandu – Mangalam,  a  hymn invoking  ‘safety’  for the Lord,  Pallandu Mangalam precedes the recitation of any of the scriptures in  Tamil as invariably as  Pranava preceded the recitation of  Vedas.  Hence it is that Vishnuchitta is supposed to be the  ‘Peri – Alwar’,  the foremost among all the great saints  (Bhaktas or Alwars).

The nature and greatness of Andal

Andal is superior to  Peri – Alwar.  The Alwars were those who were immersed in sleep  (andai mayaya suptah)  and were bereaved of all knowledge of Self under the influence of  Beginningless  Illusion  (Maya),  until the Lord  Himself,  of  His own accord,  humiliated to rouse them from their inactivity and to reveal  Himself to them.  Then only could they see  God?  The greatness of Andal,  on the other hand,  lies in that Andal has herself to the Lord.  Hence it is that Andal is given the pride of place among the Alwars as an example, after whom people may mold their lives.  In the same way, as  Lakshmana loved  Sri Rama from his childhood, Andal loved Bhagavan Sri Krishna from her childhood and immersed in contemplating Bhagavan Sri Krishna qualities.  The other  Alwars were men in physical form;  they acquired femininity in their minds by intense imagination;  then they took the  Supreme Being  (Parama Purusha)  to be their Lord and fell deeply in love with the Lord Sriman Narayana. 

Andal who was by inherent nature feminine, both in an outward and inward mold and who had been absorbed from her childhood in Lord Krishna and attributes,  could easily reach the climax  (Parakasta)  in her love for Lord Krishna.  Under the appearance of a  ritual of daily – bath in the month of  Margasirsa,  she reached  Bhagavan Sri Krishna and prayed to him thus: “This self of me belongs in every way to you;  it is yours.  Let it not come to grief by losing sight of its meaning and purpose.  Grant it the privilege of rendering such services to you as are consistent with its nature.  Pray, bestow  that  this  soul  devotes  itself  to  your  service  as  long  as  it  exists.”  This is the essence of this rite.  Inculcated with a love of  God from childhood, Andal has chosen Lord Krishna as her lover and wished to marry Lord Krishna.  With this intense desire, Andal selected Vatapatrasayi, the presiding deity of  Srivilliputtur,  for her lord. 

Andal’s desire towards the Lord Krishna

Failing to secure this consummation, she became dejected and began making inquiries whether there were people who aspired for and obtained Lord Krishna and enjoyed Him as their  Lover. Andal learned that the milkmaids of  Nandavraja had entertained such a  wish,  and in fulfillment of it enjoyed Lord Krishna as their Lover.  But this was in a different epoch altogether.  The thought that in the present time it was not possible to attain  Sri Krishna made her unhappy.  Let this thought alone!  Were it possible even to see the region of  Yamuna or  Brindavan where Lord Krishna wandered about,  or the  Govardhanagiri which he raised aloft on his little finger, Andal would touch them and try to keep alive! Andal lacked the strength of  Sita who could realize her wish by having a  bow for a  wager.  Nor could Andal,  like  Niladevi,  prescribe that only he who could control and yoke the seven refractory bulls could lay claim to her. 

Andal with Ranganatha Swamy
Andal with Sri Ranganatha Swamy. (Andal with her consorts), Krishna Mandhiram Temple, Khammam, Telangana

Her only absorbing thought was how to get Lord Krishna;  in case of failing to do so,  how to keep alive.  An anecdote of the gopis experience came to Andal’s mind in a  flash. Andal heard from the elders that,  on one occasion,  while the gopis were led into an ecstatic trance in their dalliance with the  Divine  (Rasa – Krida),  Lord Krishna desired to bring down the happiness to the range of their experience by eliminating the excess – emotion.  So he disappeared from the scene.  Not finding Lord Krishna in their midst,  the gopis wept with agony and tried to keep alive by imitating the sporting tricks (leelas)  of  Sri Krishna. On recalling this to mind,  Andal felt that she too could do likewise.  So Andal decided that by adopting the rite performed by the gopikas to secure Lord Krishna’s union,  she could in the intensity of her imagination realize the same happiness. 

Andal’s imagination of Srivilliputtur as Nandavraja

Andal has imagined  Srivilliputtur to be  Nandavraja  (Nanda’s village), and her companions to be gopikas,  and the temple of  Vatapatrasayi to be  Nanda’s mansion, and Vatapatrasayi to be  Lord Krishna. Andal is now in  Nanda’s village;  and she is no longer  Andal but a  gopika.  In the intensity of her imagination, Andal became identified with a  gopika,  acquiring in the process the gait,  the mode of dress,  the hairstyle,  the accent, and even the peculiar smell associated with the milkmaids. Andal could secure  Lord Krishna as her spouse by performing this rite in the manner indicated above. Lord Sri Ranganatha is no other than  Lord Krishna,  manifesting  Himself in  Srirangam;  and  Andal reached fulfillment in eternal union with Lord Sri Ranganatha.  Let us proceed to  Nandavraja,  Nanda’s village.  Desiring to do the favor to jivas  (individual selves),  the  Supreme Lord has endowed them with bodies enriched with all the sense – faculties;  created this universe for their delight;  given them  Vedas and  Sastras which show them the way to salvation;  in fact,  kept ready for their use all the instruments that enable them to reach the Lord. 

Despite all these favors,  the jivas decline to tread the straight path and straying into devious ways get immersed in the stream of sense – pleasures, and come to grief.  Unable to endure their sad plight and wishing to elevate them,  the Lord has assumed their human form and manifested  Himself amidst them.  Wishing to bring them under  His spell by  His beauty and character and miraculous acts and carry them with  Him,  the Lord has made His descent into  Nandavraja as  Lord Sri Krishna. Nandavraja is a rural complex with five lakh families.  The gopikas of the place has developed as an inescapable and lasting attachment to  Lord Krishna from their childhood.  They have even felt that without him they have no existence at all.  At all times and in all states,  they have found life worth living only if they have the company of  Lord Krishna.

Lord Krishna and the Gopikas

As time moved along thus,  they grew into adolescence;  and with them,  Krishna too!  The elders decided that as  Lord Krishna was a mischief–monger (dhurta)  the young girls should not be allowed to come within his sight. So they confined them in the interior parts of the houses. But in a  few days,  to the good fortune alike of  Lord Krishna and the gopikas,  the village was caught up in drought;  and both the villagers and the cattle famished for food.  Cattle were the wealth of the villagers;  rains were essential for their fodder.  The elders thought about how best they could remedy the situation.  Some of them,  who were conversant with tradition,  suggested that a  particular rite,  to be performed only by gopikas,  could bring them relief.  But the only one skilled in conducting this rite of fruition was Lord Krishna,  the son of  Nandagopa. 

It became inevitable for those elders,  who decided to keep the young girls out of  Lord Krishna’s sight,  to fetch them and entrust them to his care and request him to see that they perform the prescribed rite properly and bring about rain. But Lord Krishna stiffened with his innate mischievousness and declined the task as beyond his capacity. As they pressed him on with appeals, he gradually yielded and finally undertook it as an inescapable necessity. The elders departed,  leaving the girls to  Lord Krishna’s care.  That night  Lord Krishna remained with all the gopikas to the banks of the  Yamuna and enjoyed,  as on the night of  Rasakrida,  complete at – one – moment with them in transcendental consciousness  (Mahabhava Samadhi).  Bringing them out of this exalted experience,  Lord Krishna sent them to their respective homes after exhorting them to assemble for the rite before dawn and he left to rest at  Niladevi’s mansion. 

Some of the gopikas went on meditating upon their experience with  Lord Krishna and could not regain consciousness of their surroundings. While things stood thus,  Andal who got up first gathered some gopikas and,  rousing others who were still asleep proceeded to the mansion of  Nandagopa where  Krishna was resting.  This rite extended over a  month.  And with a  hymn for every day,  Tiruppavai contains thirty songs. Rousing ten gopikas and reaching  Nandagopa’s mansion,  they managed to awaken  Nandagopa, Yasoda,  Balarama,  Niladevi, and finally  Lord Sri Krishna.  They then made their hearts wish known to  Him and secured the privilege of companionship with  Him if only to render service to  Him as long as their souls would last.  Let us examine the secret of  Nandavraja.  All the villagers are simple,  unsophisticated herdsmen. Lord Krishna,  who was born as a  child of  Devaki and  Vasudeva in  Mathura, came to the village to become the child of  Nanda and  Yasoda. 

Having become a  cowherd,  he acquired similarity with the others in the village,  without affecting difference in name or form or deeds.  God  Himself reached the village assuming a  different and easily – accessible form as  Krishna. This village is the world of samsara,  the world of non – self-bound by birth and death.  There are three different types of people in it;  some are ill-disposed to  Krishna;  some others are well–disposed towards him, and the rest are indifferent.  These attitudes are due to the influence of the three  Gunas  – Sattva,  Rajas, and  Tamas.  Sattva guna  (purity)  inclines them towards him;  Rajas  (pride)  sets them against him.  The village elders are proud and believe that they are independent;  and hence their tendency to oppose  Lord Krishna.  The damsel,  on the other hand, is pure by nature;  and they believe that they belong to  Lord Krishna and none else.  This sense of belonging,  not only tends them towards Lord Krishna but also makes them fully engrossed in him. 

God-consciousness

Though  God-consciousness is inlaid in every soul,  Primal Nature  (Prakriti)  throws it into oblivion and prevents  Sattvaguna from turning to  God.  This is why the gopa elders obstruct gopikas meeting  Krishna.  But when faced with a  crisis,  which is beyond their power to solve with their effort,  even the proud have no alternative but to turn to  God,  if only to gain their worldly ends.  When a drought threatens the destruction of their cattle – wealth,  the elders,  who have been,  till then,  opposed to the free movement of the young girls,  gladly surrender them to  Krishna’s care.  While the external objective is being gained and inwards experience grows,  the obstruction of pride gradually subsides.  The tendency to purity mingles with the  Divine and in course of time,  forgets itself in  God-consciousness to the delight even of the proud and settles down to a  state of eternal surrender.

Lord Krishna with Andal, Krishna Mandhiram Temple, Khammam, Telangana

The elders thought of this particular rite to obtain rain.  The gopikas to whom,  it was entrusted agreed to perform it;  Krishna directed and completed it;  the god of rain was pleased and fulfilled their prayer.  The gopa elders who were averse to their daughters ever coming within  Krishna’s sight,  were now beside themselves with joy.  They got what they wanted – rain.  The gopikas got what they wanted,  the refreshing showers of intimate contact with  God.  With this,  all the obstacles were removed to their everlasting union with  Lord Krishna. How exceptionally fortunate were they!  How inexhaustibly merciful is the  Supreme Self!  In this mundane world which appears so detestable even to us, in this physical body which we consider so repugnant,  without any distinguishing form or name to signify  His real nature,  He has chosen to identify   Himself with us and live in our midst as one of us. 

Enduring all impediments with patience,  He gradually brings under control all those who are either opposes or indifferent to  Him by developing their sattvic character and goes to their aid and enables them to attain  Him.  This is the  Margasira Vrata,  the  Ritual of  Bath in  Margasira month.  By performing it,  people can gain external ends,  such as material prosperity;  and inward benefits such as the experience of the  Divine.  Andal is the gopika who,  by performing this rite,  has gained union with  God.  Wishing that we too should attain that bliss,  she has given us this scripture of  Tirrupavai as a means for our salvation.  Tiruppavai means  ‘Sri Vratam’,  a  rite that bestows  (Aishwarya)  affluence – material and worldly happiness  (priyam)  as well as spiritual and otherworldly bliss  (sreyam) – in consecrated service to,  and eternal union with  God.

Tiruppavai Pasuram – 1

” Margalittingal  madrinirainda  nannalal ;

niradappoduvir !  podumino,  nerilaiyar !

Sirmalgumayppadi  ccelva  ccirumirgal !

kurvel – kodundililan  nandagopan  kumaran,

Erarnda  kanni  yasodai  yilancingam,

karmeni  ccengan  kadirmadiyampol  mugattan,

Narayanane  namakke  paraitaruvan,

paror  pugalappadindelo  rempavay.”

A brief explanation of Pasuram – 1

Finding that a suitable time has arrived for the performance of the solemn rite,  Andal and her companions  (imitating the gopikas)  sing the praises of the season at the outset.  Then they decide as to who are worthily qualified to perform the rite.  They muse over what they should obtain as the fruit of this ritual and of the instrument that can bring about the desired end. 

Summary of the Pasuram – 1

Now has arrived the month of Margasira.  The days are auspicious and the nights are filled with moonlight.  You, the beautiful young women, enjoying all the comforts of the prosperous village  Vrepalle and wearing strange and attractive ornaments!  Listen, all those who wish to participate in the morning bath,  join us, and move ahead.  Krishna is the son of  Nandagopa,  who in his solicitude for his son,  ever keeps alert,  with his sharp Velayudha always poised,  to punish severely those who intend harm to him. 

Krishna is the beloved lion – cub of  Yasoda who contemplates him with her large beaming eyes;  Krishna with his body shifting with the color of a  dark cloud,  with his eyes bright as a red lotus – petals,  with his divine face radiating the mingled beams of the bright sun and the mellow moon – this Krishna is no other than Sriman Narayana Himself.  He is ready to give, only to us (people who never seek anything from any but him)  what we badly need,  namely,  the instrument  “para”  which is required for the fulfillment of this ritual.  Therefore, join us in all your numbers in this ceremonial rite and make the world of onlookers happy. 

Commentary of Pasuram – 1

After enjoying the night with  Krishna,  the gopikas leave promising to meet again.  Some of them fall into a sound sleep. Some others are so absorbed in their late experience that it is difficult to determine whether they are awake or asleep. A  few could not sleep at all,  and they set out to awaken others.  The leader of this band, Andal feels happy that at last, the time has come to attain  Krishna.  So she begins to sing,  first of all,  the praise of time  (Kala)  which is beginningless and all-powerful.  Under its influence, they have so long suffered the pangs of separation from  God  (Bhagavan).  With the advent of  Margasira,  a  change has come over the attitude of their elders;  they have allowed their daughters to meet Lord Krishna freely and perform the ritual. The month is  Margasirsa;  that half of the month is the bright fortnight with the moon waxing in brightness, and the day the ritual begins is the most auspicious one.  The girls, therefore, rejoice in their good fortune.  The month of  Margasirsa is especially dear to  Vishnu.  In the  Gita, Sri Krishna declares that among the months he is himself  Margasirsa. (Masanam Margasirsoham). 

Lord Krishna is like the shade of a vast tree that cools those who are healed by the mid-summer sun and warms those who are frozen by the severe cold of winter. (Vasudeva tarucchaya nati Sita na gharmadaMargasirsa,  identified among months as a  form of  Vishnu,  is temperate in climate,  neither torrid nor frozen.  Margasirsa thus is a month congenial to the practice of God-consciousness.  According to some astrologers, the starry sphere is in the form of a deer with the star  Margasira at its head;  and when the sun enters the star,  a  new year begins.  So, this is the beginning of a new year;  if we reckon a  year as a  day,  the month of  Margasirsa becomes the dawn,  the  Brahma Muhurta.  Dawn is the time for the upsurge of the primary tendency of sattva or purity; and that is the time is fit for enjoying  God-consciousness.

Pallakki of Andal. ( Goda Devi, which is used for possession called Pallaki Utsavam Seva)

The night is the time of separation from God.  Dawn heralds the sunrise and the radiating rays slowly spread over the horizon.  When the night of separation passes and when hope arises that the time suited to  God-consciousness is approaching,  we experience the  Brahma – muhurta of our lives.  The living creatures have only one night and one day.  At the time that is spent without a  thought of  God is night.  The moment the hope of knowing  God strikes the mind and grows into  God – union,  the dawn has come into our lives;  and night returns not thereafter.  As  Margasirsa represents this dawn for them,  they sing glorifying it in glowing terms.  The gopa elders cannot venture out so early for fear of cold.  So the gopikas are happy that they van freely meet Sri Krishna.  It is the time that has oriented them towards Krishna;  and so they glorify it. 

It is not the unlettered gopikas alone that have sung the praises of  Kala  (time).  The seer  Valmiki praises the month  “Chaitra”  that it has arrived at the moment that  Dasaratha thought of the coronation of  Sri Rama.  He begins his verse with the praise of the month  (“Chaitra Sriman Ayam Masah Punyh Puspita Kananah”).  Months take their names after the star,  the month is called  Chaitra;  if it is  Margasira it is called  Margasirsa.  Possibly,  in those days,  months are reckoned from  Full moon day to the next  Full moon day.  The greatness of time depends on the plenty that it gives.  Chaitra is the month when the dry trees shoot forth fresh buds. And Margasirsa is the time when the land smiles in plenty.  Chaitra was marked out for the coronation of  Sri Rama as  King;  and  Margasirsa for the coronation of the gopikas as  Krishna’s devotees and servants. 

According to the lunar calendar, Chaitra is the month to be mentioned first, similarly, Rama is worthy to be uttered foremost by anyone.  Like  Rama,  Chaitra is attended by  Sri or prosperity.  Rama is bewitchingly beautiful and exactingly pure.  So is  Chaitra,  pure with its fresh buds and exceedingly fascinating.  While people had to beautify the capital for  Rama’s coronation,  the forests bedecked themselves to celebrate the occasion.  If  Rama puts on a  crown of diamonds,  the forests put on crowns of flowers.  So it is that  Chaitra has come to be described as  ‘Sriman.’ Similarly,  the month of  Margasirsa has turned into admirable of gopikas praise – with this difference.  In Margasira the fields present the pleasant depiction of ripe crops,  winding deeply to earth.  The gopikas in whose minds the start of the desire of union with  Krishna had sprung forth and grown for some time,  reached fruition without any hitch and inclined on  Krishna’s feet,  there to enjoy the eternal union.  But in the case of those who become worthy of  God’s love by their tendency to pursue godliness,  time purifies itself and follows them. 

The gopikas did not start their rite  (Vrata)  after ascertaining the auspicious moment.  The moment they got the permission of the elders and the consent of  Krishna,  they began their  Vrata.  It so happened that the beginning of their  Vrata was marked by an auspicious month,  fortnight, and day.  This was the first occasion when they met  Krishna face to face,  to see and be seen,  in bright moonlight without fear of being taken to task. Before this,  their meetings were clandestine;  and they took place in darkness.  The very  God who threatened to fling them into a demon – wombs  (Ksipami)  has relented this day and agreed to give them  (dadami)  the instrument or means to reach  Him.  Moreover,  this is the day on which people  (here the gopa – elders)  who stood up against  God,  saying that they could save themselves,  bend with faith that  He alone is the savior!  Such a  day must be considered very auspicious. 

To the gopikas, the advent of the day,  after which they have long been hankering,  gave them greater happiness than actual union with the  Supreme Self could have given. This is called  Margasirsa Vratam, Snana Vratam, and Dhanurmasavratam. Margasirsa of the  Lunar Calendar is the same as the  Dhanurmasa of the  Solar Calendar.  What is required to be done in this period is the bath at dawn. It is already explained that Margasirsa represents the  Brahma Muhurta  (the dawn)  when the tendency to purity  (sattva guna)  is predominant.  Dusk is the period when the tendency to action  (rajas)  is uppermost;  and under its influence,  doubts arise as to the nature of things seen in twilight with a  shade more of darkness.  We know that there is a  thing there,  but the doubt arises as to its nature and form;  for instance,  whether it is a  thief or a  tree – stump.  This is known as  (Anyathajnana)  misapprehension, and this is the effect of raja guna.  We know that there is such a  thing as  God – phenomenon.  But doubts lay into us;  and that stage represents dusk in spiritual life.  

Shivamadhuri is a blogger and level 1 Bharatnatyam dancer with rooted interests in Spirituality. She had formal education in both traditional and modern scientific studies. She holds higher educational postgraduate degrees in life sciences as well as Historical Studies. Along with traditional and scientific studies, she is well informed regarding Indian history, arts, culture, socio/economic/political aspects in society. To know more about her, you can contact her through the contact page.

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