Sri Andal Tirunakshtram
Vedam Anaitthukkum Vitthaagum Kodai Thamizh!
SriVishnucitta Kulanandana Kalpavalleem
SriRangaraja Harichandana Yogadrishyaam
Saakskaath Kshamaam, KaruNayaam, Kamalaamivaanyaam
Godam ananyassarana: saranam prapdhyae!
-Swami Desikan’s SriGodaStuthi (1)
Utter her name just once and your mind will be suffused with love for the sky-complexioned Lord who reclines so gracefully in the sanctum sanctorum of the matchless temple of SriRangam. Andal. Goda. Soodikkoduttha Sudarkodi. Vishnucittaatmaja. The damsel who chided the great Panchajanyam for coming in the way of the Bhagawad anubhavam of Lord Krishna’s sixteen thousand wives.
A poet unlike any other. A born Nayika and the light of SriVaishnavism. I can lavish praise of the highest order on the dear daughter of SriPeriyazhwar and it will be insufficient to glorify her. Indeed this must be so, for is she not the Goddess of Plenitude?
Andal, as we all know, was the adopted daughter of SriPeriyazhwar, whose maternal affection for the child of Devaki is cherished by millions of SriVaishnavas through his immortal verses. I do not wish to narrate the story of Andal here, not because it is not of interest, which it always will be, but due to my relative lack of merits to speak of one so exalted and divine. However, even as an unskilled poet tries to glorify Sriman Narayana, who is beyond thought, word and mind, through verses which are barely equal to the task, I too shall attempt to submit a humble garland of praise in prose form at the feet of the Lady who rules the Lord. May all pious Bhaagavathaas have mercy on me lest I utter something that is erroneous in any way.
What makes Andal so special? Is it her divine birth? Is it her ethereal beauty? Is it her noble upbringing? Even though all these factors may be spoken of at great length, one reason trumps all others in terms of its salience to the practising Vaishnava, love of the Lord and the Lord alone. Andal’s poetry cannot be described by unworthy people such as myself, for is not her Thamizh the very progenitor of the Vedas?
Yet my heart longs to express my reverence and admiration for the dear daughter of SriVishnucitta.
Never have I felt happier than when I am partaking of her intense desire to be in the company of her beloved Lord of SriRangam. The Lord says in the Gita, that He is the month of Maargasheersha, but one wonders whether he identified himself with this month so that one day Andal may weave her poetic magic through her Thiruppavai which still reminds one and all of the presence of divinity on earth come December. Every time I hear a SriVaishnava scholar expound on the very first paasuram of her famous garland of thirty songs, I am struck by the genius and genuine devotion that must have mothered such poetry.
In the very first verse Andal declares the quintessence of all the scriptures, ‘Naaraayananae, namakkae paraitharuvaan’. The elaborate description of the paavaai-nombu undertaken by Andal and her friends with its vivid imagery that is exquisitely evocative is nothing less than a spiritual wake-up call for human beings scorched by the vicissitudes of worldly life. What material comfort can equal a single glimpse of the lotus-like feet of Periya Perumal? The answer is categorical – nothing! For those who do not have the good fortune to be blessed with glimpses of His feet as and when they thirst for it, what better substitute can there be other than Goda’s verses from the Naachiyaar Thirumozhi?
I must confess that I am drawn to this collection of 143 paasurams with an affinity that surpasses even what I have for Thiruppaavai. For in this work, one can feel for oneself, all the emotions of a Nayika firsthand. As she longs for the One who is cloud-complexioned, she seeks the help of His son, Kamadeva. Indeed, love does make one do things which are ineffectual. Why is this gesture of Andal ineffectual? Simply because, Kamadeva is no match for the Lord who is lovingly referred to as Madhana-Madhana (this is alluded to by our Divine Poetess when she poses a rhetorical question to Krishna ‘muttratthoodu pugundhu nin mugam kaatti punmuruval seidhu sittrilodu engal sindhaiyum sidhaikka kadavaiyo Govindha?’). Yet out of desperation, she enlists the help of the husband of Rathidevi to unite her with her Lord. There is a subtle lesson in this gesture, for it shows that even when ostensibly approaching a devatha other than Narayana, Andal’s thoughts are immovably fixed on Him and Him alone.
She then goes on to plead with Yashoda’s mischievous son, using language that is breathtakingly beautiful, requesting Him to stop playing His incomprehensible games with the girls who have none but Him to turn to for anything and everything. This too is a lesson, for Krishna’ s stealing of clothes and other seemingly naughty pranks, are symbolic of what the Lord does to the devotee whom He wishes to protect. Just as He declares as Trivikrama, He takes away all that the devotee thinks of as belonging to him, so as to impart SvarupaJnana (that the Jiva is an eternal liege of Sriman Narayana) to the individual soul.
She cajoles him, like a childhood friend, chides him, like a lady in love who feigns anger to gain the affectionate attention of her beloved. She shares her feelings with cowrie shells, and a Koel bird, threatening the poor bird that he must fetch her the golden bangle of hers taken by Krishna or sing so as to invoke the Lord Himself, or else face banishment from the grove in which he lives with his beloved (un kaadhaliyodudan vaazh Kuyilae en KarumaaNikkam vara koovaai!).
Every time I read those poignant lines ‘Thunbakkadal pukku vaikunthan enbadhor thoni peraadhu uzhalgindraen’, I am at a loss for words to describe the feelings they evoke. It is a fact that anyone who savours even a single verse from the Naachiyaar Thirumozhi will be repelled by what the world at large takes for happiness and pleasure. For Andal’s spiritual agony, at having to wait for her eventual ‘Bhagawad-anubhavam’, is palpable to say the least and it is easily transferred to the reader, like a powerful electric discharge.
So we catch ourselves shivering with joy as Narayanan Nambi, who is related to us for eternity, takes Andal’s hands in His and they circumambulate the fire, consecrating their union and rendering the minds of all those who visualise this wedding auspicious beyond measure. We start wondering by the time we reach the seventh decad, as to what business the Divine Shankam has, obstructing all the wives of the Lord (which includes not just the 16,000 consorts of Krishna, but each and every Jivatma, as He alone is the Purushotthama), from savouring his nectarine lips. We join Kodhai as she sends messages to the Lord of the Seven Hills through the clouds, and even before they reach Thiruvengadam, we hasten to TiruMaaliruncholai, promising the One with symmetrical shoulders, an offering of hundred vats of butter and an equal amount of the delectable akkara-adisil (a promise made good by SriRamanuja who is hailed as Thiruppavai Jeeyar and Andal’s elder brother).
Those of us who can withstand the onslaught of divine love upon our senses and mind, (for is it not recorded in the Saatwika Puranas, that Gopis who loved Krishna with body, mind and soul, often froze in their tracks merely upon thinking of His dazzling form?), proceed further to make the journey once again to SriRangam (indeed, there is a household proverb, ‘Engae Suttriyum Ranganai Saevi’, nothing could be more pregnant in my view!).
Andal’s relationship with the Lord of SriRangam is unique. In the same decad, she manages to marvel at His beauty, proclaim His unrivalled sovereignty and anxiously wonder what is to become of her if He doesn’t requite her love?
Arangan becomes the playful darling of Vrindavan once again, as she makes it very clear that she must be taken to all the places associated with Srikrishna’s life, from Mathura to the glorious city of Dwaarakaa.
Ninda-stuthi, we are told, is the special privilege of the Lord’s consorts. So Andal is excused for calling Krishna, the harsh, deadly son of NandaGopa. Again, here the reason for her frustration is by no means mundane. She is not complaining that her earthly problems have not merited the Lord’s attention. She is instead hurt and anguished that He has not yet come for Her. The Jivan who has realised Sriman Narayana’s supremacy and eternal rulership of all things sentient and insentient, will long for attaining the Lord’s company in any form (for the God-inebriated self does not care for the exact location, whether it is Vaikuntham or Vrinadavanam, Narayana should be there and should make Himself accessible to the abovementioned self in all possible ways).
As we wonder whether this will be the way it all ends, we receive a reassurance from the Poetess Divine. ‘Our Lord has been sighted in Vrindavanam.’
When we finish reading the 143 songs, we are left cleansed, sobered and far more pious than we could ever hope to be were we to undertake the harshest of penances for a thousand years. For the outpourings of the Supreme Nayika, SriAndal, are more sanctifying than any penance or sacrifice. Her madhura-bhakthi is not just eroticised devotion as some perceive it to be, but is the very Summum Bonum that yogins aspire for and strive towards attaining birth after birth.
Today, it is Thiruvaadippooram, the day which marks the advent of SriGoda. Let us join Sri Manavaala Maamunigal in asking ourselves,
“Indro Thiruvaadippooram, emakkaagavandro indru Andal Avatharitthaal? Azhwaar Thirumagalai…Periyaazhwaar PenpiLLaiyaai, Andal Pirandha Thiruvaadipporatthin seermai, oru nalaikkundo? Manamae Unarndhupaar? Andalukku undaagiloppu idharkum undu!
We know the answer. Andal has no equals. So Thiruvaadippooram will always remain unrivalled as a Thirunakshatram that confers incalculable auspiciousness on the planet and all those who surrender at Andal’s lotus-feet.
SRIANDAL THIRUVADIGALE SARANAM!