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Andal Jayanti-Poetess Saint who refused to marry none except the Lord

08/10/2010

Alwar literally means one who is in union with god and cannot be differentiated from that divinity. Sri Andal was the great poetess saint of Tamilnadu who gained moksha at the lotus feet of Sri Man Narayana. Thursday Aug 11th is the jayanti of this great saint. The Twelve Alwar saints lived between the sixth and ninth century A.D in the area of modern day tamilnadu and kerala.

The Alwars came from all castes of hinduism and this is one of the most prominent examples to prove the original version of caste system was very different than the modern day tumour that has been left behind, no wonder Vivekananda termed the present system as a embarassment to the ideals espoused by the Vedic sages.The hyms of the Alwar saints are known as Nalayira Divya Prabhandam, a book of four thousand verses. These hyms were collected by the great scholar Nada Muni. The Divya Prabhandam is a sacred treasure of divine knowledge that contains the quintessence of the Vedas, Itihasas and  Puranas.The ancient Alwars showed perfect tolerance towards Saivism. Poygai Alwar says that there is but one God who is variously called Siva and Hari, that His vehicle is either Garuda or a Bull, and that His action is either destruction or preservation. He says also that the Supreme Lord is one and the same, though He appears in two forms as Hara and Narayana. Perialwar also states that he saw the Lord at Venkata Hill as Siva with His matted locks and axe, and as Hari with His discus and crown.Poygai Alwar laid great stress on Jnana. Bhudattalwar laid great stress on Bhakti and Peyalwar on renunciation. They realized and uttered the same essential truths. They never felt or uttered any depreciation of lord Siva. They realized and sang the essential unity of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu. They were far superior to the bigoted commentators of later days.

Sri Andal composed two great works in Tamil during her life time. The first work is the Tiruppavai in which the poetess imagines herself as an gopika during the time of krishna and melts in bhakti rasa yearning for the stealer of hearts Gopala.

The Tiruppavai is sung religiously during the Uttarayana period in all Vaishnavaite temples. The second work is Nacciyar Tirumoli ( sacred sayings of the goddess ) and consists of 143 verses in praise of Lord Vishnu. The impact of both these works was huge on the bhakti movement and in Tamlinadu specifically. Even today both these works are sung in most temples in Tamilnadu.

Life : Sri Andal was born in Villiputhur in modern day Tamilnadu. Villiputhur literally means the place where the swans wander. Truly she was a swan among mere mortals ,pure in her devotion to Lord Vishnu .  She is considered as a incarnation of Bhoo devi since she was found by her priest father Vishnuchittar as a baby at the base of a tulsi plant.

It was that period in history when Vallabha Pandya was ruling Tamilnadu . Vallabha was a pious king and undertook the building of many temples in Tamilnadu and during the course of one such visit to Villiputhur the king decided to undertake a nocturnal tour of the city to check on the welfare of the citizens. As the king is walking the streets he comes across a pilgrim sleeping by the roadside happily in the dirt. Curious to know how the man is sleeping so blissfully on the bare earth , the king wakes him up and questions him.Upon questioning the man replies ” One who has fulfilled his dharmas and accumulates punya is blessed both in this world and the next and will sleep peacefully “.

The king is now worried since he feels he has not done any great dharma to deserve a good afterlife and he is also confused on the core message of the puranas and vedas.He returns to his palace and declares the very next morning that he will grant the title of the chief priest to the person who can explain to him the highest truth present in the vedas.Many a scholar tries his hand at the challenge and fails to satisfy the king. Vallabha Pandiya had a wise minister Shelvanambi who was a great  devotee of Lord Vishnu .One day the minister has a dream in which the Lord commands him to go to Villiputtur to find his devotee who can explain the greatest truth. Upon reaching Villiputtur Shelvanambi finds Vishnu Chittar who is singing and working in his garden. Vishnu chittar is a very simple man and not well versed with the scriptures , but his mind is always in union with Lord Vishnu. The minister requests Vishnuchittar to come with him to the city to answer the king’s question. Vishnu Chittar is terrified for he feels he will not be able to do better than the great scholars who went before him. Finally he relents and proceeds to the city thinking the Lord himself will guide him.Once he reaches the assembly of scholars he explains the concept of bhakti in a very simple way which enthralls the audience and the King is pleased and grants him the title of the chief priest.

After some years Vishnuchittar is blessed with a vision of Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi devi. Vishnuchittar is so much in love with the god that he fears due to the jealous looks of the town folk his beloved Lord Vishnu might catch an evil eye and his life span might be reduced!!!!He immediately composes a poem praying his Lord should have a long life.That poem is now famous as the ” Pallandu Pallandu ” sung for Sri Ranganatha .Such is the simple devotion of the man that he forgets Lord Vishnu is the lord of the universe. Pleased with his simple devotion the Lord confers on him the name Periya Alvar( eldest among the saints) .

Vishnuchittar continues with his services to the Lord and is content with his stay in Villiputhur. One fine day while praying to the lord he hears the cries of a young born coming from the direction of his garden.Upon rushing to the garden he finds the sounds coming from the direction of the Tulsi plant roots. Surprised he starts digging at the spot and discovers an casket within which is a beautiful baby girl .Vishnuchittar was not married and he was worried about the upbringing of the child. Still trusting the incident to be a message from the Lord he accepts the child .

The baby is given the name of Godha ( Go means earth and da means given by the earth and also Godha means curly hair and also a beautiful girl in Tamil ) . Even when she was a child Godha was much attached to Lord Vishnu’s worship and would spend many hours lost in a trance in the puja mandira.

Periyalwar never cooked for himself in the house.The prasadam (cooked rice offered to God)given in the temple was his food. The same food was given to Andal also, who became accustomed to it. He wanted her to be associated with God from her infancy. He was very happy to see the child Andal eat it with delight. The thought of God and His prasadam always thrilled Andal. Even as a child, meditation on God and His worship absorbed her mind.

Little Andal was always with him.  Whenever he went to the garden he took her also with him. He used to tell her stories of God’s matchless strength and goodness and mercy. He was delighted when he heard her pronouncing the names of Rama and Krishna. Little Andal used to listen to the stories of Rama and Krishna with rapt attention. Her interest in these stories grew. Her love for God and devotion to Him developed from her childhood itself. She gathered the flowers and put them in the basket. The   periyalwar used to keep saying, ‘Every thing is for God, every thing is for God.’ Even while collecting the flowers Andal used to remember Periyalwar’s words. While weaving the flowers into garlands she sang like her father. Every time she chose a flower she was happy with the thought that it would adorn God’s head or feet. She would identify herself with the flower and begin to dedicate her-self to God. She excelled  even the professional   garland-makers in weaving garlands for the Lord.

She developed a great liking for the various coloured flowers growing in her father’s garden and would often innocently adorn herself with the flowers imagining herself to be a gopika in Krishna’s gokula . The head priest of Srirangam noticed that the garlands being brought by Periyalvar had loose strands of hair sticking to them , having noticed it he declared that garlands would no longer be accepted from Periyalvar .

Periyalvar was deeply saddened by this and went back to Villiputtur. Now Lord Vishnu could not surely let his great devotee suffer and that night the Lord appeared in the dreams of both the head priest and Periyalvar. The Lord told them from that day onwards he would only accept garlands which were worn by Godha since they carried the fragrance of devotion. The head priest realized his mistake and from that day onwards all the garlands sent to the Lord were handpicked by Godha devi.

Alwar was overjoyed. He had been worshipping God for a very long time to gain His grace. God had responded to the devotion of this young teenaged girl! ‘My daughter is very fortunate. She has, gained the grace of God! She has excelled me in divine knowledge! I did not realize this, ‘he thought. He was full of repentance. He offered to God the very garland worn by his daughter. From that day God came to be worshiped with the garland which Andal had worn before. She came to be called
‘Shoodikkodutta. Naacchiyaar'(the Beloved who first wore the flowers and then offered
them to God). She was very happy. She won over Periyalwar by her qualities and indeed became ‘Andal’ (one who attracts).

As Godha grew up she started spreading the divine stories of the Lord in the form of her songs.

Andal showed an easy way of pleasing God. Not every one can study and understand the Holy Texts. Not every one can serve God by spending money. ‘All are equal in the eyes of God. Dedication and love are all that He wants,’ said Andal.
Andal would constantly be singing songs in praise of God. She would close her eyes and meditate on God, and forget the world in her meditation. Seeing all this, her father used to admire her devotion. He was happy when he saw Andal always lost in meditation.

Andal grew up. She had to be married.  Periyalwar also thought about it.

“Whom will  you marry?” Vishnuchitta asked his daughter.

“The Lord of Shrirangakshetra, Shriranganatha is my husband. I will not accept anyone   else as my husband replied Andal. Vishnuchitta heard this with deep concern and wondered how would God marry a mere mortal like his daughter . He prayed God to guide  him.

One day Periyalwar had a dream. Shriranganatha appeared in his dream and told him,

” Andal has won my heart, give her to me in marriage.”

Periyalwar’s heart was filled with joy. His worries vanished -in no time.But how could he go to Shrirangam. Shrirangakshetra was nearly two hundred miles away. In those days it was very difficult to travel that long distance.

Periyalwar thought of the  Pandya King Vallabhadeva. He sent word to him. He told him about his daughter’s decision and the wish of Shriranganatha.He made a request : “I have to go to Shrirangakshetra with my daughter.”The king was very happy. He considered himself as a member of the bride’s party. He made grand arrangements for Periyalwar and his daughter Andal to travel.

The priest of Shriranganatha Temple also had dream

” I am marrying Andal.She must be brought in a grand procession, with all honor,” so ordered Shriranganatha. The priest was surprised. But he did not delay. He started at once.

King Vallabhadeva also came from Shrivilliputtur to join the bridal party. Andal appeared as a bride, wearing splendid ornaments.Periyalwar was very happy when he saw the grand procession, which came from Shrirangam.

Andal sat in the palanquin. The marriage procession moved to Shrirangam with musicians playing on varied instruments. It reached Shrirangam. People came from many places to witness this grandwedding.

Andal stepped down from the palanquin and stood before Shriranganatha. As everyone watched with bated breath she merged in a brilliant flash of light into the Idol of Sriranganatha.

Periyalwar was grieved to lose his daughter; but was overjoyed at her supreme fortune in being united   with Sriranganatha .

Andal became a Goddess to everybody. She,who had been an ordinary girl,became a deity to be worshipped. There is a beautiful temple of Andal in Shrivilliputtur. By its side is a garden. To this day.Andal is worshipped with the flowers of that garden. The garland worn by Andal the previous day is presented to Sriranganatha the next day.

Andal admiring the garland

Sri Andal devi -Villiputthur

Sri Ranganatha and Andal devi

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anil Gupta permalink
    04/03/2011 2:57 AM

    I had read some thirty years back about Devi Andal and had had an occasion to have Darshan of a statue of Devi in Chennai or perhaps at Kovalam. I was fascinated by her story. I found many similarities between the story of Devi Andal and that of Meerabai . In my personal view both seem to be a reincarnation Radha ji. I am interested in production of a film based on this great story. Can any body help me get sufficient material, books, CDs,or any film already made on the subject.

  2. Raghavi permalink
    10/28/2011 7:04 AM

    nice narration… it s my pleasure to read abt Andal, who had a great devotion to Him….

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