|Twelve saint (poet) devotees of the 1st
millennium CE- the great Aalwaars lived their lives dedicated to expressing their
devotion to MahaVishnu - considered to be the supreme manifestation of
Divinity in the Vaishnava system of beliefs.. These saints composed
verses in chaste tamil, and revitalized the religious spirit of the region, sparking
off a renewal of devotional worship in what is generally referred to as the Bhakti
movement. Perhaps the best known of the Alwars, is Aandaal.
southern Tamilnadu, is home to Perialwar , and his foster daughter Aandaal; the
works of Aandaal are very well known to the tamil world. The Tiruppaavai hymns written by
Aandaal (a manifestation of the mother Goddess) are chanted in congregations throughout
Tamilnadu during the cold month of Maargazhi, in the cool pre-dawn hours,
in temples as well as in the streets that surround temples. The 30 hymns constituting Tiruppaavai
have been recorded by several artists, and the national radio station All India Radio
(used to) broadcast(s) a hymn each day throughout the month of Margazhi. Also composed by
Andal is 'Vaaranam Aayiram' (Kanaakkanden Tozhi), describing Andal's dream of her
marriage to Narayanan (Vishnu). This work is chanted during Sri Vaishnava weddings. A
popular version of Vaaranam Aayiram sung by S. Janaki hit the charts in 1990.
Aandaal is also known by the phrase Soodikkodutta Sudarkkodiyaal - the
lady who offered garlands to Vishnu, after trying them out herself.
Indeed, this is the central theme of the legend of Aandaal, which culminates in the divine
marriage between the Saint Poetess, and Maha Vishnu himself.
Legend has it that Periaalwar discovered a beautiful infant girl in in
a lush grove in the vicinity of the Srivilliputtur temple, in the 9th
century CE, in the Tamil month of Aadi (Cancer), in the Pooram
asterism, in the fourth phase of the bright half of the month on a Tuesday. A delighted Periyaalwaar,
brought up this infant, considered to be an incarnation of Mother Earth (in a manner
similar to Sita's birth, in the Raamaayana), as his own daughter, naming
her Kodai. A devout poet himself, Periaalwaar, brought up his foster
daughter in his own footsteps.
The young damsel Kodai, spent her time assisting her father in serving the
Srivilliputtur temple, and in meditating upon Vishnu, with the
desire of being his bride. Assigned the task of making garlands for the presiding deity at
Srivilliputtur, with flowers picked from the grove in which she was discovered, Kodai
would try out the garland on herself, without the knowledge of her foster father, and only
then have it sent to the temple. Upon discovering a strand of hair on a garland meant for
the presiding deity, a distraught Periaalwaar suspended the offering of the garland to the
temple. It is said that the presiding deity of Srivilliputtur appeared in the saint poet's
dream, and revealed to him that he actually preferred garlands that had been pre-worn by
Kodai. Realizing that Kodai's purpose in life was a special one, Periyaalwaar named her 'Aandaal'
or Soodikkodutta Naachiyaar, and looked upon her as an incarnation of
When Periyaalwaar, attempted to find a groom for the nubile Aandaal, she thwarted his
efforts with the assertion that she was destined to be the bride of none other than Maha
Vishnu. She urged him to describe to her the attributes of Vishnu enshrined in several of
the shrines that he knew of. Upon hearing of Vishnu enshrined at Sri Rangam, Aandaal
decided that she was to become the bride of Vishnu's manifestation of Ranga
Mannaar at Sri Rangam.
Aandaal then spent her youth in purposeful pursuit of her aim to
realize oneness with Maha Vishnu - Ranga Naathar
(i.e. to become his bride). Her literary masterpieces Tiruppaavai and Naachiyaar
Tirumozhi exhibit the passion expressed by a lover yearning for her beloved, and
the rigorous penance of Paavai Nonbu, undertaken to achieve her surreal
In Tiruppaavai, Aandaal visualizes Srivilliputtur as Brindavanam, the grand temple there as
the home of Nandagopan, and the presiding deity of Srivilliputtur
Perhaps, one of the most romantic works of Aandaal is Kanaakkanden
Tozhi, in which - she narrates in vivid detail, her dream of marrying Narayanan
(Vishnu). This is a celebrated work - an essential part of the Sree Vaishnavite
liturgy, chanted during wedding rituals even today, in a manner similar to the recitation
of Vedic hymns.
Legend has it that Ranganathar appeared in Periyaalwaar's
dream and directed him to bring his bride Aandaal to the temple at Srirangam, where he would marry her. Following
the divine ordinance, Periyaalwaar led Aandaal in a bridal procession to
the grand temple at Srirangam, where Aandaal walked in
with a sense of purpose and disappeared into the sanctum of the temple.
The colorful story of Aandaal has its parallels, with the much more
known legends associated with the more recent Saint Poetess Mirabai of
North Western India. Both these poets are known for their inspiring poetry as well as
their passion for Krishna. While Mirabai lived upto a ripe old age,
singing praises of Krishna, visiting shrines associated with the life of
Krishna, Aandaal of South India, is said to have merged with her consort
at Srirangam, as a young bride. The only two Sree Vaishnavite shrines directly associated
with Aandaal are Srivilliputtur
although she has referred to Mathura,
Brindavanam (Aaippaadi), Tirukkannapuram, Azhagar Koyil, Tirupati, Dwarka in her Tamil hymns.
Aandaal is regarded as more than a saint or a poet, although she is
considered to be one of the Aalwaars, by virtue of her contribution
in Tamil verse - to Sree Vaishnavite liturgy. Aandaal is regarded as Bhu
Devi - or Mother Earth, the consort of Vishnu, and a shrine to
Aandaal adorns several of the Sree Vaishnavite shrines. She is also regarded as a symbol
of the strength of womanhood, a person with a sense of sublime purpose, complemented with
a strong determination to attain the purpose successfully. An acknowledgement of these
virtues is reflected in the belief that prevails that reliving this determination, through
the chanting of the Tiruppaavai hymns would aid one in attaining their objectives.