Abstract: Andal’s Tiruppavai recognises the unity of all the living beings of the world. It encodes the quintessence of all the religions of the world as it highlights the basic values of charity, good will, self-discipline, universal love, and the wellbeing of the community at large, fusing the spirit of science with the ethics of humanism. Andal’s Tiruppavai illustrates how the principles Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha form the core of an ethical living. These hymns promote the idea of collective worship for the welfare of the entire world. Andal does not envisage the wellbeing of the individual alone but also the spiritual uplift of everyone. Ethical living is thus viewed as a preparation for the spiritual wellbeing of every one.
Keywords: Andal, value of charity, spirit of science, ethics of humanism, ethical living, collective worship, divine grace, tiruppavai, salvation, self-discipline
Living in a world dominated by advancements in science and technology with the accompanying evils of cyber crimes and ruthless genocides, we are losing sight of the fundamental values of life. The challenges posed by the seamy side of technology have to be met. We have to renew and reaffirm our faith in humanity to save the world torn asunder by the widespread neurosis of terrorism. Literatures of the world, regardless of the language of creative expression, have underlined the core values of life that can prove to be a unifying force to guide humanity. The need of the hour is a faith that can sustain and unite the religious and the secular in the face of an imminent disaster.
Distinguished as the only female ascetic among the twelve Azhwars, Andal as early as the 7th century A.D has recorded the ethics of living in her Tiruppavai (TP). The thirty songs of Tiruppavai are an expression of her deep faith in the Immanent and the Transcendent. The Importance of prayer and its ennobling experience are effectively brought Out in TP. These hymns promote the idea of collective worship for the welfare of the entire world. The oneness of humanity is more than a mere phrase in Andal’s Tiruppavai; it is concrete reality. Belief in peaceful co-existence is insisted upon in every song by the use of the refrain empavai. It is the collective voice of the young girls that is heard in every song as Andal asserts her collective identity as a Gopi. According to Andal the entire humanity comprising the faithful and the faithless receive the divine grace. Pavai Nonbu, the religious observance of the fast, is a form of collective worship by the Copts. The fast is observed according to the decrees of the elders. In song 26 Andal says that they follow their illustrious ancestors in observing the fast, ‘Melaiyar seivanakal venduvana kettiyer’. The poet Longfellow echoes this thought when he says:
The lives of great men all remind us
That we can make our lives sublime
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time
A Sanskrit sloka stresses the importance of following the great men. `Mahajano aene gathaha sapanthaaha’, which is echoed in Andal’s ‘Saandrorgal maerkollvadhu nalla paadhal (vazhi)’
Mahajano – great people – saandrorgal
aena – all – anaivarum
gathaha – going, (here) taken – maerkonda
sa – good nalla
panthaaha – path- paadhai (vazhi)
‘Good is the path taken by great people.’ This simple maxim of Andal is relevant even in the day-to-day affairs of men. In matters involving decision-making and conflict resolution, it is easier to follow the footprints of great men than acting on one’s own choice.
The entire collection of songs stresses the importance of prayer. The efficacy of collective worship, female bonding and support for one another are all the values illustrated by Andal’s TP. In the very first song Andal says that they will sing the praise of the Lord and win the world. Even the act of prayer is a matter of divine grace. The repeated reference to ‘the drum’ is very significant. The devotees make a plea for the gift of the drum. To receive the drum may be considered as symbolic of being accepted as the Lord’s trusted servant and being called into fellowship and service. To be able to see oneself as the devoted servant of the Lord is to enter a deeply satisfying mutually enriching system. Singing the Lord’s praise draws divine grace but it takes grace in the first place to have the wherewithal to sing – i.e. the drum. Paradox is inevitable in spiritual poetry. The girls take a sacred bath in Margazhi and pray that their prayer may enrich the land with rain. But unless it rains, they cannot bathe in the river or tank. There exists a beautifully satisfying relationship with the infinite where awareness of the efficacy of our actions and seeing prayer and reward in terms of cause and effect must be corrected by recognising that divine grace, given freely to all makes available the conditions that make effort possible. Andal does not envisage the wellbeing of the individual alone but also the spiritual uplift of everyone. The prosperity of the individual depends on the prosperity of the land and the society at large. In Tiruppavai song 3 there is a prayer for three spells of rains every month.
Thenginri naadellam thingal mummari peythu
(Thrice a month rain will be ours)
Ongu prum sennel oodu kayal ugala
(Swelling the paddy, the leaping carp)
These lines evoke a picture of prosperity everywhere with the high grown crops of paddy and the fish fattened so much that they cannot weave their way between the paddy shoots but have to leap over them.
Description of the landscape, and the seasons the flora and fauna frequently referred to in these hymns reveal the fact that the life of the ancient Tamils was in close harmony with Nature. Awareness of ecology is evident in many of the songs as for instance the cries of the birds in the early hours of the day as in song 6 ‘pullum silambina kann pullarayan kovilil` song 7 ‘Keesu keesenru anaichatham kalandu’ song 11 ‘katru karavaigal kanangal pala karandu’. Andal evokes a picture of pastoral beauty through her references to the cows and the buffalos grazing in the fields as in ‘vallal perum pasukkall’- song 3, and ‘kanaithilam katrerumai kanru kirangi’-song 12. Lilies and lotuses bloom in the backyard pools of every home, `ungal puzhakadai thotathu vaaviyul/sengazhuneer vai neghizhndu ambal vai koombina kann’ song 14. Nature and man form a mutually interdependent system. The prayer of the populace is an expression of the desire to locate oneself in that system. According to Hindu religious philosophy, there are four different goals in life to attain salvation. They are Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. These are the four Purusharthas essential to live a complete life. Andal’s Tiruppavai illustrates these principles that form the core of an ethical living. In song 2, Andal insists on acts of charity such as giving alms and extending compassion to fellow beings to lead a life of righteousness. They will avoid the forbidden things:
Seyyadhana seyyom; theekuralai senrothom
(Shun all sins; spread no scandal)
Iyyamum pichayum aandhanayum kaikaati
(Give alms, make offerings, all we can)
Uyyumar enni ukanthelorempavai
(And seek with joy our salvation)
The same idea is repeated in song 17:
Ambarame thannere sore aram seyyom
(So generous with raiment, water and food)
Self-discipline of the highest degree is an essential prerequisite for observance of the fast. The young girls of the cowherd clan will just sing the praise of the Lord. The nature of the prayer requires basic values such as effacing of one’s ego, total surrender, humility and infinite reverence for the Supreme force. They will rise early and prepare themselves for the fast. They will neither shade their eyes nor deck their hair with flowers. They will abstain from taking fatty substances such as ghee and milk. Scientifically also the nutrition experts advocate a fat-free diet and hence all the more reason for avoiding it in the winter season of Margazhi. Andal says in song 2:
Neyunnom paalunnom naat kale neeraadi
(Bathe betimes; no ghee, no milk)
Maiyittezhuthom malarittu naan mudijom
(No shade for our eyes; no flowers for our hair)
Margazhi is also the month of prayer. It coincides with the seas of Christmas, a period of caring and sharing marked by acts of chari and goodwill to one and all.
Artha or wealth is essential to every human being as it forms wherewithal of life. The wealth sought is in terms of kind such as pots milk brimful or rice. In song 27 Andal sings of ornaments not for luxurious living but as part of the apparel clad by them.
Soodakame tholvalaiye thode sevipoove
(Bracelets, shoulder bands, earrings, eardrops)
Paadakame enranaiya palkalanum naam anivom (Anklets and all such ornaments)
The group enjoys sharing its resources and experience togetherness. In song 26 Andal speaks of the goal of the well being of the community.
Mooda ney peythu muzhangai vazhi vaara
(Dresses new, and after that milk-rice Heaped up, covered with ghee, which drips)
Koodiyirundhu kulirnthelor empavai
(And the delight of being together with you)
The images evoke a picture of plentifulness and prosperity. Andal’s Tiruppavai is also an expression of life affirmation. She never advocates a life of self-denial.
Kama or desire for union with the lover/ loved one is the most natural wish of anyone seeking happiness in one’s private life. In song 19 the young damsels wake up Nappinai saying :
Maithadang kanninai nee un manalanai
(And you with eyes so dark and wide)
Ethanai pothum thuyilezha ottai kaan
(Will you never break your husband’s sleep)
Ethanaiyelum pirivatra killayaal
(Lest you lose him for a second)
The reader cannot miss the erotic images of the lord lying on an ivory cot with lamps all around resting his head on the breasts of Nappinai who cannot bear the pangs of separation from Him.
Ethical living is viewed as a preparation for the spiritual wellbeing of every one. About 15 songs are dedicated to the waking up of the girls because even the slothful and the weak should be called into the fellowship.
Moksha or salvation of the individual is inextricably mixed with the salvation of the world. Andal prays for the wellbeing of the readers
too in song 30:
Sanga tamizh malai muppadhum thappathe
(Whoever will chant them without fail)
Ingi parisuraippar eerirandu maalvaraithol
(Will be looked after by the lord)
Sengann thirumukathu selvath thirumaalaa
(Eyes red, face comely and benign)
Enghum thiruvarulpetru inburuvar empavaai
(And be happy evermore)
Andal’s Tiruppavai recognises the unity of all the living beings of the world. It contains the quintessence of all the religions of the world as it illustrates the basic values of charity, good will, self-discipline, universal love, and the wellbeing of the community at large, fusing the spirit of science with the ethics of humanism.
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Steven J. Rosen, ed. Vaishnavi. Women and the Worship of Krishna, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas Publishers, 1996
Sundaram, P.S. Azhwars for the Love of God. New Delhi: Penguin Books,