In southern India, there are 12 major saints, known as Alvars. Among them, there is one female Alvar, known as Andal. Andal, also known as Kothai and Godadevi is one of that Alvar. She is known to be the human incarnation of Goddess Bhudevi. The Alvar saints are known for their affiliation to the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism. Living during the 8th century, Andal is accredited with the great Tamil works such as the Thirupavai and Nachiar Tirumozhi, which devotees sing to this day during the winter festival season of Margazhi.
Periyalvar, originally called Vishnuchithan was an ardent devotee of Perumal, one of Vishnu’s many forms.
He was childless for a long time and was always praying to Perumal for him to change that. One day, he found a little girl inside a garden under a Tulasi tree.
She was the incarnation of Bhudevi herself. He named her Kothai and taught her his ways.
She grew to be a devotee of Lord Krishna, yet another form of Vishnu, from hearing all of the stories about the Lord. As Kodhai became older and grew into a beautiful maiden, her fervour for the lord grew to the extent that she decided to marry only the Lord. Periyalvar used to make exceptionally beautiful Garlands for the local Perumal Deity. Every time her father finished his Garland for the Lord, Kothai used to secretly wear the garland and imagine herself being with the Lord and marrying him. One day while she was doing so, her father caught her red-handed.
Naturally, When her father found out about this, he was upset and reprimanded her for doing so. That night, Lord Vishnu himself came in the Periyalvar’s dreams to tell him that he should only dedicate the garland worn by Kothai and not a new one. The next day when he woke up, he saw that the new garland he had dedicated had fallen off. Adhering to what he was told in his dreams, he dedicated the garland which had been previously worn by Kothai to the deity. Upon dedicating it, to everyone’s surprise, the garland turned to gold! The girl was thus named Andal. Andal spent much of her time writing beautiful poetry. But here most essential work consists of two.
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 Tirumozhi, 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. In Nachiar Tirumazhi she craves for Lord and says she would offer Lord 1000 pots of “akkarvadisal’ if He marries her, which was later fulfilled by Saint Ramanuja in the 11th Century (after 3000 years).
Both of these works, particularly the Tiruppavai, have been commented on extensively by innumerable scholars in a number of languages over the centuries. Today, we are fortunate to have many translations of the Tiruppavai in Western languages which make these poems available to an even wider audience.
During the month of Margali (December-January), discourses on the Tiruppavai in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and English take place all over India.
The impact of her sheer devotion was huge across all of India. She is remembered for her pure love and devotion. In many of her works, she writes how the goal in life is seeking refuge at the lord’s feet. She is a very important Alvar for women and has inspired many female religious groups.
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