Thiruppavai of Aandaal: the song of the Maidens

The Naalayira-divya Prabandham is the sacred collection of 4000 hymns of the twelve alwars or the saint-Poets of the bhakti school of Sri Vaishnavism. The prabandham is divided into four parts —Mudhalaayiram, Thirumozhi, Thiruvaaimozhi and Iyarrpa. The different parts explain the purport of the Tirumantra or Ashtaakshara On? Namoh Narayana. Thiruppaavai of Goda Devi or Sri Aandaal, consisting of 30 verses, forms part of Mudhalaayiram, the first 1000 of the canonical text. Another composition of hers, Naachiyaar Thirumozhi, consisting of 143 verses, also finds a place in this part of the text. Sri Aandaal belongs to the mainstream of the Vaishnavite mystical tradition, which is concerned with the personality of God. Goda Devi represents what is termed as ‘bridal mysticism’: She looked upon herself as the bride and the Lord as the bridegroom. Though other alwars have assumed the Nayakl Maya through their intense devotion to God, Sri Aandaal became in actuality the bride of the Lord.

The message of the poem is that the path of salvation is open to all true devotees. Sri Krishna himself states in the Bhagavad Gita that by taking refuge in him, even ordinary people can attain the supreme state. Bhakti or ‘ceaseless remembrance’ is the direct path to Mukti or ‘release.’ Bhakti is the king of Vidyas and the most royal among secrets. Thiruppaavai is, in essence, the awakening of the Lord to do his duty in the Kali Yuga.

Sri Aandaal, the ever-smiling compassionate Mother, leads her children unerringly along the glorious path, straight to the Lord’s Feet. Sri Ramanuja used to recite the poem even as he went round for bhiksha so much that he was known as ‘Thiruppaavai Jeer.’ Sri Vedanta Desika has described it as Godopanishad.

It is no wonder that the early mornings in the month of Margazhi (Dee-Jan) still ring with the sweet sounds of Thiruppaavai. A thousand years ago, there lived an Aandaal; four hundred years ago, there lived an Aandaal; four hundred years ago a Meera lit the lamp ofdevotion in a million hearts. And it was said that long before, there was another like them … called Radha.

A Note on the Divya Prabandha

In Indian tradition, there is no dichotomy between science and religion. The vedic rishis or sages, in their search for eternal truths, were pure scientists. The findings of the rishis were metaphorically related as stories in the Puranas. The alwars, who later created the Tamil Marai or Dravida Veda (The Four Thousand Divya Prabandhams), the siddhas and the nayanmars followed this tradition.

The theories about the origins of the universe, floods at the ends of eras, the blue sky giving place to the darkness of space, described as the colour of God, the theory of evolution represented by the Dashaavataars… the speculations open to the modern mind are endless.

The parallel tantric or yogic beliefs of the progress of the vital energy or serpent power through the various stages of earth, water, fire and sky or universe with Lord Narayana being the highest stage) are also expounded in the prabandhams.

The Story of Aandaal

In the eighth century A.D., the Vaishnavite saint-poet, Perialwar, also nown as Vishnuchittar, lived in Srivilliputhur, a temple-town in the Pandya tieingdom in South Tamil Nadu.

There, he grew a flower garden (Nandavanam) to offer worship to the deity of the temple, Vatapatrasayee (fie who reclines on the lotus leaf). The childless Perialwar consoled himself by singing songs about Lord Krishna’s childhood. In his songs, he often spoke in the voice of Yasoda, Krishna’s foster-mother. But soon, he was to become a foster-parent himself.

One day, in the month of Aadi (July-August), he found a very beautiful baby girl under the shade of a tulsi (sacred basil) plant in his garden. Perialwar adopted the baby and brought her up. She was named Kothai or Goda, meaning `giver of cows’ and suggestively, ‘of light.’

From a very tender age, Kothai would listen enraptured to the stories of Sri Krishna and other incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Both father and daughter spent their whole existence immersed in devotion to Lord Vishnu.

When other girls of her age started dreaming about marriage, Kothai discovered that she could never lead an ordinary life. She was firmly convinced that she was to become the bride of Lord Vishnu Himself.

Every day, Perialwar took a garland of flowers for Lord Vatapatrasayee to the temple. The saint would carefully collect the choicest blooms from his own garden and weave the garland with his own hands. For, he had dedicated himself to worship through flowers.

Secretly, Kothai used to adorn herself with the garlands and look into the mirror, wondering if she was worthy of her beloved Lord.

One day, her father came to know about this. He was horrified at what he considered as a sacrilege. He admonished his daughter and begged the Lord’s pardon for the ‘impurity’ of the garlands he had offered. It was too late to weave another garland and Perialwar could not fulfill his daily task.

That night, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him that though he had not brought the garland that Kothai had worn, He had accepted it with pleasure. The garlands were fragrant only because Kothai had touched them. “Hereafter, offer me only those that have been worn by Kothai,” said the Lord.

The next morning, Perialwar rushed to the temple bearing in his hands the garland worn by his little daughter. And every day, Lord Vatapatrasayee was garlanded by the flowers that had adorned Kothai. Henceforth, Kothai was called `sudikkodutha naachiyaar ‘, or ‘she who presented the garland worn by herself.’ She was also admiringly hailed as `Aandaal’ C She who conquered’ or, `She who became the Lord’s consort’).

Yet, Aandaal had to overcome many obstacles in her path towards her goal. Though her foster-father became more conscious of the depth of Aandaal’s bhakti, he did not consider it possible that his daughter was divine. He deemed it his duty as a father to seek a suitable bridegroom for his lovely girl who was growing up.

But Aandaal firmly declared, “No mortal shall I wed.” She would only be wife to the Supreme Purusha, Lord Vishnu. She asked her father to recite the various names under which Lord Vishnu dwelt in the sacred temples of the land. When the name of Ranganathar, the Lord of Sri Rangam was pronounced, Aandaal blushed with modesty. It was clear, then, whom she would wed.

Yet, the time had not come for Lord Ranganathar to claim his bride. Sri Aandaal could not bear the prolonged separation from her bridegroom. Suddenly, she thought of the penance that the Gopis had undertaken to attain Lord Krishna’s grace. The Bhagavatham had named it the Kathyaini Vrata. A similar practice called paavai nonbu seems to have been prevalent in the south. In the month of Margazhi, girls of marriageable age who wanted to obtain good husbands would take an early dip in the river, build a small paavai (female figure) on the river bank with sand and worship the image.

Sri Aandaal called together her friends in Srivilliputtur and undertook this penance. Sri Aandaal gave the nonbu a spiritual rather than a mundane perspective. It was a spiritual journey, an awakening of the desire for salvation and also a prayer to the Lord to do his duty in the era of Kali.

Srivilliputtur (which had, until Kothai’s advent been known simply as Villiputtur) seemed transformed into the village of the cowherds (aayarpaadi) and the worshipping maidens into Gopis. The temple was the mansion of Sri Krishna. The nonbu or penance which was observed on all the thirty days of Margazhi is the story behind the garland of thirty verses called Thiruppaavai.

At last, the long wait was over. Aandaal had hoped. She had persevered. Now, her hour of triumph approached. She had a prophetic dream of her wedding to the Lord. She has described in detail the elaborate rituals of the marriage ceremony in the poem Vaaranam Aayiram, which is a part of her other work, Naachiyaar Thirumozhi.

The Lord of Ranga appeared to Perialwar in a dream and ordered him to bring his daughter to Srirangam for the wedding. The Pandya king arranged a royal procession for the bride to Srirangam. Miracle upon miracle followed in quick succession. When the bridal party arrived at the ancient temple called the Vaikundham of the earth (Bhooloka Vaikundham), the temple authorities were there to receive them. Such was the Lord’s will!

Getting out of her pearl palanquin, Sri Aandaal, resplendent in her jewels and her happiness, walked through the long corridors of the huge temple, illumining them with her radiance.

At last, the echo of her anklets came to a standstill. When she reached the sanctum sanctorum, she stepped inside and disappeared, to take her place in the heart of the Divinity inside. Bride and Bridegroom, Soul and Saviour, Devotee and Deity were one at last.

This is the legend of Sri Aandaal. When did it all begin? Was it when, as a baby, she was discovered under the shade of the tulsi plant, like Seetha Devi in the sacred yajna soil? Or was it a grand romance, planned long ago realm of the gods and enacted upon the earth, a part of the Divine play or Leda? Who can tell? We can only listen with awe and delight to the story of sudikkodutha sudarkodi.

The Day Dawns

Sri Aandaal calls to the young maidens to start on their spiritual journey. Srivilliputtur seems transformed into Vrindavan of the days of Krishna and the Gopis.

The maidens are to observe the paavai nonbu to attain the Lord’s grace. The maidens of the ‘Prosperous cowherd dwellings’ arc rich in spiritual, moral and material wealth. The Lord to whom they pray is Krishna, the son of Nanda and Yasoda. A forceful image of Krishna’s foster parents and the majesty and radiance of the ‘young lion’, Krishna, is brought before our eyes. Sri Aandaal says that Sri Krishna is none other than the Supreme Lord — Sri Narayana Himself, who is the abode of all creation. With the blessings of the world at large, which will also benefit from their nonbu, they will obtain a drum (salvation) from the Lord for the completion of the penance. The Lord is renowned for his kindness towards the simplest of his devotees.

The month chosen for the nonbu is Margazhi which falls in December-January and is considered particularly holy. Festivals like the Vaikundha Ekadasi, occur in this month – it is believed that a special gateway, symbolic of the entrance to Vaikundhain, is opened to the devout. It is the month when groups of hymn-singers gather to rejoice in bhakti. Scientifically, too, it has been proved that in this particular season, exposure to the early morning air is conducive to good health.

Margazhi is indeed the best of months. The Lord in the Bhagavad Gita identifies himself with it.

The day chosen for the vrata is the full moon day, symbolic of the clarity of mind, right thoughts and happiness as well as the Divine Mother herself. The `Itaasa leela’ – the dance of Krishna and the Gopis – takes place on full-moon days. Thus, the spiritual aspirations of souls are heightened on full-moon days.

Bathing in the river is an important part of the rituals. Water is a universal symbol of purification and spiritual initiation. Rivers are considered particularly sacred in India. Indeed, pilgrimages are called Teertha Yaatras or ‘journey to a sacred place where there is a well, pond, lake, river or sea, the waters of which are considered holy’.

Thus, Sri Aandaal begins the Thiruppaavai on a most appealing note.


In the month of Margazhi,

On the good full-moon day,

Let us bathe in the waters,

O virtuous ones!

Dear girls of the prosperous



hard-tasked Nandagopa’s Son,

Firm-eyed Yasoda’s

Young Lion,

The Dark-finned Red-eyed One,

With face like the radiant moon,

Narayana, Himself,

Will grant us salvation.

With the world’s blessings,

Let us offer worship, O my Maidens!


Dwellers of the Earth!

Will you hear

What we undertake

For the Penance of the Maidens?

Singing the praises

Of the Lord

Who sleeps

On the Ocean of Milk,

We will not partake of ghee nor milk.

Bathing in the early morning,

We will not apply

Kohl to our eyes,

Nor plait our hair

With flowers;

Will shun disobedience,

Carry no tales,

But handing

Charitable aid

To mendicants

And beggars,

To our capacity,

We will think good thoughts

And find fulfillment,

O my Maidens!


When we chant the name

Of Him who measured the world

With His outstretched foot,

Do service to our Maiden-deity

And bathe in the river,

All the land will be blessed

With timely rains in plenty,

And fish will frolic

Amidst the full-grown paddy stalks,

While spotted beetles drowse

In the water-lilies.

Great cows will gift

Pot after pot of milk

To tireless cowherds,

And lasting prosperity

Will abound,

O my Maidens!


Lord of the rains, mighty as the ocean,

Hide not your munificence,

But dip deep into the sea

And with thunderclaps,

Ascend the sky,

Dark as the form

Of the Ruler of Time,

Let lightning-shafts shine

Like the Discus

In the lissome hand

Of our mighty-shouldered


And Vibrate

Like His conch-blast!

As arrows unceasing fly

From His Bow Saranga,

Come with rain

This world to revive

And for us to bathe

And rejoice

In the month of Margazhi,

O my Maidens!


If we stand cleansed

And worship Him

With fragrant flowers,

The Mystic one,

The son of immortal

Mathura of the North,

Dweller of the banks

Of the pure wide Yamuna,

The lamp of the cowhead clan.

Damodara, light and meaning

Of His mother’s womb,

With His thought in our hearts,

Our past sins

And those lying in wait,

Will they not be destroyed

As dust in fire! Speak, O

my Maidens!


Lo! The birds chatter

And the white temple conch

Of the Lord of the Birds

Sounds its might!

Hear, child, and arise!

The One who

Suckled the life of the fiend,

And kicked the scheming cart-demon

To destruction,

He who reclines in sleep

On the water-bound snake,

Is the Cause, the Seed,

Which, placing in their hearts,

The Saints and Seers,

Raise the calm, great chant of ‘Hari!

Let it reverberate in yours

And bring joy,

O my Maidens!


With shrill voices

The Barathwaja birds

Gather all around

And screech.

Cans’t thou hear them,

Bemused maid?

Or, with jangling chains

And rapid hands

The herdswomen

Of the scented hair

Turn their churns

And the buttermilk swishes?

Chief among girls!

Can you listen

To our song

Of Lord Narayana Kesava

And lie still in bed?

Lovely princess!

Open your doors!

O my Maidens!


The horizon has lightened

And the buffaloes let loose

Have scattered to graze.

Behold! The other lasses who

Are ready to leave

Have stopped.

We call you

To assist us.

Beloved image! Arise!

If we seek and worship

The Lord of Lords,

Who tore open the mouth

Of the horse-shaped demon

And slew the wrestler

By Kamsa sent,

He will listen with compassion

And grant us grace,

O my Maidens!


On the gem-studded balcony,

Surrounded by long-stemmed lamps,

With incense burning,

You, who lie on the soft mattress,

Eyes closed in steep,

My uncle’s daughter!

Open your jewelled doors!

Aunt! Won’t you wake her up?

Is your daughter dumb,

Perhaps deaf, or lost her senses?

Why this great sleep? Is she under a spell?

Supreme Enchanter! Lakshmi’s Lord!

And such-like names

Have we invoked,

O my Maidens!


She who aspires to heaven

Through this penance,

Young lady!

Do they reply not, even,

Who open not their gates?

Narayana, with the fragrant garlands,

By us is praised

And grants us salvation,

By that virtuous

One Long ago,

Fell Kumbakarna

Into Death’s jaws.

Did he, vanquished,

Yield to you his slumber?

Great sleeper! Most rare jewel!

Come, bestir yourself

And your doors unbolt,

O my Maidens!


The milkers

Of great herds of cows

With young calves,

Who defeat their Enemies’ might in war,

The faultless cowherd clan’s

Own golden creeper!

Eyed like the hood

Of the ant-hill’s cobra,

Graceful peacock of the grove!

Awake now!

All our neighbourhood friends

Having entered your portals

Are singing the name

Of the cloud-hued One!

What reason, then,

O daughter of wealth,

For this still sleep and silence And thus long,

O my Maidens!


The buffaloes call to their calves

And in their young one’s thought

Make the whole house slushy

With milk from their udders.

O sister of the one

Who possesses such wealth!

With heads bedewed stand we

Grasping your door-posts,

Singing of the One

Who to anger provoked,

Slew the King of Lanka,

Of the sweet Lord Rama,

And yet you remain silent.

Wake up now, at least!

What means this great sleep?

All the neighbours

Are up and alert,

O my Maidens!


Singing the fame

Of the One who tore open

The mouth of the bird-demon,

Who weeded out

The wicked Ravana,

All the girls have reached

The sacred enclosure.

Thursday sleeps as Friday arises

And the birdsong has begun.

O flower-eyed one!

Bathe you not in the fresh cold water

But lie you still in bed, damsel?

On this auspicious day,

Leave your secret rejoicing,

And join us,

O my Maidens!


In your backyard pond

The rose-hued flowers smile open

And the lilies fold close;

The austere monks

In their brick-dust-red robes

Move towards their sacred temple

To sound the conches.

You, who promised to-wake us up,

Young maiden, unabashed,

Glib-tongued one!

Get up!

He who bears discus and conch

In His majestic arms,

The Lotus-eyed one,

Sing unto Him,

O my Maidens!


“Hey there, young birds, sleep you still?”

“Shout not harshly, girls, I’ll be there this instant.”

“Firm indeed are your phrases, We know them of old!”

“The firm ones are you!”

But so be it, I argue not

“Come hither swiftly, What delays you alone?”

“Has everyone arrived?”

“Yes, come and count yourself.

Let us sing of Him

Who slew the mighty

And overthrew the wicked,

Of the valiant one,

The Enchanter,

O my Maidens!


Sentinel at the temple-gates

Of our Lord Nandagopa!

Guardian of the garlanded arch

Over which the pennant flies!

Unlock the belled doors!

To us the cowherd girls

The mystic, sapphire-hued

One Yesterday had given his word.

Pure, we have come

To sing Him awake.

Mouth not words of refusal, now,

We beg,

But swing open

Those two doors

In friendship embraced,

O my Maidens!


Shelter, water, sustenance,

Doer of right,

My Lord Nandagopala, arise!

Flame of the cowherds,

Light of their clan,

My Lady Yasoda-awake!

He who pierced the sky

And measured this world,

Our own King-awake and rise!

Dear Baladeva of the golden thongs,

Are you and your young brother

Asleep still?

O my Maidens!


Daughter-in-law of the fearless


Strong as an elephant enraged,

O Nappinnai, of the sweet-scented hair,

Open your doors!

The fowls all around call

And on the flower creeper

The koels many times have cooed.

Shapely-fingered one!

As we sing your husband’s name,

With bangles tinkling

Round your lotus wrists,

Come and open your gates

And grant us happiness,

O my Maidens!


With long-stemmed lamps alight

Around the ivory-legged bed,

On the soft mattress

You lie clasping

Nappinnai of the flower-bedecked hair

In your broad shoulder’s embrace!

Do pronounce a word!

She of the kohl-lined eyes!

Never will you chase away His sleep,

Nor for an instant

Bear His parting!

In truth, it becomes not your Self,

O my Maidens!


He who precedes

The thirty-fold Gods

To prevent their subjugation,

Providence! Do awake!

Perfection! Omnipotent!

Who scorches the evil

In the fire of fear.

Taintless One!


O golden, soft-bossomed Nappinnai!

With red-hued lips and tiny waist!

Goddess of Beauty!

Awake from sleep!

Grant us will and light

And your Husband’s presence

To bathe us in coolness,

This moment,

O my Maidens!


Son of Nanda

Owner of abundant

Great cows, who in their charity,

Unfailing make their milking-vessels

Bubble and flow over!


Vigilant Saviour!

Great One!

Flame who stands manifest

In this world! Awake!

Enemies who lose their strength

To You come unconsoled

To surrender at

Your feet.

Come we likewise, with praises!

Sing His Glory

O my Maidens!


As the rulers of all the wide world

Gather in humility before your rooms,

Stand we with bowed heads.

As the lotus flower in half-bloom,

Like the belled ornament at Your feet,

May your lovely eyes

Open slowly upon us

Like the Moon and Sun

Together rising!

If, with those two eyes

You gaze on us,

All our past sins Will be destroyed,

O my Maidens!


As the lordly lion

Sheltered in the mountain-cave

The rains ceasing,

Wakes into awareness,

With sparks in his eyes,

Spreads his mane

And shakes off sleep,

Rises stretching

And with a roar emerges-

Thus come out,

Flower-blue One

From Your Temple

And here seated

On this sculpted throne,

Enquire into our mission

And grant us grace,

O My Maidens!


Eons back you measured the worlds-

Praise be to your Feet!

Thence went you Lanka to defeat,

Praise be to your Feat!

Broke the demon as cart disguised,

Praise be to your Fame!

Threw the evil calf as a staff-

Praise to your Anklets!

Lifted the hill as a sheltering umbrella-

Praise be your Grace!

Praise to your Lance

Victorious over enemies!

We who praise your Deeds

Ever as our salvation,

Come today to your

Mercy. Accept us!

O my Maidens!


Born to one and on the same night

Secreted to another’s place you grew,

Proving false Kamsa’s desire

Stood you, great Lord, as burning fire

In his belly.

We come to ask,

Your Self as alms!

If you grant us salvation,

We will sing

To your Lady’s content,

Of Your Wealth and Valour

And She, enraptured,

Will your parting forget,

O my Maidens!


O Thirumal! Gem-Blue One!

If you permit, we will relate

The rules our elders set

For those who undertake

The Sacred Margazhi bath-

Like Your Panchajanyam,


Which makes the world tremble

With its call,

Conches we require,

Huge drums,

Singers of hymns,

Crafted lamps,

Pennants, streamers…

O Baby afloat on the Banyan leaf,

Grant us these,

O my Maidens!


O glorious Govinda!

Victorious over the hostile,

We sing of you and are redeemed-

Yet our prize still awaits.

Let us bedeck ourselves

With ornaments

In our hair and shoulders,

Bracelets, anklets, earrings,

And with such-like arrayed,

Dress in festive garments

And on milk-rice

Rich with ghee

That flows down our elbows

Feast together In your company’s cheer,

O my Maidens!


We will eat out in the woods

Driving our cattle before us.

Our ignorant cowherd clan to be so blessed

As to have you born amidst us!

O faultless one! O Govinda!

This, our relationship to you,

Will never fade. If we foolish children

Out of love

Address you with familiarity,

Do not arise in anger, Lord,

But grant us salvation.


The Maidens’ Pledge

At the very break of day

We come to worship you

O listen as we sing always

The glory of your golden-lotus feet!

If you who are born into our cowherd-clan

Do desist from making us your


And thus granting this instant our salvation,

See then, O Govinda!

For ever and through the seven-fold births,

Yours we pledge to be.

To you alone our bondage

All other desires transform,

O my Maidens!


To Him who churned the Ocean


The radiant cowherd maidens prayed

And were granted salvation.

This, in beautiful Srivilliputhur,

She who wears garlands

Of fresh lotus blooms,

Bhattarpiran’s own Kothai narrates.

Those who unerringly recite

These thirty verses of chaste Tamil


Will be for ever blessed

By the Lord of majestic shoulders

Like mountains ranged,

Of stately eyes and beauteous mien,

Supreme Thirumal

And in His Divine Grace

Live happily ever,

O my Maidens!

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