Sacred literature is deemed to be the blessings of Goddess Shakti and Her manifestations. Andal, edging her name for sacred Vaishnavite literature and absolute bhakti, is said to be the incarnation of Goddess Bhudevi. Aadi Pooram, widely celebrated in Vaishnavite temples, is considered to be Goddess Andal’s birthday. This day is celebrated in a grand scale in Srirangam Temple and in SriVilluputtur. Lalitha Sahasranamam and Tirupavai are read during Aadi Pooram prayers. Women offer glass bangles to Goddess Andal and these are distributed as prasada after the prayers. Andal was a poet but as her name implies, She ‘ruled’ over the Lord and was raised to spiritual greatness as a Goddess.
If one word can be ascribed to Andal, it is ‘resolve’. She is the symbol of the feminine strength and single mindedness of purpose. Her strong determination and sublime purpose renders her poetess status to that of Goddess by Vaishnavites and Hindus in general. Together with Srimati Radharani she is the symbol unwavering devotion to the Lord and Lord only. The later day Mirabai, without doubt, stands on the same foot. Andal stands above all others with her merging with the Lord.
Andal is one of the 12 Alvars. ‘Alvar’ means ‘immersed’ in the experience of God. Andal was the only female among the 12 Alvars. Between the 5th and the 9th century, the Alvars revitalised Indian religious milieu in the Tamil speaking South India. They were devoted to Lord Vishnu and composed exceedingly passionate poetry in His name. Adharma was lurking in the Kaliyuga so Sriman Narayanaa decided to appoint ‘agents’ in the name of Alvars to sing His qualities as ‘pasuranggal’ for each of his Avatarams. Andal avatharam begins with Varahavatharam, one among the Lord’s Dasavatharams.
Alvars’ writings were of intense emotional bhakti and love of the Divine. Their messages reached all strata of society as poetry and stories of the Lord. In all, the Alvars composed 4000 Tamil verses. The philosopher saint Nathamuni, recovered and arranged them as Nalayira Thivya Prabandham. This is deemed to be the Tamil Vaishnavite Divine Collection. Andal was of the 8th century credited with excellent Vaishnavite works, the ‘Tiruppavai’ and ‘Nachiar Thorumozhi’
Periyalwar, the Vaishnavite saint from Villiputtoor near Madurai, prayed to Goddess Lakshmi for a child. The prayer was answered when he finds a baby girl under a tulasi plant on a Poornam star in the month of Aadi. His nandavanam or garden was dedicated for gathering flowers for the Lord. He felt Bhoodevi, Universal Divine Mother’s grace grace and names her Kothai – gift of Mother Earth. Periyalwar teaches her the glory of his beloved Krishna in the form of stories and Tamil literature. She thus grew up in an environment of love, devotion and worship to the Lord.
It was not before long that she was passionately in love with Krishna, Lord of the Vrindavana. She made up her mind to marry only Krishna and refused to think of any human being in similar terms. In her private moments she played the bride to be and the role of Krishna’s beloved. She adorns herself first with the garlands that Periyalwar had to offer the Lord. She saw the Lord’s reflection with her in her temple well while adorning the garlands. The secret unveils when a strand of hair is found on a garland. She is reprimanded and fresh garlands made. After the rituals, fresh garlands were offered but they fell off. That night Lord Vishnu appeared in Periyalwar’s dreams only to intimate that He missed the scent of Kothai’s body and that He preferred them that way. Perialwar was overcome with emotions to know that the Lord Himself wishes to share Kothai’s presence. Hence she became t be known as Andal.
When she was of marriageable age, Periyalwar arranges for alliances, only to hear of Andal’s stubborn refusal. She would only marry Sri Ranganatha, the Lord in Srirangam Temple. This brought despair to Periyalwar but Lord Ranganatha appeared in the dream and asked for Andal be brought to him fully dressed as a bride. Srirangam priests were also asked to prepare the coming of Andal. Pariayalwar, in both joy and sadness took Andal to Srirangam in a palanquin. It was all like a mystery to him as the wedding party approached Lord Ranganatha shrine. When the Lord was in sight, Andal jumped out of the palanquin, ran into the temple sanctum and embraced Lord Ranganatha. She disappeared in a blaze of glory of yoga. She was hardly 15 years of age at that time.
Andal is present as Goddess in all Sri Vaishnava temples. Those directly associated with her are Srirangam and SriVilliputtoor with Vaishnavite shrines. There is until today a ceremony of taking the garland worn by Goddess Andal from Villiputtoor temple to adorn Lord Venkateswara in Tirumala.
TIRUPPAVAI is a poem of thirty verses. In it Andal imagines herself to be a cowherd girl during the incarnation of Sri Krishna. She shows her devotion to Krishna and yearns to serve Him and him alone. Happiness is not just in this birth but for all eternity. Towards this she and the gopis would take the pavai – religious vow in the name of the Lord. But the Vraja ladies were married. Andal desired that the Lord himself should be her husband. She loved God alone. She wanted to become one with him to escape from the cycles of births and deaths. Towards this, Tiruppavai is the song of wonder, love, prayer and surrender. It is recited with great religious fervour and ceremony and is simply nectar for the ears, heart and mind. Devotees who want to be accepted by God should show the same love and dedication and walk the path of surrender on unconditional terms.
Nachiaar means Goddess; Tirumozhi means sacred sayings. Composed as Tamil poetry, it means ‘sacred sayings of the Goddess. In this Andal’s shows her intense longing for Vishnu, the Divine beloved. There is reflection of the Vedas and Puranas as Andal creates imagery in unparalleled Tamil religious literature. It is said to share the erotic genre of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda.
“Sree Vishnu Chiththa Kula Nandhana Kalpa Valleem; Sree Ranga Raaja Hari Chandhana Yoga Dhrusyaam ; Saakshhat Kshammaam Kaarunyaa Kamalaami Vaanyaam; Godhaam Ananya Sarana: Saranam Prapadhye” - ‘Bereft of any other refuge in God who is merciful like Goddess Mahalakshmi, has come in human form of Andal’. She is like a wish fulfilling creeper, that makes the family of Periyaalvar happy. With her inner eye, she always sees and dwells on her Lord, the king and God at Sriranga.
Goddess Andal, having been born to Mother Earth is also prayed to as Sri Bhudevi Herself. ‘Samudravasane devi parvatastanmandale; vishnupatniI namastubhyam padasparsh kshamasvame’ – ‘Salutations to You, consort of Lord Vishnu, Who dwells in the oceans, And is adorned prettily by the mountains, Pardon me Mother, for setting my foot on You’. This mantra is chanted before one places his feet on Mother Earth at dawn. One seeks forgiveness from Goddess Bhudevi for such disrespect and acknowledges her divinity. Hari Om
SITA AND MIRABAI:
The colourful life of Andal has shades of Sita as to their Mother Earth origins. The more recent poetess saint Mirabai shares her devotional life with Andal. While Andal merged with Sri Ranganatha , Mirabai sang the praise of Krishna and visiting temples associated with Sri Krishna. Hari Om
Yogi Ananda Saraswati