Margazhi, Andal and the magic of her muse

Posted: December 30, 2009 in Uncategorized
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 As Tamil country prepares to enter into Margazhi (Dec 15-Jan15 approximately), we prepare for a season of cool mornings and nights…The proverbial hot hotter hottest weather of much of the state, gives way to fog and mist…and the strains of the sacred hymns of Tiruppavai and Tiruvembavai flow from the temples.

Margazhi, which is a month proscribed for marriages and other personal events,..is an auspicious month for worship and celebrating man’s relationship with the higher powers. Krishna’s assertion in the Gita…’Among months, I am Margazhi ‘ is taken to point to its divine connections.

In Tamil Nadu, January signals the time of harvest and plenty, and Margazhi is the month when sugarcane and paddy are ripening in the fields. According to religious tradition, Margazhi is the pre-dawn of the gods when humans are to wake up early and engage in their contemplation.

For me the most powerful association of Margazhi is with the poetess Andal. Her Tiruppavai, a lovely poem of thirty verses, is about young unmarried girls waking up in the mornings of Margazhi to worship Vishnu.

It is said to be a sacred ritual meant to get a girl a suitable husband. Scholars in the past have commented no end on the deeper meaning of Andal’s verses…and to this day they expound the esoteric import of her words.

Tiruppavai is Andal’s gift to the world…but I am as much bowled over by her poetry as by her personality. Like most of the things of the past, Andal’s life too is shrouded in legend — an intellectual I met many years back told me that she was just a myth…an archetype — but the resonances that I get from her poetry makes her more real to me than any reality that apprehends me on the road.

Andal for me is more than flesh and blood…she is a throbbing heart of warmth and beauty. Most temples of Vishnu in Tamil Nadu have a shrine for Andal. She is worshipped, but I could just stand before her and lose myself in the contemplation on her divine life fragrant with the leaves of the Tulsi and the yearning for union with God.

For Andal, Vishnu and Krishna were embodied as Ranganatha… who reclines on the Thousand hooded Serpent Adisesha…(Bharati, the nationalist Tamil poet would say that the serpent signified pure knowledge).

Andal is one of the twelve Aazhwars…mystics who mingled with Vishnu through divine contemplation. She is the only Aazhwar who was brought by another Aazhawar. Periyaazhwar, who sang so much celebrating the sports of child Krishna, was her foster parent, and is said to have given her in marriage to none other than Sri Ranganatha Himself…in whom she is said to have mingled in a blaze of light.

Yes, if you take her life at the level of myth, Andal is one of the most eloquent symbols of human union with God. But at the level of poetry, Andal comes across as a powerful Ganges of sensuous beauty. There are some who doubt whether there can be mantras in languages other than Sanskrit…Well, if mantra is surcharged word (capable of transporting you to unseen worlds), I feel strongly that the verses of Tiruppavai do qualify.  I have heard some knowledgeable people say that the recitation of some Tiruppavai verses confer particular benefits.

The verse in which Andal paints a great picture of plenty, ‘Ongi Ulagalandha Uttaman Paer Paadi’ is said to confer riches. It may seem rather petty to look for personal profit in great literature, that too sacred literature, but when did Hindu tradition poohpooh man’s basic expectations from life!

Its not my intention to dwell on the literary greatness and divine feeling of Andal. I am so much impressed by the illimitable sweetness of Andal’s words that I will not embark into the impossibility of conveying it in English, either of the Queen’s or subject’s variety!

Let me just mention the great men who have been inspired by Andal. Ramanuja, that great visionary of Hinduism, who was philosopher, logician, organiser, leader of men and women, and above all a greater lover of God, cherished the memory of Andal no end.

Though coming in time after Andal, he is in fact known as Goda-agraja, the elder brother of Goda (Sanksrit for Kodhai, another name for Andal). Andal had prayed to the Lord of Thirumaliruncholai (Sri Sundarabaahoo – He of the handsome shoulders….), that she would present Him with a hundred jars of sweet rice porridge if her desire for union with Vishnu was granted. But before she could fulfill such a vow, she merged with the Supreme in wedded bliss.

In his time, Ramanuja went to Tirumaliruncholai and fulfilled Andal’s pledge on her behalf. He had behaved like a responsible elder brother. Ramanuja also went to Srivilliputtur, the hometown of Andal and worshipped at Andal’s shrine with deep devotion. It is even said that Andal’s image moved, and called out to Ramanuja as ‘My Elder’….In the litany of names of Andal, she is called the younger sister of the saint of Sriperumbudur. Ramanuja’s absorption in the ecstacy of Andal’s hymns is also brought out by his title, Tiruppaavai jeer.

Coming a few centuries later, Vedanta Desika, called ‘Sarva Tantra Svatantra’ for his versatility and facility in many spheres, wrote the ‘Goda Stuti’, which constitutes wonderful poetic tribute to Andal. If the transcreation of the Tamil word ‘Kodhai’ into Goda (also referring to the river of Godavari) is a grand idea, you have to savour the beauty and majesty of Desika’s Goda Stuti to really appreciate the depth of his feeling for the poetess. 

This work has been one of my ceaseless sources of inspiration. I will tell you an experience of mine many years ago. I had to shoot a few scenes of Andal’s life for my docudrama..and had managed to rope in Brinda, a dancer from Kalakshetra, to play the role.

As my shoestring budget did not have provision for recreation of the medievel period effect, I had decided to shoot in a temple to which my friend had access…and that at night. My idea was that the old doors of a mandap in the temple would not give away our modern period. Somehow I had had a harrowing time during the daytime, and by the time I was ready for the shoot at about 11 pm I was totally tired and utterly clueless about the line of operation.

What should I do? I did not have any idea. I decided to sit down and recite Desika’s verses on Andal…especially the one where he initiates a meditation on her… ”She is of the dark hue of the blue gem and holds a lovely water lily in her hand…. She stoops just a bit due to the weight of her full breasts…an ocean of motherly love for devotees. She attracted the Lord with the offerings of flowers that she wore in her tresses… Let that Goda, daughter of Vishnucitta, shine radiantly in my heart…”

After some time, my mind composed, I was prepared to make full use of the talented Brinda…and there was no dearth of ideas. Desika’s tribute to the one and only Andal, had lifted me from the trough of enervation and place me on the crest of creativity! Coming to our times,  our own Tamil lyricist Kannadasan was head over heels in love with Andal’s poetry…”Soodi Kodathaal…Paavai Padithaal…Sudaraaga Thamizhvaanil Ennaalum Jolithaal… ” he would write.

 Some call her a myth…some a colourful memory…others worship her…She is all this for me..but as I said earlier she is more real to me than anything I have set my eyes on. As sacred as the Thulasi… As full of sensuousness as the Champa… As beautiful as the lotus… Andal is for me, our answer to the call of Krishna’s flute… She is the South’s Radha…the ras barusaanevaali…She who shower’s the nectar of Godlove!

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