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Sacred Utterances of AndaL Nachiyar
This article on Sri Ramanuja has been contributed by our member Shri. Vengrai Parthasarathy (profile).
Sacred Utterances of AndaL Nachiyar by Vengrai Parthasarathy
Tradition recognizes two consorts of Sri NarayaNa. viz., Sri Devi (Periya Piratti), Bhumi Devi (Mother earth)., Tamil tradition has it that Nappinnai is an incarnation of Bhumi Devi-- cow-maid consort of Lord KrishNa. Andal, one of the twelve Alvars is revered as representing the jivAthma –independent soul-- aspiring for union with PararmAthman, universal soul. It is as though Andal having lost her connection with the Lord seeks re-union. That is the crux of the Nachiyaar Thirumozhi compositions.
AndaL was found as an infant in the Thulasi garden of Vishnu chithar,(PeriyaALvAr) who was to become her foster-father. She is considered as of immaculate birth i.e, Ayonija, not begotten.She was KrishNa-intoxicated even as a young girl and saw Him in Sri RanganAtha the archa deity of Srirangam, whom she looks on as her divine lover
Andal is one of the best loved poet-saints-- Alvars( immersed souls who were itinerant monks) . She is the only woman among the twelve worthies. Andal was the quintessential saint, known widely as the author of the popular Thiruppavai.
She had composed 173 pasurams that are part of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham (NDP) which is referred to as Tamil Marai or Vedha. The Vedha-s are in Sanskrit, a language used almost exclusively by the scholastic and priestly class. But her compositions are in Tamil which is the spoken language of the common man and prevailing mostly in Tamil Nadu.. This linguistic dichotomy, or dual tradition is a feature of India’s religious literature. But they are not in conflict with each other. Scholars who are proficient in both are referred to as “Ubhaya Vedhanthi-s” Though the NDP is equated with .the Vedha-s the latter are wider in concept. The NDP is all about surrender to Lord NarayaNa who is KrishNa, who is Sri RanganAtha, who is God-resident of Srirangam. She wallows in the glories and graces of Sri Ranganatha .
In Thiruppavai, being a woman herself, it was easy for AndAL to slide into the role of a milk-maid longing for perpetual serfdom under Sri KrishNa,the Lord of Brindavan, her love-god. The VAraNam Ayiram is a dream-fantasy in which AndAL goes through all the ritual steps leading to her fantasized wedding with the Lord Himself.It includes the Saptha Padhi considered as the most important of the wedding rituals Her compositions are in Tamil, a Dravidian language, as are that of the other AlvArs.
VAraNam Ayiram is a decad of exquisite sweetness, rhythm and haunting airs in which she dreams of her own marriage with Lord RanganAtha Himself as the bridegreoom. It may be added here that it is only in the case of Sri RanganAtha that His glory has been sung by all the premier ten ALvArs.Srirangam where Sri Ranganatha is the resident deity is considered as Prathyaksha Paramapada.
Passionate devotion and Love of KrishNa are the ruling sentiments of AndAL’s NAchiyAr Thirumozhi. The entire spectrum of Love is in it, dominant among them being purity, passion and a certain openness. It does not exclude the physical though not in the modern romantic, in a couple of pAsurams; something that gives even some believers a pause. They give it all an emotional flavour of rasa and trivialize the noble aspirations of AndAL for union (samslesha) with the Lord specially her ardour and intimate references in some of the pasurams..
Staunch believers and scholars, however, see AndAL’s outpourings through the prism of divinity and not with cynicism and ignore their gross interpretations. Embedded in AndAL’s composiitons are deep Visishtadvaita doctrines and saving truths. AndAL, is one tormented by love laced with genuine devotion. She is not just an ordinary human but is an incarnation of Bhudevi, consort (NAchiyAr) of the Lord Himself-- The outpourings of her love-stricken heart as a human can be understood when viewed only from that angle.
What is the NAchiyAr Thirumozhi all about? It is a treasury of divine Love for the sublime KrishNa reincarnated on earth as Sri RanganAtha. Andal’s heart is in a whirl of love and finds expression in her groans and tears, vows and prayers and entreaties for attaining her chosen lover. She propitiates intermediate gods and deities and sends messages even through birds and natural elements like clouds and rains and wind and flowers and creepers to convey her love-message to the Lord. This may seem illogical on a literal level but should be taken only as a figure of speech.Her mood fluctuates. A seam of melancholy runs through her state of mind. She weeps. She cries. Her heart is in such a swirl of love. She wants them to tell the Lord. She cannot long endure His indifference. Andal is not only in love but also in doubt and fear.
She articulates her tender thoughts and longings and mock anger at Him. The march of her mind reflects her emotional references to her fantasized intimacy with the Lord as pure, as is her love which is not of longing for an ordinary mortal. There is a blending of love and devotion in her solicitations that are interspersed with references from Vedha-s.
Bhakthi is a kind of madness and in her case is laced with love. It is as though she sees devotion (Bhakthi) and love as two sides of the same coin. She appeals directly to the serene Lord whom she sees in her dream and sends Him messages detailing her travails.. Her moods change . One can see that in her there is a sort of desperation and hollow agony of one yearning for love—what only a vestal teenager can cherish and articulate. In short she presents the many emotions and feelings that rock a young woman's mind and heart when she is in love, in this case not with an ordinary mortal but with the Supreme Lord Himself.Balked in her desires whe even shows rage at the Lord.
The first decad of Nachiyar Thirumozhi begins with a worship to Kamadeva, the love-god of Indian lore . In a viraha mood she prays to him to intervene and send her to Sri Srinivasa and Sri Tirumal hoisting human desires to the level of divinity.. The quintessence of the pAsuram-(hymns) is that they mirror Vaishnava doctrines.
Glorious is the song when KrishNa is the theme. In decad after decad we see the love-lorn AndAL praying to KrishNa as the supreme Lord in His celestium (Vaikunta—ThirunAdu in Tamil), in inHis primordial rest on soft serpent couch in the cosmic ocean of milk (Ksheerabdhi), in His many divine descents ( avatar-s)as RAma, KrishNa, VAmana/, Thrivikrama, Varaha etc., as well as in the resident deities in prominent temples (Divya kshetra-s) on earth like Srirangam, Tirumalai, TirumAl irum solai, etc. and last but ot least as one who is an in-dweller in a devotee’s heart (Antharyami).
The concluding pasurams present the Lord as having come down to Brindavan and given darshan to His devotees in fulfillment of their and AndAL’s prayer and the Lord is shown as having been ‘beheld’ (kandOm) in all His glory by the cow-herd maidens.