Kothai/ Andal

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A brief profile

TCA Ramanujam, Dec 28, 2019 The Hindu

Sri Vishnuchitta kulanandana kalpavalim

Sri Rangaraja Harichandana yogadrishyaam

Sakshakshamam karunaya kamalami vaanyam

Godham ananyacharanaha charanamaham prapathye

— Goda Stuthi

Vedanta Desika’s visit to the temple on the occasion of Vaikasi Vasantham is commemorated even today by the recital of the Acharya’s Goda Stuthi, singing her glory, grace and greatness. This is a masterpiece on Andal by the Acharya singing about her as compassion incarnate. Two centuries earlier, Anandalwan rose from the Thirumukkulam at Srivilliputhur, after making repeated dips trying to find out if there were any remnants left of the sacred turmeric used by Andal during her Margazhi Neeradal. He went on to compose the Goda Chathusloki.

Matha che Tulasi Pitaya titava Sri Vishnuchitto Mahan

Brathaschethathi sekara priyadama Srirangadama yati

Vishnuchitta was Andal’s foster father and located her near the sacred Tulasi garden he was mending in the sacred Srivilliputhur temple. He found in the garden a child with fascinating beauty, bewitching eyes and divinely beaming mien. He brought her up as a fond parent with tender care and affection. She was listening to all the poetic gems flowing from her foster father and naturally got imbued with spirituality from an early age. Her love for the divine grew day by day. In her divinely inspired anukara, she starts visualising the various episodes in Krishnavatara and imitated the gopis of Brindavan and Gokul. Thus was born the sacred Tiruppavai. Like the Gopis, she gathers all her friends in Srivilliputhur for congregational prayer set at the pre-dawn hour in the month of Margazhi.

“Masaanam Margaseersho Aham” — Krishna declared in the Gita. The whole month is soaked in spiritual fervour mainly because of Thiruppavai. Tiruppavai itself is an echo from the Vedas and the Upanishads. Ramanuja was struck by the very first stanza where Andal declared, “Narayanane Namakke parai tharuvaan — Lord Narayana alone can give us redemption and happiness. Taitriyopanishad laid down: Narayana Param Brahma; Tatvam Narayana paraha Narayana paro Jyothir; Athma Narayana paraha. He is the Supreme absolute, real light and life. He alone can bless us and we alone get blessed (Namakke parai tharuvaan). The way Tamil phraseology is handled is scintillating. Andal was called ‘yekkara seematti’ by PBA Swami of Kanchi. The poet Kannadasan said “Andal Tamizhai aandal.”


Several savants and sages like Malakarar, Kurumbaratha Nambi, Periyazhwar, Thondaradipodi Azhwar and Anandazhwan had done pushpa kainkaryam for the Lord. Andal did it in a unique way. While making the flower garland for the Lord, she used to adorn herself with the same and look at the mirror at her own beauty with the garland. Her father would carry the garland without knowing the truth. Her idea was probably to find out whether the fragrance and the beauty of the flower will match that of the Lord. Sabari did it with fruits.

When Periyazhwar discovered what was happening, he was aghast and refused to carry the garland. That night the Lord appeared in his dream and wondered why the garland did not reach Him that day. Periyazhwar answered that it was desecrated by his daughter. “Consecrated,” corrects the Lord and says, We like them. We will have no other but they.”

Exchange of garlands

An astonished father obeys the command and carries the garland every day after having first used by his daughter. Pattarpiraan became Periyazhwar not when he sang Pallandu in the Koodal Azhagar shrine in Madurai but when he carried Andal’s garland to adorn the Lord. He became the father-in-law of Ranganatha. Even today, Lord Srinivasa of the Seven Hills awaits the Andal garland on the annual Garudotsavam day. Lord Varadaraja of Kanchi exchanges the garland with Andal everytime he goes up the Hasthigiri hills. She came to be called Soodikudutha Nachiyar. Periyazhwar left Srivilliputhur and chose to remain in Thirumaliruncholai contemplating the beautiful and happy life he had in the company of his daughter in Srivilliputhur. (Oru magal thannai udaiyen, Thirumagal pol varathen, Senganmmal than kondu ponan — Periyazhwar Thirumozhi).

Margazhi Nonbu

Andal was following the Katyayani vratam of the Gopikas when she took up the Margazhi Nombu. The thirty pasurams are the quintessential wisdom of the Vedas and the Upanishads. The first five refer to Param, Vyuham, Vibavam, Antaryami and Archai. The whole text involves what is known as Bhagavatha Samagam and naictyanusandhana and self effacement — nane than aayiduka. (Pasuram 50) At the pre-dawn hour or Brahma Muhurtham, Andal and friends go round Aypadi singing the glory of Krishna. Neeradal implies getting immersed in Krishna consciousness — Mele Pani vellam, kizhe Paal vellam, Manathilae Maal vellam (Stanza 12).

Sacred Mysticism

Some of the intricate doctrines of Srivaishnavism are to be found in Thiruppavai. The sacred mysticism revealed by Andal indicates ananya seshtvam, ananyacharanatvam, ananya bogathvam and paratantriyam — surrender only to Krishna, take refuge only in Him, and enjoy only His company, depend wholly on Him. Towards the end, this classic rises to a crescendo — kurai onrum illadha Govinda, siruper azhaithanavum, sitranchirukale — these phrases reveal the inner most self of Andal.

Krishna on the palm leaf is avaptha samastha kaman, akatithakatha na samarthan. He came down to Ayarpadi to enjoy the company of the Gopikas who are utter ignoramuses — ari onrum illatha aykulam — not knowing anything Gnana, Bhakti or Karma Yoga. Calling Him Narayana does not do justice — he loves to be called Govinda — Draupadikku Aadai suranthathu Govinda namamire (Periya Vachan Pillai).

Andal prays for service to the Lord as the ultimate purushartham. Not for her liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. She would like to be born any number of times to enjoy the company of Krishna along with the Gopis (Etraikkum Ezh-Ezh Piravikkum, undanodu utrome, aavom unakke Nam aatcheivom).

Respect to acharya

Andal never refers to herself as Andal. She would like to be known as Vishnuchittan Kodai. He became her Acharya.

She will approach Krishna only through the father. This shows the importance of Acharya Abhimanam. An inscription around the walls of the temple in Srivilliputhur, records Ranganatha’s Pranaya-patrika — love letter from Srirangam, reproducing passages from her songs. Every Vaishnava temple has a shrine specially dedicated to Andal. Lord Srinivasa listens to Thiruppavai everyday during Margazhi. The temples in Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bihar, U.P. etc., resonate with Tiruppavai in the regional languages.

The grateful people of Tamilnadu chose the Srivilliputhur temple as its State emblem.

Swochishtamalika gandhabandha gandha jishnave

Vishnuchitta tanujayai Godayai nitya mangalam

Vijayanarasimhan, Dec 28, 2019 Quora This is really an interesting view point. I too am not going to tell you any new stories about Andaal (for I myself am not aware of any!) but am going to explain my 'hypothesis' about how Andaal's pure 'Bakthi' is coloured (by others) with lust and love, simply because she is a female poet.

My point here is that Andaal might not have had married the Lord (Vishnu,) she never even wanted that (for all that is 'nothing' before pure Bakthi!) She was singing her songs in pure ecstasy and it is us who interpret them as songs of love and lust, because she is a female poet. We do the same for female poets from the Sangam era as well. There is this really strong king, Chozan Porvaikko Perunakilli, who's an expert wrestler. Now, he has been praised by two poets in their songs, which are collected in 'Puranaanooru' (three songs from each of these two poets are in praise of this King, and these are the only songs in praise of him in this collection).

One of these poets is a male, Sathanthaiyar, and the other is a female, Perunkozhi Naaikkan Magal Nakkannaiyar. It is true that the later sings her hero in a remarkably female point of view (in Song 83 she remarks about his thick beard and mentions her fear to her mother that she may notice her bangles getting loose, and in song 85 she describes how she ran out of her home with her anklets ringing and how she saw him from the hide of a half-tree and so on) but that's where the exactly the beauty of the songs lie. Only a female poet can sing how a girl will feel when she looks at this great wrestler.

But, people do not want to take this as a female view point song by a female poet, rather they want to take this as the 'statement' of the poet herself (this might well be the case, but only 'might', who are we to judge?)

The same happens with Aandaal! When she sings about Thirumaal in an intimate way, it is her own love and lust she's expressing, but when the same is done by other Alwars (males) it is 'bhaavam'! Why can't we take Aandaal's songs too as a 'naayaki bhavam' as well? Because she is really a female? What does one's physical gender has to do with when we are talking about ‘bhaavam'?

True, Aandaal gives us some of the most intimate and intricate naayaki bhaavam songs, that's simply because she is a 'natural' at it, not because she is in physiological love with the god (all this is my 'might be' hypothesis, I may be wrong!)

Let me finish by quoting my most favorite of her songs (not that I've read all her songs, but that's definitely in my to-do list!) 
/கருப்பூரம் நாறுமோ கமலப்பூ நாறுமோ, 
திருப்பவளச் செவ்வாய்தான் தித்தித்தி ருக்கும்மோ, 
மருப்பொசித்த மாதவன்றன் வாய்ச்சுவையும் நாற்றமும், 
விருப்புற்றுக் கேட்கின்றேன் சொல்லாழி வெண்சங்கே/

This one could only have been sung by a female such as Aandaal, yet I don't want to take it as personal! What about you?

The Poet Who Is Celebrated As Goddess Andal

Archana Venkatesan, August 11, 2021: The Times of India

The 9th-century poet, Kothai, is perhaps the most well-known among premodern female Tamil poets. We know little of her historical life, except for what we can glean from two magnificent poems – Tiruppavai, Sacred Vow, and Nacciyar Tirumoli, A Woman’s Sacred Utterance – that have come down to us. The two masterful compositions explore ecstatic devotion to god, here Vishnu, both in community and in the individual voice of a woman.

In the short Tiruppavai, a poem of 30 verses, Kothai describes a vow undertaken by young girls to win a husband for themselves. As this is a bhakti poem, the desired husband is none other than Krishn. Although there is a long tradition of reading the poem autobiographically – that is , the poet performing the vow herself – Kothai explicitly declares that she has imagined the scenario.

Thus, in the Tiruppavai, we hear Kothai speak in the voice of several gopis, cowherd girls, awakening in the pre-dawn hours, to cleanse themselves and to arrive at Krishn’s door to petition him for his love. Although Krishn is at the centre of this poem, it is a woman’s world he inhabits. We hear the churning of butter, the milking of cows, women adorning themselves in jewels, calling to each other, urging mothers and aunts to help them in their joint quest. Indeed, in one of the most famous verses, the girls address Nappinnai, Krishn’s wife, asking her to intercede on their behalf.

If the Tiruppavai is largely univocal, all the plural gopi-voices collapsing into one, the longer Nacciyar Tirumoli – it consists of 143 verses spread over 14 sections – is more complex. Like the Tiruppavai, it too begins with a vow, except this one is undertaken by one woman, whom the poet clearly identifies as herself. But this invitation to read the Nacciyar Tirumoli as autobiographical gives way with the re-emergence of our gopis, who appear early in the poem, but disappear midway. Where the Tiruppavai is teeming with female characters, Kothai’s longer poem is largely devoid of female companions or female spaces, save the three gopi-decads,Nacciyar Tirumoli 2-4, that open the poem.

The autobiographical persona the poet constructs for herself in this poem is that of a lonely woman. When this female voice appeals to her companions for aid, they are silent and unhelpful, leaving her to suffer alone. This suffering is finally relieved in the Nacciyar Tirumoli’s final decad, in which the gopi-voices and the solitary female voice converse across space and time. It is as though the poet, Kothai, can only find comfort and understanding in a world of her own creation.

Today, the poet Kothai is celebrated as the goddess, Andal. She has a grand and famous temple at Srivilliputtur, south of Madurai, where she is worshipped with great love and adoration. Her poems form the backbone of this love, lacing stories and ceremonies of all who visit her there. There is no greater way for us to honour this great poet than to sit with her gorgeous, moving verses and to take her invitation to live within the world of the imagination she embroidered with words with such care and wonder.

The writer is professor of Religious Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Davis. Today is Andal Jayanti

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