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Andal (Tamil: ஆண்டாள் Äṇɖāḷ is the only female Alvar among the 12 Alvar saints of South India. The Alvar saints are known for their affiliation to the Srivaishnava tradition of Hinduism. Born in 3005 BCE, Andal is credited with the great Tamil works, 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 the Alvar saint, Periyalvar, who found her as a baby lying under a tulasi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) plant in the temple garden of Srivilliputhur. He named her "Kodhai" or "gift of Mother Earth." The Srivilliputhur Temple is dedicated to her and marks her birthplace.
Andal is believed to have been discovered under a tulasi (holy basil) plant in the temple garden of Srivilliputhur by Vishnucitta, later known as Periyalvar, one of the most revered saints in Hinduism. The child was named Kodhai. This is popularly thought to mean "a beautiful garland" in Tamil. However, this is unlikely because in ancient times Kodhai was a popular personal name for men as well as women. In the Sangam period, this is evidenced by use of the name, Kodhai, in a Purananuru poem about a Chera king, Ko-k-Kodhai. The name "Kodhai" is often written in Sanskrit as "Goda." Andal has been accepted as a reincarnation of Bhūmi Devi (Sri Lakshmi, the Earth Goddess).
Dedication to Vishnu
Kodhai was brought up by Vishnucitta (Periyalvar) in an atmosphere of love and devotion. As Kodhai grew into a beautiful maiden, her fervor for the Lord Vishnu grew to the extent that she decided to marry only the Lord Himself. As time passed, her resolve strengthened and she thought constantly about marrying Ranganathar of Srirangam (the reclining form of Vishnu).
Vishnucitta (Periyalvar) understood the Divine Love that existed between the Lord Vishnu 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 the 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, Andal, as a Gopi in Ayarpadi, emphasizes that the ultimate goal of life is to seek surrender and refuge at the Lord's feet. Initially, the Gopis ask 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, and their only wish is to serve Lord Vishnu at all times, vividly describing the permanent bond between the Paramatma and the Jivatma. The Gopis view Krishna as the 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; and 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 about how Krishna protected the entire Vrindavan people from many dangers; and 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 (Lord Shiva's devotee) and Andal (Lord Vishnu's devotee) are similar in the sense that they showed their extraordinary bhakthi and love when they were four years old. Andal was four years old when she started to compose the hymns of the Thiruppavai, Nachayiyar Thirumozhi, and Vaaranam-Aayiram. Andal, like her father, sang a Pallandu to hail the Lord Vishnu as the unfailing Protector of all. She regarded Periyalvar not only as a father, but also as a preceptor. Her wish was that Lord Vishnu should accept them as His servants although they were only simple folk. This Dasya Bhava is the trait of a true Bhakta, and Andal taught how to cultivate this Bhava in all. Initially, the common people commented and mocked Andal as being insane, but Periyalvar supported her 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 tells that she dressed herself as a bride, looked in a mirror, and wore a flower garland. Periyalvar, busy in his daily preparations to go to the temple, took that same flower garland to the temple. The temple priest noticed a strand of Kodhai's hair on one of the garlands and became annoyed that a used flower garland had been offered to the Lord Vishnu. Periyalvar was shocked, and realized that Andal had worn the garland. Meanwhile, Andal was happy thinking that her Lord would have accepted her garland. She grew sad, however, when Periyalvar rebuked her saying that Lord Vishnu had refused to wear the garland. Later Periyalvar 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 had been worn by Andal. Periyalvar, in complete awe, immediately rushed to his house and brought the garland that Andal had worn (Periyalvar is believed to be an incarnation of Garudan, the vehicle of Lord Sri Vishnu). Thus, it became Periyalvar's wish that Andal should marry only Lord Sri Vishnu. Andal then told her father about her beautiful dreams in which the Lord came on an elephant to wed her. Andal described how she had composed her dreams into poems such 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 ushered into the Lord's presence. Periyalvar and others present were wonderstruck on witnessing these events, but the wise Periyalvar 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.
Andal composed two literary works, both of which are in Tamil verse form and express literary, philosophical, religious, and aesthetic content.
Her first work is the Thiruppavai, a collection of 30 verses in which Andal imagines herself to be a Gopi, one of the cowherd girls known for their unconditional devotion to Lord Krishna. In these verses, she describes her yearning to serve Lord Vishnu and achieve happiness not just in this lifetime, but for all eternity. She also 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 philosophical values, moral values, ethical values, pure love, devotion, dedication, single-minded aim, virtues, and the ultimate goal of life.
The second work by Andal is the Nachiar Thirumozhi, a poem of 143 verses. "Thirumozhi" literally means "Sacred Sayings" in a Tamil poetic style and "Nachiar" means Goddess. Therefore, 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 because Nachiar Thirumozhi belongs to an erotic genre of spirituality that is similar to Jayadeva's Gita Govinda.
These works form an important part of the daily religious life of South India. The daily services in most Srivaishnava temples and households include recitation of the Thiruppavai which, like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, is recited with great religious fervor by women, men, and children of all ages, particularly in Tamil Nadu. Both of these works, particularly the Thiruppavai, have been studied extensively by scholars and have been translated into a number of languages over the centuries.
Status in Society
Andal is now one of the best-loved poet-saints of the Tamils. Pious tradition holds her to be the incarnation of Bhūmi Devi (Sri Lakshmi as Mother Earth) to show humanity the way to Lord Vishnu's lotus feet. Representations of her next to Vishnu are present in all Srivaishnava temples. During the month of Margazhi, discourses on the Thiruppavai in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Hindi take place all over India. The Andal Temple at Srivilliputhur consists of twin temples, one of which is dedicated to Andal. Most South Indian Vishnu temples have a separate shrine for Andal. There are a number of festivals dedicated to Andal, among the most 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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