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ĀNDĀL The bhakti (devotional) movement began when itinerant Tamil saints composed hymns to Vishnu, Siva, and Dēvī the Goddess in the sixth century a.d. The twelve Vaishnava mystics (āzhvārs) and sixty-three Saiva mystics (nāyanārs) were of many castes, from the Brahman to the untouchable. Two women "saints," the nāyanār yogi Karaikkāl Ammaiyār (sixth century) and āzhvār Āndāl (ninth century), left scriptural legacies in Tamil.

Āndāl was the only woman āzhvār and is unique in that she is venerated as an incarnation of goddess Lakshmī. Āndāl-Lakshmī's tenth-century bronze icon is housed in a shrine within Srīvilliputtūr temple. Āndāl's adoptive father Vishnu Chitta, a weaver of garlands and an āzhvār, visited the court of Srimara Srivallabhavadeva Pandya (815–863 a.d.).

Āndāl wrote Tiruppāvai and Nācchiyār Tirumozhi, two elegant, sensuous, erotic compositions to her divine lover Vishnu-Tirumāl. Āndāl's work reflects the influence of both Tamil and Sanskrit literature. Together with Periāzhvār's cradle poems devoted to the "infant" Krishna, Āndāl's hymns constitute a sizable portion of the Vaishnava scriptures, the Nālāyira Divya Prabandham (Four thousand sacred verses).

Life and Legend

Āndāl's life is shrouded in a myth similar to that of Sītā in the Rāmāyaṇa. Lakshmī was supposedly born as Āndāl as she wished to be Vishnu's greatest devotee on Earth. Periāzhvār discovered the infant beside a tulasi (basil) bush, and he called her Kōdai for her magnificent hair. As a child, Kōdai-Āndāl seems to have been enchanted with his garlands for Tirumāl, wearing them in his absence and peering at her reflection in a well near the shrine. Although the flowers were strangely fragrant, her father chided her as he could not offer desecrated flowers for the deity. That night, Tirumāl visited Periāzhvār in a dream and told him that he wished to wear only Āndāl's used garlands; the saint realized that his daughter was Lakshmī herself. Āndāl's love for Tirumāl grew, and she urged her father to recite the names of his sacred shrines, and she refused to marry anyone else. This absorption in a divine lover, her ecstasy, and final disappearance into the icon presage myths about the women bhakti saints, Akkamahādēvi (twelfth century), and Mīrabai (sixteenth century). Legend states that Tirumāl visited Āndāl in a dream when she was fourteen, inviting her to Srīrangam temple, where he is worshiped as Lord Ranganāthā. She A is believed to have worn her bridal finery and to have merged beatifically into the icon. A twelfth-century inscription states that a garden was created in Srīrangam in her name.

Tiruppāvai and Nāchiyār Tirumozhi

In Tiruppāvai, Āndāl assumes the role of a gopi, or milkmaid, in love with Krishna. Its thirty stanzas realistically depict human emotions and village customs. They are popularly sung by women in the month of Mārghazhi (December) prior to the Tai (January) festival of Pongal. Tiruppāvai is in the genre of a pāvai pātal, and it describes women bathing in the river, anointing themselves with turmeric, and fashioning clay images of Lakshmī, to whom they prayed for a fruitful life. These female folk rites are described in the sixth-century Tamil Paripatal, and in the tenth-century Sanskrit Bhagavata Purāṇa. Tiruppāvai has been translated into Telegu and Kannada. Āndāl is also the chief character in the sixteenth-century play Amukta Malyada, by Krishna Dēva Rāya of Vijayanagar. Her more mature work, Nācchiyār Tirumozhi, consists of fourteen hymns in 143 stanzas, pulsating with the mystic's emotions of hope, yearning, separation, and final joy at salvation. One canto, "Vāranam āyiram," describing her dream of being wedded to Tirumāl, is sung at weddings even today.


The velvety red
of the ladybirds
whose flutter fills the air
in the dark grove of Maliruncōlai
brings to mind
the glowing red
of the kumkum powder
on my dark lord's forehead.
Once he churned the ocean
for the nectar of the gods
using Mandara mountain
as a churning rod.
I flounder in the net
of that lord
of the handsome shoulders.
Can I escape

(Nācchiyār Tirumozhi [9,1],
Vidya Dehejia, trans., 107)

Sita Anantha Raman

See alsoBhakti


Āndāl. Tiruppāvai. Mylapore: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1996.

Bhaskaran Bhattar, G.Vijaya, Srī Āndāl: Varalāru matrum, Tiruppāvai, Nācchiyār Tirumozhi, Gōda Stuti, Gōda Ashtakam, Gōda Ashtōtiram Sdanamavalli. Srvilliputūr: Sri Andal Kovil Sri Nidhi Publications, 1996.

Dehejia, Vidya, trans. Āntāl and Her Path of Love: Poems of a Woman Saint from South India. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.

Sundaram, P. S., trans. The Poems of Āndāl: Tiruppāvai and Nācchiyār Tirumozhi. Mumbai: Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, 1997.


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