Andal – the Poetic Soul of Marghazhi

Swapna Narayanan

Come December, like the world over, we in India also get into a festive mood welcoming food, fun, music and dance into our lives!

In northern India, December heralds the onset of winter vacations, fresh carrots and peas, roasted groundnuts, dry fruits based sweat meats, blooming flowers, people dressed in bright coloured woollens, morning misty jogs and evening bonfires.  A beautiful time of abundant food, brightness, warmth of people and loads of fun.

In the south of India, it is the time to savour the cool weather, especially the early mornings with a nice chill breeze, devotional songs flowing gently from the nearby temples, music season everywhere, spectacular designs adorning homes expressing our cultural beauty, mouth-watering offerings to God – both sweet and salty.

Specifically, in the city of Chennai, it is Marghazhi, as the beautiful month, equipoised between December and January is called in Tamil. It is the time for music, dance and devotion. It is popularly known as Lord Krishna’s favourite month and the lore says that singing songs in this month brings peace, prosperity and His grace.

Marghazhi is a deep experience of music, faith and love that touches the soul of every devotee of Krishna and of every Carnatic music connoisseur. The art and music filled vibe of the city gets expressed by large rangolis adorning houses and temples, early morning visits to the temples, and evenings immersed in meditative music through the various music shows across the prominent auditoriums across the city.

No connect with the Divine is possible without food. All temples across the state prepare and offer Sakkarai Pongal and Ven Pongal, a rice and lentil-based delicacy. While the former is a heavenly preparation that is sweet in taste made with milk and sugarcane jaggery, garnished with cashew nuts and raisins, the latter is a salt-based dish laced with ghee and served hot.

It is also a month where we celebrate and worship the eighth century female saint Andal and her divine poetry – Thiruppavai. Reciting Thiruppavai during this month is considered to be extremely auspicious and is said to enable a divine soul connect with the Lord himself.  

So who is Andal and why is her Thiruppavai the soul of Marghazhi?

Andal, also known as Nachiyar, Godai, Kothai etc. was a Tamil poet, Bhakti saint and the only female Alvar among the twelve Alvars (a set of poets who composed hymns praising Lord Vishnu and his incarnations) saints of South India. Very similar to Meera Bai in Rajasthan or Akka Mahadevi from Karnataka.  

Let me tell you more about Andal and her deep love, her authentic writing and her soul connect with the Supreme.

Andal is said to have been found under a Tulsi plant in the garden of the Lord Vishnu temple in the town of Srivilliputhur, Tamil Nadu, by Periazhwar (one of the twelve alvars) who adopted her. Since she was found on earth, her father named her Kodhai, the gift of Earth. Being a temple town, she was brought up in a divine, devotional and pious atmosphere.

Her childhood involved a daily visit to the temple, which eventually metamorphized into a desire to marry the Lord Ranganatha itself. And as she grew older, her intensity, love and desire for the Lord only grew stronger.

It is a well-known lore that Kodhai used to take fresh flowers every day, and thread them into a nice garland, wear it upon herself, look into the mirror and, if found satisfactory, take it into the temple to offer to Lord. This continued till one day, when Periazhwar found a single strand of hair in the garland and immediately realised that it belonged to Kodhai. Enraged, he told her to discard the old one and create a new garland that should not be worn by anybody and sent directly to the temple. And, to everyone’s shock and surprise, the Lord rejected the garland and Lord Ranganatha appeared in Periazhwar’s dreams and informed that he will accept the garland only if Kodhai wears it first and then offer it to him.

And from that day onwards Kodhai was known as, ‘SoodikkoduthaSudar Kodi’ or Andal – the girl who ruled over the Lord!

With her deep devotion and love to Krishna, and inspired by the depth of love exhibited by gopikas of Mathura, Andal composed the Thiruppavai which translated means Path to Krishna, as a set of 30 verses that for her were the best way to attain her Lord Krishna. She also composed another set of 143 verses called as Nachiar Thirumozhi where she went a tad further and expressed her desire, eagerness, and restlessness to meet with her Lord Krishna

Andal was a strong, spirited and energetic girl who saw the physical and divine as one, stood tall and proclaimed her love with the most eligible man, and did not shy away from expressing her passionate yearning for the Lord’s embraces and caresses.

What a woman – unshackled, bold and undeterred! And, lest you forget, it was the eighth century.

Thiruppavai is broadly divided into three parts. In the first part Andal defines the goal of performing a month-long intense worship, called as Nonbu, to get to the Lord. She explains the details, some dos and don’ts and the glory of the Lord. In the second part, she puts together a group and calls other girls to join in her journey to meet the Lord. Each of the verse there is a literary masterpiece, with both calling her girls and explaining the Lord interspersed well. And the final section is where she and the girls reach the doors of the temple to wake up the Lord and seek moksha.

மாயனைமன்னுவடமதுரைமைந்தனை,

தூயபெருநீர்யமுனைத்துறைவனை,

ஆயர்குலத்தினில்தோன்றும்அணிவிளக்கை,

தாயைக்குடல்விளக்கம்செய்ததாமோதரனை,

தூயோமாய்வந்துநாம்தூமலர்தூவித்தொழுது

வாயினால்பாடிமனத்தினால்சிந்திக்கப்

போயபிழையும்புகுதருவான்நின்றனவும்

தீயினில்தூசாகும்செப்பேலோரெம்பாவாய்

Here she appeals to Lord Krishna and tells him to remove all her (and her friends) sins.

Oh, the magic boy from Mathura from the banks of the pure waters of the river Yamuna.

The bright lamp who was born into the clan of cowherds, the child who made his mother proud and was tied up with a rope.

We have come to you pure and with beautiful flowers to worship,

to sing your praise with our tongues and to contemplate in our minds,

And, you please make our past sins and mistakes disappear like the cotton that gets burnt in a flame.

Nachiyar Thirumozhi, on the other hand, expresses Andal’s view that she needs a physical union with the Lord. It begins with a lovestruck Andal and her ever changing moods, needs and desires – from playful to passionate and her deep pining for Lord Ranganatha. And when the Lord does not appear, she expresses her love for Him through anguish, anger and rage against all others around her. And then, her love further peaks to a state of frustration, exasperation, annoyance and even resentment. Eventually, in the final verses, she finds her solace, calm and composure by surrendering to the Lord.

சுவரில்புராண!  நின்பேர்எழுதிச்

சுறவநற்கொடிகளும்துரங்கங்களும்

கவரிப்பிணாக்களும்கருப்புவில்லும்

காட்டித்தந்தேன்கண்டாய்காமதேவா

அவரைப்பிராயந்தொடங்கிஎன்றும்

ஆதரித்துஎழுந்தஎன்தடமுலைகள்

துவரைப்பிரானுக்கேசங்கற்பித்துத்

தொழுதுவைத்தேன்ஒல்லைவிதிக்கிற்றியே

Here she is pleading to Lord Kama and using him to bring her Lord Ranganatha to her. She is worshipping him with the objective of getting Lord Ranganatha to appear before her and marry her. She is left with no other goal in life, it is her desperation to reach him and be one with him, and she tries various means to achieve her dreams of marrying her beloved, Lord Ranganatha.

She describes all that she has done to appease Kama, right from decorating her walls with figurines, to informing her of her desire for Him since her childhood, while also reminding him that his duty is to make people in love meet together and express their love.

Andal, the poetess with deep love and devotion, became a goddess herself who is prayed to by one and all. Through each of her written verses Andal guides and beckons us to reach out to the supreme and attain the state of deep devotion and bliss.

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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