|Literary works||Tiruppaavai, Naachiyaar Thirumozhi|
Andal (Tamil: ஆண்டாள் Äṇţāḷ is the only female Alvar among the 12 Alvar saints of South India. The Alvar saints are known for their affiliation to Srivaishnava tradition of Hinduism. Born in June 3004 B.C., Andal is credited with the great Tamil works of Thiruppavai and Nachiar Tirumozhi that are still recited by devotees during the Winter festival season of Margazhi. Andal is known for her unwavering devotion to Lord Vishnu, the God of the Srivaishnavas. She was adopted by Alwar saint Periyalvar who found her as a baby lying under a tulasi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) plant in the temple garden of Srivilliputhoor. He named her 'Kodhai' or "gift of Mother Earth". The Srivilliputhoor Temple is dedicated to her, marking her birthplace.
Andal is believed to have been discovered under a Tulsi (Basil) plant in the temple garden of Srivilliputtur, by a person named Vishnucitta who later became one of the most revered saints in Hinduism, Periyalvar. The child was named Kodhai. This is popularly thought to mean "a beautiful garland" in Tamil; but it is unlikely as in ancient times this was a popular personal name even for men as evidenced by Sangam era male names such as Kodhai (as mentioned in a Purananuru poem on a Chera king Ko-k-Kodhai). The name 'Kodhai' is often Sanskritized as 'Goda'. Andal has been accepted as a reincarnation of Bhumi-Devi (the Earth Goddess).
Dedication to Vishnu
Kodhai was brought up by Vishnucitta (Periyazhwar) in an atmosphere of love and devotion. As Kodhai grew into a beautiful maiden, her love and devotion for the Lord grew to the extent that she decided to marry none but the Lord Himself only. As days progressed, her resolve strengthened and she was devoted to Lord Sri Vishnu and was constantly in thought about marrying Him.
Vishnucitta (Periyazhwar) understood the Divine Love that existed between the Lord and his daughter. Kodhai was well-respected by devotees and came to be known as "Andal", the girl who "ruled" over the Lord. She is also known by a phrase - Soodi kodutha Sudarkodi which literally means "The bright creeper-like woman who gave her garlands after wearing them".
In North India Radha Rani is celebrated as the 'Queen of Bhakthi (devotion)'. Similarly in South India, Andal is remembered for her pure love and devotion.
In the Thiruppavai hymn, Andal, as a Gopi in Ayarpadi, emphasizes the ultimate goal of life is to seek surrender and refuge at the Lord's feet. Initially the Gopis request Krishna for the 'Parai' and other materials needed for fulfilling their vow which they observe in the month of Marghazhi. But towards the end of the hymn the request assumes philosophical tones, where she says their only wish is to serve Him at all times, vividly describing the permanent bond between the Paramatma and the Jivatma. The Gopis view Krishna as the very Supreme Brahman (Lord). Andal extols Krishna's 'Paratva' which coexists with His 'Saulabhya' when He is in the midst of devotees. She praises Vamana for saving Indra, how He grew in size as Trivikrama, how He measured the world with His auspicious feet. As Rama, He went to Lanka to kill Ravana and retrieve Sita. Then, as child Krishna, He saved Himself from the dangers posed by the emissaries of Kamsa who came to kill Him. Andal sings how Krishna protected the entire Vrindavan people from many dangers; how He saved the Vrindavan from the torrential rains by holding the Govardhana hill as an umbrella at the tip of His little finger.
Marrying the Lord
Parvathi and Andal are similar in the sense that they showed their extraordinary bhakthi and love when they were 4 years old - Parvathi was Lord Shiva's devotee and Andal was Lord Vishnu's devotee. Andal spent her brief life only in thoughts of the Lord and composed 30 verses of the Thiruppavai and 143 hymns of Nachiyar Thirumozhi. She was four years old when she started to compose hymns of The Thiruppavai, The Nachayiyar Thirumozhi and Vaaranam-Aayiram. She regarded Periyaazhwar not only as a father, but also a preceptor. Andal, like her father Periazhwar, sang a Pallandu to hail the Lord who is the unfailing Protector of all of us. Her wish was that He should accept them as His servants though they are only simple folk. This 'Dasya Bhava' is the trait of a true Bhakta and Andal teaches how to cultivate this 'Bhava' in all. Initially, the common people commented and mocked Andal as being insane, but Periyalvar supported and encouraged her to be devoted to Lord Sri Vishnu. Periyalvar played an important role in nurturing Andal's Bhakti and helped her attain divine ecstasy. Even though she was born into a Brahmin family, she thought of herself as a Gopika and dressed herself as a Gopi, demonstrating her simplicity, humility, pure love and devotion.
One of the ancient stories about Andal has it that she dressed herself as a bride, looked in a mirror and wore a flower garland. Father Periyazhvar, busy in his daily preparations to go to the temple, took the same flower garland to the temple. The temple priest saw the flower garland and noticed a strand of Godai's hair on one of the garlands and became annoyed that a used flower garland was brought for the Lord. Periyazhwar was shocked and came to realize that Andal had worn the garland. Meanwhile Andal was happy and satisfied that her Lord would have accepted her garland. However she gets depressed when Periyazhvar rebukes her for committing such an act and that Her Lord had refused to wear the garland. Later Periyazhvar tied together new garlands for Lord Vishnu made up of fresh flowers and took them to the temple. Miraculously, however The Merciful Lord said that He wanted only the garland which was worn by Andal. Periyazhvar, in complete awe, immediately rushed to his house and brought the old garland which was worn by Andal (Periyazhvar is believed to be an incarnate of Garudan - the vehicle of Lord Sri Vishnu). Thus, Periyazhvar wished that he should get Andal married only to Lord Sri Vishnu. Following this, Andal narrated to her father about her beautiful dreams in which the Lord came on an elephant to wed her. Andal describes how she had composed her sweet dreams into poems as "Vaaranam Aayiram". The poems describe how Andal and Lord Sri Vishnu got married according to customs and rituals. The bride Andal was then taken to the Srirangam temple, where she entered the sanctum sanctorum and was gathered and united into the Lord's presence. Periyazhwar and others present there were wonder-struck on witnessing these events, but the wise Periyazhvar remained balanced and the absence of his daughter never disturbed him or broke his heart. As a father, he felt that his daughter was married and sent to her husband's home. He implied that Lord Vishnu is Supreme Owner of all - The Master of all and we are all His humble assets and possessions.
Andal composed two literary works, both these works are in Tamil verse form and are exceptional in their literary, philosophical, religious and aesthetic content. Her contribution is the most remarkable and impresses readers till date.
Her first work is the Thiruppavai, a collection of thirty verses in which Andal imagines herself to be a Gopi, an eternal associate of Lord Krishna in the spiritual world as a cowherd girl. She yearns to serve Him and achieve happiness not just in this birth, but for all eternity, and describes the religious vows (pavai) that she and her fellow cowherd girls will observe for this purpose. It is said that Thiruppavai is the nectar of Vedas and teaches the philosophical values, moral values, ethical values, pure love, devotion, dedication, single-minded aim, virtues and ultimate goal of life.
The second is the Nachiar Thirumozhi, a poem of 143 verses. 'Thirumozhi', literally meaning "Sacred Sayings", in a Tamil poetic style. "Nachiar" means Goddess, so the title means "Sacred Sayings of the Goddess". This poem fully reveals Andal's intense longing for Vishnu, the Divine Beloved. Utilizing classical Tamil poetic conventions and interspersing stories from the Vedas and Puranas, Andal creates imagery that is possibly unparalleled in the whole gamut of Indian religious literature. However, conservative Srivaishnavite institutions do not encourage the propagation of Nachiar Thirumozhi as much as they encourage Thiruppavai. This is because Nachiar Thirumozhi belongs to an erotic genre of spirituality that is similar to Jayadeva's Gita Govinda.
The impact of these works on the daily religious life of the South Indian has been tremendous. Just like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Thiruppavai is recited with great religious fervor by women, men, and children of all ages, particularly in Tamil Nadu. The daily services in most Srivaishnava temples and households include this recitation. Both of these works, particularly the Thiruppavai, has been studied extensively by innumerable scholars. It has also been translated into a number of languages over the centuries.
Status in the Society
Andal is now one of the best-loved poet-saints of the Tamils. Pious tradition reckons her to be the veritable descent of Bhūmi Devi (Sri Lakshmi as Mother Earth) in bodily form to show humanity the way to His lotus feet. She is present in all Srivaishnava temples, in India and elsewhere, next to her Lord, like she always desired. During the month of Margazhi, discourses on the Thiruppavai in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi take place all over India. The Andal Temple at Srivilliputhur is a twin temple, one of which is dedicated to Andal. Most of the south Indian Vishnu temples have a separate shrine for Andal. There are lot of festivals in the temple and other Vishnu temples in South India dedicated to her, the notable being the Pavai Nonbu in the Tamil month of Margazhi (December – January), Andal Thirukalyanam in Panguni, Pagalpathu, Rapathu, Adi Thiruvizha, when Andal is depicted seated in the lap of Ranganathar.
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